Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Far Call, a Novel by Gordon R. Dickson (1978)

The Far Call (1978), a novel by Gordon R. Dickson

At left: Paperback (New York: Ace Books, 1983), 414 p., $2.75. Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

"Jens Wylie would never leave Earth, but his heart was with the brave men and women of the first Mars Expedition, enchanted by the siren song of the stars. As U.S. Undersecretary of Space, he thought he could share some small part of that bold adventure. But as the mission progressed, Jens saw the sure signs of imminent disaster, a mission failure that could bring Earth’s Space Program to a halt. He knew that he must risk his future, and maybe even his life, to keep humanity on the road to the stars -- the only question was whether he had the courage to do it."

Nominated for a Ditmar Award in 1979, The Far Call has a long but tangled history. A note inside the 1983 Ace paperback states that
“Portions of this work have previously appeared in Analog magazine in different form."

Archival notes to the Gordon Rupert Dickson Papers at the University of Minnesota expand on the point: "A much different and shorter form of this novel, under the title "Capsule," appeared in Analog in 1973. Dickson decided to expand that novel into The Far Call, but along the way made so many changes that the new novel was both much longer and significantly different from the original. The Far Call was first published by Dial Press and subsequently reprinted by Dell Books. Other projects were undertaken during the writing of The Far Call, some of them growing out of the research done for the novel. See in this collection materials for “Before the Launch,” a novelette, and the two articles, "A Matter of Perspective" and "SF Authors Interview." The writing process for The Far Call appears to have been very complicated, involving a great deal of research, writing, and revision."

The History of the Science-Fiction Magazine (2000) notes that “Of Dickson’s serials, Sandra Miesel described “The Far Call” (Analog, August-October 1973) as the ‘finest realistic novel about the space program yet written.’ The story plots the many problems and political machinations that plague the first manned expedition to Mars. It is arguably Dickson’s best work, yet it is surprisingly overlooked. Dickson worked on it for years -- some evidence of his research at Cape Kennedy surfaced in Analog in the article “A Matter of Perspective” (December 1971). He remained unsatisfied with the Analog version and rewrote it at least three more times before the book version appeared in 1978.”

In reviewing Dickson’s The Far Call, the webmaster at writes, “This is a real old book I read a long long time ago in a land far away and just pulled it down out of the library again. Not sure why, except real good hard science fiction is a bit rare, and this is one of the old classics. You have to really wander around a Barnes and Nobles for several hours these days to find a jewel like this one. ... The title comes from that class of men that are called by the lure of adventure into the realms of the wild no matter what the risk. Very realistic book and based upon a lot of true science that makes it a good read.”

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