Mike’s Prattle


Gordon R. Dickson – Soldier, Ask Not; Angela Carter – The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffmann

Posted by Mike on June 6, 2006

Soldier, Ask Not is the third (chronologically written) of Dickson's Dorsai series and the events take place parallel to that of the first. Dickson poses a future where various types of humanity have evolved to a more pure state, the Dorsai being the bred warriors of this future. In Soldier, Ask Not, the protagonist Tam O'Lyn is from Earth and through a series of unfortunate events seeks to revenge himself on what seems to be a barely disguised fundamentalist race called the Friendlies. Like the other Dorsai novels, there are some interesting philosophical speculations that seem to be more the focus than the future setting itself. Chapters 22+ of the novel are the novella of the same name that won the Hugo award, made obvious by the summaries of preceding events that set up the novella itself. It's a solid, if dated work that probably pales a little bit next to other books I've been reading…

Like Angela Carter's …Doctor Hoffmann. Carter was a tremendous writer, bringing a literary gravity to the fantasy story, in this case the travels of the protagonist affected by a man (magician? physicist?) who seeks to unravel the rational laws of the world. It's somewhat episodic, in that most of the middle chapters focus on a particular part of the journey, including new races, characters and social constructs that are endlessly fascinating and intelligent. One of these chapters has more information and philosophical discussion than most fantasy novels 10 times the length of the book. In fact, classifying this as fantasy does it something of an injustice as throughout the narrative there are almost impalpably dense explanations of the science and ideas behind the world. The characters and races that inhabit this ever-mutable, surreal world are vivid in their descriptions and most are larger than life. Overall, it's a tragedy and scenes of great suffering are almost glossed through at times due to the overwhelming nature of a world where time and place bleed together in inventive proportions. The world creation here is consistently interesting throughout, from the beginning where protagonist Desiderio's town begins to decay into irrationality to the final encounter with Doctor Hoffman and his daughter and Desidero's "heart's desire" Albertina, a very tight ending that was presaged early on. It's a fever dream of a novel and a masterpiece of a literary fantasy and I have no doubt I'll be checking out more of Carter's work.


2 Responses to “Gordon R. Dickson – Soldier, Ask Not; Angela Carter – The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffmann”

  1. K said

    What found most interesting about The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffmann was the language – Carter’s use of language (check out the changing tenses she uses) interrogating philosophical concepts of time and identity. Don’t know which copy you read but it should have a Wittgenstein quote at the start of the book regarding language; this got me thinking…
    If you like fantasy you should maybe try The Passion of New Eve by AC.

  2. Mike said

    Thanks K. I’m deciding between checking out some of her short fiction in Burning Boats or going for Passion or Nights at the Circus next. My copy of Desires was the Penguin edition and does have the Wittgenstein quote.

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