Wolf and Iron Hardcover – Apr 1990
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From School Library Journal
The U. S. has been devastated by worldwide financial collapse. Civilization as readers know it has disappeared. Marauding bands are terrorizing the countryside, killing and looting. Jeremy Bellamy Walthers' goal is to cross 2,000 miles of ravaged countryside to reach the security of his brother's Montana ranch. En route he befriends a wolf who becomes a partner and companion via verbal and nonverbal communication. The story deals with Jeremy's interaction with the wolf and the other human survivors of the economic collapse. Dickson has created another superior novel; it's colorful, well written, and peopled with well-developed, multidimensional characters. The wolf is especially fascinating. YAs who have cut their teeth on such works as George's Julie of the Wolves (Harper, 1972) or Mowatt's Never Cry Wolf (Little, 1963) will enjoy this survival story in sci/fi clothing. --John Lawson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Gordon Dickson's a great writer.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A man alone, with only an enigmatic wolf for company, creates a fascinating premise that, because of its theme, is extremely sparse on dialogue. Although laborious at times, it is never dull. Dickson has a clear writing style that is not the least bit flowery or poetic, nor should it be for this type of theme. Dickson creates a rugged, bleak, violent-infested world where people don't have the luxury to trust, so it's a `shoot first and ask questions later' type of mentality. However, Dickson also has the tendency to `rehash' certain points over and over, which slows the pace of the novel.
There is much to like and learn in "Wolf and Iron", not only about the behavior of the wolf, but also about basic survival. The theme of human societies dissolving down to its most basic level is certainly not new, but is dealt with admirably. Jeebee is no super hero. He is just a young man plunged into a world where everyone and every situation can be extremely dangerous. This reader felt the cold, the fear, the hunger, the lonliness and desperation.
The relationship of Jeebee and Merry was interesting, yet, I believe Dickson missed a real opportunity here. Several scenes were done well, yet had potential for so much more. I wished Dickson spent a little more time showing the growth and tension in their relationship--maybe it was a lack of down-to-earth human passion at pivotal moments. These scenes could have sparkled and added greatly to the novel, but alas, they just sort of wavered, then fizzled.
All in all, I really enjoyed "Wolf and Iron". Its only element of science fiction is the post apocalyptic setting. It is an adventure story, a coming of age story of survival and bonding. From 1 to 10, I give it a marginal 7. Dickson's "Time Storm", another post apocalyptic novel written 13 years earlier and similar in structure, sparkles in the areas that this novel came up short.
The good: A well-written post-apocalyptic story, told with a thoughtful, measured pace, exploring the mind of a man and a wolf as they adjust to each other and to the new low-tech reality. The man learns the ways of the blacksmith, the wolf to trust and work with his human companion. The incidents which bond them are inventive; obviously the author has put considerable thought and study into the psychology of wolves, and the realities of laboring over an anvil and forge. The prose is stately and often lyrical.
The bad: A man-woman relationship so badly sketched the reader wonders whether the author has ever seen a woman. She gives birth to their child after the couple has been literally snowed in alone together together for an entire winter, yet they have never even discussed what to name their child. It hasn't occurred to the hero that their child would need one! After the birth the name is selected with the exchange of precicely two sentences. The author is preoccupied with the (well-handled) relationship of man and wolf; man and woman are purely secondary, and are treated so. The woman's previous experiences as a captive and slave are passed over as too painful (read: too uninteresting to the author) to be related.
The total: A satisfying read, imaginative in what it does well; and in what it does poorly, illustrative of a common SF fault.
Gordon Dickson's a great writer.
The premise is that the country, and supposedly the world, had a complete and total financial meltdown causing society to fall back to almost a feudal type of culture. Cities and towns became fortresses where strangers are met with suspicion and hostility, where bands of outcasts terrorize the countryside robbing & killing indiscriminately, and where there is no law except survival of the strongest. The main character is Jeebee who is trying to travel to Montana in the hopes that his brother's ranch might be a safe haven for him. Along the way he somehow picks up a wolf and together they head west. The story takes the two into very dangerous situations as they must both trust, and learn from, the other for survival.
What works in the story is that Dickson takes his time to develop not only the characters but the overall disaster that has fallen on society. He doesn't paint a rosy picture of people and situations but instead shows us a bleak, almost hopeless portrait of how desperation can bring out the worst in human nature. At the start of the book Jeebee is almost completely unprepared for the hardships he will have to face. The story takes us through his growth as a person and survivor as he has to make hard choices in his quest to find safety.
What fails here is pretty much the last third of the book. The story becomes boring and even silly at times. The pace of the story begins to slow down making it very hard for the reader to stay interested. And his "reunion" with the young girl Merry is completely unbelievable. Without spoiling the story too much, a disaster leads her to try and find him weeks after he left her family. Along the way she is held captive by another family causing her, you would think, to fall even further behind him. And yet, after escaping, she somehow gets ahead of him while hiking in a snowstorm where he ends up finding her. The final resolution of the book, while showing a somewhat hopeful future for Jeebee and Merry (and Wolf of course) is actually disappointing to a certain extent. I really expected more.
Overall, it's not a bad book, just one I wouldn't recommend too strongly. If you are into these types of stories you will find this to be somewhat enjoyable. But if you are a Gordon R Dickson Sci-fi fan, you'll probably be disappointed with this effort.
Don't get me wrong, there are some flaws. One of the best things about this book is the detail it goes into concerning survival in a post-apocalyptic world. But, it seems to have a lack of balance concerning these details. Sometimes it goes overboard, giving huge amounts of information about things that have nothing to do with the situation. The amount of knowledge that Jeebee happens to have is a bit extreme -- every time he needs to know something in order to survive, it's an amazing coincidence that he just so happened to learn about it, before.
Yet, at the same time, it completely ignores other details that I felt were vital to the story. For example, at one point Jeebee is attacked by a bear. He figures out how to use the nearby river's freezing water to help the massive bruising, he takes antibiotics, makes a crutch out of a tree branch, gets Wolf to bring him food, all these things to survive the ordeal, and yet there is no mention of the need to stitch the wounds closed! His scalp was hanging in front of his eyes, but after he pushes it back in place, there's no mention of it again, not even to describe the huge scar it must have left.
No timeframe is given, so that you don't really know when the story takes place. There's no mention of television, or computers, or music, or anything modern that the characters might be missing (aside from electricity and gas). And, it skims over things that I would have found interesting, such as the romance between Jeebee and Merry, and also how she survived, how she dealt with the lack of feminine products, birth control, etc.
Beyond that, it is an excellent story. It covers a lot of ground, goes into a lot of detail about survival. I wish there was a sequel, to tell the further adventures of Jeebee, Merry, and Wolf!