Obituary: Gordon R. Dickson, 77, science fiction writer

  • Article by: KAVITA KUMAR , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2001 - 10:00 PM

For more than five decades, Gordon R. Dickson was a powerhouse in the science-fiction world -- and a prolific one. He wrote more than 80 books and 100 short stories and had ideas for many more.

He died Wednesday at his home in Richfield of complications from asthma. He was 77.

He won three Hugo awards, the science-fiction equivalent of the Academy Awards -- one in 1965 and two in 1981 -- as well as a Nebula award in 1966. He was president of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1969 to 1971.

His books sold more than 10 million copies, translated into languages from Portuguese to Bulgarian.

"Gordy was one of my childhood heroes," said Joel Rosenberg, a Minneapolis science fiction writer. "I grew up reading Gordon R. Dickson books.

"He's just one of those people who have had an impact on everybody in the field. He got his start in '50s and has been a major force ever since."

Dickson considered his masterpiece to be the "Dorsai" or "Childe Cycle" series -- 16 volumes covering the time span from A.D. 1400 to 2400. He finished eight books in the series and was at work on the ninth when he died.

In the series, Dickson toyed with the idea that with technological advances such as the atomic bomb, one person could destroy the entire human race. Thus, he thought humans must evolve some sort of individual responsibility in order for life to continue.

Dickson told the Minneapolis Star in 1980 that he was attracted to science fiction as a vehicle to explore endless possibilities.

"All my books are laboratory pieces. I'm trying something new in each one," he said. "They all have the same roots as the morality tale, but what I'm really tying into is something deeper. It's this human urge to reach out for something better and bigger that is driving us all the time as a race."

He added that science fiction "is a literature of ideas. People who don't read it assume it's full of ray guns and monsters. But it hasn't had anything to do with those things since 1930."

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1923, Dickson grew up listening to his mother read him Canadian and English fantasy books.

A quick study, he taught himself to read by age 4. He once said that as a child, he would force himself to close a book before he finished and imagine how it would end. Then he would open it and read the end -- creating two stories where there had been only one.

His family moved to Minneapolis when he was 12. He attended the University of Minnesota and studied creative writing under such notable writers as Sinclair Lewis, Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate.

Dickson often produced two, sometimes three, books a year. Even when his asthma became so bad that he couldn't leave his house, he produced a book a year.

He was an honored guest at more than 200 science-fiction conventions, where he would talk for hours with his fans and play his guitar.

One song written about him that captured his jovial spirit went like this: "Gordy Dickson, Gordy Dickson, Gordy Dickson is the one. Science fiction is his hobby, but his main job's having fun!"

Generous with his time, Dickson lent himself to other writers, offering advice on everything from how to get a manuscript published to tips on how to make a plot line work better.

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