A Review of On The Run

On the RunOn the Run by Gordon R. Dickson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This had the makings of a very good sci fi novel. In fact, I was going to give it five stars — until I reached the ending, which was the most anticlimactic ending I’ve ever read!

The book begins with Kil and Ellen enjoying an anniversary dinner out. Then, somehow, time stops and everyone is frozen in place. Kil watches helplessly as an old man comes out of nowhere and takes Ellen away with him. Then life begins again and Kil spends the rest of the book in search of his beloved wife. First he goes to the World Police. As a “Class A” citizen, he has certain rights. There are three classes of citizens — A, B, and C. And you have to move around in this novel. Class A’s have to move every six months. C’s have to move every month. I think this is one of the glaring holes in the novel. Aside from being told the moving around the world so often is to stop people from bombing each other (???), no other good explanation is given. An entity called “Files” has determined this. Anyway, the World Police can’t, or won’t, help Kil, so he’s forced to go to a private detective. This detective tells him as only one person, he’s not big enough to find a missing person, but suggested he see an Ace, a leader of another group of people Kil had been unaware of — Class Ones, Twos, and Threes. They live in the Slums and have to move very frequently. Oh yeah, and everybody has a Key attached to their wrist which they use to access everything from doors to bank accounts. No one can survive in this world without a Key. However, the old man who took Ellen away didn’t wear a Key, Kil noted.

Kil goes down to the Slums where he stands out like a sore thumb. He meets with an Ace, and it doesn’t go well. He meets a streetwise person named Dekko who he hires to help him. Soon, Dekko has informed him that various Societies exist that could possibly help, as they have so many members. All of these people could be on the lookout for Ellen and find her. So Kil joins the Thieves Guild to get into a Society. There’s an even bigger Society that Dekko wants to investigate, and while spying on this group, Kil is captured while Dekko gets away. Kil is hypnotized to bow to the will of Mali, the leader, who wants to enlist Kil’s aid in finding out about a group called The Project and something called Sub-E. He thinks Ellen is tied into all of this. Kil eventually escapes.

Soon Kil is taken by the Police and he is interviewed for his mental stability. He’s a Stab, as opposed to an Unstab (the lower classes). Since he admits that his search for his wife supersedes his allegiance to The Police, he’s reclassified from an A to an Unstab Two and his rights are stripped of him. He’s forced to return to the Slums, where he’s almost killed. Dekko finds him again, though, and then Mali does too. As they’re all talking, the Police raid them and Mali’s sister is killed.

I know this sounds very confusing, but it’s fairly linear and makes sense while reading. Kil escapes and throws his Key away, living in a cave up in the California mountains. Dekko somehow finds him again (is he magical?), and Kil tells him he wants a submarine to go looking for Ellen. Dekko gets him one, they go under the sea, and find a dwelling at the bottom housing The Project and Ellen. Now I’m not going to give away the ending, but I will mention that Dekko is revealed as the head of the Police, Mali shows up, and a showdown between the three world powers occurs. This is where things become really unsatisfying for me. I just couldn’t believe Dickson resorted to his “solution” for solving this world-threatening problem. It’s so idealistic, it’s beyond comprehension. Maybe when this book was published in 1955, it might have made sense. Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe I’m hardened and jaded. But this book ended with a whimper after having been a real page turner the whole way through and I am very disappointed. I still cautiously recommend this book to sci fi fans, but there’s no way I can give it five stars. Three stars.

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