Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! by Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson
Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! (1998), by Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson, has been on my TBR list for years and, thanks to Tantor Media, which just released the first audio edition, it has finally landed in my audiobook player. As I anticipated, this collection of stories about the cute fuzzy aliens known as the Hoka, were really entertaining.
The Hoka are creatures that look like large teddy bears and they’re known throughout the universe as being “the most imaginative race of beings in known space.” They have a fascination with human culture and they love to mimic it, often on a grand scale, but they’re not always able to distinguish fact from fiction when they read about humans. The Hoka develop entire societies based on their ideas about what humans are like. Each of the Hoka stories explores one of these societies.
Anderson and Dickson wrote most of the Hoka novelettes found in Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! back in the 1950s for the magazines Other Worlds Science Fiction Stories, Universe, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Analog Science Fiction and Fact as well as a 1957 anthology called Earthman’s Burden. They were collected in Baen’s 1998 volume titled Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! along with a helpful introductory prologue, some short “interludes” that serve as effective segues, and a final short story to tie things up. There are a few more Hoka stories published in another Baen collection called Hokas Pokas! (2000) which I hope to read sometime.
The stories in Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! are:
- The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch (1951, Other Worlds Science Fiction Stories) – This novelette introduces Ensign Alexander Jones who has the misfortune of crash-landing his spaceship on the Hoka home planet. There he meets Hoka cowboys who are fighting the “engines.” If Alex wants to get to the space port so he can be rescued and return to Earth, he’ll have to help the Hoka defeat the engines.
- Don Jones (1957, Earthman’s Burden) – Alex Jones, back on Earth, has been asked by his superiors to host a dinner party for the Hoka ambassadors who are visiting. But before dinner, the Hoka see the opera Don Giovanni, and when the Hoka decide to see Alex in the role of Don Juan, romantic chaos ensues.
- In Hoka Signo Vinces (1953, Other Worlds) – Alex, now married, has been sent to the Hoka planet to be an ambassador and to make sure the creatures don’t develop technology too quickly. But when the Hoka manage to get their paws on episodes of Space Patrol, they decide they want to be space cops, too.
- The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound (1953, Universe) – You can probably tell by the title that this is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. It’s funny to watch the Hoka play Holmes and Watson.
- Yo Ho Hoka! (1955, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) – And you can probably tell by the title that this is a pirate-themed adventure. Somebody smuggled pirate stories onto the Hoka planet and Alex ends up playing the role of Greenbeard.
- The Tiddlywink Warriors (1955, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) – When his wife needs rescuing, Alex finds himself forcefully enlisted into the Hoka version of the French Foreign Legion.
- Joy in Mudville (1955, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) – The Hoka love baseball and are finally able to play in the galaxy-wide tournament. This is the Hoka version of Casey at the bat.
- Undiplomatic Immunity (1957, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) – A funny secret agent story.
The premise is absurd and the stories do get silly sometimes, but overall, Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! is pretty entertaining. The best part is the way that Anderson and Dickson poke fun at all of our worn and predictable literary cliches and motifs. For example, in the Wild West story, “The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch,” the male Hokas all have names like Slim or Shorty but they let their women keep their Hoka names so that they won’t all be named Jane, which would get confusing. Everyone knows the sheriff is the dumbest man in town so, in Canyon Gulch, none of the Hoka actually wants to be elected sheriff.
A small complaint is that the stories tend to feel formulaic when you read them back-to-back. A lot of them rely on Alex getting knocked unconscious and waking up to find that he’s been unwittingly dragged into another crazy Hoka adventure.
As far as the writing goes, it’s not stellar, but it serves its purpose adequately. These stories were written in the 1950s, so don’t be surprised to meet mindless women obsessed with their weight and men who are more interested in ogling a woman than having an interesting conversation with her. The authors do a nice job, though, of addressing the issue of colonialism. Alex is adamant that he doesn’t want to turn the Hoka into humans and he worries about their planet being exploited.
Tantor Audio’s edition, which is 8.5 hours long, is fabulous. The narrator, Gabriel Vaughan, is required to be quite versatile with accents and cadence due to all of the different styles of stories. He added a lot of humor with his performance. Just fabulous.