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Hokas Pokas    by Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson order for
Hokas Pokas
by Poul Anderson
Order:  USA  Can
Baen, 2000
* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

This is a fairly recent reprint of some earlier works starring those maniacal teddy bears, the Hokas. If you haven't already made their acquaintance, you're in for a treat. Standing two-thirds the height of a human, a roly-poly, plush-furred Hoka is an irresistible incarnation of a child's favourite toy. However, his appearance is deceptive. Highly intelligent and stronger than any three humans, a Hoka lives to role-play - and role-play to the limit.

When discovered by human spacefarers, the Hokas were technologically inferior to the Interbeing League, and deemed in need of protection from undue interference in their development. Since Hokas adore other cultures and new roles to play, they embraced Earth history with a passion. Viking warriors and Mongol horsemen rub shoulders with Napoleonic soldiers and Victorian gentlemen in spats and bowler hats. Masters of improvisation, Hokas pick up cues and play along as their whims dictate, respecting the peculiar logic of whatever story-line they embrace. Inherently peaceful and probably nicer than humans, they eschew brutality or violence, although they are far from helpless.

The stories make for a wildly effective culture shock - a means of assessing human history and behaviour. Tongues firmly planted in cheek, two master story-tellers take pot-shots at human foibles while entertaining the reader with Hoka antics. Self-serving aliens who try to exploit them are foiled by the Hokas themselves as they play out their delightfully insane fantasies. Imagine rotund teddy bears playing the roles of Mowgli's pack, Bagheera, and Baloo, and capturing ruthless alien terrorists! Or a furry Highland warrior the stalwart guardian to the young man he has decided is Bonny Prince Charlie - and during that charade, the two bring peace and hope to a warring planet. In that story, the most serious of the collection, Dickson upholds his well-deserved reputation for intelligent commentary on war.

Both authors excel in bringing aliens and alien cultures to life. They also tell entertaining tales, ranging in tone from rollicking mayhem to thoughtful exploration of many facets of human - and non-human - experience. The Hokas themselves remain rather one-dimensional; they serve as minor actors and aids to plot development rather than being fully developed or explored as individual characters themselves. One is tempted to wonder what lies behind those bland teddy-bear faces ...

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