An expansion of a 1962 short story, Home from the Shore was published by Ace in 1978 in an elaborate (by mass-market paperback standards) edition illustrated by James Odbert, about which Dickson made much. The illustrations, sayeth Dickson, constitute "something not merely entirely new in publishing but in artistic concept... The result is something more than a book. It is a mechanism for the imagination."
Well, whatever. Basically, for all of Dickson's boasting about the innovative way in which art and story are here commingled, it all looks to me like what it is: a book with pictures, and one that would not necessarily have been any less enjoyable had the illustrations — many of which are mediocre — been omitted. Losing the illustrations would have had one dramatic result, however: the book would have been too short to publish as a novel. For really, Home from the Shore is a novella, easily read in about two hours' time, less if you're quick.
The tale itself is compelling and often richly realized. Johnny Joya is a cadet in training at a space academy in an unspecified future America. He also belongs to a race of humans who, several generations before, chose to live in the oceans in their "sea-homes," free from the strictures of land-based socio-politics, and at one with nature. Strong bigotry against them on the part of "landers" doesn't stop Johnny and several like-minded peers to attempt to fit in to, and gain acceptance from, land-based society (which, after all, are people like themselves) by joining the space academy. A principal goal of this academy, at least as depicted in the novel, is to send missions out into space just beyond Mars to engage in the futile capture of space "bats," diaphonous living creatures which float through the vacuum and which — the academy believes — will help humanity learn the secrets of interstellar travel if only they didn't up and die every time they were captured.
Joya and several of his sea-comrades are on one of these sorties when the self-inflicted death of one of the bats causes them all severe distress, a result of the sea-peoples' greater attenuation to living things (something Dickson doesn't explain as well as he should). This causes no end of trouble for the sea-people at the Academy, where they are already treated with fierce bigotry, and after one of Johnny's friends is beaten badly, and it becomes clear the academy is going to do nothing about it, Johnny decides that to attempt to live among the landlubbers is an act of abject futility, and he and his people go mass AWOL.
Their desertion triggers a greater conflict then even Johnny could have imagined, and he is forced to confront crises within himself and his community.
Dickson's scenario is absorbing, and despite the story's brevity, or maybe because of it, Johnny and his many friends and family are richly realized characters with whom the reader immediately sympathizes. Dickson grippingly and often chillingly depicts the tension between the sea-people and the "landers." Timeless themes of prejudice and bullying make the book palpably contemporary even decades after it was originally written. (The more things stay the same, eh?) I was wishing for a more detailed history of the sea-people, simply because they are so intriguing, but this oversight on Dickson's part isn't too great a liability. (Dickson does mention in his introduction that their culture is rooted in that of the Polynesian islanders'.) Neither is the predictable "surprise" that pops up at one crucial moment. The story also carries an implicit message about humanity's destruction of the sea and its resources. It's very subtly — even subliminally — woven in, and the tale is stronger for that subtlety. Ultimately you come home from this Shore with a real sense of satisfaction, eager to dive in to the sequel, The Space Swimmers.