Dickson, Gordon R. Dorsai!

NY: Ace, 1980.

This is one of the classics of military SF, published coincidentally in the same month as that other classic, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Where Heinlein focused on the molding of the individual infantryman, however, Dickson was concerned with the process and problems of command, especially its upper reaches.

In the galactic culture five centuries from now, worlds survive and succeed by exchanging specialists on contract. The Dorsai world’s principal specialty is highly-trained mercenaries who serve as officers in the armies of other worlds. The Graeme family is Dorsai through and through and the youngest academy graduate is eighteen-year-old Donal, noted for the oddity of his personality and mind. Donal is prone to insights that, while obvious to him, are a major puzzle to everyone else, including his superiors and even his family.

We follow Donal from the day of his graduation — which makes him an adult by Dorsai reckoning, free to do whatever he likes — through his first combat command, in which he saves his infantry company from the commander’s stupidity, to becoming the protégé of and then aide-de-camp to a senior general (who quickly learns to listen to his analyses and suggestions), to eventual appointment at an very young age as military commander of one of the civilized worlds. It’s an extraordinarily rapid rise — he now far outranks his older brothers and even his uncles — but Donal Graeme is simply a military genius in what Liddell-Hart called the Strategy of Indirection.

This is the first episode in what came to be a dozen volumes known as the “Childe Cycle,” covering several generations of Dorsai. Dickson’s worldbuilding in this one is very light on detail but he provides enough hints at the structure of civilization, and does it with sufficient skill, to allow great scope for the stories to come. Military SF tends to fall into two types. Most of it is, in my opinion, mindless shoot-‘em-ups, the text equivalent of Hollywood cowboy films of the 1940s and ’50s. This is very much the other type, and Dickson does an excellent job of it, too.

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Published in: on 18 October 2016 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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