Cardboard hero for hire (Dorsai!;6-18-1959)

by Von Dongen

Gordy Dickson’s newest novel, serialized in the last three Astoundings, has already created a stir in the community.  Dorsai! is the tale of Donal Graeme, youngest member of a mercenary family from a planet of mercenaries, who starts at the bottom and works his way into the most senior military post in the Earth sphere.  It’s definitely designed to appeal to those who like combat, military structures, and politicial intrigue. 

Sadly, while I actually enjoy all of those things (after all, I’ve read the magnificant Caine Mutiny at least four times), I was unable to really get into this book at all.  Definitely disappointing Dickson for me. 

The universe is promising enough.  I like stories set in a small set of worlds clustered around Earth, and Dorsai! does a good job of depicting the sixteen colony worlds within about 25 light years of Earth.  There are three main camps, each reflecting the sentiment of their parent worlds: liberal Earth, restrictive Venus, middle-ground Mars.  Largely autonomous, the primary export of the colony worlds is specialized humans.  Some planets export technicians, others sociologists.  The world of the Dorsai breeds the galaxy’s best soldiers.

These worlds are in constant warfare, and they rent out the Dorsai to lead their troops.  The situation is unstable–political forces are gathering to push a truly free market of people peddling, essentially contract slavery.  The ambitious Prince William of Ceta plans to be the informal head of all the human worlds, pulling the strings.

The real problem with Dorsai! is its utter lack of characterization.  In this big universe Dickson has painted, there are but a handful of recurring characters.  It reminds me of The Count of Monte Cristo, where there are about nine people in all of Paris.  None of the characters have any depth, and the story is narrated in a distant, aloof manner.  We never really get inside anyone’s head, and Graeme is the only viewpoint.  Moreover, Graeme’s military genius is never really explained.  He just goes from victory to victory, continuously rising in rank.  The plot is a bare skeleton; the story would probably benefit from being a series of books, if each one could hold a reader’s interest, of course. 

It’s also a very male-heavy universe, which I find implausible for a story set four centuries in the future.  All in all, if feels very shallow and brawny.  I’m sure it will go down in history as a defining tale in the genre, but it’s a bandwagon I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to buy a ticket for.

Stay tuned next time for the rest of this month’s Astounding!  I hope it will be better than the Dorsai!, but I shan’t hold my breath.

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