by Gordon R. Dickson
Series: Childe Cycle 1
Reviewed date: 2005 Mar 14
Rating: 4
280 pages
Previously published as The Genetic General
Awards: Lost 1960 Hugo to Starship Troopers
cover art

Plot synopsis: Donal Graeme, from the planet Dorsai, is like all Dorsai: driven to excellence in military matters. Dorsai are bred to be warriers; their mercenary armies are valued by all the civilized worlds. Among Dorsai Donal is unique; he possesses not only the Dorsai gift for fighting, but an ability to intuitively understand that which others see only vaguely. Information that other people dismiss subconsciously Donal processes and understands fully; he sees the full picture where others see nothing.

Other Dorsai strive to become mighty warriors; Donal Graeme dedicates himself to becoming the greatest general. His insight makes him unequaled. His military career is one stunning success after another: he sees through a traitorous double-cross and saves nearly his whole company; with a fleet of only five ships he attacks and defeats an entire world; he conquers a moon without firing a shot. But in the end Donal's biggest fight is not against armies, but against a subtle threat that only he recognizes: Prince William of Ceta's manipulation of politics on the Fourteen worlds threatens the foundational structure of the society that sustains human civilization, the society that enables Donal and all Dorsai mercenaries to function as peacekeepers instead of mere instruments of senseless destruction.

Donal Graeme: Dorsai! is not a bildungsroman. One senses that Donal Graeme has always been a complete man, that he has never had to grow into an awareness and understanding of his gift but rather was fully aware of it from the moment of birth. Donal is a larger-than-life hero. That is why Dorsai! works. The plot itself has some holes in it: e.g., any military strategist will cringe at the simplicity with which Dickson portrays war strategy. But Donal is the hero that we all secretly want to be (or at least I do): as steelly and confident--and independent--on the inside as he is on the outside.

It is an injustice that Dorsai! (or The Genetic General as it was titled then) came out in the same year as Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Both are top-of-the-line military SF books that set the standard for the subgenre for decades to come. But Dorsai! lost the 1960 Hugo award to Starship Troopers and has never recieved the full attention it deserves. I cannot say whether Dorsai! is a better book than Starship Troopers, as I have not read Heinlein's book in many years, but few books have held my attention as Dorsai! did. I rate Dorsai! a four out of five; I shall re-read it in a year or two and likely rate it a full five out of five. (I never rate a book as a five until I have read it at least twice.)

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