Once long ago, science fiction fans turned almost exclusively to novels to get their fix.
How long ago? I’m talking about the 1970s to 1990s–what your dad would call “the good old days.” Sure, there were good SF films and television back then. I will grant that even certain comic books were crafting some well-done stories. However, for every film like Star Wars, there were a dozen movies like Star Crash, and the same can be said for TV and comics. So, when fans gathered at SF conventions back in the good old days, they tended to talk books. And number one in military SF books were the Dorsi novels.
Gordon R. Dickson was a World War II veteran, so it’s safe to say he knew something about the military. He referred to his most prestigious series as “The Child Cycle,” but his fans often just referenced the most notable subjects of the books- the planet and people called Dorsai.
Of all the worlds spinning in the 24th century, Dorsai was unique. That planet produced for export the greatest mercenary soldiers in the galaxy. In fact, their entire economy was dependent on selling the martial skills of its sons and daughters to fight in other people’s wars. This opened up myriad story possibilities, and Dickson took full advantage of that fact. But this was not a mean series of books about brutes killing across the cosmos.
The Dorsai’s success was not based on might alone. Because Dickson focused on war as a thinking person’s dilemma.
Question: What do you do when an overwhelming force takes over your town? Answer: Find an excuse to get all the young and healthy out of town while leaving the aged and infirmed behind to poison the air, and once everybody is dead and the air is clear the war is won. Simple and ingenious, but not classically heroic.
Yes, the Dorsai were that ruthless, and in a society where everybody is a soldier casualties among the aged and infirmed are as acceptable as any other (not that I view that as a good thing personally). I do, however, find the Dorsai’s approach thought-provoking–and isn’t that what good science fiction is supposed to do?
A good SF story, like any other kind of literature, provokes thought. It challenges us to look at problems in new ways to develop unique solutions. I appreciate what Gordon R. Dickson did for military SF and recommend his works to anybody who would bost an understanding of the genre. Besides, not everything in SF movies, TV or comics today is a gem. So why not take the time to crack open a good old book or two?