Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Tactics of Mistake" - Gordon R. Dickson

Just reread this military-SF classic, the first volume of the justly-famous Dorsai trilogy. And this time I read a little more analytically.

The novel tells the story of Cletus Grahame,  initially a tactics officer with the "Allied" forces, later the leader of the Dorsai mercenaries in a great conflict between the colony worlds and the Alliance-Coalition forces of an imperialist Earth. See the plot summary here.

The story weaves a number of strands:

  • the personal conflict between Grahame and Coalition leader deCastries;
  • the claustrophobic atmosphere of political and military culture within which most of the action plays out - in this it is rather like Frank Herbert's Dune;
  • Cletus's romantic entanglement with headstrong and idealistic Melissa Khan - a classic ENTJ-ENFJ engagement; 
  • the unique take on military tactics and strategy which Grahame deploys to outwit his opponents again and again;
  • the mystical underpinning of the Exotics, with their Buddhist-like sense of destiny.

With a critical eye,  it seems impossible that Grahame's informed military guesses would turn out so consistently accurate,  while the plot depends upon them so doing. Yet the author has not conjured Cletus's doctrines from thin air - his Dorsai troops execute as classic special forces.

The novel's brilliance lies in the pacy, balanced writing together with interesting and plausible characters, the reader's inability to second-guess Grahame's brilliance plus a natural sympathy with the essential rightness of his cause.