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aka The Genetic General
Throughout the Fourteen Worlds of humanity, no race is as feared and respected as the Dorsai. The ultimate warriors, they are known for their deadly rages, unbreakable honor, and fierce independence. No man rules the Dorsai, but their mastery of the art of war has made them the most valuable mercenaries in the known universe.

Donal Graeme is Dorsai, taller and harder than any ordinary man. But he is different as well, with talents that maze even his fellow Dorsai. And once he ventures out into the stars, the future will never be the same.

280 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1960

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About the author

Gordon R. Dickson

164 books332 followers
Gordon Rupert Dickson was an American science fiction author. He was born in Canada, then moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota as a teenager. He is probably most famous for his Childe Cycle and the Dragon Knight series. He won three Hugo awards and one Nebula award.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 197 reviews
Profile Image for Dirk Grobbelaar.
550 reviews1,051 followers
February 4, 2020
Whether Dorsai is to your particular taste or not, you’ll find echoes of it in almost every other modern Military Science Fiction novel. Released around the same time as Starship Troopers, these two novels pretty much kickstarted the genre. Some folks prefer the more visceral, “man on the ground” approach of Troopers, while others gravitate toward the strategic , or long view, approach of Dorsai!. Either way, it didn’t take authors long to realise the benefits of combining both these two aspects into their stories.

As for me, I really enjoyed this book (as I did Troopers). The serial origins of the novel are at times apparent, but hey, some of the best novels ever were wrought from the same beginnings (Dune, anyone?).

The novel also has an alternate title, which has a nice retro ring to it: The Genetic General . Recommended.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,211 reviews112 followers
November 7, 2008
It's interesting that I'd book end the reading list for my SciFi and Fantasy book discussion group with two novels, published in the same year, both up for the Hugo that year and credited with the rise of military sci-fi. The two novels are Gordon R. Dickson's "Dorsai!" and Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers." Both are heralded as influential and classics of their particular little cul-de-sac of science-fiction literature.

But go into any bookstore today and you'd easily find multiple copies of "Starship Troopers" on the shelf. I'd dare say it'd be a bit more difficult to find a copy of "Dorsai." I'm not saying you wouldn't but it seems that "Troopers" has withstood the test of time while "Dorsai!" has become something of an afterthought.

And reading "Dorsai!," I can see why Heinlein's military science-fiction novel has withstood the test of time better than this one has.

It's not that "Dorsai!" is necessarily a terrible novel. I think the problem I had with it is, I don't necessarily think it's a novel. It's a lot of snippets and (at first) unconnected dots about a great military commander and his rise through the ranks. But early on, you'd be hard pressed to say exactly what the driving narrative of the novel is. At times, "Dorsai!" is terribly episodic in nature, with a few characters coming in and out at various points to connect things, but frustratingly not adding up to a complete narrative. The story does start to come together in the last third of the novel, but by then I was so frustrated with the book and the episodic nature that the best narrative tie-up in the world wasn't going to help things.

A lot of it stems from the fact that the main character, Donal Graeme, isn't all that terribly likeable. In the future as created by Dickson, various planets produced people who are more equipped for one particular job or role than another. This leads to a system of barter in the universe with the specialized planets working together out of necessity since while one group is great at one thing, they are terribly weak in another. In many ways, the societies are so limited and defined by one particular characteristic that it becomes a bit off-putting at times. Sort of the same issue you can have with classic "Star Trek" or "Doctor Who" stories--it's hard to believe the entire planet is reflected by one group of people that the heroes just happen to run across. (For example, why does the whole planet subscribe to the "let's all be gangsters" theory in the classic "Trek" episode).

Enter Donal Graeme, who is from the military caste and apparently has some great future. The novel gives us glimpses of his rise and how he's this great military leader. Hints come along that he may be more than he seems and there are moments when you can see the influence "Dorsai!" might have had on Frank Herbert in writing the Dune saga. Donal is clearly meant as some kind of messiah. And that may be where "Dorsai"! goes so wrong for me. It's hard to believe that other military commanders hadn't or couldn't come up with some of the "revoluationary" strategies Donal uses. For example, at one point he attacks a group earlier than expected. Seems to me the element of surprise might be one that military commanders had thought of before now. But the entire novel acts as if this is the greatest military strategy since slice bread.

"Dorsai!" does have a lot of other issues. For one thing, the characters are extremely wooden and the dialogue a bit stilted. A lot of this I chalk up to the era "Dorsai!" was written. The writers then may have had a lot of brilliant ideas, but sometimes writing a realistic conversation was a bit of stretch. But at least with Asimov and Heinlein, you had some characters that actually felt better realized than what we get here.

And if you're looking for some strong female characters, this is not the book for you. The universe here is extremely misogynistic. And there are some odd overtones, especially when woman after woman throws herself at Donal, only for himself to truly be his best around the men, esp. his servant, Lee. It could just be the mind-set of today talking but intended or not, it's still there. I wonder how readers in the 1960's might have reacted.

All of that said, I still don't think this is the worst novel I've read. Certainly there is Heinlein with stronger misogynistic slants and it's not like Asimov was always strong on the character or creating fully realized worlds. (While I love Foundation, the worlds there are, at times, extremely one-dimensional as well). But it's interesting to read a novel that clearly influenced a lot of other writers (the novel could even been seen as a bit of a pre-cursor to Stephen King's Dark Tower series), but yet isn't exactly still as well respected or remembered today.

I kept having to remind myself this was once up for a Hugo. But having a Hugo nominee not live up to the test of time isn't anything new. Looking back on recent Hugo nominees, it's puzzling sometimes at what does make the short list. I wonder how many of those will be like "Dorsai!" in a few years--seen in the shadow of the eventual winner.

Profile Image for Jamie.
1,143 reviews100 followers
February 5, 2019
Widely lauded as a military sci-fi classic, what I actually found most interesting was Dickson's view of future human civilization among the stars. It's a civilization based on the flow of labor contracts for highly skilled workers among the planets and the conflict arising from opposing views affecting control of that flow. On one hand are the "tight" societies that view this labor trade as superseding an individual's liberty and independence, ultimately prone to exploitation by unscrupulous governments and wealthy corporations. And on the other, the "loose" societies that value individual freedoms over contractual obligations. In a way, this feels like the libertarian premise for a Heinlein story, and very well could be, though absent is the heavy handed rhetoric typically seen with Heinlein.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,051 reviews101 followers
August 17, 2021
This is a first volume of quite lengthy (10 volumes, 50+ years in writing) mil-SF series. I decided to read this book because it was nominated for Hugo for the Best Novel in 1960, losing to Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

The story is set several centuries into future, with mankind spreading over 14 star systems, each system with one type of society, a usual trope in SF. One of the worlds is Dorsai, Sparta-like libertarian society that supplies best mercenary warriors to the rest of the worlds. The story follows Donal Graeme is Dorsai, a young man (story starts when he is 18 years old, getting his first assignment to the worlds beyond), born of Dorsai parents, but with some mixture of so-called Exotics, a society of gene-modding humans from The Exotics were two planets full of strange people, judged by the standards of the rest of the human race—some of whom went so far as to wonder if the inhabitants of Mara and Kultis had developed wholly and uniquely out of the human race, after all. This, however, was speculation half in humor and half in superstition. In truth, they were human enough.

As story goes, he meets a strange extremely rich and powerful man, William, Prince, and Chairman of the Board of that very commercial planet Ceta, one of ‘behind the curtain’ rulers of the world, and his entourage, a young female Exotic Anea Marlivana and depressed man from Newton - ArDell Montor, a specialist in social dynamics. Donal intuitively feels that William is very wise and dangerous. Intuition plays a paramount role in the story, for the hero has a stellar military career because he sees what other don’t due to his gift.

The story reminded me a great deal of Dune. It was written earlier, and I can guess that Frank Herbert has read it when he thought over his masterpiece. In this book there are no desert planets, worms or spice, but there is an idea of superman as the next evolutionary step, but instead of Bene Gesserit it is brought by Exotics, who also err in their calculations. The hero as well doesn’t want to be a leader and messiah… even simplification of weapons is similar – here soldiers have a handgun and knife in addition to his regular armament; but they were infantry, spring-rifle men. Weapon for weapon, any thug in the back alley of a large city had more, and more modern firepower; but the trick with modern warfare was not to outgun the enemy, but carry weapons he could not gimmick. Chemical and radiation armament was too easily put out of action from a distance. - Quite similar to Nukes and blades in Dune. ArDell Montor may be (one of several) inspiration for Mentats, wise but socially inept.

While the story is interesting, the prose is rather weak, the military part (for me) was less interesting that e.g. humility in gene manipulation: could a congress of gorillas, gathered to plan the breeding of the supergorilla, plan a human being? Discard the line of development of mightier muscles, stronger and longer teeth, greater specialization to master their tropical environment?

Profile Image for Andrew.
2,151 reviews
February 4, 2018
And so another title off my "got to get round to reading it" list is ticket off.

This time the first of the Childe Cycle (although I have always called it the Dorsai series). The premise is that you have a series of worlds (14 in all in this book) that have through reasons explored in the book separated out to very specific and highly specialised societies - in the case of Dorsai - instinct and talented soldiers.

The whole (known) universe operated on the principle that each planet trades these inherent abilities as if their populous are their natural export.

So in to this universe you bring Donel Graeme - the latest in a long and illustrious line of Dorsai soldiers and mix with a galaxy spanning conspiracy and you have a story that empires and legends are built upon.

This book was to be part of the Childe cycle - a series that sadly was never finished upon Dickson death however you certainly get a flavour of what he was planning (it was believe there was only one more book to be added to the sequence). Many of the books where written out of chronological order often adding depth to the story while be added to the cycle at either end (for example the next book to be written was a prequel).

As far as military science fiction this book is rather light although it does address the subject - this is partly due to the fact this book was written in 1975 where such concepts were under a lot of change (you had a number of authors who had actually seen military service now writing such stories) along with the fact it is quite a short book at only 176 pages.

However you can see the start of a epic arc of stories - something that is both common place and almost expected these days.

So yes an interesting read and one that I shall certainly be building upon in the future (sometime)
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,023 followers
October 23, 2014
This is the first of the Childe Cycle, a series of 11 books that was written across almost 50 years. I've read most of the series, some books twice, but I've never managed to read them in order or even within the same decade. By some odd chance, I wound up getting the entire series, except for the last book, so I think I'll read them all again in published order, since I haven't seen any list that suggests a better one. If anyone has an opinion, I'd be interested in hearing it shortly. I'm starting "Necromancer" now.

This is one of the better, if not a definitive books in space warfare. In reading it 50 years after it was first published, I'm amazed at how many of the ideas have been used by others. I'm also surprised at how well it aged. Much better than so many other old SF books, so I'm giving it 5 stars for being the start of something real good. The old rating was 4 stars, which is probably more realistic.

Childe Cycle
1. Dorsai! (1959)
aka The Genetic General
2. Necromancer (1962)
aka No Room for Man
3. Soldier, Ask Not (1967)
4. The Tactics of Mistake (1971)
5. The Spirit of Dorsai (1979)
6. Lost Dorsai (1980)
7. The Final Encyclopedia (1984)
8. The Chantry Guild (1988)
9. Young Bleys (1991)
10. Other (1994)
11. Antagonist (2007) (with David W Wixon)
Dorsai Spirit (omnibus) (2002)
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,517 reviews10.9k followers
January 28, 2010
5.0 stars. Absolutely superb, classic SF by one of the masters. Dorsai is a great example of the science fiction "superman" and Gordon Dickson's plot incorporates him very well.

Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1960)
Profile Image for Jason.
200 reviews14 followers
December 1, 2008
By Gordon R. Dickson
Finished: November 13th, 2008

I am a fan of military science fiction, or at least the concept behind it. I have read “Starship Troopers” by Heinlein, “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman, “Ender’s Game” and “Ender’s Shadow” by Orson Scott Card, “Trading in Danger” and “Marque and Reprisal” by Elizabeth Moon (although that isn’t 100% military SF in my opinion), and some of the “Lensman” material by E.E. Doc Smith. So it seemed inevitable that I would eventually make my way to “Dorsai!”, the first book in the “Childe Cycle” by Gordon Dickson.
I was excited about this book, and eager to complete “Ender’s Shadow” so I could dive into it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t everything I hoped for.

1 Characters
True to the SF writing of the period, the characters in “Dorsai!” don’t have a lot to do or think about outside of the narrative. Most characters have only a single motivation (or no motivation at all!), and exist to further the plot. The main character, Donal, was particularly disappointing, and though the ending sheds some light on his peculiarity (a peculiarity that is never really explained or described), the nature of his ambitions and motivations behind it are never mentioned until the end, when he has apparently fulfilled his ambition. The character of Anea is a painful example of “man writing about a female” where her only motivation/character trait seems to be scathing hatred of the hero (that we, the readers, always know is just a mask for her true feelings).

2 Pace
The author keeps the story going, and makes smooth transitions when the story demands the passage of months or years. In some ways, the pace is actually too fast, as important character, story, and setting details are skipped.
The ending, concerning Donal’s brother Mor and the fate of the villain, William of Ceta, makes no sense whatsoever.

3 Story
Gordon Dickson spins a tale about a “perfect soldier and conqueror” (developed by eugenics rather than genetics) years before Frank Herbert wrote “Dune”, but this was not the story I was interested in. The socio-economic and political structure of his setting is fascinating, and I would have enjoyed more exposition about it, how it developed, where it was going, and how the different leaders manipulated their own spheres of influence for additional power. The villain’s plan of conquest through statistical societal control is also clever, but again, needed more information for the reader to appreciate.

2 Dialogue
Many people have bashed the dialogue in this book, but I actually don’t have anything against it. The characters are weak and their relationships are frequently laughable, but the dialogue serves its purpose. I did see some clichés and a there were several moments of “everyone be amazed by my ultra-obvious plan to beat the bad guys” and “everyone let’s go enact my death defying, ultra-obvious and yet still genius plan”.

1.5 Style/Technical
Unsatisfactory with Positive Exceptions
I was about to give Dickson a higher technical rating for this novel, as most of his writing is clear and easy to follow, but the ending with Donal’s brother simply made no sense, offered no explanation, and is still annoying me to this very moment. For that crime of narrative, for breaking the contract he had with his readers, he is lucky I am giving him this much.

1.9 Overall
It can be difficult to review a novel that was written during a different time when people expected different things from their science fiction. I will be the first to admit that “Dorsai!” was not written for my day, and I probably would have enjoyed it much more if I had been reading it in 1960 instead of today. Many of the concepts in this story were interesting then, and are still worthy avenues of exploration.
Unfortunately, there is still no excuse for the trite characters and the muddled ending. If either of those factors had been fixed, this book would have been much better in my estimation. If the author had spent more time on developing the setting, and explaining William of Ceta’s plan for conquest, and Donal’s ambitions at the beginning (so we could measure his success in some way), this novel would have been excellent.
Profile Image for Mike Finn.
1,153 reviews31 followers
August 26, 2020
“Dorsai!” by Gordon R Dickson: thirty five years ago I loved this. Now it seems very thin

In 1957, two years before the first version of “Dorsai!” was serialized in in “Astounding Science Fiction”, Peter Graham coined the phrase: “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.”

I started reading science fiction in the sixties when I was ten but I didn’t get to “Dorsai!” until my early twenties. I was still a twelve-year-old at heart and most science fiction excited me. I loved the puzzle-solving, the removal of constraints, the triumph of optimism. I was already being lured towards a different, more socially-based sensibility by writers like Ursula K Le Guin and her “Left Hand of Darkness” but I was still up for hard-core space opera when I read “Dorsai!”

At the time, I found it literally astonishing: the idea of a military race, bred to fight and lead and win, producing a genius who would shape the fate of many world’s by fighting as little as possible was new and fresh. The pace was brisk, The plot turned on its heals at lightning speed and the ending caught me completely by surprise. It was a celebration of what I was looking for in Science Fiction at the time.

So, when I saw the audio version on audible.com, I thought it would be fun to relive all of that.

It turns out, I’m not twelve any more. I was not thrilled. The plot is still clever and the pace is still brisk but how had I not seen how shallow the characters were, how ridiculously male-dominated the book was, how morally bankrupt the politics was and how dishonestly bloodless the fighting was?

“Dorsai!” is well read by Stefan Rudnicki and offers a pleasant way to while away the hours. It is a book of its time but that time is no longer mine.
Profile Image for Charlie.
374 reviews15 followers
June 27, 2016
I'm still in recovery from the eyerolling that happened for the last chapter of this book. I'm gonna go ahead and spoil this one out in the open. Donal Graeme, of the planet Dorsai(!), is an intuitive superman. I wish those weren't the exact words used, but they are. He's so awesome that everyone else's ideas are dumb and he just intuitively knows the right course of action. Must be why he was such a dunderhead with the one (ok...there was one and a half) female character in the book. He was intuitively building himself up to be the greatest man in the galaxy and he must have intuitively known that she was genetically programmed to, at the moment of her maturity, gravitate to the most awesomest man in the universe and secure him as her own. She of course, as a Woman, can appreciate this without understanding it (paraphrase, not extrapolation, of a quote from the book).

Mary Fucking Mother Of God. Fuck. I couldn't wait to be done.

If you are into reading contrived tactical puzzles where Donal intuits his way out perfectly, this might be the book for you. For me, I'll skip the misogyny and close out my 1950s challenge. Here's to the 60s.
Profile Image for Per Gunnar.
1,076 reviews65 followers
March 5, 2015
This book caught my interest because it was said that it, together with Starship Troopers, is considered as a classic that are responsible for the rise of military science fiction. Well, for Starship Troopers I can perhaps understand such a statement. For this one, not so much. Actually, to me, this was a rather mediocre book.

The book tells the story of Donald Graeme as he becomes a rising star as a military expert (genius) and mercenary from the planet Dorsai, renowned for “breeding” the best military personnel in the galaxy. Sounded pretty okay to me.

Unfortunately the book does not exactly impress me. First of all it does not really feel like a book with a single coherent story from start to finish but rather as a sequence of loosely connected episodes. For most of the book there was really not any real development of neither story nor character, it just went from one assignment to another which, of course, Donal managed with apparent ease.

Second, for being considered as being cause of the rise of military science fiction there was not really that much hard code military material and a lot of it was naïve and nonsensical. It was rather apparent that the author hade little to zero military knowledge.

When not solving his “military” assignments with one hand behind his back Donal mostly engaged in various political and philosophical discussions. I cannot say that much of it felt very engaging. As I wrote before, the whole the book mostly felt like a string of rather superficial short stories.

This is not a series that I will continue reading.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,610 reviews419 followers
May 10, 2013
-¡Shai Dorsai! -.

Género. Ciencia-Ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. En el 2043, la civilización humana ha viajado a las estrellas y se ha dividido en más de una decena de culturas. Nuestro protagonista, Donal Graeme, pertenece a una de ellas, los Dorsai, guerreros y mercenarios (perdón, soldados profesionales…), acaba de terminar sus estudios en la Academia y se dispone a emprender su carrera militar. Novela escrita en 1960 bajo el título “El general genético”, pero reeditada en una versión más extensa en 1976. Primer libro de la saga Ciclo Dorsai, pero que puede leerse de forma independiente.

¿Quiere saber más del libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book135 followers
October 6, 2009
Well-told space opera of a bygone era. Whatever you might think about Dickson's story (or the "history" which grew from it), his story telling is first rate. This is what early SF was all about. (I'm reminded of Asimov's foundation series.)

And, despite writing in the late 1950, Dickson avoids some of the egregious science and prediction errors which plague the amateurish efforts of more recent SF writers. It's as if Dickson, fully aware that things would change even though he no clue how, made allowances in his story telling. The result is a tale almost as fresh today as when it was written fifty years ago.
Profile Image for Contrarius.
621 reviews90 followers
September 19, 2017
This one was a reread for me, but it's been decades since I read it and I basically didn't remember any of it except for the hero's name and heritage.

Dorsai! is only a small part of an uncompleted series of books by Gordon R. Dickson, intended when complete to address deep philosophical issues concerning the evolution of man, the collective unconscious, and other Jungian concepts -- see https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Dorsai -- and was referred to by him as the Childe Cycle in reference to Childe Roland of Shakespeare, Browning, and Stephen King fame, from Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" -- see https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Childe_... .

This was the first book published in the series, but is not the first chronologically. In this one we basically see the growth/development of the first superman, as our lead character Donal Graeme matures from a brilliant young academy graduate whom everyone thinks is odd to essentially the ruler/"protector" of the entire human species, with some mysticism thrown in along the way. It's interesting, if a bit novella-like; being so short, there really isn't time to fully explore or describe the guy's life and maturation. It's more like a highlights reel, where we see a few major battles/conflicts/points of interest and little else. It also sort of leaves us hanging at both ends -- although it was the first published, there is pretty obviously a lot of Dorsai history and back story that we aren't getting, and at the end Donal seems to be headed for many even greater achievements, which we also don't get to see -- and there are major dropped threads, like an entire alternate life choice that Donal had the chance to make in the middle of the story but didn't. Donal is heavily involved in the rest of the series even though not a main character in other books himself, through a complicated arrangement of both time travel and virtual reincarnation -- Dickson leaning more on the mystical aspects of his grand plan which, unfortunately, never got fully realized.

This series meant a lot to me as a kid, and it's frustrating both that this particular book is so underdeveloped and that the series as a whole was never completed (originally there would have been both a final book, at the chronological end of the Dorsai books, and several books placed chronologically during our own history, exploring historical figures like John Milton and a mercenary named Sir John Hawkwood, as well as in our own contemporary period). No doubt I'll have to go ahead and reread the rest of the Dorsai books to see more of what grabbed me so much back in the day.

As for the narrator, this was also read by Stefan Rudnicki, and as usual he does a fine job.

Oh, and one last irrelevant aside. March Upcountry, which I just read before this book, Dorsai!, and the book I'm currently reading, A Hymn Before Battle, ALL include passages quoting poems by Rudyard Kipling. Coincidence, military obsession, or vast conspiracy? You decide!
Profile Image for Timothy Urgest.
490 reviews256 followers
November 23, 2020
I quickly lost interest and speed-read the rest. Very little characterization and worldbuilding.
Profile Image for Charles.
Author 4 books82 followers
October 5, 2021
Just read this one for the second time. Enjoyed it enough to read it in one sitting--yes, it rained all day and I didn't care-I settled in with my Maltese dog in my lap and had a fine time. The book still engages (obviously) even though its age is showing. I don't think any of Dickson's Dorsai eat quiche, think too much about their inner emotional lives, or see women as equals. That said, they take the classic hero's myth for a fine ride. and as has been said elsewhere "have a cerebral intensity often missing in science fiction." And Dickson's portrayal of the splitting of humanity into splinter groups, each specializing in one factor of humanity's psyche to the detriment of the others, is nothing less than brilliant foretelling--We have the Dorsai--ultimate warriors, the Exotics--meditators and mystics, the Friendlies--fanatic religionists, the Newtonians-pure scientists, the Venusians-technocrats, the Cetans-merchandisers. Nothing less than brilliant for 1959, when it was first published, so we can forgive it, its anachronisms and just enjoy it as a rollicking hero's quest adventure tale with a spicing of philosophy. Bravo! I have moved on to Soldier Ask Not and am looking forward to Necromancer, The Spirit of Dorsai and Tactics of Mistake (which I read back in the 70's)
Profile Image for Kathi.
817 reviews47 followers
February 11, 2016
This book is touted as the foundation of many modern military science fiction novels--really, the beginnings of a new genre within sci fi.

As for the story itself, it is well-paced, with characters who are interesting but not fully formed. We get glimpses of the various settled worlds and their unique societies, but we don't get an in-depth understanding of any of them. The main character, Donal Graeme, is a mystery to himself and others. His meteoric rise in interstellar military ranks drives the plot as much as his journey to discover and accept what makes him different from others.
5 reviews
June 9, 2011
It is not a novel. It is comics without pictures.
Profile Image for Timothy Boyd.
6,501 reviews32 followers
January 25, 2016
One of the great classics of modern military SiFi. Excellent read, even better if you are a military man and can empathize with the main character's experiences. Very recommended
Profile Image for Bob Mayer.
Author 153 books47.9k followers
November 29, 2019
As former Infantry and Special Forces, this book about an entire planet dedicated to the military profession sparked my interest. I've enjoyed the Dorsai throughout Dickson's books. An intriguing concept, basically a planet that is Sparta.
Profile Image for Marsh Bloom.
152 reviews
January 12, 2021
I set out to love this book, but that didn't happen. It IS the precursor to a lot of other science fiction, including Star Trek, but as a novel now... it has issues.

This book was clearly the inspiration for Ender's Game. Dorsai! is a more Mary Sue-ish, adult protagonist, nearly identical story to that novel. Which was a better novel. So if you liked Ender's Game, you might like this.

The worldbuilding in Dorsai! was oversold to me before reading it. My expectations were too high. Instead what I found was the same old Pop Psyche mumbo jumbo that so obsessed everyone else in the 60s and 70s mixed with amazingly naive military action that lacked any sociological basis. Which was ... odd. The FTL and space navigation and other worldbuilding are very familiar now, which is to Dickson's credit and why I gave this a three instead of a two.

I'll concede some of my issues with the novel seem to be the result of making the novel shorter and conciser. It is short and concise, mostly. He spends excessive time on some things at the expense of others but I can't ding him for that because his audience wasn't me.

The oddest thing about this is it's a novel about cult of the personality without any self-awareness that this theme runs throughout. Except maybe the last chapter... but that was too late. It would have impacted a lot more if it had been built in for real. It currently being Jan 2021 this lack of this theme infusing everything seems crazy naive.

The book includes meetings between world leaders not to create systems that might be resilient or agreements or any kind of normal thing, no they just slap some guy into a position of power. I mean, what if that guy croaks a day later? You wasted your time and have nothing. I'd find that mentality fascinating if the novel was self-aware about it and made it part of the galaxy's function. But it smacks more of the author's cluelessness of how organizations work so it was hard to read it as a positive aspect of the book. There is a disconnect throughout the book about how power goes from the top to the bottom and vise versa. It's just handwaved away, if mentioned at all.

Anyway. Disappointed. Also confused as heck by the ending. Not the last chapter, but the three chapters before that. The novel is super clear on what is going on until then. Then the novel averts its eyes repeatedly just when the drama happens and we jump cut ahead in time and drop hints about what happened... I haven't a clue what happened. I reread those chapters and still don't, so I'm done. Also, this book is so Mary Sue it's almost laughable. And people blame fanfiction for inventing that. Nope.

I have this entire series sitting on my shelf from years ago so I'm sad.
Profile Image for Mr. Literature.
27 reviews3 followers
June 5, 2016
If you can forgive the oddly excited title this one is a hidden gem.
Profile Image for prcardi.
538 reviews73 followers
March 17, 2017
Storyline: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Writing Style: 3/5
World: 4/5

What an interesting read. This was one of those puzzle-piece books for me that linked predecessors and ancestors in just the right way to give a new picture of the science fiction genre.

This had an excellent opening chapter. It was well-written, with vivid descriptions and thoughtful turns of phrase. It was well-paced, slow and subtle with world-building of a very different and intriguing future. It even had impressive character development, containing mysteries and depth with forthcoming answers implied. I'm not familiar enough with the publishing history to be sure, but I suspect that first chapter was written before the rest and is what got Dickson published in Astounding Science Fiction. As the book progressed the prose turned bland, the pacing raced ahead, and character development reached a premature peak. There were so many ideas with tremendous promise and finespun allegories, but the nuance and attentiveness so obvious in the first half of the book had disappeared by the second. My guess would be that the author had to meet both deadlines and the expectations of his science fiction fan-base, so it settled into a much-easier-to-write pulp science fiction story.

One can see the impact of a science fiction forefather on Dickson . I was hopeful that Dickson was going to build on that and turn the ideas into something even more monumental, but the development of those ideas fell prey to the same decline and haste as the rest of the novel. Perhaps more impressively, I had not realized how much this book must have impacted later writers and genre classics . I'm not sure if this is the origin of the term "jump" in regards to FTL travel, but the description of how this worked was taken up almost intact later .

If I had read this when it was originally published in 1959, I probably would have thought it the greatest science fiction ever written. Other authors, also undoubtedly impressed, saw the great strengths and numerous flaws, and the next couple of decades produced many science fiction works that built on and bettered what Dickson started. Today one could easily skip this because it has been mined of all its ideas. I'll go on to read another of the Childe cycle though to see if Dickson and the series matures beyond pulp.
48 reviews
November 22, 2022
This book was a reread, in fact, I've read it several times. Dorsai was published in 1959, when I was 10. I read it the first time sometime in the 60s. I saw it in a used bookstore near me. It was a double book, flip the book over and it was another book. Anyway, I loved the cover. Along with title were the words The Genetic General, in fact, I thought that was the title for a long time. Then, in the late 70s, I bought the 3 part book called Three to Dorsai! which included Necromancer, Tactics of Mistake, and Dorsai. Read the first 2, liked them, especially the 2nd, then got into Dorsai! It seemed familiar. About a third of the way through I realized it was The Genetic General. I love military sci-fi and I think Dickson's Dorsai books are among the best. The Graeme's, in particular, Donal, are fascinating characters. So, while waiting for my new books to get here, a stroll down this quadrant of the universe was enjoyable.
Profile Image for Mitchell.
4,508 reviews169 followers
October 22, 2018
It's always a danger to re-read books that you like. For the Childe Cycle at least I have very uneven memories. This one seems like a strong echo of Tactics of Mistake which had been a favorite. But not bad. It has all the pieces of Dorsai that I remember - the philosophizing, the military conflict, the differences in who man could become. It's a little stilted. And the vision of future gender roles could certainly have been different. But not a bad start.
Profile Image for Alex.
186 reviews1 follower
September 11, 2020
It's fine

This was originally published bit by bit in a magazine and it really feels like it. You just get random vignettes of this guy's life.

In the end, the whole story about some chosen one kid growing up to become the best military leader ever? It's fine
Profile Image for Bernard Convert.
254 reviews2 followers
March 12, 2022
De la SF militaro-diplomatique bien faite... Mais je trouve ça moins passionnant que Honor Harrington dans le même genre. Sans doute parce qu'à l'époque (1959) les romans devaient être courts et ne permettaient pas à l'auteur de bâtir patiemment son univers et au lecteur de se l'approprier.
Profile Image for Jacob.
128 reviews51 followers
August 17, 2021
A good book that speeds along from one arc to the next like a light novel or a manga. It's essentially a series of short stories that follow the same main character whether side characters are remembered or not, Conan the Barbarian-esque. Extremely pulpy. Much better suited for a magazine than a book, I imagine.

It suffers appropriately from the pre-krytonite Superman symptom: how can a character without any weaknesses fail? How can such a character be rooted for? Dickson uses William, the main rival, to limit such a problem, but like Lex Luthor, there's never really any doubt who we should be rooting for and who will eventually win.

While it isn't quite literature, it is fun.
Profile Image for Susan Townsend.
60 reviews
June 3, 2013
This is the kind of good fun we used to expect from space opera, action/adventure without a lot of message. Dorsai is dated, of course—especially in the exclusion of women from positions of power, not to mention the lack of cell phones – but it holds up remarkably well. It is somewhat episodic, betraying its original serialized form, and action overshadows character, but who cares, we like Donal Graeme just fine. The plot is predictable, the fun is in seeing how Donal is going to pull off his inevitable victories. I like that Dickson doesn’t try to explain too much. Anea is a Select, Sayona is a Bond: the author just lets us figure out what that means by the way they act. The space ships have some sort of special drive that lets them “shift” around in space; we don’t know how it works, but it doesn’t matter.

Donal, the main character, is a mercenary. You have to just accept the concept of all wars being foung by guns for hire who are all from the same planet and have the same training. Dickson sets this up with a clunky first chapter, then fleshes it out with some interesting interaction among the various Dorsai Donal encounters.

Something happens about 2/3 through that doesn't fit, but I didn't mind because it made me laugh -- come to think of it, it made Donal laugh! The ending is rather silly, and weakens the book. It sounds like Dickson was setting up a sequel about Donal; I haven't read any of the sequels (or prequels), so I don't know whether he continues this line of thought or not.

Dorsai is either the 1st book in the series, or not, depending on how you figure it – personally, I like to read book in a aeries in the order in which they were written. (Don't know why I missed it when I was devouring sci-fi in the 60s.)

3 stars because it's pretty good for what it is, but not something I'm likely to go back and re-read. The serial version came out a little before Starship Troopers, which it apparently influenced. In regtrospect, I think I like Dorsai better because it isn't so preachy, though at this stage of their careers, Heinlein's characters were better developed. I would recommend this to fans of old-style military sci-fi who want to put their minds in park and enjoy an old-fashioned shoot-em-up. As you can tell from the use of "old", I enjoyed it as a nostalgia run.

Because of vision problems, I do my “reading” by audiobook. The narration is just okay: Stefan Rudnicki sounds like an elderly troll munching on gravel.
Profile Image for Ricky.
34 reviews2 followers
September 5, 2020
Military science fiction has been around since the pulp era in the 30's. It is one of the sub-genres that is having a renaissance in today's science fiction market. It's easy to see why military action paired with science fiction world be so popular: that sense of adventure and danger that comes with military stories fits well with the exploration of space and encounters with alien worlds and races.

Great military science fiction that is doesn't over-emphasize battles and heroism is hard to find however. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman comes to mind. Alas, most writers tend to follow the formula created by Heinlein with is extremely popular Starship Troopers. I say alas because political baggage and macho posturings mar Heinleins model.

Such is the case with Dorsai. Not only is the story so overly macho, with posturing males and military heroes, but it is filled with stereotypes that almost make you laugh. The parody film adaptation of Starship Troopers is a good example, but without the parody. Dickson appears to be a true believer in what he writes about. Today we'd call his novel right-wing scifi which glorifies the John Wayne approach to war stories. I find it all boring and off putting. We've seen these type of characters and situations a hundred times. Dorsai is entirely predictable from the opening chapter to the heroic (of course) ending.

I suppose there are readers for this kind of novel. I'm just not one of them. I prefer something that is more imaginative and doesn't succumb to gender stereotypes and dominating male posturing.
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