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Leslie Bates

A Demolition Of Dorsai By Gordon R. Dickson

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Or how not to write a science fiction novel.

As part of my project to write a science fiction novel I am re-reading DORSAI! Yes, the exclamation point is part of the title. This is the first novel in a series of ubermensch fantasies by Gordon R. Dickson. I am reading it with the intent of deconstructing it as an example of military science fiction with mercenaries. My goal as a novelist is to create a depiction of the a similar band of mercenaries and show how a rational nation would be deal with them.

Here’s the first paragraph from the chapter titled MERCENARY III:

Returning again up the corridor toward the bow of the ship, Donal allowed himself to wonder, a little wistfully, about this incubus of his own strange difference from other people. He had thought to leave it behind with his cadet uniform. Instead, it seemed, it continued to ride with him, still perched on his shoulders. Always it had been this way. What seemed so plain, and simple and straightforward to himself, had always struck others as veiled, tortuous, and involved. Always he had been like a stranger passing trough a town, the ways of whose people were different, and who looked on him with a lack of understanding amounting to suspicion. Their language failed on the doorstep of his motives and could not enter the lonely mansion of his mind. They said “enemy” and “friend”; they said “strong” and “weak”–“them” and “us”. They set up a thousand arbitrary classifications and distinctions which he could not comprehend, convinced as he was that all people were only people–and there was very little to choose between them. Only, you dealt with them as individuals, one by one; and always remembering to be patient. And if you did this successfully, then the larger, group things came out right.

Can you understand that? Was Dickson an English Literature major at the U of M?

ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, the periodical that published this serially in 1959 did pay a penny a word. But this amount of barely incomprehensible verbiage is simply absurd.

Dickson attempts to recreate the European political environment prior to the Treaty Of Westphalia (1648), a time when the use of specifically raised and organized mercenary units was commonplace. Civil wars within what should be sovereign nation states are commonplace. Dickson also creates a moral nightmare. A universe where the Right Of Life is legally negated. An individual may be conscripted by the state and forced to work on another world in trade for another worker with knowledge in another field. Or die as cannon fodder in a foreign war. And the penalty for an individual who broke this so-called contract is death.

Dickson may not have understood the concept of government. But then he was a graduate of the University Of Minnesota.

What is very apparent when reading this and the other works in the series is that Dickson adopted a Platonist metaphysics. What passes for philosophy is a gibberish of Eastern Mysticism and Racial Collectivism along with the open practice of magic. In fact the overall plot of the series, such it was, is completely dependent on the occurrence of magical events. It would more accurate to describe this series as a work of fantasy instead of science fiction. In THE FINAL ENCYCLOPEDIA, Dickson actually wrote a scene set on the Platonic World Of Forms. And at the end of the initial novel Dickson has his protagonist literally commanding the antagonist to suffer. And the antagonist magically does so.

If reality is unreal in a fictional universe, why bother to write about it?

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Or how not to write a science fiction novel.

As part of my project to write a science fiction novel I am re-reading DORSAI! Yes, the exclamation point is part of the title. This is the first novel in a series of ubermensch fantasies by Gordon R. Dickson. I am reading it with the intent of deconstructing it as an example of military science fiction with mercenaries. My goal as a novelist is to create a depiction of the a similar band of mercenaries and show how a rational nation would be deal with them.

Here’s the first paragraph from the chapter titled MERCENARY III:

Returning again up the corridor toward the bow of the ship, Donal allowed himself to wonder, a little wistfully, about this incubus of his own strange difference from other people. He had thought to leave it behind with his cadet uniform. Instead, it seemed, it continued to ride with him, still perched on his shoulders. Always it had been this way. What seemed so plain, and simple and straightforward to himself, had always struck others as veiled, tortuous, and involved. Always he had been like a stranger passing trough a town, the ways of whose people were different, and who looked on him with a lack of understanding amounting to suspicion. Their language failed on the doorstep of his motives and could not enter the lonely mansion of his mind. They said “enemy” and “friend”; they said “strong” and “weak”–“them” and “us”. They set up a thousand arbitrary classifications and distinctions which he could not comprehend, convinced as he was that all people were only people–and there was very little to choose between them. Only, you dealt with them as individuals, one by one; and always remembering to be patient. And if you did this successfully, then the larger, group things came out right.

This Donal character sounds like he has Aspberger's Syndrome.

There was another novel that had a similar remarkable opening: it went like this "It was a dark and stormy night..." Awards are given to pieces of literature that start out so un-auspiciously the Bulmer-Lyton award.

ruveyn

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If you want to know how not to write a science fiction novel, try reading Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem. Not difficult, just pretentious and boring. I quit half-way through.

The best sci-fi writers I've read so far are: 1) John Wyndham, 2) Jules Verne, 3) H.G. Wells, 4) Fredric Brown and 5) Robert A. Heinlein (his prose and dialogue are terrible, but his stories are good, he has a great sense-of-life and his books are fun to read).

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If you want to know how not to write a science fiction novel, try reading Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem. Not difficult, just pretentious and boring. I quit half-way through.

The best sci-fi writers I've read so far are: 1) John Wyndham, 2) Jules Verne, 3) H.G. Wells, 4) Fredric Brown and 5) Robert A. Heinlein (his prose and dialogue are terrible, but his stories are good, he has a great sense-of-life and his books are fun to read).

Include Theodore Sturgeon

Ba'al Chatzaf

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If you want to know how not to write a science fiction novel, try reading Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem. Not difficult, just pretentious and boring. I quit half-way through.

The best sci-fi writers I've read so far are: 1) John Wyndham, 2) Jules Verne, 3) H.G. Wells, 4) Fredric Brown and 5) Robert A. Heinlein (his prose and dialogue are terrible, but his stories are good, he has a great sense-of-life and his books are fun to read).

I tried reading Solaris. I did sit through the Soviet film of it. They may have been 165 minutes short on the SF quota on the five year plan.

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