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Language: English
The author of the book: Gordon R. Dickson
Edition: Start Science Fiction
Date of issue: November 27th 2013
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.12 MB
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Reader ratings: 3.4

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Ohhhh, potential-squandering frustration...thy name is The Childe Cycle!!!

Gordon Dickson’s superbly premised, yet underachieving Childe Cycle has been a source of teeth-gnashing, knuckle-whitening frustration for me. This disappointing, expectation larceny began while I was reading the previous novel in the series, Necromancer, and then continued, and became even more pronounced, as I was reading this installment. In order to provide context for the source of my reading angst, I want to provide some back story on the series because it is the wonderful ideas and potential for awesomeness that Dickson created that cause its failings to burn like lemon juice upon my soul.

CHILDE CYCLE BACKSTORY

At some time in the future (approximately 100 years from now), humanity develops the technology to colonize distant worlds (road trip!!). By the end of the 23rd Century, humanity has spread like butter and settled 15 younger worlds which, together with “Old Earth," are called the Sixteen Worlds.

Earth-born inhabitants have remained pretty much like you and me throughout this whole period and are known as “full spectrum” humans. We can do a lot of things pretty well but are not the best at anything. The rest of the 16 Worlds have each formed a “splinter” culture in which one aspect of humanity has been encouraged over all others. The three most prominent of these splinter cultures are (1)the "Dorsai" who are master warriors both physically and as strategists and tacticians; (2)the “Exotics” who are philosophers, mystics and psychologists and have developed certain mental abilities as well; and (3) the “Friendlies” who are deeply devout followers of a religion called the “One Faith” and can really spoil a party when they get their dander up. Each of the other "splinter" cultures focus on a different primary skill as well (e.g., agriculture, mining, commerce, science, ship-building, etc.).

Trade among the various worlds is done primarily through “personal service contracts.” For example, the Dorsai might provide defense forces for an agricultural world in exchange for that world sending skilled farmers to the Dorsai world to implement the latest techniques in growing foodstuffs. In addition, each of the worlds is considered either "loose" or "tight" depending on the amount of freedom the individual worker has over his job placement. On “loose” worlds, the contracted worker has some say about where they are sent to work, while on “tight” worlds, the planetary government has complete control over each worker's contract.

CENTRAL THEME OF THE SERIES

The central theme of the Childe Cycle is human evolution. Throughout the series, there are various factions, philosophies, organizations, religions and movements that are all interested in the same fundamental thing. Namely, creating the circumstances under which humanity can best reach its full potential. The problem is that each group has a different idea about what the optimal path is for that progress. This creates the central source of conflict for the series.

PLOT SUMMARY

The main character in Soldier, Ask Not is Tam Olyn. Tam is a bad guy, kinda, sorta, but not really. He is just an angry, stubborn and very ambitious young man. The problem is that he is also incredibly bright and has been gifted with the ability to expertly read people and situations such that he is able to manipulate circumstances so that events will transpire as he would like. This ability to read people and events is a little like Asimov’s “psychohistory” from the Foundation trilogy, except that Tam’s ability is mostly instinctive. The end result is that Tam’s ability makes him a kind of “focal point” around which major events occur.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot so I will simply tell you that Tam becomes enraged following the death of someone he cares about and begins a long and complicated revenge using his unique abilities. This scheme of Tams may result in the destruction of an entire “splinter” culture which may have a serious and permanent effect on all of humanity unless Tam’s plan can be thwarted.

OKAY, after that long (but hopefully useful) infodump...let's talk about frustration....

1. IMHO, the universe of the “Childe Cycle” is not just very good but actually OMG outFRICKINGstanding and has all of the necessary components to act as the backdrop for a very thoughtful, highly literate, philosophical SF series in the spirit of Frank Herbert’s Dune. While not as rich as Frank Herbert's legendary creation, both lend themselves to more reflective, dialogue driven stories designed to address “larger issues of humanity.”

2. The stories that Dickson has told up to this point within the Childe Cycle are very much consistent with the philosophical, meditative and social aspects of the Child Cycle universe. In other words, Dickson is telling the right kind of story to explore the most intriguing aspects of his universe.

3. Dickson clearly thought through the path that his Childe Cycle stories would follow (see the Central Theme above) and had a definite idea about the how the story of humanity's evolution would play out. This well-defined and consistent outline helped Dickson establish the very impressive and compelling dynamic within which the various groups and organizations struggle in order to accomplish the central theme of the Childe Cycle.

...after all that praise can you sense what's coming next, creeping closer and closer, yes it is the impending arrival to this review of a very, very large
NOTE: subtract one "t" from above.

Unfortunately, for all of the promise of the universe Dickson has created and the interesting philosophical themes explored in these stories, I have not yet been able to rate either Necromancer or this book higher than 3 stars. Something critical is missing. The characters, while intriguing, are just not quite enough to garner a full investment from me. While portions of the story are compelling and very well done, other portions break my narrative engagement like a commercial in the middle of your favorite show.

Something just hasnt clicked for me and it is driving me nuts because I love the universe and the central theme of the series. Part of me thinks that maybe Dickson just didn't quite have the writing chops to carry through on the ambitious project he envisioned. Whatever the reason, the books have not yet been able to get over the 3 star hump. It is very...wait for it... frustrating for me...


Notwithstanding my crushed expectations of the unfulfilled promise, I still intend to read the remaining books in the series as there is much to like about them. However, I can not help but feel the stinging disappointment of what “might have been.” True happiness seems just out of reach for me, sorta like….

Still, there are some great ideas in this story and some portions that are very well written and compelling. Far better than much of the SF i have read and still one I would label as quality. Thus, a solid 3 stars for a series with 5 star potential.


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Reviews of the Soldier, Ask Not


REUBEN

Do you need a book to diversify your evening? Maybe you found her.

EVAN

You need to drive a phone number to protect against robots.

ABIGAIL

An interesting book, Hard to tear down

SEBASTIAN

Why are you asking for a phone number?

HARRIET

You want to waste your time? This book fits perfectly.




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