“Dorsai!” by Gordon R Dickson: thirty five years ago I loved this. Now it seems very thin

grd_dorsaiIn 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.

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