Book Review of Dorsai!

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Book Information

Title: Dorsai!
Author: Gordon R. Dickson
Copyright Date: 1959
Rating (out of 4 stars):*** 1/2
Reviewed on:Apr. 14, 2006


Dorsai! is set approximately 500 years in the future. Humanity has a form of faster-than-light drive and has colonized a dozen or so planets around a handful of stars.

One of these planets is Dorsai, whose inhabitants are extremely independent and wary of strong government. The main profession of the men on the planet is professional soldiery: they are mercenaries. However, they have a code of conduct and are thoroughly trained, so they don't have the bad qualities usually associated with mercenaries.

The main character of the book is Donal Graeme, who has just finished his training and entered adulthood as a professional soldier. Other people think he's a bit odd, which he realizes, but we aren't really told why.

Donal has to decide what job to take, and he accepts a position in an army on another planet. While on the commercial space transport to that planet, he encounters people who will influence the rest of his life.

First, he encounters Anea Marlivana, Select of Kultis (Kultis is one of the colonized worlds). The Select of Kultis has been especially bred to exemplify the most admired traits of the people on the planet. She is very young, and they fight during the encounter, but Donal can't stop thinking about her.

Later in the trip, he meets William of Ceta, one of the most powerful humans in existence because of his trading influences. Anea is contracted to William to basically perform the functions of an escort and symbolize his power and wealth. Donal takes an instant dislike to William.

During various incidents on the ship and conversations Donal has with another, older Dorsai on the ship, we learn what's odd about Donal: he has an excellent intuition about the motives and plans of other people. He immediately realizes that William is dangerous to all of human civilization and is planning on trying to set himself up as ultimate dictator.

Using his intuiton, he arranges to be hired by William to fight with some of his forces. Donal's first engagement is successful, but some of his actions are not approved by William, and he is discharged. However, Donal is immediately hired by other agencies. He quickly rises through the ranks through his intelligence, intuition, and cleverness.

Within 6 years, he is the commander-in-chief of the forces defending a three-planet alliance. Events throughout the human worlds have been manipulated during this time by William to bring him closer and closer to the dictator position. William approaches Donal about creating a supranational armed force that would oversee trade between all human worlds. William wants Donal to command the force, with himself ultimately pulling the strings. Donal cleverly manipulates the situation to reveal William's maneuverings to all the world leaders; the manner of his revelation convinces those leaders to create the force anyway with Donal in charge as commander-in-chief.

After almost three years, William regroups his resources enough to attack Donal's position. Donal's uncanny intuitiou has led him to prepare for this situation. He acts against common wisdom and leads a surgical attack to take over William's world and take William prisoner.

Donal is elected permanent commander of the supranational force. Meanwhile, he has finally assimilated his unusual intuition into his personality. He realizes he is the next step in the evolution of humans. And he also gets Anea.


I enjoyed this book a lot. Donal's plans and actions in various situations are interesting and clever. I particularly liked how he fooled a planet into thinking they were being bombed by a huge army, even though he only had five ships. Donal is also a likeable character, so it's a pleasure to watch him advance so quickly.

Also, the writing is very terse, which let me read the book very quickly and really get involved in it. The terseness also helps keep the book from seeming dated: there is little description of settings, which let me fill it in with my imagination. The most dated aspect of the book, in my opinion, was the lack of women characters. Anea served as a prize for the "best" man to win. The only other woman in the book continually chased after Donal, and apparently served only to show that Donal didn't want any woman, but only Anea.

The only downside of the book was that some of the cleverness that Donal showed seemed unfair to the reader. He had this wonderful intuition, but sometimes he used information the reader wasn't privy to. For example, in his first engagement, he commands his men to set an ambush for the enemy. He knows the enemy is coming because they are religious fanatics that only eat certain smelly herbs. While the unusual smell nearby is described, we aren't told of the enemy's eating habits until after Donal is victorious.

Donal's intuition concerning people's motivations, William's in particular, is pretty much magical. William isn't "on screen" enough for the reader to get any real feel for his intentions. One must assume that Donal's interactions with him gives him more information.

As for Donal being the next step in the evolution of man: ehhh. My thought was, so what? While he was very smart and clever, he didn't seem that much superior to other people. This topic only came up in the last few pages of the book, so it really didn't stick with me much either way.

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