Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Significant Ace Double: The Genetic General/Time to Teleport, by Gordon R. Dickson

Ace Double Reviews, 95: The Genetic General, by Gordon R. Dickson/Time to Teleport, by Gordon R. Dickson (#D-449, 1960, 35 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

So this time an Ace Double featuring a pretty significant novel in SF history, by a pretty significant writer. The Genetic General is much better known as Dorsai!, the title under which it was serialized in Astounding in 1959. The first couple of book editions were called The Genetic General, but the original (and in my opinion far better) title was restored, permanently I think, in 1971. The book version is also abridged (not uncommon for Ace Doubles), and apparently a full version didn't see print (except for the serial) until the mid-'70s.

The book on the reverse was also by Dickson, a short novel (really a long novella) called here Time to Teleport, though as far as I can tell the original magazine title was "No More Barriers" (Science Fiction Stories, September 1955). In this version it's about 37,000 words (quite possibly the same as the original, or just slightly longer). The Genetic General is perhaps 65,000 words. The Eds were responsible for the covers, Valigursky for The Genetic General, and Emshwiller for Time to Teleport.

Dorsai! was the first major story in Dickson's central series, called The Childe Cycle. (A short story, "Act of Creation", preceded it in 1957, and another possibly related story, "Lulongomeena", appeared in 1954.) The Childe Cycle was a very ambitious undertaking that Dickson never finished. It was to consist of three historical novels, three present-day novels, and six SF novels. Only the SF part ever appeared, the six novels, as well as some shorter pieces, and some pendant novels, including one finished after Dickson's death by his long time assistant, David Wixon. The central theme of the cycle was the three central human traits, Courage, Faith, and Philosophy. One story, "Soldier, Ask Not", from 1964, won a Hugo, and was later incorporated into the novel of the same title.

The Genetic General is about a young man of the Dorsai people, from the planet called Dorsai, orbiting Fomalhaut. The Dorsai are mercenaries, and Donal Graeme, as the book opens, is a very young man just ready to go out into the wider human civilization and take on his first assignment. Immediately he encounters a beautiful but scared woman, Anea, the Select of Kultis, one of the Exotic worlds. She has taken a contract to be an escort for the powerful merchant William of Ceta, and wants Donal to get rid of it. He of course realizes that would be a crime and a mistake, and so refuses, but he is set on a collision course with William.

The novel continues, to an extent a travelogue of human interstellar society. Donal take a contract as a Mercenary for Harmony, one of the Friendly worlds (religiously oriented). After doing his job there too well, he takes another contract, and has another spectacular success ... and he continues to gain experience and knowledge, for one thing spending time with the powerful and mystical Sayona the Bond, one of the most important people of the Exotic worlds. And things come to a head as William's maneuvering seems poised to deliver him power over the entire human civilization, and as he chooses Donal as one of his game pieces in this effort -- but naturally he has again underestimated Donal.

There are broad swathes of cliche to this plot arc, and indeed (as I noted elsewhere), a number of points of contact with the story of Miles Vorkosigan -- odd young man from a militaristic world becomes a mercenary, along the way attaches a nearly-psychopathic man to him as a loyal retainer, supplying the man's conscience ... To be sure, Graeme's ultimate fate is more grandiose that Miles's (very much more grandiose, as I understand from summaries of the remaining Childe Cycle books). And it's early Dickson, not as well done as some of his later work. But it is quite exciting, and Donal's military feats make good stories. And Dickson's ambition is quite apparent -- he is interested in deeper themes than just good adventure. I quite enjoyed the book.

Time to Teleport, the other half, is an earlier work of course. Indeed, in a sense it's Dickson's first novel, even though not quite novel length, as its magazine publication preceded any other Dickson story ever published as a book. It's set in a future in which humanity is divided based on the types of work people do; groups like Transportation, Atomics, and Metal. Eli Johnstone is the head of one of the smaller groups, Underseas, but he has managed to be a power broker, maintaining a tenuous political balance between rival factions.

One of the main controversies facing the world involves a group of philosophical researchers who call themselves Members of the Human Race. They are hoping to understand the evolution of new human powers, psi powers, as part of the next step in human evolution. But their opponents fear them, believing that "normal" humans will be swept aside.

Now Eli wants to retire, just as his main rival, Tony Sellars of Transportation, is stepping up rhetoric against the "Members". But Eli is ready to volunteer for an experimental operation, that will replace his worn out body parts with new ones. And so he leave, while Sellars increases his pressure, and makes his move to take over the world. At the critical moment, Eli must finally face his true nature ... which is not so hard to guess!

This is a minor work, but still somewhat interesting, and still showing Dickson interested in deeper philosophical themes. It was clunky enough to not quite work, but it's still an moderately enjoyable story.

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