Tactics of Mistakes by Gordon R Dickson

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This is the fourth book in Dickson’s Childe Cycle (in publication order, they seem to hop around chronologically in ways I find myself unable to fathom) and I suspect it will be the last I read. The first book, written in 1959, was a very good piece of early military SF; enjoyable if a little implausible, though, if I’m honest, no more so than most of the SF written around that time. This one, written in 1970, is quite frankly a piece of post ‘60s, new age, hippy wish fulfilment (if that’s completely possible in a military book). The main character would be perfectly suited to take over God’s job, he is simply perfect at what he does, both omnipotent and omniscient, he never makes a mistake – not once throughout the entire book – and the only time he is even slightly surprised is romantically and that has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever.

Let me put a bit of flesh on that claim. Cletus, the main character, is a military tactician and throughout the book he never once is given any direct intelligence on his enemies actions or movements and yet every time he calculates exactly what they will do and when, commits his forces on that basis, is never wrong, and is such a tactical genius that he invariable puts the enemy at such a disadvantage that, despite always being hugely outnumbered, he invariably defeats them with almost no bloodshed or loss of life (at least for his forces). On top of that he is capable of such feats of meditation that through Yoga-like relaxation exercises he can push his body way past exhaustion and continue performing when any normal person would have collapsed. Not only that, the same abilities allow him to totally reconstruct a destroyed knee, though at least this time with some help from the ‘Exotics’ (read future hippies) and also, once again through his truly awesome mental powers, even defeat poison that should have killed him in minutes.

Being a reader of SF I’m prepared to do a fair bit of suspension of disbelief but this book pushes it too far. I know it is inevitably a product of its time but even had I read it as a hippy back in the seventies I think I would have gagged.

The blurb for the next book promises to deliver more of the same if not worse and, even though I possess the next two books, I really think it unlikely I will pick them up. Very disappointing.

2/5 stars
 
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