Dickson, Gordon R.
book-date: 1971
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Kelly Freas

Tactics of Mistake is my favorite book by Gordon R. Dickson, and makes my "top 100" list. I've read my copy many times, but every time I go to make a summary I end up rereading the whole book - for a decent plot summary/set-up and some commentary on Dickson, I rely on P. Schuyler Miller, and use excerpts from his review in Analog (October 1971):

"… early in the cycle of books and stories that the author is writing about the Dorsai, that planet of people who are bred, live and die as the toughest, most expert mercenary soldiers mankind has ever seen. In fact, this is the book in which we learn how the Dorsai pattern was formed and the Dorsai race started on its straight and narrow course of purposeful evolution.

If you didn’t read the serial, the book begins at a time when men have been out among the stars long enough to start crystalizing aberrant societies and sub-races. Back here on conservative old Earth the Cold War, or something like it, is still controlling the motives and movements of nations and worlds. The Coalition which just may be Russian/Chinese at core, has its group of client worlds and states. The Alliance, which may be NATO in origin, has its clients. Then Lieutenant Colonel Cletus Grahame, an Alliance tactician, decides to take a hand, and to test what he calls the "tactics of mistake." Negatively, his purpose is to force the Coalition Secretary, Dow de Castries, to overreach and destroy himself. Positively, he intends to create a "tradition to come" - the tradition around which the Dorsai world and people will eventually be shaped.

Cletus Grahame is by no mean a stock hero. He wins and wins and wins, and he is by no means modest about it, because he is housebreaking men and governments by rubbing their noses in the messes they make. He is ruthless because he is pragmatic, and he come close enough to being a thorough bastard in the process… In their day, Isaac Asimov' future of the Foundations and Robert Heinlein's of the "Future History" seemed impressively complex and real. Quietly, Gordon Dickson has been building a future of his own that is far more logical, more humanly real, and with a stronger philosphical foundation than either of those classics. The whole is going to be a good deal more than the sum of its parts." [-P. Schuyler Miller]