Tactics of Mistake is the first book in what is referred to as The Dorsai Trilogy. In fact, it’s the first book about the Dorsai that I ever read. I’ve re-read it several times since!
Gordon R. Dickson created a universe that few science fiction authors could ever hope to emulate. The whole set of books, and there are more than just the trilogy mentioned, are part of The Childe Cycle, which is a true tour de force. I am not, however, going to attempt a review of the whole series. That would take far too much time and space!
So, back to the book in question. It revolves around a young lieutenant colonel from Earth named Cletus Grahame. This individual operates on a mental level which is generally beyond the abilities of others, a man with that elusive “spark of genius”. Ostensibly a member of Earth’s Western Alliance forces, though an unwelcome addition to those forces in the colony of Bakhalla, he demonstrates his mental superiority by defeating, using his Tactics of Mistake, the aggressive neighbour colony of Neuland. The whole purpose, however, is not to win the war for the Western Alliance so much as to engage his selected target, Dow deCastries, who represents Earth’s Eastern Coalition, and embarrass him. He also succeeds,as intended, in winning the respect of mercenaries from the Dorsai.
Resigned from his Alliance position, he becomes a Dorsai, but a Dorsai on a mission! He implements long-held plans to radically change the way the mercenaries operate. A string of successful, nearly bloodless, campaigns gains wealth for the Dorsai and a reputation that none can match. Of course, it all leads to a final confrontation between Grahame and deCastries, in which it’s shown that Grahame has succeeded totally, as the far superior allied Alliance-Coalition army is effectively defeated by no more than a handful of mercenaries, led by two men who represent the two aspects of Cletus himself, and the old men, women and children of the Dorsai.
I have deliberately left out some aspects of the story. That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. It is simply a case of leaving you something to discover for yourself!
A word, here, about the significance of this book to the whole series. Grahame is the ancestor of those men to follow, some of whom tower above all others, literally and figuratively, and who will be pivotal to Humanity’s progress for centuries to come. Dickson lays solid foundations here, for that family of heroes. Other books build similarly strong foundations for other aspects for this tremendous, unforgettable work.
If you aren’t a fan of science fiction, please don’t dismiss the idea of reading this book, and the rest of the series! Dickson is one of the rare storytellers. It is a terrible loss, that he is no longer with us. The final volume of this epic work wasn’t finished at the time of his death, which is one of the hardest facts to face.