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The Childe Cycle is an unfinished science fiction series by Gordon R. Dickson, with a setting stretching from the late 21st century into the 24th. Many of the stories in the series feature the Dorsai, an extremely capable warrior people who hire out to interstellar society as mercenaries.

The main series consists of six novels, with a projected seventh and final novel left unfinished at Dickson's death:

  1. Dorsai! (1959)
  2. Necromancer (1962)
  3. Soldier, Ask Not (1967)
  4. Tactics of Mistake (1971)
  5. The Final Encyclopedia (1984)
  6. The Chantry Guild (1988)
  7. Childe - unfinished

Also included are three novels following the perspective of Bleys Ahrens, the antagonist of The Final Encyclopedia and The Chantry Guild:

  1. Young Bleys (1991)
  2. Other (1994)
  3. Antagonist (with David W. Wixon) (2007)

Additional short storys and novellas include:

  • "Lost Dorsai" (novella) and "Warrior" (short story), published together in Lost Dorsai (1981)
  • "Amanda Morgan" (novella) and "Brothers" (short story), published together in The Spirit of Dorsai (1979)

The Childe Cycle provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens
  • Armor-Piercing Question - After Cletus Graeme has forced Melissa Khan to marry him as part of his overarching strategy, Melissa has only one question; "Then you never loved me?" "Did I ever say I did?" Cletus responds, and leaves the room. This tells Melissa all she needs to know. He loves her. If the answer was no he wouldn't have evaded the question.
  • Artificial Gravity
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: It is implied, but not quite certain, that this was the desired end state of the Myth Arc never completed because of Author Existence Failure.
  • Author Existence Failure
  • Awesomeness By Analysis: Cletus Graeme, Donal Graeme, most other major Dorsai characters
  • Badass Abnormal: Donal Grahame, arguably. He can travel through time by shear force of will, for example.
  • Badass Army: The Dorsai
  • Badass Bookworm: Cletus Graeme
  • Badass Family: The Graemes. Being Dorsai, they all naturally badass. But Donal, Ian, and Kensie are military geniuses, and their family was founded by Celtus Grahame, who helped make the Dorsai the feared supersoldiers they are.
  • Badass Normal: Burton Mc Leod, compared to the rest of the Chantry Guild.
  • Big Book of War: Written by Cletus Graeme
  • Cannon Fodder: The Friendlies
  • The Chessmaster: William of Ceta, Donal Graeme, Tam Oyln
  • Combat Pragmatist: The Dorsai. While they do believe in thinking outside the box, they would never, ever, violate the "Mercenaries Code". When one person asked one of the Dorsai commanders if he had ever shot prisoners, the commander got quite threatening about the idea that he would ever do such a thing.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: The Tactics of Mistake. The title comes from the hero's tactical doctrine, which calls for a series of feints, that gradually draw the enemy into an untenable position, at which point he attacks, and demolishes them. In fact, his latter decedents will use this to great effect.
  • Deflector Shields: Not for most of the books, but in The Final Encylopedia one is established around the entire Earth.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes
  • Excited Show Title: Dorsai!
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Friendlies are based roughly on the Roundheads of the The English Civil War, while The Dorsai are loosely based on Swiss mercenaries.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: space travel is achieved through a series of jumps called phase shift, where the ship is annihilated at one spot and reconstituted in another. The jumps not only have to be extensively calculated (the ship must be located absolutely in the universe, and its destination point must also be exactly calculated, to the same degree), the jump itself has a psychological effect on the crew and passengers, so the more often the jump, the greater the psychic shock and the closer the people on board get to insanity. Tranquilizers are made available to help lessen the experience, but cannot nullify it. This is a subplot point in Dorsai!, where the effect is shown during a raid on a planet - something nobody thinks possible.
  • Fictional Field of Science: The Exoctics have a social science called ontogenetics that allow them to perceive patterns in human history and to a certain degree predict which individuals and events will be key points in the evolution of humans to a higher state of being. While the exact details are intentionally left vague, it is said to involve calculations that take into account every person in all the world, as well as how institutions and societies shape the pattern of history and human evoltion. One component of the science is the idea that certain individuals have an unusually large impact on the pattern of history. Gordon R. Dickson often uses this as something of an lampshade and in-universe justification for the fact that his Main Characters (some arguably rising to the level of The Chosen One) all play a major role in the movement of the Myth Arc toward his planned final ending
  • Galactic Conqueror: Donal Graeme, though not exactly. He does become the Protector of the human worlds.
  • Guile Hero: Donal and Cletus Graeme.
  • Heroic Willpower
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: The Chantry Guild in Necromancer has the ability to use what they call Alternate Forces to create magic-like effects, including teleporation. It is strongly implied that these abilities are present among many of the Exotics. Also, Donal Graeme's unique abilities could be called Psychic.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Ships are sometimes lost through phase shift travel
  • Hyperspeed Ambush: Donal Graeme stages a daring raid against an enemy planet in Dorsai!. He uses multiple swift hyperspace jumps to simulate a huge armada attacking his enemy, even though it drives him and his crew to the edge of collapse, with each jump leaving them more and more in pain and disorientation.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Tam Olyn. He takes risks to advance his own agenda.
  • It's Raining Men: Military troops drop from their ships onto a planet.
  • The Library of Babel: The Final Encyclopedia is similar to this, albeit in computer format and without the death traps and monsters.
  • Literary Allusion Title: to Robert Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came
  • Loners Are Freaks:
    • Donal Graeme was always considered strange to everyone. And despite his genius and friends, he still feels separated by his friends. It turns out he's a superhuman, with a different thought process as others. In addition, finds he cannot accomplish his goal of uniting humanity alone. As the "main character" of the Cycle, he not only has to travel in time (though not in the same body) to not only set historical events in motion, but to change their significance in history so that not only events but people are in place for a Final Battle.
    • Soldier, Ask Not with Tam Oyln
    • Played to a extreme in the short story Brothers with Ian.
  • Magical Society: The Chantry Guild in Necromancer. It's a loose alliance of alternative groups from Luddites to anarchists to satanists. They're all connected by the Guild's founder who wishes to destroy technological society to save mankind.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Bleys Ahrens, Tam Olyn
  • Master Computer: The World Complex in Necromancer
  • Military Science Fiction: The stories focusing on the Dorsai tend to be this, however Gordon R. Dickson was less concerned about the particulars of military conflict that he was advancing his larger Myth Arc.
  • Myth Arc: As originally envisioned, the Cycle was to stretch from the 14th century to the 24th century; the completed books begin in the 21st century. The cycle deals with the conflict between advancement of human kind. It also deals with the interaction and conflict among humanity's traits, most importantly Courage, Faith, and Philosophy.
  • Naming Your Colony World: The Cycle has fun with this, using New Something, Symbolica, and Mnemosyne. Though one wonders what "Dorsai" and "Kultis" means.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Tam's Uncle, who raised him and his sister.
  • The Obstructive Love Interest: Anea Marlivana from Dorsai and Melissa Khan from Tactics of Mistake
  • One Product Planet: The Trope Codifier, see Planet of Hats bellow for details.
  • Place Beyond Time: Faster-Than-Light Travel operates in part by creating a condition where time is inoperative, allowing ships (or individual people, sometimes) to choose their own location in the universe.
  • Planet of Hats: Many of the colonized planets have developed into highly specialized "Splinter Cultures". The reasons for this is that humanity is unconsciously trying to figure out what is the most important aspects of humanity. In addition, with trained specialists as the interstellar currency, planets have no choice but to either fit into an economic niche or fail. The Splinter Cultures include:
  • Polar Opposite Twins: The twins Kensie and Ian Graeme. Both are Dorsai. Ian is the epitome of the Warrior - seemingly aloof and intimidating by his sheer presence. Kensie is his polar opposite - warm, caring, social - everything that Ian is not. In the stories it's implied that together the two make up one individual.
  • The Political Officer: The Friendlies have "Conscience Guardians" who seek out heresy among their troops. Interestingly enough, the Guardians authority is only over their Church members and not foreign mercenaries. In addition, they keep their forces from bickering with each other over issues of religious doctrine, preventing tensions within their army.
  • Practical Currency: Due to high transport costs, interstellar currency largely consists of the trade of skilled professionals. So if a planet needs something or someone, they simply hire out another person in exchange. As a result, many planets have specialized in certain fields to survive. In fact, the system not only affects interstellar politics, but drives the plot in several stories.
  • Private Military Contractors - Both the Dorsai and the Friendlies depend largely on revenue from jobs as mercenaries. The Dorsai tend to be the elite forces, while the Friendlies specialized in providing more numerous, fanatical Cannon Fodder. The other worlds also hire out troops, but the Dorsai and Friendlies corner the market.
  • Psycho Sidekick: Lee in Dorsai!. Due to medical reasons, he's unable to tell right from wrong and has social difficulties. Lee knows how troubled he is, and needs a cause to stay functional. He'll do anything for that cause. Fortunately, he found Donal, who keeps him on the straight and narrow.
  • Reincarnation: In a manner of speaking
  • Retcon: The original versions of Dorsai and Necromancer listed Newton orbiting Arcturus. This was revised to have the planet located in the Alpha Centauri system.
  • Swiss Army Gun: The "dallygun" from Tactics of Mistake
  • The Laws and Customs of War: The Mercenaries Code
  • The Unfettered
  • Teleportation Sickness: Phase shifting causes people to become sick, likely because their minds can't handle the fact they were instantly pull apart and reconstructed. People need to take medication before each shift, and repeated multiple jumps can be lethal.
  • Time Travel
  • Title Drop
  • Trope Codifier: With Starship Troopers and H. Beam Piper's Uller Uprising, Dorsai! helped shape the modern conception of Military Science Fiction. Dorsai! in particular introduced cunning and hyper-aware military commanders, psychopathic aides, religious-focus fanatics, and space mercenaries. Donal traits can be seen in Col. Falkenberg and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Lee serves as the seed for the psychopathic Joachim Steuben. The Friendlies tend to invoke the fanatical Brotherhood of Nod.
  • Waking Up At the Morgue: In Necromancer, the protagonist transfers his consciousness to a body in a morgue.
  • Wall of Weapons: Though true for many Dorsai, it is subverted in the Lost Dorsai: the titular hero has wall of musical instruments displayed as if they were weapons which convinces the narrator that he truly has become a pacifist.
  • What Could Have Been: The Childe Cycle was a rather ambitious undertaking. Not only there were six sf novels, but also three planned historical novels and three novels set in the present. Sadly, with Dickson's passing, we'll probably never get to see the full picture.