In my ongoing effort to read as much classic sci-fi as possible, I accepted this recommendation from my friend, Mr. Mond, whose father, an electrical engineer and silver age sci-fi aficionado (i.e. old-school nerd), recommended it to him.
It's the story of Donal, a young man from the Dorsai race, a planet of warriors in a galaxy of post-space colonization humans. The Dorsai hire themselves out as mercenaries. The relationships between the worlds are governed by contracts, basically a skill-sharing arrangement where contracts on labour are traded. So if you're a smart scientist, you can contract out to a planet that needs scientist. They in turn may provide (as the Dorsai do) good warriors.
Donal turns out to be extremely skilled, so good that most of the story is about him quickly impressing his superiors and making his way higher and higher in power. He is clearly geared for bigger conflicts and he becomes a central player in a war between who governs the contracts. This is one of those books where the scale is huge, but the book is quite short. A lot happens in few pages. I think this marks a lot of the sci-fi from the 50s and 60s, where authors were free to expand on epic cycles in great sweeping narrative, without getting too down and dirty with the detail. These days, most sci-fi books seem to have a lot more pages, and anything large in scale takes at least a trilogy before someone controls the universe.
This book was so popular that Dickson spun it off into a much larger series, called The Childe Cycle or the Dorsai Series, which deals with the notion of humans evolving into something beyond their current form. This theme is just touched upon in Dorsai!
It's a good read, quick and well put together. I found it more enjoyable as a military action book, where you get to see a serious ass-kicker kick ass. I can see how it would appeal to young men. There are some almost fascistic elements, or at least moments where the deaths of millions of civilians is basically treated like a good military strategy, though ultimately Dickson is addressing much bigger ideas. Still it made me wonder where he was going. I'll have to read more into the series to find out.