Tactics Of Mistake (Dorsai Trilogy #1) – Gordon R Dickson (1971)
‘Planets were the pawns in their quest for power.
The men of the Dorsai were the finest fighting soldiers in the universe, mercenary troops without equal.
Their talents were devastatingly employed on Kultis, where a bloody little war raged between the Western Alliance and the Eastern Coalition. But not even the Dorsai could anticipate the dramatic effect of Cletus Grahame’s brilliant mind and the galaxy-shaking theory he called ‘the Tactics of Mistake’.
The story of how Cletus Grahame risked his life, the fate of three worlds, and ultimately the whole of the Dorsai to prove that a mistake may remake worlds is a classic of science fiction.’
Blurb from the 1976 Sphere paperback edition
Slightly Asimovian in its technique of presenting problems to be solved with ingenious tactical solutions, Dickson’s Dorsai novels are set in a galaxy where the burgeoning Earth colonies are being fought over by the Coalition and the Alliance.
When tactical expert Cletus Grahame is sent to the planet Kultis to assist the Alliance it sets in motion an inevitable sequence of events, orchestrated by Grahame, designed to break the stranglehold that Earth has on the colony worlds via the Alliance and the Coalition, and also to transform the mercenary Dorsai into an elite fighting force.
Grahame’s nemesis is the coldly ambitious Dow De Castries, whom Grahame meets in the first chapter while on his way to Kultis. The entire novel, in fact, is a kind of elaborate game of chess, with Grahame employing his theory of ‘Tactics of Mistake’ to goad De Castries into retaliating against his every calculated move, making bigger and bigger mistakes until he ultimately destroys himself.
This novel at least stands the test of time very well and is interesting in that there is (as in ‘Dune’) an oddly mystical slant to proceedings.
Kultis is one of the colonies of the Exotics, a quasi-mystical community who are both scientifically and philosophically advanced. They wear blue robes and are dedicated to the ongoing evolution of Humanity. There seems to be a slight Buddhist element to their beliefs and it is suggested that they have powers above and beyond the normal range of human capabilities.
Mondar, a high-ranking Exotic who becomes friends with Grahame, recognises something within the mercenary and invites him to join the Exotics. There is an odd yet powerful scene where Grahame, arriving at the Exotic’s private office, appears to go into a trance and sees various possible other universes with alternate versions of himself and Mondar.
Later, Grahame employs various hypnotic meditation techniques to train his Dorsais to exploit their bodies to their maximum potential (reminiscent of Paul Atreides and the Fremen of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’) and they subsequently become in demand among the indigenous populations of worlds where the Alliance and Coalition are in control. Grahame’s elaborate chess game with De Castries is masterfully plotted and leads logically and inevitably (if not necessarily predictably) to a satisfying endgame.