Soldier Ask Not – Gordon R Dickson (1967)
‘The Hugo Award winning story of a universe splintered into the factions of war.
The black-clad mercenaries of the Friendly planets fought where their employer and their God dictated. On New Earth they pitted their fanaticism against the cold courage of the Dorsai.
And the implacable hatred of one man, Tam Olyn. Olyn saw his brother-in-law shot down before his eyes. His quest for vengeance took him across half the civilized worlds, to Cassida and Frieland, to St Marie and back to new earth. He met men of all the splinter groups into which Mankind had evolved and he used them to bring about his revenge – until Padma the Exotic taught him how to use his special powers… and the frightening knowledge of the Final Encyclopedia.
SOLDIER, ASK NOT is the second of Gordon R Dickson’s epic visions of the future, a concept that ranks alongside Asimov’s Foundation trilogy in its galaxy-spanning scope.’
Blurb from the 1975 Sphere paperback edition.
Tam Olyn is a newsman. He and his sister Esteen have been brought up by their Uncle Mathias after the death of their parents. One day Tam is visiting the new orbital library where one day one will be able to reference connections between all the material collected within its walls.
The guide who is showing them around asks the group to pause for a moment and listen, since sometimes people (but only Earthborn people) have heard something. Tam is sceptical but immediately begins to hear a tumult of unintelligible voices.
He is taken to see Mark Torre who is in charge of the library and who is searching for the rare people who have heard something. He is disappointed to discover that Tam heard nothing intelligible but even so, offers him the chance to take over his position when he dies. Padma, an exotic, who is also present, tells Tam that he is an important human; one who is able to shape the destinies of many, but is set on a path of destruction.
His sister initially wished to marry a soldier from one of the religious fundamentalist ‘Friendly’ worlds but Tam dissuaded her. She later marries someone else and Tam, in an effort to protect his brother-in-law, instead leads him into danger and gets him killed.
Tam has growing powers of psychological insight and persuasion and with access to politicians and high-ranking military officers of both sides of conflicts (being an impartial Newsman) he is able to manipulate people into starting a war which would see the Friendly planets destroyed.
However, Padma the Exotic seems to know more about Tam Olyn than he does himself.
As in ‘Dune’ there is a mixture of science and mysticism, and indeed the concept of human evolution toward a greater being. The Dorsai, in some respects, could also be compared to the Fremen warriors since they are warriors whom none can oppose.
The basic premise is that Earth colonies have evolved away from the Earth paradigm to produce specialised variants such as the soldiers (Dorsai), the mystics (Friendlies) the scientists (Newtonians) and Philosophers (Exotics)
Now has come the time for the splinter races to reintegrate with the Earth species and produce a new evolved species of Man.
Olyn, in his blind quest for destruction, failed to deduce this and finally realises, with the help of Padma, that what he been battling are the various parts of him that make up the splinter races.
Dickson’s work is generally romantic in nature and dosed with a fair bit of mysticism. What science there is within the pages is wrapped up in verbiage and technobabble such as the science of Ontogenetics by which Padma is able to predict where Tam Olyn will be at specific nodal points in his life.
Dick’s strength lies in his desire to create characters and to explore the future of Humanity and what that may entail.
It’s not as strong a novel as ‘Tactics of Mistake’ where Dickson undoubtedly relished the political and military chess-playing of two major characters. Here, the structure is less clear and set in a more complex political arena in which he places a rigidly dogmatic fundamentalist culture. The characters are all admirably fleshed-out but it’s a shame that we did not see more of the lives of ‘The Chosen of God’