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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Childe Cycle: Short Works

In addition to the novels, the Childe Cycle includes four short works (not including "Soldier, Ask Not". later expanded into a novel.)

  • Warrior
"Warrior" (1965) is told from the point of view of an Earth policeman named Tyburn. Ian Graeme has had to court-marshal and execute one of his officers, an Earthman named Brian Kennebuck, for ordering a reckless advance that gets almost all of his Force (platoon, more or less) killed. Ian blames Brian's older brother James, a rich gangster, for taunting Brian into taking foolish risks to prove his bravery; this is clear to both Tyburn and the older Kennebuck from the beginning. Both misunderstand Ian: Tyburn thinks that Ian, purely a soldier, will disregard civil law and murder James; James thinks that Ian will be helpless in a civilian setting. Ian visits James in his apartment, ostensibly to give him Brian's effects, and maneuvers James into attacking him with a gun; Ian is shot, but continues to come after James, who is so terrified by this implacable, unstoppable giant that he throws himself out a window rather than face him: a 90th-story window, as it happens. In explaining to a dubious Tyburn that he had planned the entire confrontation, Ian makes the point quite succinctly:

"I'm not just a man of the military. I am a man of war."
Brian and James Kennebuck form a strange counterpoint to Donal and Mor Graeme. Mor's jealousy of Donal placed Mor in a position where he would be killed; James's fear of Brian caused him to manipulate Brian into getting himself killed. Donal's guilt for Mor's death was part of what motivated him to try to change humanity to become more responsible; James killed himself rather than face his own guilt.

  • Brothers
"Brothers" (1973) is in many ways a more powerful and more sophisticated retelling of "Warrior". It describes Kensie's murder and what immediately follows. Again, it's told from the point-of-view of a policeman: in this case, Tomas Velt, chief of police in Blauvain. Tomas is giving Kensie a ride in his car when they're attacked and Kensie is killed. Events quickly spin out of control: Ian declares martial law, putting him in charge of the police as well as the military, and the Dorsai troops are ready to destroy the city, if necessary, to find the killers. (There's some precedent for that; the Dorsai have a song about a city named Rochmont which had betrayed and killed a Dorsai commander, and which his troops subsequently destroyed so that not one stone lay upon another.) Tomas, pleading with Ian to prevent this, is met with what seems like an inhuman coldness: Yes, Ian would prefer not to do anything that might reflect badly on Kensie's honor, but if his troops vote to march in the city, he has no choice but to lead them. Nothing in Ian's voice or manner suggests grief.

Once again, Ian's tactical abilities find a solution. He manipulates Tomas and Padma, the Exotic emissary to Ste. Marie, into helping him find the apartment where the assassins are holed up. He talks the killers into letting him enter, naked, while they're heavily armed, and proceeds to kill them, horribly, with his bare hands. The result is a catharsis which satisfied his troops' need for revenge and prevents any further bloodshed. Later, when Ian views Kensie in his casket, we see the extent of Ian's grief in two ways: one superhuman (where Ian grips the edge of the casket, the pressure of his fingers rends the steel) and one mystical (inside the casket, the places where Ian's fingers had been were marked with his blood.) This time, the perfect description of Ian is put in the mouth of another Dorsai, a Morgan: "Some people don't bleed on the outside where you can see it."

  • Amanda Morgan
The title character of "Amanda Morgan" (1979) is the first of her name (we'll meet the second and third later), one of the early settlers of the Dorsai. Her great-grandson David ap Morgan is a minor character in Tactics of Mistake, a major in Cletus's army. Although an old woman, she is chosen by her district to organize resistance to Dow DeCastries's invasion force. She finds a grisly solution: the young and healthy are sent away to live in the woods, and the old and ill remain behind. They pretend to be keeping up the normal district industry of metal work, but they're actually making nickel carbonyl, a volatile liquid whose vapor causes irreversible lung damage. What seems to be an epidemic that spreads from townspeople to the soldiers is actually the effect of this poison. It weakens the invading army enough that Cletus and his man can defeat it and capture DeCastries. The point of the story is clear enough. Cletus's advances in tactics and strategy are only part of what make the Dorsai what they are. Another essential ingredient is the warrior spirit that refuses to admit defeat. As the third Amanda puts it "It was a matter of their being able to make harder choices than people less willing." Dow DeCastries is the first, but hardly the last, full-spectrum man to underestimate what the Splinter Cultures are capable of.

  • Lost Dorsai
"Lost Dorsai" (1980) is a long story, almost a short novel. It's told by Corunna El Man, a Dorsai we've met before as one of the damaged men on Donal's staff. El Man had been the commander in a besieged town on Freiland; when the town was overrun, the inhabitants were massacred; El Man's face was savagely slashed and his wife murdered in front of him. The main story is that of another besieged town, where El Man has brought the second Amanda Morgan to try to resolve a tangled situation. Ian and Kensie Graeme have taken a contract to train and lead the troops of Nahar, a Hispanic-heritage backwater nation on Ceta, ruled in theory by a titular monarch, but in actuality by a group of wealthy landowners. To complicate things further, the nation's peasants are a constant threat to revolt against both. William of Ceta is manipulating the situation to try put the Graemes in a bind: if they keep to their contract, they'll be overrun and killed; if they break it to run, they, and the Dorsai in general, will be humiliated. Amanda, as an expert on contracts, tries to find an out. Michael de Sandoval is the eponymous lost Dorsai. After training for a military career, he found out too late the he is unwilling to use violence against others. He's taken refuge as a bandmaster in the Nahar army.

If that weren't enough, all the players have personal problems. Kensie has been in love with Amanda since they were young. Amanda is very fond of Kensie, but her true feelings are for Ian. Amanda also fears that her responsibilities to the Dorsai people as a whole don't leave enough of her to be a wife to anyone. Ian also loves Amanda, but, not wanting to compete with his twin for her affections, he's become engaged to an Earth-woman named Leah. Michael is afraid that his refusal to hurt others will be seen as cowardice, rather than principle.

No solution to the military problem is found, and the situation becomes desperate. The bulk of the Naharese troops are in rebellion against their king. The exception are Michael's bandsmen, whom he's been training as defenders, but as the rebel troops come closer, they all run off. The only defenders left with any military background are El Man, the Graemes, Amanda, and Michael; moreover, Amanda is wounded and Michael is a noncombatant.

Michael now takes matters into his own hands. He goes outside the walls in full regimental uniform, playing the pipes. The rebels, stunned, simply watch him play. Some start to fire upon him, but they're restrained by his own regiment. Michael is killed, but the result is a general melee between the soldiers who knew and loved Michael and the rest. The rebel advance degenerates into a brawl, and the threat to the town collapses. The next day, the rebellious landowners come to negotiate a settlement. Amanda, inspired by Michael's bravery, chooses to go her own way and let Kensie and Ian go theirs. (We learn in The Final Encyclopedia that much later, after Ian's children are grown and Leah has passed away, Ian and Amanda spend their last years together. Leah's name is an obvious Biblical reference; she was the wife Ian got in place of the one he really wanted. It's nice to know that he eventually earns his Rachel as well.)

For all that "Lost Dorsai" is set during a siege and the subsequent battle, it consists almost entirely of people talking to each other, mostly confiding in El Man. Much high-caliber brainpower is aimed at trying to resolve the siege (Kensie, Ian, Amanda, Padma the Exotic envoy), but none of them come up with anything, and it seems as though the only result of sending for Amanda will be to get her killed too. The real pleasures of the story are the glimpses of the characters as we don't usually see them: Ian, sharing gallows humor with El Man and, in an unguarded moment, admitting his love for Amanda; Kensie, keeping his humor and grace even as Amanda breaks his heart; Amanda (any Amanda), letting her doubts and insecurities show.

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