Soldier, Ask Not by Gordon R. Dickson

Originally a short story (that won the Hugo award) and later re-written as the third installment of the Childe Cycle, Soldier, Ask Not is heavy with themes of faith and philosophy and treads a thin line between logic and faith – never condemning nor promoting one or the other.

The title – Soldier, Ask Not – hints at the main themes of the book; the constant struggle between duty and responsibility; between blind obedience and discretion; between destiny and choice.

Our main character – Tam Olyn – was brought up with a nihilistic ethos that he has spent his life trying to shrug off. He has a ‘divine experience’ and is thus interpreted by some to be a man of importance; a man of great power and responsibility.

However, Tam is stubborn and arrogant and, through circumstances, sees himself as not a power for good, but a force for vengeance and for change. He embraces his nihilistic upbringing and sets out to destroy those he feels have wronged him.

Soldier, Ask Not is a superb entry in the sub-genre of Military Science Fiction: our protagonist is a journalist with near-unlimited privileges, and as he travels between factions we get a pretty decently balanced view of the war – with the exception of the actions of individuals, there is no ‘good or bad.’ There is only war.

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In the distant future, humanity has splintered off into 16 factions on 16 worlds, each one representing a different aspect of humanity as each society evolves differently. It is through these social differences that conflicts and war and peace are dictated; and it is through these social differences that we see how futile war is, how pointless the indistinctions between people really are.

This book was my introduction to The Childe Cycle, and as such, it was a bit perplexing to begin with. There were elements around the unique universe that Gordon R. Dickson created that perhaps were better explained in his previous work.

I did quite enjoy this book, especially once Tam Olyn began his journalistic crusade. The settings and characters here were intriguing enough that I will hunt down more of Dicksons’ books and re-visit the Childe Cycle in chronological order. The story has such depth that I know I will gain valuable insights from earlier work to re-read Soldier, Ask Not and experience something different and even better.

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