The Childe Cycle, also known as the Dorsai series, is Gordon R. Dickson's future history of humankind and its ultimate destiny. Now one of its central novels return to print in a two-volume corrected edition.
In The Final Encyclopedia the human race is split into three Splinter cultures: the Friendlies, fanatic in their faith; the truth-seeking Exotics; and the warrior Dorsai. But now humanity is threatened by the power-hungry Others, whose triumph would end all human progress.
Raised to a destiny as humanity's champion, Hal Mayne must journey deep within his soul to gather the strength he needs to face his ultimate opponent: Bleys Ahrens, the shadowy, powerful leader of the Others. On Hal's success depends nothing less than the future of the human race...
A towering landmark of future history, The Final Encyclopedia is a novel every SF fan needs to own.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Gordon R. Dickson was the Hugo- and Nebula-winning author of many classics of fantasy and science fiction, most famously the Childe Cycle (also known as the Dorsai series). He died in 2001.
The low-angled daylight dimmed suddenly on the page of a poem by Alfred Noyes that Walter the InTeacher was reading. It was as if a little cloud had passed over the face of the late afternoon sun that was slanting its rays through the library window beside him. But when Walter glanced up, Earth's star shone bright and round in the sky. There was no cloud.
He frowned, set the antique book aside and reached into his now old-fashioned Maran robes to take out a small, transparent cube filled with liquid, within which normally drifted a thin pink strip of semi-living tissue. It was a cube sent to him here on Earth fourteen years back, from what remained of the old Splinter Culture of the men and women of Mara--that with Kultis had been the two Exotic Worlds. In all those years, as often as he had looked at it, the appearance of the strip had never changed. But now he saw it lying shrivelled and blackened and curled as if burned, at the bottom of the liquid enclosing it. And from the implications of this it came to Walter then, coldly and like something he had been half-expecting for some time, that the hour of his death was upon him.
He put the cube away and got swiftly to his feet. At ninety-two he was still tall, spare and active. But he did not know how long the life gauge had been shrivelled, or how much time remained. He went quickly, therefore, along the library and out through a tall french window, onto the flagstone terrace, flanked at each end by heavy-blossomed lilac bushes and standing a sheer forty feet above the half mile of lake enclosed by the Mayne estate.
On the terrace, legs spread and big hands locked together behind him, Malachi Nasuno, once an officer and man of the Dorsai, but now a tutor like Walter, stood watching an eggshell plastic canoe and the canoeist in it, paddling toward the house. It was almost sunset. The sun, dropping rapidly behind the sharp peaks of the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains around them, was growing a shadow swiftly across the lake from its farther end. This shadow the canoeist was racing, just ahead of its edge on the dark blue water.
Walter wasted no time, but hurried to the flagstaff at one end of the terrace. He loosened the cord on the staff; the sun-warmed, flexible length of it ran through his fingers, burning them lightly, and the flag with its emblem of a hawk flying out of a wood fluttered to the terrace stones.
Out on the lake, the canoeist's paddle beat brightly once more in the sunlight and then ceased. The living figure vanished overside. A moment later, the canoe itself heaved up a little, filled and sank, as if it had been ripped open from beneath and pulled down into the depths. A second later the advancing edge of darkness upon the water covered the spot where the craft had been.
Walter felt the breath of Malachi Nasuno suddenly warm against his left ear. He turned to face the heavy-boned, deep-lined features of the old professional soldier.
"What is it?" asked Malachi, quietly. "Why alarm the boy?"
"I wanted him to get away--if he can," answered Walter. "The rest of us are done for."
Malachi's craggy, hundred-year-old face hardened like cooling metal and the thickets of his brows pulled close together.
"Speak for yourself," he said. "When I'm dead, I'm dead. But I'm not dead yet. What is it?"
"I don't know," said Walter. He lifted the cube from his robes and showed it. "All I know is I've had this warning."
"More of your Exotic hocus-pocus," growled Malachi. But the growl was only half disdainful. "I'll go warn Obadiah."
"There's no time." Walter's hand on a still-massive forearm stopped the ex-soldier. "Obadiah's been ready to meet that personal God of his for years now, and any minute we're liable to have eyes watching what we do. The less we seem to be expecting anything, the better Hal's chance to get away."
Far up along the shadowed margin of the lake, the gaudy shape of a nesting harlequin duck, disturbed from some tall waterweeds below overhanging bushes, burst suddenly into the open, crying out, and fluttered, half-running, half-flying, across the darkened surface of the water to another part of the shore. Walter breathed out in relief.
"Good lad," he said. "Now, if he'll just stay hidden."
"He'll stay," said Malachi, grimly. "He's not a lad now, but a man. You and Obadiah keep forgetting that."
"A man, at sixteen?" said Walter. The ready tears of age were unexpectedly damp against the outer corners of his eyes. "So soon?"
"Man enough," grunted Malachi. "Who's coming? Or what?"
"I don't know," answered Walter. "What I showed you was just a device to warn of a sharp pressure increase of the ontogenetic energies, moving in on us. You remember I told you one of the last things I was able to have them do on Mara was run calculations on the boy; and the calculations indicated high probability of his intersection with a pressure-climax of the current historical forces before his seventeenth year."
"Well, if it's only energies--" Malachi snorted.
"Don't fool yourself!" said Walter, almost sharply for a Maran. "There'll be men or things to manifest its effect when it gets here, just as a tornado manifests a sudden drop in air pressure. Perhaps--" He broke off. Malachi's gaze had moved away from the Maran. "What is it?"
"Others, perhaps," said Malachi, quietly. His generous nostrils spread, almost sniffing the cooling air, tinged now by the sky-pink of the sunset that was beginning to flood between the white-touched mountain peaks.
"Why do you say that?" Walter glanced covertly around, but saw nothing.
"I'm not sure. A hunch," said Malachi.
Walter felt coldness within him.
"We've done wrong to our boy," he almost whispered. Malachi's eyes whipped back to focus on him.
"Why?" demanded the Dorsai ex-soldier.
"We've trained him to meet men--men and women at most," whispered Walter, crouching under his feeling of guilt. "And these devils are loose now on the fourteen worlds."
"The Others aren't 'devils'!" snapped Malachi, not bothering to keep his voice down. "Mix your blood and mine, and Obadiah's in with it--mix together blood of all the Splinter Cultures if you want to, and you still get men. Men make men--nothing else. You don't get anything out of a pot you don't put into it."
"Other Men and Women. Hybrids." Walter shivered. "People with half a dozen talents in one skin."
"What of it?" growled Malachi. "A man lives, a man dies. If he lives well and dies well, what difference does it make what kills him?"
"But this is our Hal--"
"Who has to die someday, like everyone else. Straighten up!" muttered Malachi. "Don't they grow any backbones on the Exotics?"
Walter pulled himself together. He stood tall, breathed deeply and with control for a few seconds, then put on peace like a cloak.
"You're right," he said. "At least Hal's had all we could give him, the three of us, in skill and knowledge. And he's got the creativity to be a great poet, if he lives."
"Poet!" said Malachi, bleakly. "There's a few thousand more useful things he could do with his life. Poets--"
He broke off. His eyes met Walter's with abrupt warning.
Walter's eyes acknowledged the message. He folded his hands in the wide sleeves of his blue robe with a gesture of completion.
"But poets are men, too," he said, as cheerfully and casually as someone making light argument for its own sake. "That's why, for example, I think so highly of Alfred Noyes, among the nineteenth-century poets. You know Noyes, don't you?"
"I think so," said Walter. "Of course, I grant you no one remembers anything but The Highwayman, out of all his poems, nowadays. But Tales of the Mermaid Tavern, and that other long poem of his--Sherwood--they've both got genius in them. You know, there's that part where Oberon, the king of elves and fairies, is telling his retainers that Robin Hood is going to die, and explaining why the fairies owe Robin a debt--"
"Never read it," grunted Malachi, ungraciously.
"Then I'll quote it for you," said Walter. "Oberon is talking to his own kind and he tells about one of them whom Robin once rescued from what he thought was nothing worse than a spider's web. And what Noyes had Oberon say is--listen to this now--
"'...He saved her from the clutches of that Wizard,
'That Cruel Thing, that dark old Mystery,
'Whom ye all know and shrink from...!'"
Walter broke off, for a thin, pale-faced young man in a dark business suit, holding a void pistol with a long, narrow, wire coil--shielded barrel, had stepped from the lilac bushes behind Malachi. A moment later another gunman joined him. Turning, Walter saw yet two more had appeared from the bushes at his end of the terrace. The four pistols covered the two old men.
"'...Plucked her forth, so gently that not one bright rainbow gleam upon her wings was clouded...'" A deep, vibrant voice finished the quotation, and a very tall, erect man with dark hair and lean, narrow-boned face, carrying the book Walter had just been reading with one long finger holding a place in its pages, stepped through the same french window from which Walter had come a few moments before.
"...But you see?" he went on, speaking now to Walter, "how it goes downhill, gets to be merely pretty and ornate, after that first burst of strength you quoted? Now, if you'd chosen instead the song of Blondin the Minstrel, from that same poem--"
His voice took on sudden strength and richness--half-chanting the quoted lines in the fashion of the plainsong of the medieval monks.
"Knight on the narrow way,
Where wouldst thou ride?
'Onward,' I heard him say,
'Love, to thy side!'
"...then I'd have had to agree with you."
Walter bent his head a little with bare politeness. But there was a traitorous stir in his chest. The magnificent voice, the tall, erect figure before him, plucked at Walter's senses, trained by a lifetime of subtleties, with the demand fo...
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