(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Even in its own terms, the Childe Cycle is one of the most ambitious projects in the history of science fiction. As of 1995, the series consisted of well more than a million words, thus being comparable in scope to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Robert A. Heinlein’s “Future History” stories. The Childe Cycle is part of an even larger project, a set of interlocking novels—originally conceived of as three historical, three contemporary, and three science-fiction novels—each standing on its own but all eventually forming part of one gigantic “consciously thematic story,” a term Dickson uses for the work.

Dickson’s themes are almost all pairs of oppositions. Evolution is crucial and stasis is death; freedom is necessary and too much control is fatal; duty to a cause above self is good and selfishness is bad; and empathy liberates and isolation confines. The exception to this series is the paradoxical mantra of the new Chantry Guild on Kultis, which is a key to the cycle’s overall structure: “the transient and the eternal are the same.” What Dickson seems to say is that during the thousand-year period his consciously thematic story will cover, patterns repeat.

The individual novels differ in some respects. The earlier novels are shorter and less easily understood than the later novels. The basic structure, however, is the same throughout the cycle: A young but incredibly confident and talented man overcomes an older...

(The entire section is 579 words.)