Thought & Quote of the day, 2010/10/13

“There are four types of commander. Brilliant and energetic; brilliant and lazy; stupid and lazy; and stupid and energetic. With the first three, you can do something. With the last, nothing but disaster can result.”

– Commander Raj Whitehall, appearing in Conqueror, by S.M. Stirling & David Drake, pg 308.(1)

 

While it’s technically military science fiction, The General series written by David Drake and S.M. Stirling was also a series of books that taught me a lot about people: different types of people, leading different types of people, and recognizing that different people have different aptitudes for different tasks.

It’s also a very brutal and gory series of books — I don’t know much about Stirling’s background, but Drake is both a scholar of Classical history and a Vietnam War veteran. There are many themes the run through almost all of his military science fiction novels (of which I’ve read quite a few), one of them being the need to recognize reality. As much as we’d like to turn away from awful or unpleasant realizations, all too often there is no time.

Facing reality doesn’t mean you have to bow your head and not fight it, nor does it mean you must resist and cannot accept it. Which path you choose and why is up to you. But no matter who you are and no matter where or when you are, you will have to face reality sooner or later. The longer you put it off, the more it will hurt.

A more expanded from that section might give a better flavor of the book:

‘ “Long may you live and reign, Ingreid Manfrond,” Raj whispered.

Some of the other officers looked at him. He explained: “There are four types of commander. Brilliant and energetic; brilliant and lazy; stupid and lazy; and stupid and energetic. With the first three, you can do something. With the last, nothing but disaster can result. I think Ingreid Manfrond has shown us which category he belongs to. Let’s just hope he’s energetic enough to hang on to power.” ‘

At this point in the series, Whitehall has been sent to conquer an entire country with about 1/5th of the men he needs for the task. So he conquers one of the larger cities and sets it up as a base. Manfrond’s army is much less disciplined and about 10-50 years behind in technology, but also multiple times larger than Whitehall’s army. In the end, Whitehall wins because Manfrond, in his contempt for Whitehall and his determination to have a fast & flashy victory, throws away the lives of the majority of his men.

Had Manfrond been more patient, less energetic and frenzied, and more willing to listen to others, he could have easily beaten Whitehall.

 

(1) Conqueror (2003) is part of a two volume set, the other volume is Warlord. They are reprints of an earlier five-part series of novels, The Forge, The Hammer, The Anvil (1993), The Steel (1993) and The Sword (1995). The last three books of the series are in Conqueror, the first two are in Warlord. All published by Baen Publishing Company, Conqueror is ISBN 0-7434-3594-Z.

I first read the series when it was originally being published in the early- to mid-1990s. It wasn’t until the series was over and I was rereading it that I realized the meaning behind the progression of the series titles.

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