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Gordon R. Dickson. Tor Books, $22.95 (378pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85198-9

Since its beginning in 1959 as a serialization in Astounding Science Fiction, Dickson's award-winning Childe Cycle has reflected the changes in contemporary ``space opera.'' While the early works revealed the author's skill in seamlessly melding plot complications and his deft, journalistic prose, this latest entry deals with more levels of society than did the earlier works as it follows the attempt of Bleys Ahrens and his troupe (including his brother Dahno and his right-hand woman, Antonia Lu) to encourage a grand unification of all worlds. The series has always seemed based on the idea that those who are destined to lead do so while the rest of us are the better for leaving that task to them. Here the ``Great Teacher,'' as Ahrens is often called, and his crew visit various planets, form interplanetary alliances and continue the search for Hal Mayne, the primary hero of the Cycle. Machinations and intrigues abound, including kidnapping, drugging and threats, but Dickson's presentation is so balanced that even readers unfamiliar with Mayne's role in the series may sympathize more with him than with Ahrens-or with Henry MacLean, who joins the troupe while maintaining that the Great Teacher is guided by Satan, a subplot that may develop in future volumes. And so the Cycle rotates on, with this particular spin, often overwrought but never less than interesting. (Sept.)