Exiles to Glory

The Jerry Pournelle series continues.

Raw Feed (1993): Exiles to Glory, Jerry Pournelle, 1977.Exiles to Glory 

This is the last installment in what The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls the Laurie Jo Hansen sequence.

I enjoyed it, particularly the climax where the hero, engineer Kevin Senecal, builds a steam powered rocket (an idea which also shows up in the conclusion of Pournelle’s King David’s Spaceship) to escape captivity on an asteroid.

The scientific and engineering nuts-and-bolts details were well worked out and enjoyable.

The book’s pessimism about the future of the world (as seen from 1977) as a descent into welfare statism with ever increasing welfare costs, evermore reluctance to invest in long term engineering and scientific ventures, and evermore environmental degradation (latter Pournelle writings, both fact and fiction, show his pessimism lessening on this point) is certainly a product of its time though the state of American society (petty bureaucrats overseeing welfare kingdoms, coddling of criminals, a propensity to see human society as something that can be rationally ordered using tenets from the “science” of psychology) is not to far removed from current America.  Continue reading

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The Devil Draws Two

A couple of months ago it was time for the summer trip west and back to South Dakota.

That meant it was time to read the usual nonfiction Old West history book and a weird western. (I already did the usual geology reading.)

I’ll get to the history book another time.

I’ve been reading David B. Riley’s work on and off since encountering his publication Science Fiction Trails in 2013.

I am rather picky about what I consider a successful weird western. Ideally, it should be science fictional and not take the easy route of using magic and avoid the easy crutches of time travel and aliens.

Under Riley’s editorship, a surprising number of stories managed to do that.

Perhaps that standard was why Riley had trouble getting submissions and eventually ended publication of the magazine.

Science Fiction Trails is back, though, and I might do a review of its too most recent editions, both available in print and kindle form.

It was in another defunct Riley magazine, the first issue of Steampunk Trails, that I first met his character Miles O’Malley in “The Big Green Orb”. That story takes place after the ones in this omnibus.

Review: The Devil Draws Two: The Weird Western Adventures of Miles O’Malley, David B. Riley, 2012.Devil Draws Two

Miles O’Malley would be the first to tell you he’s not very bright and kind of naïve and that his horse Paul is smarter than he is.

He’s not a very good barber either.

Yet, as he wanders about the West circa 1880, he manages to tangle with vampires, time travelers, Susquatches, a robot, Martians, ghosts, demons and best them through some mix of charm, a lot of luck, and some fine shootin’ courtesy of a special revolver.

Which brings up Miles’ mighty peculiar circle of friends and acquaintances. There’s Nick Mephistopheles who gave him that gun. Miles doesn’t just pay a call to Hell to meet Nick. Miles also goes to Heaven.

There’s Molly Madison, intrepid female reporter and fellow boarder at the same San Francisco rooming house as Miles. Wing Ding, Chinese laundry owner and smuggler, tags along for a few adventures. Continue reading

High Justice

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with a collection of related stories.

It’s lawfare, guns, and money on Earth and in space.

Raw Feed (1993): High Justice, Jerry Pournelle, 1977.High Justice

A Matter of Sovereignty” — This story was originally published in 1972, and it’s very much a product of its time but not in a bad way. I enjoyed it. Not only for its technological trappings (nuclear power is extensive with nuclear powered ships, sea farming, icebergs being towed and then sold for water) and ideas but also its sense of pessimism. The U.S., presciently, is seen as increasingly diverting its research money into welfare payments a characteristic and valid Pournelle complaint derived from straight line political extrapolation. Corporations are powerful, extra-national entities. Here one, Nuclear General, is being bullied by third world Fijians (Third World bullying of rich corporations was another common thing in the sixties and seventies). The central idea is that legally corporations have few recourses to defend themselves; they are not legally sovereign entities entitled to the right of self-defense. Nuclear General makes a deal with Tonga, also having problems with Fijians (actually powerful immigrants like Chinese and Malays), whereby Tonga get its high tech (and ability to make nuclear weapons to give it a needed ability of self-defense), and Nuclear General gets the benefit of sovereignty under the Tongan flag. Multinational corporations, bullied, oppressed, and heavily taxed by national governments, increasingly taking on the actual and legal trappings of sovereignty is the major theme of this collection of linked stories.

Power to the People” — This story’s title not only refers to the conventional sixties revolutionary/Marxist idea of the phrase as personified in Rondidi politician Ifnoka. He’s an ex-American who left America as part of the Emmigrant Act of ’82 whereby a one way ticket to anywhere and $2,000 were granted anyone who would permanently renounce U.S citizenship and residency – seemingly a response to not only sixties racial tension but also welfare costs. It also refers to the industrial schemes of a consortium of the World Mission society, Nuclear General and other companies. Through nuclear power and towed iceberg water, they establish an interesting, well-worked out scheme to develop farmlands in the Namib desert (Africa is as much a basket case now as when this story was written), work mines in the surrounding areas, and extract minerals from sea water. None of the operations make much of a profit individually but do when carefully integrated (the advantage of building an industrial society up from nothing). The scheme is threatened by Ifnoka flooding the area with Rondini refugees, and his threats to overthrow prime minster Tsandi and nationalize the Consortium’s holding. One of the major traits of this series – people complaining about the “excessive” profits and power of the various corporations in this collection — is here. So is the notion, as a Nuclear General troubleshooter explains to the World Mission Society, that altruism is ultimately a failure and sometimes counterproductive. Profits are necessary before development can begin which will help everyone and are necessary for charity to exist. The answer, rightly given here, to the Ifnokas of the world who complain of their wealth being stolen by capitalists is that wealth is only created by the inventive skill, capital, and risk-taking of business. The Consortium eventually plays hardball with Ifnoka. In negotiations, they separate him from his army buddies in Rondini, ship guns to rival Tsandi (who understands profit relationships much better than Ifnoka) supporters, and suggest Ifnoka supporters be rounded up. Bill Adams (troubleshooter for Nuclear General in this story and “A Matter of Sovereignty”) is sort of the corporate, less martial equivalent of Pournelle’s great creation John Christian Falkenberg of the CoDominium series. He alters the political landscape through his scheming. Chinese communists are mentioned as being allied to Ifnoka, but there is remarkably little mention of the Soviets – odd considering the time and their importance in the CoDominium series – in this series of stories. Continue reading

The Gripping Hand

The Jerry Pournelle series with another of his collaborations with Larry Niven.

This one is a sequel to their The Mote in God’s Eye.

I prefer the UK title for this novel, The Moat Around Murcheson’s Eye, but “on the gripping hand” became a catch phrase for this novel much like “Think of it as evolution in action.” did with Niven and Pournelle’s Oath of Fealty.

Raw Feed (1993): The Gripping Hand, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1993.Gripping Hand

Stylistically this novel is odd in that it is almost entirely told in dialogue. It’s almost as if someone told the authors that readers particularly like dialogue so they decided to give them lots of it. [Having read more solo Niven works since then, I suspect this is Niven’s influence.]

Therein lies a symptom of its problems.

There are too many characters with many of them involved in subplots of no interest or hanging around for long periods of time just to have a brief bit of importance to the plot.

I’m thinking particularly of Glenda Blaine and boyfriend Frederick Townsend. I got tired of their on-and-off relationship. Slightly more tolerable, but ultimately just as pointless, was the brief affair between Kevin Renner and Ruth Cohen.

Perhaps Pournelle and Niven were making a point about important events being the product of many individual acts done by usually insignificant people except most of these people were important military figures and/or aristocrats. I’m thinking particularly of Alysia Trujillo, a reporter who has one moment of mild plot significance and spends the rest of her too long on stage time serving as a wise repository for explanations of various historical allusions, and Sauron-descended Terry Kakumi. (Perhaps the sections on the Saurons were Pournelle’s response to the shared world books on the Saurons that he’s edited.).

The dialogue I sometimes found confusing and disjointed but that could be my own lack of concentration while reading this during a bout of flu.

But the novel did have a lot of good points even if its effect was dulled by the Moties no longer being novel.

First, it featured as its main characters two of my favorite Mote in God’s Eye characters: Kevin Renner and Horace Bury (here rehabilitated from a seemingly greedy, treasonous trader to a former Arab nationalist agent now loyal to the Empire, dedicated to checking the Motie threat and who gives his life to the cause). For his part, Renner is just as much a playboy and curious smart-alec as ever.

I liked the Byzantine intrigue of the Asteroid Motie clans (the fact that Moties only have loyalty to their bloodline and not abstract ideals like race and nation is emphasized more here than in The Mote in God’s Eye) as the humans scheme and fight to put the rest of the Motie race under the control of the Medina Trading Company clan who in turn will insure sterilization of Moties going outsystem.

Pournelle and Niven (I suspect the former given the similar economic detail of his story “Tinker”) do a nice job showing how the economics and power of the asteroid clans shift with the orbital positions of their homes since trade routes and geopolitical relations shift as a result.

I also liked the vicious Motie warbots being described as vermin by other Moties since they are completely profligate with their resources of mass.

There is also a little more pessimism about the Empire in this story as aristocrats are increasingly depicted as being (unlike the Blaines) more interested in privilege than responsibilities. Pournelle realizes that’s probably a natural, inevitable consequence of this form of government. (Indeed, almost every governing group seems to increase their privileges with time.)

(I also liked Buckman’s presence though he wasn’t depicted as so much the preoccupied astrophysicist as in the preceding novel. He and Bury still have a special friendship though I would have liked to have had more with Buckman.)

This sequel does (despite its over reliance on dialogue and too many characters – usually the balance between stage time and importance is better in other Niven and Pournelle works) what a good one should do: explore under-or-unexplored areas of the original story. Here that’s the Motie asteroid clans and Motie power relationships.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Fallen Angels

The Jerry Pournelle series continues.

I’ve been to a few science fiction and “dark fantasy” conventions since writing this and am a bit more kindly disposed to fans now. However, my earlier feelings did color my feelings about this novel.

Raw Feed (1991): Fallen Angels, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Michael Flynn, 1991.Fallen Angels

This novel was a big disappointment.

All these authors are capable of good work and Niven and Pournelle together have done some great stuff.  It’s not that I think these authors can’t work together; it’s that I don’t like what they set out to do — and probably succeeded in doing.

This book is dedicated to “Science Fiction Fandom” and that is the main focus of the book. I think that focus will get this book at least nominated for an award. I’m not particularly fond of sf Fans (with a large F as opposed to people who just like the stuff).  Die-hard enthusiasts of any streak  make me nervous. And I’ve found many sf fans I’ve met obnoxious and obsessed with showing off their self-perceived cleverness. So, I’m not at all comfortable with the book’s focus.

And this book panders to fandom’s lofty notions of itself. To be sure, fans are shown as bickering, silly, obnoxious but ultimately effectual. Continue reading

The Mote in God’s Eye

The Jerry Pournelle series continues.

There are a lot of reviews of this novel on the internet, but the point of Raw Feeds is that I don’t spend a lot of time putting them up. So you’re on your own finding those reviews.

Steve Sailer’s remembrance for his friend Pournelle does have a bit of commentary on the novel’s possible hidden political symbolism as well as the history of its composition.

Raw Feed (1991): The Mote in God’s Eye, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1974.Mote in God's Eye

Most of the criticisms I had read of this novel led me to expect a bloated, hoary space opera with a few aliens thrown in all covered with Pournelle’s ostensibly militaristic/fascistic gloss.

I did not find this novel overly long.

It was a relatively quick read and much of the detail was necessary nor is there anything inherently wrong with long books with many characters and subplots (the so-called “best-seller” style of many of Pournelle and Niven’s collaborations).

There have been complaints this novel spent too much time on Navy “space adventures”.

I don’t think so.

Given the universe and the character of the Moties it’s hard to see whom else would contact them. The story, of course, could be constructed otherwise, but it’d be a very different story.

The novel has been characterized as being too chauvinistic towards humans. Continue reading

King David’s Spaceship

The Jerry Pournelle series continues.

Raw Feed (1990): King David’s Spaceship, Jerry Pournelle, 1981.King David's Spaceship

A very enjoyable novel.

Technically speaking, Pournelle does a very good job of writing a fast paced novel that covers a lot of ground in 260 pages.

It involves intrigue between an empire and the planet Prince Samuel, battles and journeys on the planet Makassar, a research effort to build a primitive spaceship, the theft of First Empire technology, the politics of the Empire, its history, and its colonial policy.

Pournelle has clearly modeled his empire on Rome’s and Britain’s with references to patronage, mercantilism, and an aristocracy. He also seems to have a fondness for British military history in particular — constant references to bagpipes and Highlanders and Prince Samuel’s world seems to be settled by Scots types).

Pournelle helpfully provides a chronology to show what happened in the CoDominium universe from the time of Lysander of Prince of Mercenaries to this novel. (Lysander became King of Sparta, the core of the First Empire.) Continue reading

Imperial Stars, Vol. 1: The Stars at War

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with a look at one of his anthologies that characteristically mixed fiction (not always science fiction either) and nonfiction.

The fiction selections were reprints and writers selected from the slush pile.

Unfortunately, this is the only one of his anthologies I have complete notes on.

Raw Feed (1987): Imperial Stars, Vol 1.: The Stars at War, eds. Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr, 1986.Imperial Stars

Introduction: Empire”, Jerry Pournelle — Pournelle logically expounds on the thesis that empire is the government most natural to man and that its time, no matter what democracies naively think, is not done. He also well shows the advantages of empire and that empires can take many forms including the possibility the U.S. is heading toward empire.

In Clouds of Glory”, Algis Budrys — Good story but would liked more exploration of how Agency would open way for an Earth empire. Extensive surgery and conditioning of main character was reminiscent (or, rather, predates) Joe Haldeman’s All My Sins Remembered. Would have liked more on future Earth history and how global government founded. Technically, story is interesting in that all military action occurs off-stage and story is a “thought-piece” on historical and political matters. Not as good as other Budrys I’ve read.

The Star Plunderer”, Poul Anderson — First read this story in Brian Aldiss’ excellent anthology Galactic Empires. I only remembered the bit with a slave revolt, but I liked this  story the second time as well. Pournelle, in introduction, goes further with rationalizing space barbarians (How, in story, did they get the tech to begin with?) than Anderson does. Anderson has a talent for invoking flavor of epic in language. Manuel Argos, who brings order out of an environment obviously reminiscent of late Republican Rome though he is personality-wise, no Augustus. He is a cold, manipulative, ruthless character who unsentimentally realizes what desperate measures need to be taken. Not a pleasant character but realistic one. Excitement and desperation and the degradation of servitude were all well-depicted. Nice touch in Earth being liberate, and an empire being established, but this is subordinated to the poignancy of narrator losing his love. The only flaw of story was the rather cliched early description of their romance, and Kathryn “instinctively” choosing a figure like Argos. Love is never so simple or instinctive a matter. Continue reading

The Legacy of Heorot

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with another item from the archives.

I sense a strong disappointment and too high of expectations in my younger self.

Raw Feed (1987): The Legacy of Heorot, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes, 1987.Legacy of Heorot

A disappointing novel that reads like a rush job plotted by all three and mainly written by Barnes (perhaps he contributed scenes from grendel’s point of view — some of the best parts of novel).

Ostensibly, a re-telling of Beowulf, the similarities are not very great.

Pournelle seems to have given us the only really well-done character (and even he could have been better done) in novel. Others are almost non-entities. Some characters we only get a name and no physical description! Very annoying.

Biologist Jack Cohen gave the authors the idea for the aliens. They are the best part of novel, but even they are, annoyingly enough, largely undetailed in terms of description. The novel seems a rush job to use Cohen’s idea and vaguely retell Beowulf (without any of the tragic grandeur of the saga’s end).  Continue reading

World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “Cool Air”

“Cool Air”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.

While written a mere eight years after the war ended, H. P. Lovecraft’s still uses the Great War in the most general and allusive way possible.

The story is an updating of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”. In that story, a man’s consciousness exists post-mortem and in his body because of an experiment in mesmerism.

Lovecraft’s brilliant Dr. Munoz has achieved the same effect and “lived” past his death 18 years ago by keeping his body temperature lowered with a refrigeration unit in a New York City apartment.

Dr. Munoz doesn’t look well even before his air conditioning fails and he liquefies. (Lovecraft himself said the end derived not from Poe but Arthur Machen’s “The Novel of the White Powder”.)

Before that, though, he has a visitor:

One September day an unexpected glimpse of him induced an epileptic fit in a man who come to repair his electric desk lamp; a fit for which he prescribed effectively whilst keeping himself well out of sight. That man, oddly enough, had been through the terrors of the Great War without having incurred any fright so thorough.

It’s the most general use of World War One in a weird story — to say that the uncanniness and horror of the story exceed even the horrors of the Great.

 

More entries in this series are indexed on the World War One in Fantastic Fiction page.