The Mercenary

Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium series is a product of the Cold War. It postulates a political solution (which ultimately fails) to keep nuclear war between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America from destroying civilization. They simply divide the world between them and attempt to suppress scientific research into crucial areas of weapons technology.

It has become, like many future histories in science fiction, a sort of alternate history.

I’ll be doing a few raw feeds on the series in lieu of proper reviews.

I will be doing it in order of publication.

More information on the series, including it’s many publication permutations, is at the Science Fiction Timeline Site. I will not be doing any of the War World series.

I’ll be omitting the usual Amazon title links due to that complicated publishing history.

Raw Feed (1990): The Mercenary, Jerry Pournelle, 1977.Mercenary

I enjoyed this novel a great deal.

It’s one flaw was having John Christian Falkenberg marry Glenda Ruth Horton and an implied kingship being set up on New Washington at novel’s end. While it wasn’t perfunctory, it still seemed to be part of the cliche of the hero/heroine (usually a lone, solitary hero/heroine) needing a significant other. It’s interesting to note that Pournelle enters Robert Heinlein territory when Horton wonders why she’s only attracted to Falkenberg. Heinlein spent a great deal of time trying to reconcile evolution with morals and human psychology. Here Horton wonders if there isn’t an atavistic streak in some women that makes them love warriors. In a similar vein, Leo Slater in Pournelle’s West of Honor wonders if man isn’t naturally attracted to war and violence since even pacifists talk of war’s horrors and not peace’s glories.

Pournelle doesn’t mock civilians, but he shows the soldier as a breed apart with their own virtues and vices fighting when civilians mess things up. They deserve respect, but they are no substitute for civilian rule and civilians are needed to build civilizations, soldiers to protect it. Granted it serves Falkenberg’s political end, and he suspects the CoDominium won’t last much longer. I don’t know if Falkenberg (and, thus, Pournelle as some critics have it) is endorsing feudalism. All I know is that Falkenberg is saying a monarchy on New Washington will bring order. As Falkenberg says earlier, soldiers aren’t very concerned with justice, but they do bring order. A monarchy will also protect civilization, a cause near and dear to Falkenberg, in a sense the reward of his mercenary.

Falkenberg certainly delivers a well deserved jab at New Washington’s “egalitarian democracy” when he says democracies are “quite unable to accomplish anything that takes sustained effort”. I know, from his essays in the Imperial Stars series, this is a personal statement of Pournelle’s. It’s interesting to note that, in most of these Falkenberg stories, there is an outsider who lives with the effects of political changes by Falkenberg while Falkenberg (usually because of the plot in which he springs a surprise) remains aloof.

Here this is changed by the book’s opening, where we learn something of Falkenberg’s beginnings, and the end story where we see something of his interior life. (I wish Pournelle would have resisted the cliché of the wife in the past who left him.)

These really are very political books. There are many political machinations and fast moving descriptions of battle strategy and tactics but little attention paid to technology. Pournelle rationalizes the almost contemporary technology in terms of colonial development and CoDominium stifling of research. Interesting use of computers is made for battle administration, but, apart from mentioning, in passing, nuke standoffs and stardrives and regeneration therapy, there is little in the way of technological extrapolation. It certainly isn’t because Pournelle doesn’t know his tech. He just chooses to emphasize other things.

I have read the middle portion of this novel before as the novella “The Mercenary”. I found it’s ending even more horrifying and moving this time. Massacring a stadium full of people is very bitter medicine for an ailing world. (A world that is specifically said to be reverting to feudalism, so I doubt Pournelle endorses the idea.) The second part of this novel involving Grand Senator Martin Grant (and, peripherally, Falkenberg — whose cashiering is one more price to be paid for CoDominium survival) was grim and depressing. I suspect this was the section entitled “Peace With Honor” — a title with quite deliberate echoes of Nixon and Vietnam. It was a memorable story of the United States and the CoDominium devolving into corrupt, tyrannical entities, a political order where, interestingly, “taxpayer” has become an aristocratic title. John Grant is forced into reprehensible, corrupt, distasteful actions to try to save man via the CoDominium. And it ultimately costs him the love of the one person who does not fear this CIA man: his daughter. I liked the President too. He is willing to break the law to stay in power because he must to save the CoDominium. But he will only go so far. He won’t start a nuclear war to stay in power. In his own way, he is principled. Grant and the President, like Falkenberg, serve the CoDominium and man and civilization as best they can and pay a high price.


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