Go Tell the Spartans

The Raw Feeds on Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium series continue. This novel was co-authored by S. M. Stirling.

Raw Feed (1993): Go Tell the Spartans, Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling, 1991.Go tell the Spartans

With the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the associated phase of the Cold War, these books are increasingly – given the basic assumption of a crumbling, joint, Soviet-American interstellar Empire – becoming unworkable extrapolations. However, they are still models, as all the Pournelle is that I’ve read, of plausible societies worked out in complete social, technological, environmental, and technological terms.They are obviously rigged to portray conventional mercenary warfare using relatively, contemporary to us, modern weaponry on various Earth like planets.Yet, even given the assumptions of interstellar travel and the CoDominium, it’s remarkable how unforced and plausible the stories seem. It’s also interesting, as the series progresses from its first works in the early 1970s, to see how Pournelle updates the technology (much more emphasis in this novel on computers, satellite recon, and smart weapons than in The Mercenary) and political references (this novel has explicit references to Vietnam and the Gulf War).

This novel’s action fits readily between the second and third thirds of The Mercenary (at the end of which series’ hero John Christian Falkenberg becomes king on New Washington) and details the political and military threats to the planet Sparta which, later on in the series, will become the nucleus for a new empire after Earth is destroyed in the wake of a CoDominium collapse. Series character Prince Lysander will become the new Emperor.

The tone and theme of this story derives from the ancient story of the Three Hundred Spartans who gave their lives to delay the Persians at Thermopylae with the Spartans recapitulating their names. The main conflict involves suppressing a revolt of insurgents on Sparta, a so-called Low Intensity Conflict. I suspect the plot and entertaining story on the complexities of waging and resisting a guerilla war are Pournelle’s as the universe obviously is. The new addition to the series of Meiji technoninjas I suspect is Stirling’s. The style – and most of the writing – is Stirling’s I suspect. The technique of inserting bold exposition in and between the lines of dialogue is not characteristic of Pournelle. It is sometimes clunky but usually works surprisingly well.

The action – where the various units are in relation to each other and the terrain in the novel’s climactic battle – was a bit confusing. Maps would have helped. Perhaps I’m just spoiled by other Pournelle works. One review of this book noted the characterization was a cut above Pournelle’s, and that’s true, and I agree with the review in attributing it to Stirling. Even series villain Senator Bronson seems sympathetic in resisting Falkenberg and Admiral Lemontov’s plan, a “coup” he calls it, to set up an interstellar government after the CoDominium collapses (and Bronson knows it will), and loving the relics of American civilization like The Federalist Papers and Carl Sandburg and Mark Twain. Granted, Pournelle’s political villains are usually, if not sympathetic, at least people you can empathize with or are out to achieve some good no matter how bad their judgement is in deciding what’s truly good, but Bronson’s never been portrayed so complexly. Book villain Skida Thibodeau is a thug, seemingly a cynical, ambitious woman who launches a revolution to gain power. However she’s clever – if not truly wise in the ways of war – and, from such a poor background of crime and violence and degradation, that you can see why she turned out as she did. She also seems, at times, to genuinely believe her Marxist babblings of liberation. She almost comes to care for her followers – but hardens herself at novel’s end to sacrifice them to escape. However, she genuinely mourns friend Two-Knife’s death. A good novel though I liked The Mercenary better. Still, it’s a good read with some interesting points to make about Low Intensity Conflict.


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