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.
“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.
“Enforcer” — This story centers around the notion of a multinational corporation, INTERSEC, devoted to protecting multinational corporate property via contracts with corporations and countries giving them districts of exclusive police and judicial powers. This notion is still being taken seriously. Some of the quotes in Pournelle’s and S. M. Stirling’s Go Tell the Spartans indicate that the notion of private corporations devoted to counter-insurgency operations was being considered in the 1990s. The corporate property to be protected here is yet another clever industrial facility (almost every story in this collection has one). This facility is on an iceberg and involves seabed mining (a notion not talked about much – that I’ve heard – since the early eighties – but then no one much talks any more about the high tech, industrial schemes that fill this book) operation, and it’s threatened by a junta of Argentine military officers who want to nationalize it and break their contracts with INTERSEC. Most of these officers can be blackmailed by INTERSEC or talked out of their notions but not the influential Colonel Ortiz. The story’s protagonist and enforcer of the title is Enoch Doyle (the typically cultured, competent, and well-educated Pournelle hero), and he is to dissuade Ortiz. But not before a brief history of the benefits of turn of the century international law – human rights, charters, rules of real blockades, prisoner of war and laws of war – are discussed. Pournelle sees a benefit in international law as practiced then, law taken seriously by the Great Powers even among themselves and even by Hitler at times. It was corrupted by the United Nations’ Charter which ruled that, legally, force could only be applied in the interest of self-defense, that murder of a country’s citizens, breaking of contract, nationalization were not valid reasons for war.) Doyle tries to convince Ortiz that he can not and will not let Argentine renege on its contracts (steps are taken to severally weaken Argentine currency). For his part, no matter the harm done to Argentine and international trade, Ortiz remains fanatically opposed to corporations like INTERSEC taking on the judicial and police trappings of sovereignty. It’s revealed at story’s end that his unreasoning hatred of INTERSEC is because, as a young man, he was rejected by their academy. Doyle drugs Ortiz into paranoid schizophrenia and thereby destroys his political career.
“High Justice” — This story features another industrial complex (here a laser-lift launch facility linked with an orbital manufacturing station) and an important figure in this series, the rich Laurie Jo Hansen, a woman determined to escape the governments and bureaucracies of Earth and gain space for man. Her plans are being foiled by the jealous, populist, socialist (Pournelle never comes out and calls him this, but it’s clearly implied in his rhetoric) U.S. President Greg Tolland. Tolland happens to be an old acquaintance of Hansen. She hires Aeneas McKenzie, an old lover and ex-attorney general for Tolland before he uncovers corruption in Tolland’s regime which gained power on a platform of rooting out corruption. McKenzie is depicted as man incorruptible but opposed to the concentration of power in Hansen’s hands. But, he has nowhere else to go but back to Hansen. Their romance resumes, and McKenzie is sent to bring law and justice to Hansen’s space station. An agent of Tolland has murdered the captain of the station, and no earthly court will try him. McKenzie does and personally executes him, another example in this story of corporations assuming sovereign powers.
“Extreme Prejudice” — This story features a burnt out hitman and two typically seventies’ sf notions: talking dolphins and undersea farming and mining in a very interesting and appealing U.S. industrial facility. CIA assassin Gideon Starr is sent to the facility to kill one Hank Shields, himself a former CIA assassin who walked out after refusing to kill the Aeneas MacKenzie of “High Justice”. Starr is not fond of the idea but he is, in typical Pournelle fashion, a creature of duty. In the end, though, he decides not to kill Shields. He respects the man and his work. He finds the people of the facility motivated, proud, smart, involved – total opposites of the people in America. While he shares Tolland’s hatred of multinationals, Shields is working for America though he ultimately lets him flee to Laurie Jo Hanson’s similar underwater facility. However, the whole dolphin part of the plot didn’t have much emotional power over me.
“Consort” — Another story featuring Aeneas MacKenzie and Laurie Jo Hansen. U.S. President Greg Tolland is still out to destroy Hansen Enterprises so Hansen, in typical Pournelle fashion, plays political hardball. She has obtained incontrovertible proof that Tolland, who ran on a platform of rooting out corruption (the Makenzie stories are probably all post-Watergate), was a knowing participant in the corruption of his administration. Politicians corrupting themselves, compromising their values for personal profit or to further their political agendas, are the main concern of this story. For not revealing it, she blackmails Tolland into getting the U.S. government to boost a vital payload to her so that she can start her lunar colony and flee Earth, its interfering governments and her skittish business partners. The story ends on a sort of sad note when the formerly incorruptible MacKenzie is willing to let Tolland stay in office rather than expose him so that Hansen can realize her ambitions. Though it helps her and MacKenzie does it for love, Hansen is a little saddened by Mackenzie’s compromise. It reminded me of Horace Bury in the Pournelle co-authored The Mote in God’s Eye being saddened when he realizes astrophysicist Buckman actually possessed useful knowledge that he can buy.
“Tinker” — This story of a space going family and their tramp ship of the solar system reminded me of Robert Heinlein’s stuff, particularly the family relationships where the kids get a minimum of supervision and everyone has jobs they know and are expected to do. The well worked technical and economic details were interesting and clearly anticipate the asteroid civilizations of Pournelle and Niven’s The Gripping Hand. I was very surprised at this final installment in the linked collection of tales. It was surprisingly downbeat and ambivalent towards the values of the earlier stories. I was not surprised that the plight of liner Agamemnon was from sabotage ordered at behest of Rhoda Hendrix, head of Jefferson Corporation. It was obvious. Most of the stories in this book involve corporations bedeviled by government regulations and predation developing the trappings of sovereignty in self defense. Many feature people griping about corporation greed, extortion, and exploitation. There is some of that here. The asteroid miners of Jefferson, on the verge of bankruptcy, resent interstellar cargo haulers and big corporations. Hendrix is trying to form a nation out of the settlement on Jefferson’s Corporation’s asteroid. Oswald Dalquist, insurance agent for Hansen Enterprises (not nearly so clearly a hero as in other stories featuring it in the book) is sent to the asteroid to investigate a suspicious death of an old friend and former (and insured) Hansen employee. Oswald makes the valid (and oft-repeated in this series) reply that large profits are needed for the capital investments that make possible a trade with asteroid miners and that large profits are necessary for people to take large risks. Yet, the community of asteroid miners (and the family that owns the ship Slingshot) are exactly the sort of rugged, frontier individualists that are the heroes of so much of Heinleinian sf. At story’s end, the scheme of Hendrix and a few other members of the Jefferson Corporation to perpetrate an insurance fraud scheme is foiled. The Corporations Commission (the powers of Earth have no real enforcement powers in space) denies it is a government body, stating it is just a “means of settling disputes”, but it talks about invading Jefferson Corporation’s holdings. Eventually, it decides to just buy a controlling amount of stock. The Commission’s corporate members also threaten a (or, at least, Hansen Enterprises, the leader of the syndicate that buys the controlling stock, does) a very real blockade of Jefferson Corporation. Dalquist tells Hendrix that there’s “no place for your kind of nationalism out here”, that Jefferson is not “independent no matter how often you say you are”. Though they chastise Jefferson Corporation’s pretensions of nationalism, the powerful corporations have the power of nations though perhaps it is exercised on the basis of international law as explicated in the earlier story “Enforcer”. The narrator is understandably uneasy at story’s end. Perhaps Pournelle’s point is that any governing body inevitably accumulates power that is used corruptly. In one of the CoDominium books, a character remarks that successful businessmen are often vigorous supporters of legislation to squelch competitors and to ensure their rise from nothing can not be duplicated. This notion of political bodies which are established to solve a problem but ultimately fail (whether through corruption, nationalism, or incompetence) is prevalent in Pournelle’s CoDominium books. The CoDominium is formed to prevent nuclear war but ultimately collapses due to nationalism and ultimately dies in nuclear war. The First Empire that arises from its ashes dies in Secession Wars. The Second Empire shows signs of corruption in The Gripping Hand but will perhaps be revitalized by Moties.