Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Russell Kirk and the Haunting of Piety Hill”

Russell Kirk

I’ve been reading SD Tucker’s two part series on Russell Kirk in Fortean Times“. It’s part of his “Strange Statesman” series.

The installments mostly look into the strange occult beliefs of various politicians and political philosophers. Kirk, however, was more than a political philosopher. (Jerry Pournelle considered Kirk his political mentor though Pournelle definitely did not share Kirk’s anti-technology views.)

He was a noted a writer of weird fiction, fiction that demonstrated the synthesis of his political and occult beliefs. He was a friend of Ray Bradbury.

Kirk biographer Bradley J. Birzer looks at the professional and thematic relationships between Kirk and Stephen King and how Kirk’s paranormal experiences showed up in his fiction.

Oath of Fealty

The Jerry Pournelle series concludes with one of my favorite Niven and Pournelle collaborations, and, I think a book of some political prescience.

The desire to retreat from crime and social chaos is still with us: gated communities and billionaires buying bolt holes in New Zealand, and survivalist compounds in South Dakota.

And Alphabet’s plans for its workers sounds like a return to feudalism which, of course, is what this book is about.

This is the only work of Niven’s or Pournelle’s to appear in David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels (1985).

Pringle exhibits a bit of snark in his capsule review of the novel when he says

 . . . memories of J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise intrude; but that is a novel which Niven and Pournelle are unlikely to have read.

I suspect that’s true of Pournelle, but Niven’s essay, “The Words in Science Fiction“, hints at fairly broad tastes in the genre.

This was the next novel Niven and Pournelle started after The Mote in God’s Eye, but it was put aside for other novels.

For the 2008 edition, they wrote an introduction, but I have not read it.

If you go to Pournelle’s website and patiently read the search results for “Oath of Fealty”, you’ll find many references to people still thinking about an urban arcology as a shelter in turbulent times.

Raw Feed (1998): Oath of Fealty, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1981.Oath of Fealty

This book was certainly shorter and better than the last Niven and Pournelle collaboration I read, Footfall.

It also stands as the most explicit endorsement of feudalism, a theme which appears in much of Pournelle’s solo work, particularly the John Christian Falkenberg series and a type of corporate feudalism of this novel also shows up in Pournelle’s High Justice (another title seemingly derived from medieval law) and, in a milder, more implicit way in Pournelle’s collaboration with Charles Sheffield, Higher Education.

The title derives from the medieval feudal oath between vassal and lord, and the novel’s plot of Todos Santos fighting for legal and economic independence from LA broadly reflects similar struggles between towns and medieval lords. [Yes, I’m aware that some medievalists argue that feudalism never existed. I just don’t accept the argument.]

That independence is never truly achieved. Indeed, Los Angeles’ reliance on Todos Santos (an emerging economic and social unit like the medieval towns) economically is used as leverage against the city. Continue reading “Oath of Fealty”

Footfall

The Jerry Pournelle series continues. This one is another collaboration with Larry Niven and another review probably colored by the circumstances I read a book under.

Raw Feed (1998): Footfall, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1985.Footfall

I found this novel overly long for its subject but not long enough to get into any pleasing, interesting detail.

Next to Fallen Angels, co-written with Michael Flynn, this is the worst Niven and Pournelle novel I’ve read.

Niven and Pournelle provide an interesting rationale while the alien Fithp try to invade Earth: they’re a young race who acquired space travel from the Predecessors, aliens who first evolved intelligence on the Fithp homeworld and then destroyed themselves. Thus the Fithp aren’t too bright or, at least, don’t think of any other option than to invade a planet instead of exploiting space.

But we don’t learn anything more about the Predecessors, really get into the dissension in the Fithp ranks, or learn a lot that much about the Fithp given the time spent on them other than they are herd animals who are used to fighting until a foe unconditionally surrenders for their whole herd.

Nor do we get, a lá Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer, neat description of meteor devastation. [I suspect they thought they’d already written that story in Lucifer’s Hammer.] Most of it occurs off stage as does the combat in Kansas and its eventual nuking. Continue reading “Footfall”

Higher Education

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with a collaboration with Charles Sheffield. This is an expansion of their story of the same name in Future Quartet and part of the Jupiter series from Tor. That was an attempt to resurrect, in the 1990s, the tradition of the Robert A. Heinlein juvenile novel. All the Jupiter books were unrelated in their stories.

Raw Feed (1997): Higher Education, Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle, 1996.Higer Education

This book was a pleasant if not great read and, I suspect, a great deal like Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels of which I’ve only read Starship Troopers and, a long time ago, The Rolling Stones. [In fact, I may have read that before Robert Silverberg’s Revolt on Alpha C, but it was the latter novel which gave me a taste for science fiction.]

It’s the story of a youth learning adult responsibilities and a lot of math and science – the authors deliver some good minor science lessons in passing including one on why rings around planets can’t be solid.

The plot of corporate espionage and sabotage (I liked that the saboteur was allegedly from the Black Hills) was, if my memory is correct, added from the novella of the same name. In the short story, protagonist Rick Luban finishes training and his employer tries to recruit him for training Earthside. The novel ends with a similar pitch but after more training.

The main flaw is, given the supposedly even more decadent, ignorant, and violent schools of the future, Rick Luban and the other delinquents of his school seem way too tame in their behavior and lack of profanity (perhaps toned down for a juvenile reader?) to be the problem children of tomorrow. They seem like problem children of the fifties. Continue reading “Higher Education”

Future Quartet

The Jerry Pournelle series continues with his involvement in a project that included Ben Bova, Frederik Pohl, and Charles Sheffield.

Raw Feed (1995): Future Quartet: Earth in the Year 2042: A Four-Part Invention, eds. Ben Bova, Frederik Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, Charles Sheffield, 1994.Future Quartet

Introduction”, Charles Sheffield — The origins of the project and its assignment to Ben Bova, Frederik Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, and Charles Sheffield to provide perspectives ranging utopian to dystopian. There is also an interesting list of technologies and sociopolitcal events and problems not considered by futurists of 50 years ago.

2042:  A Cautiously Pessimistic View”, Ben Bova — Bova’s futuristic speculations related in fictional form as an address by Chiblum C. Lee, Chairman of the World Council. Bova postulates a world of climate change from global warming (desertification and famine), cheap energy (fusion and solar power satellites), aquaculture, and deep-sea mining where space is starting to be exploited. However, it is also a world of over ten billion people with a large gap between rich and poor countries. Lee proposes taxing rich countries to better the lot of poor countries. (The old foreign aid scheme which doesn’t work now because poor countries are poor through internal political and social problems and nothing else.) He realizes that the rich countries must see this to be in their self-interest, that coercion will not work and that vested interest will resist change. Nothing real new here. I thought Bova was more conservative and had faith in free markets as the tool to enrichments.  This is a scenario of bigger foreign aid.

The Kingdom Come”, Ben Bova — An alright story narrated in first person and a take-off on Bova’s “2042:  A Cautiously Pessimistic View” before it in the anthology. It involves protagonist Salvatore Passalacqua from the grim inner city of Philadelphia and his prostitute girlfriend (an unrequited love). Both don’t legally exist, and both get involved in a plot to take World Chairman Lee hostage. This is a pretty standard sf tale of a poor, violent future urban America with only a few points of interest. First, Passalacqua is a electronics genius. Second, the terrorists kidnapping Lee are not entirely bad. They want the World Council to depose dictators in their own countries, but the World Council refuses to interfere with nations’ internal affairs. Third, the Controllers are accused of all sorts of things throughout the story but seem to be a branch of the Controllers who help certain individuals out of poverty via education. Lastly, Passalacqua rejects a world of interconnectedness, a world where the poor can be helped and things changed. In a plot contrary to the usual poor-person-accidentally-given-the-chance-at-betterment–and-taking-it plot, he rejects his chance at education and returns to die in Philadelphia (it’s presumed). His girlfriend takes her chance, though, and studies law. Continue reading “Future Quartet”

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 “Exiles to Glory”

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 “High Justice”

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 “Fallen Angels”

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 “The Mote in God’s Eye”