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.)

Pournelle sees the benefit of empire as I do: peace and order. The taint of corruption in the Imperial Traders Association and oppression with decisions like Admiral Kurosov’s to wipe out an entire world rather than let it secede from the Empire may be there. but the horror of war is absent. There is some representation in government (evidently a hereditary and elected parliament exists). The legal system seems based largely on the U.S.’s.

In a sense, Pournelle’s portrayal of politics is much like the sense of empathy that pervades Philip K. Dick’s works (or the philosophical arguments of James Gunn’s The Immortals): each character involved in the political process has good reason (with the exception of the Imperial Traders who seem unequivocally condemned) for what they do. They have defensible and practical reasons.

The Imperial Navy has its version of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. It can cite whole worlds destroyed by off-world innovations. Pournelle makes a valid point that this is particularly devastating when the culture does not adopt innovations that solve the problems of the first innovation.

On the other hand, Makassar seems better off with the innovations of warfare and horse collars. I loved Mackinnie and Graham facing charges due to the introduction of the latter.  It was so logical, and I anticipated Graham doing it.

Sir Alexei Dmitrivitch Ackoff has good reasons for directing cultural development on Prince Samuel and for eventually supplanting the local governing officials, reasons of peace and Imperial security.

Likewise, King David and Citizen Dougal have perfectly valid reasons to want as much self-determination as possible. Citizen Dougal, sinister and very ruthless head of Haaven’s secret police, may seem evil but are the murders he commits for security reasons really any different than any deaths associated with resistance and rebellion, i.e. martyrs as he says?

Pournelle doesn’t give any pat answers other than to obviously, in Colonel Nathan Mackinnie, show the value of the honorable military man.

A theme of all the Pournelle solo works I’ve read seems to be that all political solutions are imperfect. It’s interesting to note that, for all their honor and military prowess, both Falkenberg and Mackinnie are capable of great political cunning and deceit though they both insist they have no stomach for it and — at least Mackinnie — no desire to be politicians. Mackinnie, like Falkenberg on Hadley in The Mercenary, stages a coup. This is an unsettling and, to me, a contradiction to John Christian Falkenberg’s analogy of military men as sanitation crews and politicians as surgeons and doctors in Prince of Mercenaries.

Falkenberg and Mackinnie play, however reluctantly and for however good a cause, in the political arena. Perhaps Pournelle is saying that it is inevitable a military man becomes involved in politics since war, the military man’s profession, is a political tool. But, Pournelle seems to say, he can try to conduct himself honorably — both Falkenberg and Mackinnie try to keep their oaths and follow the letter, if not spirit, of the law — and realize the talents of a soldier are not those of a statesman.

Pournelle did a good job with the romance between Mackinnie and Graham. Mackinnie was clearly a creature of his culture but overcomes his prejudices involving women.

I liked the relationship between Hal Stark and Mackinnie, a good exmple of the brotherhood of arms.

I liked the spaceship: bulky, mechanical gears, wooden handles for controls. It was clever and fun.

I liked the clergymen on Makassar and the reverence shown an old library.

But what I liked best and what I admire most in Pournelle is his skill in building the politics of a society logically, plausibly and describing it concisely.


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