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

The Peshawar Lancers

There are still alternate history reviews in my archive, but I think I’ve beaten (and flayed and crushed) this particular dead horse enough.

So this will be the last one for a while.

Raw Feed (2005): The Peshawar Lancers, S. M. Stirling, 2002.peshawar-lancers

Stirling thinks through the consequences of his alternate history. The point of divergence is a series of commentary impacts, mostly in the northern hemisphere, in 1878.

American civilization is wiped out. The British Isles are all but denuded of people. Prime Minister Disraeli marshals an exodus of the most important people, cultural knowledge, and technology and sends it to India. France is also wiped out but French culture lives on in Northern Africa. Islam is resurgent across the Middle East and Balkans. Russia has turned into a country of nominal Satan worshippers. Japan and China have combined. The Angrezi Raj, the cultural fusion of British and Indian culture, inherits the British empires (including new outposts in North America.)

The exposition is mostly in the first 60 pages of the book in which Stirling throws around a lot Indian/Hindu terms. He gets around to religious issues (basically the Anglican Church has accepted a lot of the Hindu gods and goddesses as versions of the Trinity) later on. To further show off his world building, he has five appendices with the background of the world. The culture is credible, and Stirling certainly makes this version of the British Empire seem noble and appealing with its personal ties of loyalty and honor and an intelligence run along informal lines.

Initially, I didn’t like my first exposure to seeress Yasmini, whose visions of the future, I thought, brought an unwelcome element of magic to this alternate history. Then Stirling got around to rationalizing using an obvious, if oblique, version of Roger Penrose’s idea that the brain is a quantum computer and thus (Penrose doesn’t say this) can see alternate timelines. The presence of a Kali cult was to be expected even if they were minor villains allied to the Satanic Peacock Throne.

The novel has two faults though neither was enough to disgust me. The reason — penetration of the Imperial intelligence services so vast that they can not be purged safely without first luring the traitors into the open –why Athelstane King and company have to sneak aboard the dirigible at the end seemed was a bit weak. I think Stirling, understandably, just wanted some scenes on a dirigible.

The end of the book descended into a wealth of clichés (presumably taken from the authors Stirling lists in the acknowledgements). There is not only a prince in disguise (the French envoy sent to arrange a marriage turns out to be the French prince who gets himself involved in a lot of combat during the book) but three marriages. The marriage of the French prince and Princess Sita was expected — after all, that’s why the envoy is there, to arrange it. But the marriage of Athelstane King and Yasmini, though hardly unexpected, was that old cliché of adventure plots. Worse was the convenient death of the Emperor and the marriage of scientist Cassandra King and the Crown Prince.

All three of the main women characters are of the same improbable action heroine mold beloved of modern authors. Stirling may have a thing for this sort of thing given the character of guerilla leader Skida Thibodeau in Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling’s Go Tell the Spartans. I think I was supposed to find the constant insults between King’s faithful Sikh Narayan Singh and would be Pathan assassin Ibrahim Khan (who also turns out to be a prince) funny. I didn’t mind them, but I usually didn’t find them funny.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.


Prince of Sparta

The final installment in the Raw Feed series on Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium series.

Pournelle’s future history includes other works, but I won’t be covering them right now.

Raw Feed (1993): Prince of Sparta, Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling, 1993.Prince of Sparta

Next to The Mercenary, this is my favorite in Pournelle’s CoDominium series.

The whole imagery and theme of comparing Skida Thibodeau to a wolf – a sociopath beyond moral tradition, custom and law, a creature of pure will and intent, a barbarian, a soulless human animal – is unlike Pournelle’s solo work as is the more in depth characterization. Some stylistic elements – abrupt romances, extensive epigraphs – real and fake – could be Pournelle or Stirling. I suspect Pournelle contributed most of the military knowledge and plot outline and Stirling did the writing and fleshing out of characters. The novel presents a very plausible situation worked out in political, economic, and technological detail. However, Pournelle isn’t usually given, in his works, to giving the sort of social/cultural details that other writers, say William Gibson, would. We learn, for instance, very little of what people do for entertainment in this world.

I liked a variety of things in this novel. Pournelle does a good job showing the complexities and many factors to be considered in waging war. A quote from Clausewitz about war not being the simple thing it looks sets the tone — not just waging a war of counter-insurgency, which was the theme of the preceding Go Tell the Spartans, but other military matters. There is the question as to how to handle rebel leader Dion Croser: let him hide behind the laws of a Republic or stamp out his treason through perhaps extra-legal means? There is the discussion of how the modern troop must be capable of initiative and be highly trained versus the guerilla who is terrorized into following orders. This is well brought out in the book’s set piece – the battle of Stora Mine – in which guerillas are thoroughly disorganized and reduced in effectiveness when their complex battle plan is upset. We’re constantly reminded no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. However, the well trained Brotherhoods of Sparta and Falkenberg’s Legion carry the day in large part through individual initiative of officers. Stora Mine is also used to show that the devious plans of amateur Skida Thibodeau are easily upset which is why professional troops like the Legion don’t try them. The battle also shows the difficulty of coordinating attacks as opposed to defending in a set area. The final battle for Sparta City shows the importance of individual courage and morale as second line militia and ordinary citizens stave off a massive urban assault by Helots. The ultimate defection of CoDominium marines from fighting the Legion to helping Spartans against the Helots shows that victory is not achieved ultimately on the battlefield but when you create the desired psychological conditions in your opponent’s head, break their will to fight, and that will is not always broken by the terror methods of Skilly Thibodeau. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

First to Fight

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