I saw a post on Fabius Maximus’ blog which angered me. It was a takedown of Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium series, which includes books such as The Mercenary (now published as part of an omnibus volume called Prince of Mercenaries) going through a full future history to The Mote in God’s Eye.
The post tries to read short stories and novellas that were written in the 1970′s through the prism of today’s world, without looking at the proper context. Worse, the author doesn’t seem to really even read the stories in the first place, focusing on the battles rather than the aftermath.
For instance, the posts’s author cites a passage from The Mercenary (mentioning that the story was originally published in Analog in 1972) as “an obvious analogy to the USA of today.” Actually, no. It couldn’t have been to the USA of today, since Pournelle hadn’t lived in the USA of the 21st Century in the 7th decade of the 20th.
Instead, the Earth of the CoDominium series is seen as a logical progression from the world of the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, where an increasing percentage of Americans seemed to be involved with drugs and unwilling to get involved in their own economy, relying instead on welfare programs which were threatening to become more and more generous. Reflect, if you will, on the suggestions of a negative income tax, which (the wisdom or fallacy of the proposal notwithstanding) effectively paid people not to seek work. Certainly this was one of the flaws of the welfare state prior to the Clinton-era reform.
A further problem seen in Pournelle’s work was the flaw in the education system which still exists – that it doesn’t adequately prepare American youth for adulthood. Of course, it does make sure that everyone feels prepared at least so far as their soi-disant “self esteem” is concerned.
One thing in Pournelle’s world-building that does ring true today was the increasingly incestuous world of government and industry. As one of the lengthy quotes from The Mercenary states:
They were approaching an enormous bowl-shaped structure attached to a massive square stone fortress. Falkenberg studied the buildings carefully, then asked what they were.
“Our stadium,” Banners replied. There was no pride in his voice now. “The CD built it for us. We’d rather have had a new fusion plant, but we got a stadium that can hold a hundred thousand people.”
“Built by the GLC Construction and Development Company, I presume,” Falkenberg said.
“Yes … how did you know?
“I think I saw it somewhere.” He hadn’t, but it was an easy guess; GLC was owned by a holding company that was in turn owned by the Bronson family (a family high in the CoDominium government). It was easy enough to understand why aid sent by the CD Grand Senate would end up used for something GLC might participate in.”
“We have very fine sports teams and racehorses,” Banners said bitterly.
Oh, yes. You can see by the added material that the author at Fabius didn’t bother to include that he didn’t really want to mention that aspect which could be an analogy to the USA of today. You can see that again where the author claims that fans of Pournelle’s work would see the end of The Mercenary as a “happy ending.” He leaves out what happens at the end. The planetary society, if led by the “mob” as Fabius puts it, would have collapsed and a third of the population would have died in that collapse. That “mob” wanted to ignore the laws of basic economics that say that productivity is all that really gives growth to an economy. The politicians left think that Falkenburg’s efforts have saved their world….
“[...] We won’t thank you for it, but – you’ve saved a whole world, John.”
Falkenberg looked at him grimly, then pointed to the bodies below. “Damn you, don’t say that!” he shouted. His voice was almost shrill. “I haven’t saved anything. All a soldier can do is buy time. I haven’t saved Hadley. You have to do that. God help you if you don’t.”
Fabius goes on to one of the last of the Falkenburg part of Pournelle’s future history, Prince of Sparta, arguing that Pournelle applauds non-democratic, even aristocratic, governments. Again, its a matter of not reading thoroughly. Pournelle writes of a society which is democratic, but the franchise is limited to those who have earned it, through self-improvement and willingness to support the body politic. Not easy, but many of those born on the planet Sparta and even many of those transported manage to earn it. By the way, those “aristocratic” officers and soldiers aren’t counted as full citizens of Sparta either (though their service does count as part of their requirement for earning citizenship).
Fabius decries the “annihilation” of the Helots (the enemy in Prince of Sparta), never mentioning that the Helots are a terrorist group, using rather standard terrorist tactics in support of that same corrupt Earth government faction and more than willing to target innocent men and women in their attempt to trigger a violent revolution. Funny how that doesn’t make it into Fabius’ analysis, nor does the fact that the “47%” of Sparta strongly supports the “aristocratic” government, and a mass uprising of those middle and working class Spartans after the death of one of the Spartan kings is what results in the defeat of the Helot army, since the CoDominium space navy is ordered by the Earth faction to intervene and neutralize Falkenburg’s troops long enough for the Helots to detonate a nuclear warhead in the principal Spartan city.
Sorry, but yes the defeat…the annihilation…of a group wanting to destroy an entire city does strike me as a happy ending. Not so much for the death, but for the principle of defending one’s home. What surprises me is that someone writing on geopolitics would ignore such an important idea.