Cross the Mighty Ocean

Exiles to Glory — Jerry Pournelle

Exiles To Glory

Jerry Pournelle’s 1978 Exiles to Glory is a young-adult SF novel. It is set in the same universe as the Laurie Jo Hansen stories (after “Consort” but well before “Tinker”).

Although born a welfare parasite, Kevin Senecal has resisted the call of drugs and welfare-state-subsidized indolence. His engineering degree is within grasp. With degree in hand, he can stride into the life of desperation that is every decent, clean American’s birthright. That is, if he can convince the Umbridge-like bureaucrats who rule the university to let him graduate.

His academic status becomes… academic when Kevin is ambushed by filthy welfare barbarians determined to burn him alive. Kevin escapes with his life, badly injuring one gang member and killing another in the process. Now the gang is determined to kill Kevin. They do kill both of his cats.

A cop warns Kevin off; it’s no use to appeal to the police. Kevin would only be charged and convicted of assaulting and killing minors. Too white and hard-working to expect a fair trial, Kevin takes the only other option open to him: he heads into space.

What sort of company would hire an engineering student without a degree? A desperate one. Global economies are on the verge of collapse due to resource depletion, overpopulation, and endless stagflation. If the efforts to mine Ceres don’t succeed soon, in particular the efforts to recover the element on which cheap fusion will depend, Man’s (and girl’s too!) struggle to expand into space will be doomed. There are not enough spare resources for a second try.

In short order, Kevin finds himself on his way to Ceres. The trip will take months, time he can use to fill the gaps left in his education by America’s over-unionized, bureaucratized school system. It’s also time to get to know fellow voyager Ellen, who is far more than the space-whore most of the men assume her to be. She is even more ambitious than Kevin, and even more determined to shape Man’s future. Alas, her plans don’t really have much room for Kevin beyond warm regards.

The asteroid belt, if properly exploited, could bring prosperity to all, even degenerate welfare barbarians. Not everyone wants that day to come: their personal interests would be threatened by a rising tide of wealth. Nothing for it but to launch a campaign of sabotage.

The plotters have nothing against Kevin personally. He is not in their cross-hairs. The person with whom he insists on spending as much time as possible is an entirely different matter….


Ha ha wow has this not aged well. It is, however, a well-stocked buffet of typical Disco Era Pournelle tropes: space will save us all, economic doom-and-gloom, a pessimistic view of America’s lower classes, and disdain for a dysfunctional justice system and those darn schools. If you’ve wondered if JEP is the author for you, this is probably a decent test case.

The main antagonist in the first half of the book is an agent working for rascally Africa:

[quote]Ruin for the African bloc meant prosperity for the rest of the world; cheap iron and steel and copper and aluminum, the basic stuff of industrial civilization, would let billions live well who now had no hope at all. Eventually it would mean prosperity for the Africans themselves, but not soon, and not for those who now controlled the African bloc. [/quote]

How ungraciously self-centred of the Africans. And how untrusting. If Africans cannot believe the prognostications of people whose livelihoods depend on undermining the African economy, whom can the Africans trust?

The other antagonist is merely greedy and in possession of what proves to be a pretty solid get-rich-quick scheme.

Younger readers may find the subplot about a sabotaged spacecraft computer a little perplexing. Once the computer is trashed (along with the long-range radio that will prevent them from calling for computational help), it seems the craft has no choice but to take a free-return orbit back to Earth. The day is saved when a crew member turns out to have his own laptop computer with the right software to calculate an orbit. When this was written, the implications of Moore’s Law hadn’t sunk in for most SF authors; computers were more likely to be giant mainframes rather than small portable units. The idea there would be only a few computers on board looks archaic now, but the notion that someone might happen to have his own laptop was visionary in 1978.

Those interested in the advance of science may be interested to know that at some point after the book was published (but well before Dawn reached Ceres) that our estimates for Ceres’ dimensions were radically altered. The Ceres in this is Ceres as it was thought to be forty years ago and that is a world very different from the worldlet visited by our space probes. For one thing, if the Ceres hypothesized in Exiles had had oceans worth of water in it, I am sure that would have figured into the plot somehow.

Why choose Ceres of all asteroids? At the risk of attracting the ire of certain space promoters, I have to say Ceres wouldn’t be high on my list of targets for resources extraction. Granted, the escape velocity is small (320 m/s) but since it is the largest asteroid, other asteroids have even lower escape velocities. As well, getting from Ceres orbit to Earth orbit will cost 9.5 km/s, IIRC. It is easier to return to Earth from other asteroids. I expect the answer is simply that few people knew one NEO (Near Earth Object) from another back in 1978 and Ceres was a name brand, suitable for dropping into a novel.

Interestingly, while the setting in general is one where married women are not allowed to work and where most single women in space are space whores (because the sex trade income is so good) the real plot mover in this is Ellen, not Kevin. He may be the protagonist and he does get to save the day from time to time, but she’s the one with a mission. She’s the reason everything happens as it does.

Exiles to Glory is available as an ebook.


  • Sophie Jane

    Honestly, though, all the things that “haven’t aged well” were just as obviously bad, stupid, racist, and sexist at the time.

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    • David Cowie

      The books featuring those obviously bad opinions kept on getting published, so EITHER they were not obviously bad to the publishers, OR the publishers decided that a sufficiently large proportion of the potential audience would not be put off by that sort of thing.

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      • James Nicoll

        Said books still get published, too.

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      • Sophie Jane

        The second, obviously, was just as true then as it is today. I just think it’s... optimistic? to assume this stuff wasn’t attracting criticism back in the day.

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        • Jan Vaněk

          Per ISFDB, it was reviewed only by Budrys in F&SF, collected in Benchmarks Continued and available via Google Books; his reservations were quite mild and dealing just with politics.

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  • Null-I

    Your summary is a masterclass in understated snark.

    And interesting as both activism and literary/anthropological analysis. How does one - how should one - write about this racist sexist SF community of the early 1970s, whose books fed so many who are now neither (particularly) racist or sexist. Were they read by people who were not white Xtian young men of the US? Fantasies of agency are much more universal than liberterian 'systems'; historical and personal memories of oppression more common than entitlement, whether earned or unearned.

    The subtexts in your text, which are there deliberately, are kind of lovely.

    And the particularly SF aspect of it, the contrast between the way the cultural background has changed, and the way the 'hard science' has.

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  • PeterM

    "Too white and hard-working to expect a fair trial..."

    Man, you should put a warning up before lines like that. I laughed for a bit, which was fine, but then my laughs turned to curses and screams and a coworker had to slap me around a bit. I'm fine now, though. Mostly.

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