Reviews: Pournelle, Jerry

Cross the Mighty Ocean

Exiles to Glory — Jerry Pournelle

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.

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The Hunter and the Bear

The Mercenary — Jerry Pournelle

1977’s The Mercenary is a fix-up. It comprises three Jerry Pournelle stories: Peace with Honor (1971), The Mercenary (1972), and Sword and Scepter (1973). These are among the earliest of Pournelle’s stories1. They must have impressed readers because The Mercenary was nominated for Best Novella (losing to Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest ) while Pournelle himself won the very first John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

The Second Cold War ended with the formation of the CoDominium in the 1990s. The Soviet and American forces dominate the Earth. Thanks to the timely development of the Alderson Drive, those who object too loudly or who are simply surplus to needs can be shipped out to the interstellar colonies.

It’s not a just system but it works. Or rather, it worked. Now nationalists across the planet want to bring it down and with it, civilization on Earth.

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Man versus Motie

The Mote in God’s Eye — Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Moties, book 1

1974’s Mote in God’s Eye was the first collaboration between Niven, by then a winner of multiple Hugo Awards, and Pournelle, the winner of the 1973 Campbell for Best New Writer. Readers could be excused for expecting a lot from this novel given who wrote it. They must have liked what they found, because this earned nominations for both the Best Novel Hugo (losing to Le Guin’s The Dispossessed) and the Best Novel Nebula (losing to Haldeman’s The Forever War). Forty-one years later, does it still stand up?

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Lucifer’s Hammer

Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

The 1970s were a golden age of disaster movies and books; skyscrapers burned down, nuclear reactors melted down, and earthquakes leveled cities. First published in 1977, Lucifer’s Hammer was a late entry into that genre0 but what it lacked in timing it made up for in scale; where previous entries had wrecked cities, Hammer smashed the planet and where others killed hundreds, Hammer killed billions. It’s a shame, therefore, that one could easily envision D.W. Griffith filming it and not for the spectacle.

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Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

I remembered Footfall as one of those excessively long science fiction novels of the pre-Aught Three and when I picked it up I was surprised to see that my May 1986 Del Rey mass market paperback was only 582 pages (including the authors’ bios at the end), barely an evening’s read. When I put the book back down eight long hours later, I was still surprised that Footfall was only 582 pages because the authors managed cram in the mediocrity and tedium of a much longer novel.

It’s still better than a lot of the competition.

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