When Jerry Pournelle died last year, I noticed that I didn’t read any of his
Science Fiction novels. In a reddit thread after him, people suggested his books
as good and this one was best or one-of-the-best of him.
It’s an old book, from 1960’s and some of the quirks can be understandable.
However most of the ideas in the book, most of the time reader spends is not in
a world of the future, it’s in a world of the past. Almost all power relations
of 1960’s are preserved, there are Muslim Arabs, there Communist Russians,
Americans are still Americans, men are still men, women are still considered
dangerous in the space ship, there are hammocks on board, and on and on.
It’s a weird world that I couldn’t continue to read. It could be minor book
without those pesky environment, like 100-pages, meeting with a new intelligent
species and their social structure, their biological shortcomings, etc. But here
we have strong willed admirals willing to kill their mates without blink if
things go wrong and all the characters look like my grandparents rather than my
It might be better if the author didn’t claim that the year is around 3000s. We
are already far from the society the book tells in major ways.
So I left the book halfway, after reading around 60% of it. Here are excerpts.
When the room was empty he poured a large glass of wine. It was poor quality
stuff brought in after the blockade, but he hardly noticed. Wine was officially
forbidden on Levant, which meant that the hordes of wine sellers foisted off
anything alcoholic on their customers, even wealthy ones like the Bury family.
There was the usual hatred of the Navy for Imperial Traders, compounded, he
thought, because some of the Navy staff were Jews, and all Jews hated
What would come would come, glory be to Allah… He grimaced. That kind of
thinking came naturally, and he despised himself for a superstitious fool.
“They used to teach us that evolution of intelligent beings wasn’t possible,”
she said. “Societies protect their weaker members. Civilizations tend to make
wheel chairs and spectacles and hearing aids as soon as they have the tools for
them. When a society makes war, the men generally have to pass a fitness test
before they’re allowed to risk their lives. I suppose it helps win the war.” She
smiled. “But it leaves precious little room for the survival of the fittest.”
“People breed horses. And dogs,” Rod observed. “Yes. But they haven’t got a new
species. Ever. And societies can’t keep constant rules long enough to make any
real changes in the human race. Come again in a million years— Of course there
were the deliberate attempts to breed supermen. Like Sauron System.”
If you’ll excuse me, Captain, I must get back to my station.” He glared at Sally
again. “I didn’t know they were taking females out of uniform as midshipmen.”
Long after Sally left, Rod was still studying the report. When he was finished,
three facts stuck in his mind: The Motie was an intelligent toolmaker. It had
traveled across thirty-five light years to find human civilization. And Rod
Blaine had killed it.
He scrawled a signature on the last page; the out basket coughed and the papers
“Two ships. The Imperial battleship Lenin and the battle cruiser MacArthur.
MacArthur will be modified to suit Dr. Horvath’s requirements and will carry the
civilian personnel of this expedition.
At a hundred and fifty kilometers an hour the monorail car moved with a subdued
hissing sound. The Saturday crowd of passengers seemed to be enjoying themselves
in a quiet way.
Sally used her pocket computer. It hummed slightly, indicating that it was in
communication with the main ship’s memory. Somewhere in MacArthur a laser moved
across holographic lines. The ship’s memory held everything humanity knew of
Moties—such as it was.
“Horvath, that watch is worth eight hundred crowns! It not only tells the time
and the date, but—” Bury paused. “Come to that, it’s also shockproof. We
advertise that a shock that will stop a Chronos will also kill the owner. She
probably can’t hurt it much.”
“Imagine, me stuck with a Himmist for a brother-in-law! I’ve tried to educate
the fool,” Buckman said energetically, “but he just won’t listen.”
Master, fifteen rounds… “Sandy, what do you think of Horvath’s idea?” Renner
asked. “I don’t care much for his theory of launching the fuel balloons
“Mon, we will nae show dirty pictures aboard this ship—and with a chaplain
aboard! Not to mention the lady.”
“I’ve never been anywhere near Sol.” There was no reason for merchant ships to
go closer to Sol than the orbit of Neptune, although as the original home of
humanity Sol was centrally located as transfer point to other and more valuable
systems. “Never heard anything good about Mars, either. Why is it important?”
Ferrets haven’t turned up a thing but a bloody lot of mice. I think the beasties
are dead, Captain.”
“You don’t understand. This business with tools—well, yes, they’re good with
tools, but it’s not intelligence. Their heads are too small. The more brain
tissue they use for this instinct to make tools work, the more they have to give
That was it! They were killing off the miniatures! Allah be praised, he had
acted in time. Bury smiled widely in relief. He had a better idea of the value
of the miniatures since the night he had left a box of bhaklavah next to the
open faceplate of his personal pressure suit. He’d almost lost it all. To
“We’ll get you some food,” Potter’s Motie said suddenly. “You may hae guessed
right. It may be her diet.” Both Moties left. Presently Whitbread’s Motie
returned with a pressure bag that contained grain and plum-sized fruits and a
chunk of red meat. “Boil the meat, soak the grain, and give her the fruit raw,”
she said. “And test the ionization in her cabin air.” She ushered them out.
The Master was white. The tufts at her armpits and groin were long and silky,
like the fur of an Angora cat. When they were all there, the Master turned to
Whitbread’s Motie and said, “Speak.”
Fear surged into his throat. Allah is merciful, I witness that Allah is One— No!
There was nothing to fear and he had done nothing dangerous.
“I know the word, but we deal very little in luxuries. We—I speak for the givers
of orders, of course—we put more emphasis on power, territory, the maintenance
of a household and a dynasty. We concern ourselves with providing a proper
station in life for our children.”
“Carrying a child doesn’t seem to slow a Motie down,” Renner observed.
Brown-and-white shoulders and heads turned toward him. Renner’s Motie said, “No,
of course not. Why should it?” Sally Fowler took up the task. She tried
carefully to explain just how useless pregnant human females were. “It’s one
reason we tend to develop male-oriented societies.
What the hell, there was only one way to test a toilet. When he looked, the bowl
was sparkling clean. He poured a glass of water into it and watched it run away
without leaving a drop. The bowl was a frictionless surface.
Have to mention this to Bury, he thought. There were bases on airless moons, and
worlds where water, or energy for recycling it, was scarce. Tomorrow. He was too
It was not Bury’s habit to come too quickly to business. An overeager
businessman, he felt, was easily gulled. He was not aware of the thousands of
years of tradition behind his opinion. Accordingly he and his Motie liaison
talked of many things . . . “‘Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages
and kings,’” he quoted, and he identified all of these, to his Motie’s evident
“And you do not yourselves deal in luxuries?” “No. In power over others, in
safety, in durability of customs and dynasties . . . as usual, I speak for the
givers of orders. We deal in these, for their benefit, but we also deal in
diplomacy. We trade durable goods and necessities, skills— What do you think of
our works of art?” “They
“If I should be shot, you would lose the only merchant in this system.”
“Allah’s— I mean to say, are your authorities really so determined to guard
their secrets?” “Perhaps they will change their minds when they know you better.
Besides, I’m not a physicist,”
“Commander Cargill, the Moties have had space travel and fusion power for
centuries. If their buildings still have a fortress look, it must be
traditional—there’s no possible purpose! You’re the military expert, just how
would building your house that way help you against modern weapons?”
We represent the decision makers. We speak for them. To do our job we have to
have some independence of judgment. So the genetic engineers work at the
balance. Too much independence and we don’t represent the Masters properly. We
get repudiated. Wars start.” “Aye,” Potter broke in. “And too little
independence makes for inflexible demands, and you hae the wars anyway.” Potter
trudged in silence for a moment.
“Never say that. Never think that. The survival of our civilization, any
civilization, depends entirely on the justice of my class. We understand all
viewpoints, and judge between them. If other Mediators come to a different
conclusion from mine, that is their affair. It may be that their facts are
incomplete, or their aims different. I judge on the evidence.”