Jerry Pournelle is no longer with us.
I’ve recounted before the role he played in my life. Of rekindling a love for history my teachers damn near bored out of my skull. Of the reasons why I utterly grew to loathe Ms Kowal for her “twelve rabid weasels” comment. The man was a giant, and not only “knew his shit” but was both a historian and an aerospace engineer. He’d done the real science, he’d come to learn the sweep of history, and as part of other work, and even done a fair bit of applied psychology (read “A Step Further Out”).
I’d already reviewed Oath of Fealty, even if it was almost more about Mote in Gods Eye. I can only second Vox Day’s comment on the impact of his series “There Will be War” – which I started on the fourth book, subtitled “Day of the Tyrant” in the original publishing, caught up, and bought every copy, then after that Baen’s “Imperial Stars” followup.
That, that started in middle school. The summer between middle school and high school though, I found a beat up paperback for sale on the library spinner rack. It had a Vallejo cover, and it was called “Mercenary“. While other “fix-up” novels had been published before, this was one of the first I’d read that so obviously had been a set of short stories strung together, yet they formed a coherent arc. In the dedication to a later story in the book, the forward explicitly mentioned it was based on an actual battle.
“Cool,” says I, and gave it little thought.
But what a set of stories. A young lad is taken into the marines. Almost prescient, the US government and the Soviets were now a de-facto one-world communist order, which didn’t work out precisely that way, but still presages the uniparty of the Republicans and Democrats, and the globalists. Years later, cashiered out as Marines, their commander becomes a mercenary, and brutally puts down a revolt that, handled with kid gloves, would have been far worse for the planet, and civilization. Other campaigns follow.
If my high school teachers had been doing their job, I would have immediately recognized it as the Nika revolt before I got out to college, and stumbled into the details elsewhere. And when I did, it was a flash of “oh, wow.”
As it turns out, David Drake used the revolts as well, twice, both for Slammers stories. Both Drake and Ringo based stories off of the Anabasis.
Nearly every Falkenberg story was solidly grounded in actual history – the Boer wars, Roman history, the Spanish Civil War, and others.
But, here’s the thing, even before I figured that out, I fell in love with the stories, such that I’d read everything available about the Codominium, Falkenberg, the Jannisaries series, and of course King David’s Spaceship, Oath of Fealty, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall, Dream Park, and Mote in God’s Eye. I also picked up his non-fiction. Perhaps the most oddball book was Inferno where an atheist goes to hell. Many were written with Niven, many just by Pournelle. All were memorable. I’ve said elsewhere that Mote, with Niven, is for me, hands down, one of the best SF novels ever written, and to me, better than Dune.
The Falkenberg stories continued, and Baen collected all of them through Go Tell the Spartans into an omnibus titled Prince of Mercenaries, if I recall.
This was a man who shaped my life in ways great and small. Through his stories, through his columns at Byte, and through participating in the “star wars” program under Reagan, and the essays and poetry he collected in There Will be War.
I already liked the Jungle Book, but I didn’t fall in love with Kipling’s work until I ran across “The ‘Eathen” in TWbW.
So, I want to highlight something else he wrote, along with not only Niven, but the amazing Michael Flynn, called “Fallen Angels“, about a future succumbing to political correctness, where we stopped “global warming” only to discover we were re-entering an ice age, and a small colony in orbit was desperately trying to survive, free of Earth’s tyranny.
In addition to a damn good story, it also celebrated some of the best of fandom, something somewhat spoiled by the revelations of “Safe Space as Rape Room.”
In honor of that, his memory, and our dreams for space…