Book Talk: 'The Prince' by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'The Prince' by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling

Alexander Wallace returns to the CoDominium universe.
There’s an older style of science fiction writing that I have found myself enjoying. Harry Turtledove writes like this, as does Eric Flint. It’s a style that focuses very much on social change and the way that human beings react to social change, oftentimes with the baggage of being written, or inspired by texts from the middle of the twentieth century. They are also strongly informed by history.

The Prince, by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling, is perhaps my favorite of this nebulous style. Despite Stirling’s involvement, it is Pournelle’s baby. The Prince is an omnibus of four novels, comprised of Falkenberg’s Legion, Prince of Mercenaries, Go Tell the Spartans, and Prince of Sparta, often called the Falkenberg’s Legion series, set in Pournelle’s CoDominium universe (I have already covered another book set in that universe, King David’s Spaceship, for this column).

The premise is an interesting one: the CoDominium, an alliance of the United States and the Soviet Union (the universe was developed in the 1970s, but these books were written in the early 1990s, and just went along with the now-dated history), the ruler of human space, is declining. It is granting many of its colonies independence and it is downsizing its military. These new colonies need soldiers, and many former CoDominium soldiers are out of work. The series follows John Christian Falkenberg, formerly of the CoDominium Marines, and his followers who make a new living as mercenaries selling their services to whatever government needs its problems solved with the barrel of a gun.

This is a series that is heavily philosophical without sacrificing plot or character. Pournelle was an orb and scepter conservative who believed that the state could and should be used to benefit society, guaranteeing stability in the process. Much of this is done through the character of John Christian Falkenberg, a man who is both a great fighter and immensely learned. Particularly, he thinks and talks much about what it means to be a soldier, and the duties and responsibilities thereof.

The somewhat idealized soldier is contrasted with the vanity and shortsightedness of a variety of politicians, be they from Earth or from one of the newly independent colonies with which the Legion deals. Pournelle thinks of the soldier as being in some sense ‘purer’ than the politician, in that a soldier knows concrete duty and a politician is self-interested. That is a simplification, but it’s the clear undertone, particularly in one crucial scene at the very end of the massive book.

The Prince is both a series of science fiction novels and something of a philosophical treatise, calling to mind the work of Niccolo Machiavelli that lends its name to the series. It is a series that is uncompromising in its own particular morality, even if it galls your own. It is an impressive work, one with conviction, and there are so many of those in the world.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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