High Justice by Pournelle, Jerry, 1974

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Jerry Pournelle is best known these days as the long-time collaborator of Larry Niven. Together Niven and Pournelle in the 70's and 80's wrote some of the biggest, block-buster SF novels of all time, many of which can be found in this list that I am creating. Pournelle was also well known as contributor to Byte Magazine, as their science & technology and products review editor, then as an important editor at Baen Books. But Pournelle also produced a decently sized body of SF on his own. Most of it centered around a common concept, the CoDominium, which was a star-faring empire of humans based on a mixture of the Roman, American and Russian empires, and which focused mainly on political, sociological, naval and military themes. The story of the CoDominium is one of trepidatious cooperation: The United States and the Soviet Union cooperated long enough to put together a viable FTL drive (the Alderson Drive) which allowed people to escape Earth before the inevitable war between the two superpowers broke out. The story related in this week's review of Pournelle's High Justice is of the breakdown of society that led to the US's and the USSR's cooperation.

This collection of seven stories (not even a fix-up) tells the story of a horribly resource depleted and environmentally degraded Earth, of a mentality of criminality and laziness that has gripped the people and the governments of the world, and of the resourcefulness and drive of businesses and corporations to survive and thrive in that environment. This book is plainly the opposite of every other SF book that deals with corporations that has come before or after. It is also a libertarian wish-fulfillment vehicle for Pournelle, who is renown for his right-wing, libertarian and survivalist views. Pournelle's works, especially others in this universe, often show a society that would prefer to remain agrarian but industrializes in the face of some calamity or threat, then ultimately militarizes as a way to achieve peace. This cycle of stories shares that thematic strategy, but rather than achieve some sort of social equilibrium, these stories are about corporations who wish to survive and be free of domineering governmental control. These business entities that survived their tests were the ones that went on to create the Alderson Drive later on, and by doing that they gave humanity a fresh start elsewhere in the universe. Pournelle on his own tends towards jingoism, he clearly supports laissez-faire capitalism, and is quick to point to citizens and governors as the bad-guys, not the corporations that oppose them. Most of these stories are one-sided, and probably because of that more than the fact that Pournelle often allowed himself to get bogged down in the minutae, they have largely been forgotten today. But there are some pretty good stories in the CoDominium sequence, not the least of which is the magnificent The Mote in God's Eye, which Pournelle co-authored with Niven in the late 70's. If you want to see where all of that started, this is as far back as you can go.

The biggest criticisms that I have of this body of work is that the fact of corporate greed just makes a system in which major corporations are the good guys completely unlikely. Call me cynical (go ahead, I've been called worse) but I just cannot imagine a situation where big business would not be the worst of the worst in the context of slow governmental contraction and resource depletion. It is just not possible that multi-nationals would not resort to open warfare amongst themselves for critical raw materials where failing governments become unwilling or unable to punish them for bloodthirsty tactics. Of course, this is a matter of taste. I expect that those who would challenge me on that point are legion (no pun intended). Whatever your cup of tea though, give this work a try only if you happen upon it in a used bookstore; don't bother seeking it out. There is not much at all here those inclined to feminist ideals either, so give it a wide berth if that is what you seek.

A Matter of Sovereignty, 1972, first published in Analog: The Nuclear General Corporation has a big problem: Because of the high expense of doing business in the United States, because of protesters and taxation, and because organized labor has absolutely ruined the business climate there, the corporation has invested heavily in Tonga. On one of the uninhabited lagoons of that nation the corporation has built an enormous reactor that they use to breed plutonium. Recently government forces from the neighboring Republic of Fiji have captured a plutonium freighter that was transporting billions of dollars of the material to other NGC facilities around the world. If NGC cannot get the freighter back they will likely go bankrupt. Their big problem is that the British recently pulled their navy out of the region due to expenses, and the United States is unwilling to help because they are afraid that local governments will accuse them of picking on the little guy. In short, the South Pacific has recently become a lawless region, and pirates have stolen valueable cargo.

To deal with the problem NGC has sent in one of its "fixers," a guy named Courtney. Courtney and NGC fear the repercussions of an outright assault on the Fijians, so they arm the Tongans and offer to pay upkeep if they get the ship back and take control of the waters of the region. It all works out well for NGC and Courtney in the end, as the Fijians were really nothing more than a banana republic with a luxury ship outfitted as a gun boat anyway, but the important point is that a corporation had to go to extremes to protect its shipping lanes because big governments that had done the job in the past were no longer able or willing to. Moreover, there was no reasonable alternative because Europe and the United States were not suitable places to do big business any longer.

Pournelle went out of his way to make the corporation the good guy here, and everyone else became the bad or greedy guys. NGC not only valiantly plodded onward in the face of overwhelming obstacles, but they also set aside major parts of their infrastructure to preserve the biodiversity that the world was losing. In short, the nuclear power company was green, and was preserving life for the future. That was a nice touch, and Pournelle did a decent enough job of integrating conservation into NGC's corporate culture, but ultimately it was just fluff because it had nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the story. Law, Foreign Relations, Corporations, Nautical Themes, Nuclear Energy, Military, Economics; 3 Stars

Power to the People, 1972, first published in Analog: In this story Courtney's employer is a member of a multi-business, government and church consortium that has decided to irrigate the Namib desert with an iceberg, and build a major nuclear power station there. They picked Namibia because it had absolutely no development before they came along, but was very close to South Africa which was willing to buy their products. To build the station they drove an iceberg into the Atlantic Coast, which was one of the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world. The massive iceberg created a harbor which gave businesses the access that they needed. But once they got the station on line and were starting to see their first crops come in, a warlord/activist named Infoka from the north, a country called Rodidi, started building an army and rattling his saber. Infoka was an American ex-pat who took advantage of an American program which guaranteed a one-way ticket anywhere in the world in exchange for a renunciation of citizenship. Once he left the American Midwest and arrived in southern Africa he changed his name and started inviting Africans from other countries to come to Rodidi and swell the ranks of an army he was building. Now the Namibians feared Infoka and wanted to switch from cash crops like cotton and potatoes to high calorie crops that they could use to placate Infoka. Unfortunately Infoka did not want to be bought off. He wanted the station for himself (or rather, for "the people,") and threatened the Namibians with invasion. With the Namibians waffling the other corporations that made up the compact were threatening to pull out, which would be the end of everything in Namibia; NGC could not afford the project on its own. Courtney and NGC fixed the problem by arming the Namibians and cutting off Infoka from contacting his armies in Rodidi.

Pournelle's focus in this story was on the "evil activist," which came in the form of one who preached social causes but was really motivated by greed. In a startling reversal Ifnoka, the man of the people, was shown to be an opportunist who if left unchecked by the wise and good corporate fixer, would destroy good will and wreck the hopes and dreams of an entire people. I bet that IMB loved this story when it came out. Corporations, Nuclear Energy, Foreign Relations, Law, Economics; 2 Stars

Enforcer, 1974, first published in MoF&SF:

These contracts, he thought. Now useless. Perhaps they were not so fair to the Argentines (sic) as they might be, but without contracts and enforcement of them, how could there be business? Aregentine patriotism was a very fine thing, but the new leaders must be made to understand that contracts must be enforced.

I found this story to be the most telling of what Pournelle was railing against. It stands for the proposition that governmental and moral authority aside, if a system develops where one party to a contract is able to abrogate the duties and obligations that it willingly entered into without consequence, the entire system will fall apart. Pournelle stayed one step shy of stating here that contract law should be the supreme law of the land, but if you ask me, that is what this story is about.

Thankfully Pournelle delivered on this theme in a very believable and sympathetic context; a South American "people's" revolution. This one is orders of magnitude less ham-handed then the last story. In it a Swiss mining corporation, Intersecs, has built and is operating a very deep water mineral mine, called Malvinas, within the territorial waters of Argentina, with full Argentine permission. Several years after the mine went on line a military coup occurred in Argentina, and a Colonel Ortiz took charge. Ortiz made it clear that he was not beholden to any promises that the "former" government made, and told Intersecs that he wanted the mine and would take it by force. He also arrested all Intersecs personnel in Argentina and jailed them, and locked down a vital mainland company town that Intersecs rotated its people through. Despite the military premise, the conflict was resolved when Intersecs fixer found out that Ortiz merely had a grudge against Intersecs for some percieved slight from his formative years. Once the rest of the new military junta in Argentina realized that the grudge was personal and not in the best interests of the nation, they withdrew their support for him.

This story is full of rhetoric about the weaknesses and perversions of the failed capitalist system in the United States, most of which seem to spring from the average U.S. citizen's dual feelings of entitlement and guilt for past successes. This is definitely not more of the same, mostly because of the resolution, but Pournelle evidences a great concerned with the destruction of a congenial business climate in the United States. In this story corporations are getting more and more desperate for resources. The fact that deep sea mining has become economically viable is probably less related to innovation and more related to the fact that everything that is easily available has already been harvested and used.

Pournelle also seems to have a thing for icebergs. He doesn't really view them as a panacea, but this in each story so far they have figured prominently. In this one an Antarctic iceberg served as the surface base for the Malvinas. It held a nuclear reactor, the city the workers lived in, and had a harbor for loading freighters departing with raw materials.

Finally, Pournelle used this story to argue the virtues of convict labor. Claims of slavery be damned, the convict labor program gave those men skills that could be marketed when they were released. Of course, in this story the program worked perfectly. Libertarian, Economics, Law, Revolution, Corporations; 2.5 Stars

High Justice, 1974, first published in Analog: This is the first orbital story in the CoDominium sequence. In it a group of radical, mob-funded business interests, the Equity Trust, has infiltrated the White House and compromised the President, Greg Tolland. Tolland's best friend and Solicitor General, Aeneas Mackenzie, discovered the infiltration and went to the media. Now Tolland, originally a reform candidate, has lost face and fired Mackenzie, and the Equity Trust would like to see him killed. Out of fear as much as hopelessness over the United States' situation Mackenzie went down to the Baja Peninsula to visit an old friend of his, Laurie-Jo. Laurie-Jo was a corporate bigwig who built an arcology in Baja called Todos Santos (this concept was reused in Niven and Pournelle's arcology novel, Oath of Fealty). Todos Santos was failing because it could not get enough raw materials, so Laurie-Jo had turned to the heavens. Her corporation levereged itself to the gills to put the Heimdall into orbit. It was an orbital station that could support a staff of a few hundred while they turned it into a spaceship to set up a lunar colony.

Laurie-Jo was besieged by Tolland, the Equity Trust and all kinds of other businesses that had a share of her debt. She suspected that the Equity Trust was trying to get a man up in the Heimdall to stir the pot and slow her down. She was also beginning to lose valueable cargo that was bound for the Heimdall to space pirates. She feared that if she could not afford to market the technology and products that she was getting from the Heimdall and the low gravity manufacturing that was going on up there, she would default on her loans and they would reposses the Heimdall from her. Her plan to take the ship out of Earth orbit was a secret; she just saw no opportunities on Earth any longer, and she and some of her crew wanted to go find somewhere to live on the moon.

When Aeneas showed up she distrusted him at first because in the past he helped Tolland interfere with her business. Now that Aeneas had severed ties with Tolland he wanted to get back in good graces with Laurie-Jo, his former lover. After a rocky start the two reconciled. After that someone on board the Heimdall murdered the captain. Laurie-Jo could not go up to deal with the problem because if she left Earth her competitors and debtors would crush her business. So she sent Aeneas to deal with the problem.

This story is about the development of rules for living in space, a region that traditionally has no government presence at all. I am loathe to say that the story is about the implementation of a legal system; Pournelle is just too much of a libertarian for that. When Aeneas arrived on board he discovered who the murderer was right away: it was one of Tolland's men with whom Aeneas has worked in the past. Aeneas took charge of the ship, arranged for a jury, tried the killer, convicted him and sentenced him to death.

"Law? Justice?" Penrose was contemptuous. "Rules, regulations, taxes, traps for people minding their own business."

"Those are perversions of law." Aeneas deliberately kept his voice low so that they had to strain to listed. "There can be no civilization without law and no civilized men without justice. Earth's law cannot govern here. It cannot even govern Earth. But that does not mean you can dispense with law altogether."

A bit ironic to say that while one is taking charge of the ship that other people call home, but the point is not missed that in order to survive people need rules. In Pournelle's opinion those rules would be best served by the natural law, or the unwritten/a priori law that makes sense to the most. Not the law that lets governments tax people, or ticket them for parking oddly or jaywalking. If this story makes sense to you, and especially if it does not, then you probably are having a debate about what exactly the "natural law" is. You would not be the first. Natural Law Orbitals, Law, Politics, Corporations, Space as Frontier, Government, Economics; 3 Stars

Extreme Prejudice, 1974, first published in Analog: In this story a group of scientists who with U.S. backing have built an underwater facility, called the Dansworth. The facility is in the Pacific south of the Sea of Cortez. Its purpose is to channel billions of tons of sea-water past collectors which siphon and strain materials necessary for life, including biological and mineral. They also run deep water mines and farm kelp to supply the United States with badly needed raw materials and foodstuffs. Within this station the entire crew may live a life of plenty, and have surplus to sell to outsiders. The facility is guarded and run by the U.S. Navy. Gideon, a functionary in the Tolland administration and a reporter, has arrived for a visit. He is shown around and entertained by the Starr family. The Starrs wished to remain anonymous because Hank Starr had left the CIA without permission or debriefing. They were willing to show Gideon around mainly because they do not know that he holds a position in the administration. They thought that he was there as a reporter only, but he really was there to kill Hank Starr; a revenge kill from Gideon's current and Starr's former boss.

Gideon spent lots of time exploring the facility. One day Hank and his boy took Gideon out to see the surrounding sea-beds with some of the facilities intelligent dolphins. While exploring the party was attacked by a blue shark. They killed the beast, but not before it harmed one of the dolphins badly. Gideon and Shields did what they could to keep the injured dolphin on the surface while Hank's son went for help and the other dolphin searched for other predators. The two men were worried about the bends as they were acclimated for deep sea life, but they both did what they could to save their dolphin companion. While he waited for rescue Gideon wondered if he was doing the right thing. Starr picked up on his thoughts and realized that Gideon was there to kill him. The ultimate confrontation took a few weeks while Gideon decided what to do. In the end, Gideon let Starr live, and helped him escape. There was not much of a story here, although there were some fantastic underwater exploration scenes.

Like all the other pieces in this book, this is near-future hard SF. I don't know a thing about Pournelle personally, but he seems to have a real love for the oceans. He has an almost innate understanding of the floura and fauna, and forgets not a single detail of ocean or underwater life.

They weren't really hearing aids, of course. They were tiny computers and electronic speech-filtering devices. The gas mixtures used to let men live at the lower depths and higher pressures contained a lot of helium, and a man talking in a helium-oxygen mixture sounds like Donald Duck. Some of the old-timers could understand each other without the hearing aids, or claimed to, but most people can't make out a word. The hearing aids take that gobble-gobble and suppress some of the frequencies while amplifying others, so that the result sounds like normal speech in a flat monotone. It's impossible to get much expression into a voice, but you can be intelligible.

Politics, Scientists, Smart Animals, Revenge, Innovation, Adventure; 2.5 Stars

Consort, 1975, first published in Analog: As the story opened Laurie-Jo met with Senator Hayden. Laurie-Jo has promised the Senator aid in ending President Tolland's political career once and for all, but to do that she must deal with Tolland directly while restraining Aeneas, who wants Tolland to resign. Aeneas, fearful for his life, is still on the Heimdall, and is trying to turn the orbital into the Valkyrie, the ship that will hopefully boost out of orbit one day and take everyone aboard to a better home on the Moon. The problem is that the Heimdall needs some engines that are too big for Laurie-Jo's laser launcher to boost up; she needs Tolland's space planes to take the payload there. She went to Tolland and asked for his help, promising that if he did so she and Aeneas would just leave Earth and never mess with him again; but she went with a condition. Laurie-Jo told Tolland that if he wanted to be finished with them, he would have to promise Senator Hayden, publicly, that once his term ended he would leave politics for good. Tolland agreed to send up the engines, but would not agree to resign. That was enough for Laurie-Jo, but not Aeneas. Aeneas spent his entire adult life helping Tolland to become the President. When he realized that Tolland was corrupt to the core, it shocked him and ruined his confidence in himself and the whole process. Aeneas wanted to go to the Moon with Laurie-Jo, but he wanted to leave the United States in a good way too, and that meant removing Tolland. In the end though, for love, Aeneas acquiesced to Laurie-Jo's demands. Tolland sent up the engines on a space plane, and the Heimdall was converted to the Valkyrie. Consort serves as a both a conclusion and a denouement to all the prior stories. Its the final showdown on Earth between these parties, and it is a bit of a turn around as those who preach the need for rules and laws in the societies of mankind abandon justice in exchange for being left alone. Space as Frontier, Government, Corruption, Politics; 2 Stars

Tinker, 1975, first published in Galaxy: Set more than a hundred years after Consort, Mars, the Belt and the Moon all have infrastructure on them. The Slingshot, a Belt mining ship, has returned to a mining town called Marsport on Jefferson, a large asteroid. The ship was filled with a family of eleven, nine kids and a two parents, and a passenger: Oswald Dalquist, an insurance agent who is delivering settlement funds to someone on Jefferson, though he eventually evolves into the corporate fixer in this tale. The Kephart family which owned and operated the Slingshot is working class, but is feeling the middle-class crunch of mortgage, fuel, expenses, etc. The bureaucracy has obviously made it off of Earth and is starting to get its tentacles around humans in space. Tinker, the captain and father, had a load of cargo to be auctioned off at Marsport. After the auciton ended, the real business began. Marsport was a failing town; failing because Arabs and corporate interests cut their prices on the material that Marsport produced every time they got an advantage. The townspeople of Marsport has lured Tinker there with the promise of a big delivery for him to take to the Moon, but when he got there all they had was the promise of a percentage of the cargo, and the threat of harm if he refused to boost with their cargo. Dalquist hung around the bar/auction chamber and helped Tinker. Eventually he agreed to boost the cargo for less than half the fee they promised. Once the deal was signed, Rhoda, the patriarch of Marsport, told Tinker to cool his heels while they put something together. While that was happening Dalquist found Janet, the wife of a dead miner, whom he knew, and whom he had loved for years; the decedent and Dalquist were rivals for Janet's hand. Dalquist suspected that Joe, the dead guy, was murdered. He was found outside the airlock with a broken helmet after tying one on, all of which was very out of character for Joe.

While all of that was going on, Marsport and the Slingshot received a mayday call from a liner with 1,700 people aboard from Earth. Their engines were dead and they were headed outward with no way to stop, and Slingshot was the only ship that had a chance of rescuing them. Marsport readied the Slingshot for the rescue mission and fueled them, but reminded Tinker that he was still under contract with them when he got back. Unfortunately they would lose the launch window; on the other hand, the salvage that Marsport would get, and the fees and percentage that Tinker would get would not only stab Lloyd's, but set everybody off for life.

This story is the first engineering problem-solving story in the book, and it really shines as a great example of seventies hard SF. It reads like an adventure story, which it is, but there is plenty of physics and engineering to satisfy even the most die-hard hard SF fan. There is also plenty of story packed in here, and to top it all off, a couple of whodunits? All of it plays well. This is the best in the book, not only because the story is intriguing and well written, even though it stands hand-in-hand with all of the tales that came before it. This is easily the best story in the volume. Sol System, Rescues, Corporations, Libertarian, Mystery, Economics; 3.5 Stars

Copyright 2009, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2.5 star(s)


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