Jerry Pournelle

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Posted by Hack (1st Feb 2001, 11:45)

Originally published in Wyrmtongue February 2001.

He has co-written (with Larry Niven) one of the best novels of alien first contact that I've ever read - "The Mote in God's Eye". It describes a human Empire expanding for the second time, after a disastrous civil war, which suddenly encounters the alien Moties, who breed subordinate castes for different jobs: genetically augmented Warriors and technically superb Engineers.

The science is good and consistent, and the politics - although nothing new - are meaningful. The social structure is much like Imperial Britain with two Houses of Parliament and an aristocracy which supplies the needs of the Empire's bureaucracy and military.

The "Janissaries" novels are if possible even better. They feature a group of American mercenaries who are saved from certain death to go to an Earth-like planet and harvest drugs for the (very corrupt) rulers of the Galaxy. The planet has been seeded with people from Earth's past, and the heroes help the medieval Scots fight off the Holy Roman Empire.

The battles are the best bits of the books, although the rest is done quite well too. One wonders if Pournelle created this world just to be able to re-stage battles which never happened. But he has a solid scientific background so he does at least think very coherently about exactly what he's doing when he sets up a world.

He has written lots of other stuff which we have in the library, like "Exiles to Glory" or "King David's Spaceship". I like his work, but he is politically very right-wing, and this definitely comes over in his work. It doesn't normally get in the way of the story he's telling, but it can be irritating after a while.

Another thing that seems to happen again and again is that the Fall of the Roman Empire is re-fought in space. This seems to be a generic thing for military sf, but there have been other empires, and other themes, and it seems to indicate a failure of imagination that this one theme is used so often.

But I like Pournelle's books. He writes skilfully and with knowledge, and his opinions are his own.

His website is at and is worth reading.

About item:

- Janissaries
- Mote 1: The Mote In God's Eye

Related items:

About author:

- Pournelle, Jerry
- Niven, Larry & Pournelle, Jerry

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