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Fires of Freedom by Jerry Pournelle

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Fires of Freedom by Jerry Pournelle
Baen Books, 2009, 467 pp

A juvenile delinquent is given a choice, prison or deportation to Mars. On Mars he must grow up or die, especially if the multinational companies exploiting the colonists push harder than the colonists can stand.

Centuries in the future, humanity is slowly crawling back from the devastation of an interstellar war. The planet known as Prince Samual’s World is about to be admitted to the Second Empire of Man, but as a colony or an equal?

Fires of Freedom reprints two novels by Jerry Pournelle, perhaps best known as co-author with Larry Niven of the SF classic The Mote in God’s Eye, but an established solo author as well. Birth of Fire, first published in 1976, is a riveting coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of a Martian war for independence.

Such a revolution is an old story in science fiction, but Pournelle tells it with such panache that one easily gets carried away by the adventure of it all. Garrett Pitson is a very likeable protagonist, and the short novel is very enjoyable.

The larger part of the volume is devoted to King David’s Spaceship. This work was first published in 1980, and is set in the same universe as The Mote in God’s Eye. Indeed, even in the same timeline, with events from the earlier novel having an impact (albeit through a somewhat roundabout route) on King David’s Spaceship.

The story stars Nathan MacKinnie, the general for the losing side in Prince Samual’s World’s wars of unification. In the midst of the war, the Imperial Stellar Navy makes an appearance, throwing its lot with King David of Haven as the most likely candidate to unify the planet and thus open it up to relations with the Empire.

MacKinnie Drowns his sorrows in drink, until the head of King David’s secret intelligence abducts him and tells him that his former enemies need him. The Empire intends to admit Prince Samual’s World, but at a vastly inferior status, little better than serfs. But they have learned they can be admitted more as equals, if the planet can develop space travel before the world is completely unified and negotiations with the Empire are concluded.

Because the Empire guards its own technology so closely, MacKinnie must lead a team to the nearby planet Makassar. The team will be disguised as a trade delegation, ferried to Makassar as a token gesture of the advantages of joining the Empire. Once on the alien world, MacKinnie and his people must find the planetary library containing information lost from the First Empire and bring information back to Prince Samual’s World to help the planet’s fledgling space program.

Both of the novels in Fires of Freedom are good reads, full of the action and adventure seasoned with a hint of romance that I’ve come to expect from Jerry Pournelle’s works. They’re first and foremost vigorously good fun. But there is more going on here. I think that only an American could have written either work, especially Birth of Fire. The Martian revolution feels very much like the American Revolution of 1776. (Note again the novel’s original publication date.)

King David’s Spaceship treats similar themes, although somewhat more obliquely. The tyranny of the Empire is well-intentioned, but it still strikes the inhabitants of Prince Samual’s World as tyranny. And it is still within the power of a few brave individuals to resist that tyranny.

Baen Books are to be commended for reissuing Jerry Pournelle’s stories. I wish them a wide readership.

(Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt)

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