Pournelle, Jerry. Exile—and Glory. Riverdale, NY: Baen Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4165-5563-6.
This book collects all of Jerry Pournelle's stories of Hansen Enterprises and other mega-engineering projects, which were originally published in Analog, Galaxy, and Fantasy and Science Fiction between 1972 and 1977. The stories were previously published in two books: High Justice and Exiles to Glory, which are now out of print—if you have those books, don't buy this one unless you want to upgrade to hardcover or can't resist the delightfully space-operatic cover art by Jennie Faries.

The stories take place in a somewhat dystopian future in which the “malaise” of the 1970s never ended. Governments worldwide are doing what governments do best: tax the productive, squander the revenue and patrimony of their subjects, and obstruct innovation and progress. Giant international corporations have undertaken the tasks needed to bring prosperity to a world teeming with people in a way which will not wreck the Earth's environment. But as these enterprises implement their ambitious projects on the sea floor, in orbit, and in the asteroid belt, the one great invariant, human nature, manifests itself and they find themselves confronted with the challenges which caused human societies to institute government in the first place. How should justice be carried out on the technological frontier? And, more to the point, how can it be achieved without unleashing the malign genie of coercive government? These stories are thoughtful explorations of these questions without ever ceasing to be entertaining yarns with believable characters. And you have to love what happens to the pesky lawyer on pp. 304–305!

I don't know if these stories have been revised between the time they were published in the '70s and this edition; there is no indication that they have either in this book or on Jerry Pournelle's Web site. If not, then the author was amazingly prescient about a number of subsequent events which few would have imagined probable thirty years ago. It's a little disheartening to think that one of the reasons these stories have had such a long shelf life is that none of the great projects we expected to be right around the corner in the Seventies have come to pass. As predicted here, governments have not only failed to undertake the challenges but been an active impediment to those trying to solve them, but also the business culture has become so risk-averse and oriented toward the short term that there appears to be no way to raise the capital needed to, for example, deploy solar power satellites, even though such capital is modest compared to that consumed in military adventures in Mesopotamia.

The best science fiction makes you think. The very best science fiction makes you think all over again when you re-read it three decades afterward. This is the very best, and just plain fun as well.

August 2008 Permalink