Book Review: 'King David's Spaceship'
The Fictional Universe of “King David’s Spaceship”
“King David’s Spaceship” by Jerry Pournelle is set in the Co-Dominium universe. The Co-Dominium universe has become an alternate history after the collapse of the Soviet Union, instead of it co-ruling Earth for a century or two along with the United States. The space navy knew that the power sharing arrangement couldn’t last so had the stated goal to save as many as possible, so they sought to move as many colonists and involuntary deportees off world. When Earth finally nuked itself, Russian and American elites left fled to their respective most-developed colonies. The American hub, Sparta, becomes the center of the first interstellar empire. Another civil war erupts, this time between humanity and the genetically engineered Sauron. The Empire of Man collapses for generations before a new one arises, still centered in Sparta.
The new empire seeks to colonize and assimilate everyone as quickly as possible so that the recovering worlds don’t all reach space and start fighting with each other. Some worlds remain at hunter-gatherer levels, some have pre-industrial societies, and the few with space flight are accorded near-equal status with Sparta in what can be compared to the Federation. Prince Samual’s World was perhaps two generations from spaceflight when found and finds it involuntarily classified as a colony. Its king wants to change that, hence the title.
Note that you do not have to have read any other Co-Dominium books to understand this one. "King David's Spaceship" is a stand-alone novel, though it references "The Mote in God's Eye".
Points in Favor of “King David’s Spaceship”
This book moves quickly in a style like “Tran” but with a far better plot. To some degree, the jumps from action scene to action scene are driving by the fact that the author had to type on a typewriter, so there’s no point in describing walking down the hall or tons of exposition.
You actually see the Empire’s logic for doing what they do. Their military is educated about the war that destroyed Earth and the human civil war that destroyed the first empire. They see it as moral and appropriate to lie to regional governments while consolidating power and installing their own people as an aristocracy. The greatest morality is preventing yet another human civil war that throws humans back into yet another dark age. Setting up an aristocracy among their own colonists is reasonable, too, to them because how else do you get fusion plant operators to travel from civilized worlds to backward ones for the rest of their lives.
You also understand the natives’ point of view. You need to have space ships or starships to be granted Class 1 or 2 status; then your world is admitted as a subject world with significant autonomy. If you lack that when discovered, your world is settled with an aristocracy from the Empire that will remain dominant, though the settlers and military in particular are encouraged to intermarry. Fail to submit, though, and the Empire will level your planet. It did so in the past and did so to one of the planet’s cities as a demonstration.
A Strike Against “King David’s Spaceship”
There is an excellent essay by Pournelle in the anthology “N-Space” that explains why the technology in the Co-Dominium universe is as it is, why democracy is not a guaranteed form of future government, and why other aspects of his society were relatively unchanged or modeled off of earlier historical forms. I wish that this Co-Dominium book and others were re-released with that essay. I do admit it is a little dated given that JKF Junior died, so he cannot possibly be the golden boy nominee for President by the Democrats. That’s why his sister was considered for the deceased uncle’s former office and other Democrat family members were recommended for various positions instead.
This book contains more mentions of horror stories that resulted from mistakes that occurred before the Empire adopted a non-interference rule with discovered worlds. The fact that the Empire still manages to throw things off-kilter while setting up bases and often making things worse merely by arriving and living in its garrison is demonstrated on Makassar is a realistic view of how what Star Trek does not address.
“King David’s Spaceship” is a fascinating science fiction action novel that covers two planets and gives glimpses of a broader fictional universe. It contains a caste of fleshed out characters motivated by their own causes and broader sense of duty to their home-world. You can enjoy this Co-Dominium novel without having read anything else by Pournelle. Five stars for “King David’s Spaceship”.
© 2017 Tamara Wilhite