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Go Tell the Spartans by Jerry Pournelle

Go Tell the Spartans

by Jerry Pournelle, S M Stirling (Author)

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  romsfuulynn | Apr 28, 2013 |
My reaction to reading this novel in 1993. Spoilers follow.

With the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the associated phase of the Cold War, these books are increasingly – given the basic assumption of a crumbling, joint, Soviet-American interstellar Empire – becoming unworkable extrapolations. However, they are still models, as all the Pournelle is I’ve read, of plausible societies worked out in complete social, technological, environmental, and technological terms. They are obviously rigged to portray conventional mercenary warfare using relatively, contemporary to us, modern weaponry on various Earth like planets. Yet, even given the assumptions of interstellar travel and the CoDominium, it’s remarkable how unforced and plausible the stories seem. It’s also interesting, as the series progresses from its first works in the early 1970s, to see how Pournelle updates the technology (much more emphasis in this novel on computers, satellite recon, and smart weapons than in The Mercenary) and political references (this novel has explicit references to Vietnam and the Gulf War).

This novel’s action fits readily between the second and third thirds of The Mercenary (at the end of which series’ hero John Christian Falkenberg becomes king on New Washington) and details the political and military threats to the planet Sparta which, later on in the series, will become the nucleus for a new empire after Earth is destroyed in the wake of a CoDominium collapse. Series character Prince Lysander will become the new Emperor.

The tone and theme of this story derives from the ancient story of the Three Hundred Spartans who gave their lives to delay the Persians at Thermopylae with the Spartans recapitulating their names. The main conflict involves surpressing a revolt of insurgents on Sparta, a so-called Low Intensity Conflict. I suspect the plot and entertaining story on the complexities of waging and resisting a guerilla war are Pournelle’s as the universe obviously is. The new addition to the series of Meiji technoninjas I suspect is Stirling’s. The style – and most of the writing – is Stirling’s I suspect. The technique of inserting bold exposition in and between the lines of dialogue is not characteristic of Pournelle. It is sometimes clunky but usually works surprisingly well.

The action – where the various units are in relation to each other and the terrain in the novel’s climactic battle – was a bit confusing. Maps would have helped. Perhaps I’m just spoiled by other Pournelle works. One review of this book noted the characterization was a cut above Pournelle’s, and that’s true, and I agree with the review in attributing it to Stirling. Even series villain Senator Bronson seems sympathetic in resisting Falkenberg and Admiral Lemontov’s plan, a “coup” he calls it, to set up an interstellar government after the CoDominium collapses (and Bronson knows it will), and loving the relics of American civilization like The Federalist Papers and Carl Sandburg and Mark Twain. Granted, Pournelle’s political villains are usually, if not sympathetic, at least people you can empathize with or are out to achieve some good no matter how bad their judgement is in deciding what’s truly good, but Bronson’s never been portrayed so complexly. Book villain Skida Thibodeau is a thug, seemingly a cynical, ambitious woman who launches a revolution to gain power. However she’s clever – if not truly wise in the ways of war – and, from such a poor background of crime and violence and degradation, that you can see why she turned out as she did. She also seems, at times, to genuinely believe her Marxist babblings of liberation. She almost comes to care for her followers – but hardens herself at novel’s end to sacrifice them to escape. However, she genuinely mourns friend Two-Knife’s death. A good novel though I liked The Mercenary better. Still, it’s a good read with some interesting points to make about Low Intensity Conflict. ( )
  RandyStafford | Mar 10, 2013 |
Getting towards the meat of the matter now. The previous three (or so depending on which order you've chosen to read the series in) books have established the history of Falkenberg's Mercenaries, and how they came to be on Sparta and the almost chance inclusion of Prince Lysander to their ranks. Now the real conflict has started. It is set at about the same chronological time as the latter half of West of Honour - where Falkenberg himself is situated. Here the grand commnd is carried by one of Falkenberg's deputies. What is supposed to be the establishment of a training camp, turns out to be more difficult than first expected.

The society on Sparta is some odd formalised ideal with qualified Citizenship and rights and responsabilities and a harsh martial law enforcing it, Ruled by a dual family monachy. This - along with the influx of Earth deportees creates an underclass that forms a rebellion. Normally such would be ruthlessly put down, but the Earth influx creates the numbers to allow it survive, and Falkenberg's political enemies give it the technology and leadership to make it a viable alternative.

The rest is one long complex, action driven fight. First in the town and then quickly out into the countryside which happens to resemble an exagerated form of some of the american midwest. There's tactcis, radio comms, and various battelions and companies marching up and down valleys shooting at each other, or firiing rockets or mortars (is ther a distinction and who cares what it is). I couldn't keep it all straight, and didn't particularly care to spend any effort thinking about it either. It might (maybe) have helped if I'd known whether the battilion or the company was larger. However the key point is the various commanders and there various fates. These are quite easy to keep distinct - whether Royal and hence on the Merc's side or Nationalist and on the rebel's side.

The rebel leader had a really annoying voice and third person speech pattern. This did keep her very disitinct from all the others, but remained an annoyance to read every time she appeared. I'm never a big fan of omnipresent novels where both sides tactical choces are told in advance rather than shown to a few tightly narrated characters. This remains a problem throughout. Equally annoying are the interspersed lectures from random Military advisors some historical, there are also descriptions of the geography, which is not interesting for the several pages so occupied. This seems to be an opportunity for the author to spout political views, but merely serves todistract the reader from the story.

Other than that it is fast paced action packed and if you like that sort of thing, enjoyable. Eventually we will get to the creation of the Imperium that is setting for the Mote in God's Eye. ( )
  reading_fox | Apr 21, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pournelle, JerryAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stirling, S MAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Parkinson, KeithCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Go tell the Spartans, passerby,
That here obedient to their laws we lie.
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In the last decades of the 20th century, many predicted that the battlefield of the future would be one of swift and annihilating violence, ruled by an elaborate technology.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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With Earth doomed, mankind's sole hope rests on a planet called Sparta, where the banner of a liberty that has been forgotten amid the corruption and tyrannies of Earth has been raised once more.

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