Book Report: Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1981)

In March, I read Ringworld’s Children, but that book did not mar my longstanding default view of Larry Niven’s work enough that I didn’t pick Oath of Fealty right away.

The book centers on a collision between the city of Los Angeles and an “arcology”–a large, mostly self-contained living structure housing hundreds of thousands of people with its own government, economy, and security. A humanist terrorist group wants to destroy “The Hive,” so they send some young people on a dry run with only mock weapons. The security force of Todos Santos responds with deadly force, leading a showdown with the political and law enforcement forces of the city that surrounds it.

The book presents a lot of thought-provoking themes, such as a contrast of the way of life for regular city dwellers who live freely and the residents of Todos Santos, who accept certain security measures–the omnipresence of cameras, for example–to make living together in a confined area possible. Todos Santos, aside from the cameras, offers many amenities and philosophies–police are again peace officers, the government does not regulate business and in fact offers loans on good terms, and the citizens are not citizens, they’re also shareholders in the corporation that runs Todos Santos.

It’s got a bit of the political going on and a large cast of characters, but because it’s not built on a number of books preceding it (as Ringworld’s Children was), these flaws are forgiveable and aren’t so dramatic; one only has to pause to sort out who the character is, not try futilely to remember who the character was from a book one read a decade ago).

Written with Jerry Pournelle and published in 1981, this book precedes the Reagan era and comes out of the 1970s milieu, but it doesn’t seem dated. One of the characters carries a communicator/calendar/portable computer that, unfortunately, he has to plug in. Sounds familiar enough 26 years later. Unfortunately, the characters do describe a large set of computer files (27,000,000 bytes) that will take a long time to download at 300 baud. True, but I was downloading faster than that a mere five years after the book was written.

So it’s a good book, and I’d recommend it. Especially if you can snag a cheap copy like I did.

For those of you keeping track at home, this is my 38th book of the year, so I am on a good pace to reach my annual goal of 75.

Books mentioned in this review: