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:


May The Biggest Kickback Win

City officials in Milwaukee have a dilemma:

Developers want free money:

More than three years after the Park East Freeway spur was torn down, 16 acres of prime downtown land remain barren – and developers say it’s time for city officials to help make something happen there.

“There’s gridlock right now, and I’m concerned this thing is going to blow up,” said Gary Grunau, who is building the new Manpower Inc. headquarters, just north of the Park East area. “Somebody’s got to show some leadership.”

“Leadership,” of course, is a euphemism for “government giveaways to private business” in forms of tax abatement, zoning variations, and loan co-signing. Of course, this would be a no-brainer, as government officials tend to want to hump the legs of all developers they can.

But:

Concerns about city financing for hotel projects have been raised by Greg Marcus, executive vice president of Marcus Corp., which operates three downtown hotels: InterContinental Milwaukee Hotel, Hilton Milwaukee City Center and the Pfister Hotel.

Marcus, in a March 6 letter to Mayor Tom Barrett, said efforts to “subsidize construction of hotel rooms without first stimulating demand for those rooms” will “simply siphon off demand from existing (privately financed) hotel rooms.”

It sounds like there’s trouble in paradise, right? Heavy hitters in the local industry making noises like this, sounding almost laissez-faire.

Aw, if I believed that, I wouldn’t be a good cynic. The government has enough favors for all fat cats. I expect the city of Milwaukee will cosign the loans for the speculative development and will throw sops to existing businesses, maybe even before they’re failing on account of the city’s meddling in a market economy. After all, there can never be too many cronies in crony capitalism.

Ah, Milwaukee. Briefly, you were more than St. Louis, but you’re in a hurry to sink to its post-industrial, post-unsupported business level.