BLACK STAR RISING BY FREDERIK POHL

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Copyright 1985.

It is 100 years after a nuclear war destroyed the United States and the Soviet Union. This left the populous nations of China and India in charge. They divided the world up. Castor is a 22-year-old worker at the Heavenly Rice Collective Farm in Biloxi Mississippi. He dreams of going into space but that is highly unlikely for an American in a country reduced to a Chinese colony. One day he finds a head of a murdered Han Chinese while working the rice field. This starts a series of events that introduce him to Manyface. A high party Chinese cadre that has implanted parts of the brains of eleven people. One of these is the mother of his divorced wife. She gets Manyface to take Castor as a houseboy and eventually he gets admitted to the university.

Then a spaceship comes with an ultimatum. They demand to speak to the President of the United States. They destroy all life on a Pacific Island to show they are serious. The problem is there hasn’t been a President or United States for over a century. Castor gets elected to the job and embarks on a journey to the alien’s home world. He finds that the Erks have joined forces with descendants of American astronauts to free America. Only problem is the Erks have a tendency to destroy all life on the worlds that they help. Now with his companions he has to prevent the Erks from helping the planet Earth out of existence.

My first Pohl book and I found it an interesting read. A very strange book. The alien Erks are actually pets from a more advanced species that genetically engineered them. So, some are smart, and others are dumb. This race which they refer to as the Living Gods destroyed themselves in a biological war. Now the Erks are obsessed with helping to liberate the oppressed of the galaxy. They treat war as a game and always get out of hand and destroy the entire planet. The astronauts’ decedents have a society they formed by harvesting all the eggs and artificially bringing them to term. They currently have a population of 8,500 with 8,450 being women.

I liked this book. It starts out a more traditional one in the first half. Then with the alien’s society it gets really weird. It has some funny moments. Like the Chinese have a remake the movie High Noon. In it the high party cadre comes to a village and confronts the anti-party elements. He forces them to self-criticize themselves before getting them sent off to a reeducation camp. An interesting book that had a unique premise. Worth your time if you want something different to read.

PRINCE OF SPARTA BY JERRY POURNELLE S.M. STIRLING

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Copyright 1993.

Sparta has won a great victory over the Helots. Yet the survivors have escaped and with continued support from Senator Bronson have regrouped and rearmed. They continue a guerrilla war with acts of terrorism. They also get help from Bronson’s influence over the CoDominium fleet. They increase the flow of involuntary colonists to give the Helots more recruits and blockade the planet economically. In spite of this, the Spartans manage to deal the Helots a decisive blow at a battle, and it looks like they will defeat them. Only the CoDominium has collapsed, and Bronson’s faction enters the fight on the side of the Helots. Sparta and the Legion have a final battle that will decide the fate of not only Sparta but the future of mankind.

The final book in the series is the best of the series. It is a brilliant study in Low Intensity Conflicts of the twentieth century. That time when two superpowers would support guerilla movements. The guerillas existed solely because of outside support and safe havens to operate from. How the guerrilla movement starts out as a hit and run force to a conventional force. Also, how this movement is effectively fought. A really exciting ending that shows how a free and well-armed people can resist such a movement.

Naturally they win with help from defecting fleet personnel and ends with them basically declaring fealty to the Spartan king as the Roman emperors of old were. I love the characters including the Spartan king Lysander. A man who inspired his troops to fight on in adversity. The Helot leader Skilly who is a complete psychopath and massacres innocent women and children to achieve her goal.

Sadly, Pournelle decided to abandon writing at this time and go into retirement. I would have loved to see more stories about this fascinating universe. How Sparta continued on after the fall of the CoDominium and built the Spartan Hegemony. Falkenberg’s Legion series is my favorite of Pournelle’s work. I never get tired of rereading them.

RIFFTRAX LIVE: THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING

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It is that time of year folks. Another Rifftrax and it was a fun one. First off, we get the short Danny’s Dental Date. A strange thing that starts out with puppets. Danny overhears his mother making a dentist appointment for him. Naturally he panics and runs away with his puppet dog. The dog talks about his teeth and then we meet other talking puppet animals. A squirrel, a cat, and a cow. All talk about their teeth and how Danny has such similar teeth. Then an endless parade of food that you should eat including 6 teaspoons of butter. Yes, kid just shovel spoonfuls of butter down your throat. It’s good for you. He wakes up and is a real boy but anxious to go to the dentist. His dentist decides to carve his initials into his fingernail and Danny’s to show how fun the drill is. Definitely a strange film. You can watch part of it here.

First off, the movie starts with some government agents with M-16s trudging through the swamp looking for a moonshine still. They get lost but are confronted by a giant leech man. The leech man kills two of them and two more are captured by a beautiful woman in a jeep. The final one gets saved by Swamp Thing.

Tax dollars are work folks.

Giant Leech monster.

Well, this Leech guy is still busy and Swampy has to save two young boys. Then we cut to Abby Arcane who is a florist in L.A. and has issues with her stepfather Anton Arcane. She decides to visit him at his mansion in Louisiana to work out these issues.

Young boys getting into trouble for comic relief.

Now Anton Arcane who is an evil scientist is doing what evil scientists do which is splice animal genes to humans for some vague reason. Arcane did get killed in the first movie but thankfully there is some vague explanation about his henchmen scientists rescuing him. He is delighted that Abby has come because her blood may have the answer to his vague human experimentation.

One of the rejects.

Naturally Swamp thing gets involved. He has to first save a wandering Abby from inbred moonshiners. Then the incompetent guards of Arcane in orange jumpsuits. Swamp thing and Abby have a trippy love affair before she is captured again. Once again Swamp Thing has to rescue Abby from having her life force sucked out of her to save the evil Dr. Arcane. Fortunately, the female scientist betrays him when she overhears Arcane give to OK to use her blood which also has some kind of compatibility. Swampy breaks in and kicks butt. The whole mansion is destroyed and to two live happily ever after.

Arcane and the other evil scientists.
Evil mercenary captain taunting an experiment.

Swamp Thing and Abby.

I am a big fan of Swamp Thing the only vegetable that is a DC superhero. I loved the comics and the Wes Craven movie. The late Dick Durock the stuntman who played Swamp Thing in both movies and the excellent USA TV series does a great job. Now this was a Jim Wynorski film, so you know you are getting a heaping does of camp in this movie. This was an excellent movie to choose for a riff. The jokes were spot on, and I had a very enjoyable night. Sadly, we only get one Rifftrax this year, but I suppose one is better than none. Until next year.

GO TELL THE SPARTANS BY JERRY POURNELLE S.M. STIRLING

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Copyright 1991.

A regiment of Falkenberg’s Legion has come to Sparta to set up a standing army for them. They came just in time for Senator Bronson has been financing an insurgency. The Liberation Army of Sparta or the Helots have started to flex their muscles. They start with terrorism and low intensity guerilla war. There is also a traitor in the form of a Spartan senator named Dion Croser. He leads the political segment of the Non-Citizen Liberation Front or NCLF. A series of high-profile terrorist attacks shows the level of power they have achieved. Bronson has hired the best mercenaries in the form of technoninjas from the planet Meiji. The story culminates in a big battle between the Helots and the untried Spartan Royal Army. A battle where the Helots use poison gas to try and deliver a final blow.

Pournelle decided to get Stirling to help him with the further adventures of Falkenberg’s Legion. I can see his influence in the pseudo encyclopedia entries at the beginning of each chapter that deals with some fictional history or place the chapter deals with. I think the character of Skilly the Belizean gang leader turned Maoist guerilla is also his creation. The action now comes to the planet Sparta which is the future place where the Empire of Man is formed. We explore this fascinating society founded by American intellectuals based on the freedoms of the old America. It does have a society of freedom and the ability of upward mobility. They are a democracy but have a dual monarchy based on the Sparta of Greece. The reasoning is that politicians became too shortsighted, and they wanted leaders that were in it for the long haul. Not really sure a hereditary monarchy is the answer, but it is definitely true the politicians of current era are only concerned with the next short term election cycle.

This book does a brilliant job of showing how an army is built up from scratch. The mechanics of a Maoist type guerilla war. Starts with terrorist attacks and assassinations geared toward destabilizing the government. They hope to drive the government to more repressive measures which drive more people to the movement. This is also only sustainable with the help of an outside entity bankrolling it. Ends with an exciting battle and the Crown Prince Lysander the future first emperor making a bold move to win the battle. Although not decisively as there will be a return in the next book.

PRINCE OF MERCENARIES BY JERRY POURNELLE

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Copyright 1989.

Falkenberg’s Mercenary Legion has found work on the planet Tanith. Tanith is a penal colony of the CoDominium that Soviet-American alliance that rules Earth. It is an inhospitable planet that has a hot humid climate combined with actual dinosaurs. Its main value is the Borloi the drug used by the Earth governments to keep the masses placated. Currently the rich plantation owners have revolted against the colonial government to sell the Borloi for themselves. They have hired a mercenary unit called Barton’s Bulldogs to help them. The evil senator Bronson is behind this rebellion and wants the Borloi for himself.

Into this comes Prince Lysander one of the future kings of Sparta. He has come to retain the services of Falkenberg to train a standing army because of the growing insurgency on his world. He gets involved with the fight to stop Senator Bronson from taking the Borloi off world. There are also two subplots. One involves a young American taxpayer college student who gets involved in the socialist movement and ends up deported to Tanith as an involuntary colonist. The other is the story of a young idealistic graduate of West Point who joins a rebellion on a colony world.

A Falkenberg Legion book written about ten years after the original stories came out. It is a prequel to Falkenberg before he took the job on New Washington. The story introduces the character of Prince Lysander who eventually becomes the first emperor of humanity after the fall of the CoDominium. It introduces us to the rivalry between Falkenberg and Senator Bronson. The planet Tanith is shown as a very unpleasant place. The current governor is a reformer who wants to end the harsh practice of indentured servitude, which is basically slavery. He supports Admiral Lermontov like Falkenberg to build something stable after the inevitable collapse of the CoDominium.

The subplots give us a good look into the stratified society of America that is divided between an elite taxpayer and welfare dependent citizen class. How an ordinary involuntary colonist gets transported. It also gives us a good look at the operation of the legion. It has a feel of a family with stuff set up like schools for the children and other services to support the dependents. Plus, this shows us the code of honor that mercenaries operate under. Sets up the story where it continues to the planet Sparta.