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Jerry Pournelle's Future History
Timeline • Star - Map • Reading Order • Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and High Justice • Ambiguities and Difficulties • Bibliography • Links
When Pournelle began writing his future history in the early 1970's, the Cold War had mellowed. In the immediate post-war period, war between the USA and the USSR had seemed possible. The "Truman Doctrine" had essentially promised that America would let the Soviets have a free hand in their own "sphere of influence" as long as they didn't try to expand it. Eisenhower refused to intervene in Hungary in 1956, and three years later invited Khrushchev to America. Johnson promoted trade with Eastern Europe. And finally, Nixon established the policy of "detente", making it clear that he considered good relations with the USSR more important than protecting America's allies from Soviet expansion.
From this vantage point, Pournelle's vision of a military alliance between the two super-powers seems logical. Perhaps even desirable, in light of the fact that both the USA and the USSR found the growth of an independent "Third World" a potentially "destabilizing" development. Thus, the CoDominium: a merging of American and Soviet foreign policies, even as their domestic policies retained their separate characters.
In the first published CoDominium story, “Peace With Honor,” John Grant recalls the happy days that followed the founding of the CoDominium, when people were "happy to have the Cold War under control at last" (Analog, May 1971, p. 154). In 1974, the Mote in God's Eye timeline put the foundation of the CoDominium in 1990, and this date was repeated in several subsequent timelines. When Falkenberg's Legion went to press (in the year 1990 itself!), this date was pushed back: the CD was now created by "a series of treaties between 1990 and 2000". John Grant's musings were revised: now he recalled how people were "happy to have the Second Cold War over with" (Falkenberg's Legion 238; The Prince 205).
Then in 1991, the USSR collapsed, and this whole timeline became impossible. (Not that the collapse of the 20th century's longest-lasting military empire was distressing to Dr. Pournelle!)
In Prince of Sparta (1993), Pournelle and Stirling acknowledged the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, even mentioning the communist coup which led to Gorbachev's fall. Prince of Sparta goes on to propose that the economies of both Russia and the United States continued to deterioriate, leading to the "resurrection" of the USSR via "a new series of military and political coups". The CoDominium was subsequently established, merging the military might of the USA and the revived USSR by the year 2000 (Prince of Sparta 1-2; The Prince 865-866).
This idea is now fundamental to the "canon" of Pournelle's future history; it is even mentioned briefly in The Gripping Hand (page 291, paperback edition). Of course, Pournelle, Stirling, and Niven were not suggesting this was probable; they just needed to salvage the fictional timeline for these stories! In 1993, this revised Future History timeline was still theoretically possible.
But as of this writing (2018), the idea of a revived Soviet Union seems absurd. And even if the USSR re-appeared, the USA and USSR together would no longer be the globe-dominating force that they were in the 1970s. So the CoDominium is no longer even theoretically possible.
Even more problematic, the space travel in Pournelle's Future History -- interstellar travel by 2008, discovery of inhabitable extrasolar planets in 2010, and a massive wave of extrasolar colonization beginning in 2020 -- is obviously (and sadly) not the history of our Earth.
The only solution is to designate Pournelle's Future History could be designated an "alternate future history". This was the approach Robert Heinlein took with his own future history series in 1980.
Regardless, the current body of work stands as good science fiction. Wells' When the Sleeper Awakes and Heinlein's The Man Who Sold the Moon are much more invalid today than Pournelle's works, yet they are not rendered any less readable for this. (And if you want to see something really anachronistic, check out Olaf Stapledon's drastically-wrong prediction of World War II, made in 1930 in his magnum opus Last and First Men!)
However, this "reality-check" does relate to another issue: the inclusion of two other books into this timeline.
Jerry Pournelle's short-story collection High Justice and its sequel Exiles to Glory are often listed as part of Pournelle's "Future History", especially on the ubiquitous "order forms" which publishers place in the end pages of paperback books. But there is no way this is possible.
If we were reading all these books in 1975, the advanced technology and politics seen in the stories of Bill Adams, Aeneas MacKenzie, and Glenda Hanson might conceivably be expected during the last part of the 20th century. Perhaps this was originally the intention, and the creation of the CD and the decay of American society took place after these stories had ended. But even by the 1990s it became clear that these stories could not possibly be squeezed into the Future History timeline.
In any event, there is no evidence that Pournelle himself considered these stories to be set in Falkenberg's universe.
They are, nonetheless, excellent stories. And I have always been suspicious that the creators of the movie Outland had read "High Justice" a few times before putting their movie together......
Jerry Pournelle's Future History . . . . . Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and High Justice
Updated 12 May 2023 by Larry King
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