King David’s Spaceship

Sunday , 8, July 2018 4 Comments

Library book sales can be a wonderful thing. Sometimes, they are a bust. Other times you find a copy of the Gnome Press Conan the Conqueror with dustjacket for $1.00. That happened to me in 1997.

This year was better than usual. A new location with more room. Someone appears to have donated their collection for the good of the library. I bought more paperbacks than I ever have in 25 years.

One portion of the haul were three Jerry Pournelle paperbacks.  Two I had read 30 years ago. One was new. I can remember reading a spate of Jerry Pournelle and H. Beam Piper about the same time.

I have been wanting to read King David’s Spaceship for a few years now. There was a dealer with a few boxes of pristine D.A.W. paperbacks. I picked up some Tanith Lee and Thomas Burnette Swan and for some reason passed on A Spaceship for the King and regretted that decision a week later.

King David’s Spaceship is an expanded version of A Spaceship for the King. The novel originally serialized in Analog starting December 1971. This was also the last issue edited by John W. Campbell. D.A.W. Books reprinted the novel in February 1973. The expanded version as King’s David Spaceship was a Simon & Schuster hardback in January 1981 and a Timescape/Pocket Books paperback in October 1981. For some reason, all the Timescape editions I ran across were very beat up.

I have read novels featuring mercenary John Christian Falkenberg which are set hundreds of years earlier. King David’s Spaceship takes place at the same time The Mote in God’s Eye (which I have not read), about 3020 A.D.

Samual’s World is a planet with human colonist where sent back to a dark age three hundred years earlier during the Secession Wars. A galactic empire, the Empire of Man, had fallen apart as all empires do.

A new Empire of Man started one hundred years before the events of this novel. All human inhabited worlds are incorporated into the Second Empire whether they want to or not.

If a planet has not reached space flight, they are colonized. If you achieve spaceflight, you enter the empire with greater rights and representation. That is the basis of this novel.

Nathan MacKinnie, former colonel in the army of Orleans, a republic forcibly annexed by the kingdom of Haven is drinking at a tavern when he overhears an imperial navy office spouting off about a library with lots of pre-collapse information on another planet. He is taken into custody by the secret police of Haven on the way home. He has a choice, lead an expedition to the planet Makassar or never be seen again. Malcolm Dougal, head of the secret police, has a plan with his sovereign King David to build a spaceship so the status gets changed from Class 2 to Class 1. That means no colonization by the Empire. They need technology from that library on Makassar.

The culture of Prince Samual’s World is 1910. The inhabitants at least on this part of the planet wear kilts and generally have Celtic names. In some ways, this is a steam punk novel.

An expedition masquerading as a trade mission travels via a Trader’s ship to Makassar. They are abandoned by the Traders. What follows are a series of adventures traveling by ship to the other side of the main continent. Makassar is medieval in technology. There is a prime directive situation going on, so no revolvers and breech loading rifles allowed. They use chain mail, swords, and crossbows.

Pournelle gets to indulge his passion for weapons and technology. I think the first thing I ever read by Pournelle was “On Weapons of Choice and/or Necessity” that originally appeared in Amra in 1963.  I read it when reprinted in The Blade of Conan (great book by the way).

There are fights with pirates. Later when reaching the city of Batav, that contains the library, they find a horde of horse riding barbarians blockading the city. The city is on its last legs. Col. MacKinnie and Sgt. Stark train a force of pike men to deal with the barbarians. A major battle is a sort of repeat of the Battle of Manzikert (1071 A.D.). The barbarians don’t win this one though.

Using his huge influence as savior of the city, MacKinnie’s team examine the computer in the library and download all the information on the blank storage disks left centuries later.

They return to Prince Samuel’s World with the information. MacKinnie and his bride, Mary, find themselves in hot water with the Imperial Navy but the ending is satisfying.

Portions of King David’s Spaceship remind me of Janissaries (which I need to reread). Pournelle worked in government so he knows how bureaucracies run and how regulations can be turned to your advantage. His action scenes as always are very well done.

4.25 out of 5 harmonic chromosome rating for King David’s Spaceship. The last reprint was in 2010 by Baen for the Fires of Freedom omnibus. Baen had an e-book in 2013.

  • H.P. says:

    I picked up a copy of King David’s Spaceship at the massive John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit last fall (along with an L. Sprague de Camp Conan, as I recall).

  • John E. Boyle says:

    First read this when DAW reprinted it in 1973; a great read and one of favorite books by Dr. Pournelle. I recommend that you read The Mote in God’s Eye; a very entertaining book. The team of Niven and Pournelle wrote a number of best sellers, but I always considered The Mote in God’s Eye to be their best and wish they had written more stories set in the 2nd Empire of Man.

  • deuce says:

    “D.A.W. Books reprinted the novel in February 1973.”

    Yep, Don Wollheim did a lot to nurture and promote Pournelle back in those days. Great Freas cover.

  • Neil Obstat says:

    I miss Dr. Pournelle so much. I, too, wish that he and Larry Niven had given us another 2nd Empire novel or two.

    Do not pass Go or collect $200 until you have read “Mote,” Morgan. Love to read your review of it…

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