This book was problematic in a number of ways. It is the story of Todos Santos, a self-contained, self-governing community. It towers over the slums of Los Angeles and holds 250,000 people. Built on the remains of slums that had burned down it holds a new future for many people. Unfortunately, not the people living in the slums, but that’s only one of the things I take issue with.

Living in Todos Santos is like living a dream. It’s safe, the police force are there to make sure the Angelinos (those living outside in Los Angeles) don’t hurt themselves when they come to visit and shop, and also to make sure the Saints (those living in Todos Santos) are safe. And here there is a different vision of safety to that we know now. In Todos Santos if you’re drunk the police will make sure you get home safely, if your child starts burning something accidentally they will tell you so you can put out the fire before it needs the fire brigade…actually, I don’t know if there is a fire brigade. Why would the Angelinos hurt themselves? Because they’re used to living outside, where the travelators don’t move at 50 miles per hour, where kids play jokes which might hurt people. And the police also make sure the Saints are safe from the Angelinos.

This book shows an us and them siege mentality, where the Saints want to slum outside, but don’t want to live there, where the Angelinos want to shop inside but only some of them want to live there. And they seem to only want to take those with ideas, those with the capabilities the Saints want. It’s a clash of cultures, the old (Los Angeles) versus the new (Todos Santos).

In this book we’ve got a few people working with waldos. These are nothing to do with anything found on the first page of a google search. Waldos are gloves that when you wear them you can manipulate things much bigger or smaller than the gloves or things that are a long way away. Armand Drinkwater is an Experimental Mechanic. ‘The instruments he works on didn’t exist five years ago.’ And he’s got the ideal working day. He doesn’t bother to get dressed, just works in the nude. He works from 9 am till 5 pm with a whole hour for lunch. He gets up at 8:50 am in time to have coffee before work. His wife brings him breakfast half an hour later and he eats that while he works. (Don’t ask me how that’s possible with both hands inside waldos.) He knocks off at 5 pm and has a drink, doesn’t need to wind down from fighting traffic. Some of that sounds awfully familiar to some people who are currently working from home due to COVID19. What irritates me is the sexism inherent in this bit. His wife is barely mentioned, we don’t see if she does anything apart from bring him his breakfast. She’s been erased.

One thing this book emphasizes is that America no longer has ties between the government and the people. It’s the citizen against the bureaucracy. That fits with my observations of America as it stands at the moment. I’ve many friends across America, they come from all walks of life. Some of them love Obama, some love Trump. Some of them I agree with and some I don’t. The Second Amendment is predicated on the assumption that the people don’t trust the government and must be able to defend themselves at all times. This is one of the issues with the Police that has been highlighted during the Black Lives Matter protests we’ve seen. Various parts of the States have erupted in violence as the people and the Police clash. In some places I believe the Police have tried to defend themselves against peaceful people while in others they’ve defended themselves against violent people. When the people in power are defending themselves from peaceful people using violence then I’d suggest things have broken down.

The difference in Todos Santos is that there’s an Oath of Fealty which runs both ways. It runs from the people in charge and their police to the people and then back again. What we see illustrated is that when the Saints play jokes they’re not going to hurt anyone. Some children make a rope and take it into a crowded area. The visiting Angelinos duck from it while the Saints ignore it completely. When the rope touches people it disintegrates as it’s made from toilet paper. Something that has me smiling wryly today seeing as the hoarding has started again and the supermarkets are stocking up as the hoarders move into action.

Do I recommend this book?

That’s a hard question. Many people don’t read science fiction because they don’t understand science fiction. But with this book, as with many other science fiction or even fantasy books, it’s not about the science fiction, it’s not about the fantasy…it’s about the mirror it holds up to society. This book illustrates some of the problems that we’re seeing today, not just in America but in many countries throughout the world. I find this book troubling and I wish more people would read it to understand more about what is wrong. To that end I have two links for you: an Amazon one and a Booktopia one.

The post Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle appeared first on Suz’s Space | Book Reviews | Editing | Proofreading.

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