Oath of Fealty – Review

Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review, Number 3, March 1982, pp. 8-9

Niven, Larry and Jerry Pournelle. Oath of Fealty. Timescape/Simon and Schuster, NY , October 1981. 328 p . $13.95. ISBN 0-671-22695-9. Phantasia Press, 13101 Lincoln, Huntington Woods, MI 48070, September 1981. $35, limited first edition. ISBN 0-932096-12-3. SF Book Club, Garden City, NY, May 1982. $5.98. No ISBN.

Todos Santos, the centerpiece of Oath of Fealty, is an arcology, a huge, virtually self-sufficient and self-contained community erected at the edge of Los Angeles. Two miles wide, two deep, and a fifth of a mile high, it is more than a condominium run wild — it i s an idealized medieval castle, providing its quarter million inhabitants with work, play, shelter and school. Abandoning the American mania for privacy, the Saints, as the shareholder-residents are called, accept their police as true public servants, and allow round-the-clock television surveillance, in bathroom as well as boardroom, as the price of security. While Los Angeles struggles to survive using conventional means, Todos Santos has become a world of innovation, plenty, comfort–and responsibility.

“Fealty” is a good description of the bond among the Saints. Residents of Todos Santos are obligated to the community and each other, and willing to fight to preserve their world. After arcology defenses kill the son of a Los Angeles councilman during a prank terrorist attack, Todos Santos rallies to battle real terrorists, and fight political and legal maneuvers designed to strip its defenses and end its independence. If the community bond dictates that an outrageous jail break be performed–employing the latest in applied technology–so be it. “Think of it as evolution in action” becomes the Saints’ slogan: Todos Santos is not a passive society.

Readers interested in nice, safe non-controversial escapism may be troubled by Oath of Fealty. Most SF dealing with explosive political or social issues is placed in the far future, blurring any connections between controversial themes and day to day living. Oath does not provide this soothing distance; try as you might, the world around you and the world you are reading about seem uncomfortably close.

This similarity gives the novel a realistic feel, and also invites criticism. In the novel, all ecologists are hypocrites, are opposed to progress and technology, and willing to resort to terrorism if need be. Todos Santos is, itself, a massive ecological experiment, but this is ignored. Politics, politicians, truces, and government are portrayed as evils, yet Todos Santos, under different names, has adopted them all. Oath of Fealty is, without question, a book worth reading, and arguing about. Niven and Pournelle are probably the best writing team going, and you really don’t want to miss their version of the Edifice Complex. — Lawrence I. Charters

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