In this second installment of Jerry Pournelle’s JANISSARIES series, the modern American military unit that was abducted by aliens and deposited on the planet Tran to oversee the harvest of psychedelic drugs for alien drug dealers is still trying to get the planet under control so they can focus on their horticultural task. Though they accomplished a lot in the first book, Janissaries, things have gotten even more complicated (politically) and they make very little progress (at least that we see) with their main goal in Clan and Crown.
Captain Rick Galloway, who is now one of the most powerful people on the planet, wishes he could give up fighting and be a teacher at the newly-formed university, but so far that hasn’t been possible. The same weather pattern changes that are increasing the growth of the psychotropic plant they’re supposed to be growing has caused the Westmen (various barbarian clans) to start unifying so they can move down to the civilized territories where there’s better weather. These clans must be dealt with before they become a major threat. Ben Murphy, one of the soldiers who came from Earth, is the perfect man for the job.
Meanwhile, there are rumors that the Five Kingdoms are either mobilizing or preparing for a siege, there appears to be quite a lot of secret plotting going on between various political factions, and some of Rick’s questionable allies are demanding that Rick and the “starmen” prove their loyalty by sharing their weapons technology. As Rick moves to control his enemies and solidify his alliances, many of his ideas for how to handle these situations comes from what he knows about Earth’s political and military history. For example, when he suspects some lord of being a potential traitor he, like Queen Elizabeth did, visits that man’s home and stays a long time to disrupt the man’s plotting and essentially bankrupt him in the process.
Other customs on Tran are also changing. Gwen, the pregnant woman from Earth who was left on the planet by her boyfriend, is changing fashion. Religion has also changed since the soldiers of Earth brought news about Christianity. Many people on Tran are prepared to accept that Jesus Christ is the son of the god they already worshipped. The planet seems ripe for an industrial and cultural revolution, though they’ll have to hide their progress from the aliens who put them there.
As with the previous book, Clan and Crown feels much more like historical fiction set in ancient Rome than science fiction. We get very little interaction with the aliens and learn almost nothing about how the people of Tran are preparing to harvest the drugs the aliens are demanding. Instead, we see more of the kind of political intrigue, military maneuvers and battle tactics that dominated the plot of Janissaries. This might be just fine for many readers, especially those that enjoy military fiction, but it isn’t exactly what I was hoping for when I read the publisher’s blurbs for these books. My favorite parts of Clan and Crown were the development of the university and the technological advances, but very little of the plot was devoted to these matters.
Pournelle’s character development is weak. Many of the male characters are difficult to distinguish from one another. The two females are shallow, jealous and catty. I don’t feel like I really know any of Pournelle’s characters and I don’t particularly like any of them. When they die, I don’t care. This is the main reason I can’t rate these books higher. I wanted to fall in love with Pournelle’s characters, but that was impossible for me.
Near the end of Clan and Crown, Pournelle gives his cast a huge problem to solve. I was suddenly interested in how they would do it, but then Pournelle took the easy way out and killed somebody off. I was annoyed at this — not that the character died (I didn’t care), but that it solved the problem too easily. However, I will say, for those who read Clan and Crown and are as annoyed as I was, that the easy solution has major consequences for the plot in the next book, Storms of Victory.
I continue to listen to Keith Szarabajka narrate Blackstone Audio’s version of the JANISSARIES series. This installment is 11.5 hours long. Szarabajka has a deep rich voice and doesn’t manage to sound much like a woman, but I didn’t mind.
Janissaries — (1979-1996) With Roland J. Green. Publisher: Some days it just didn’t pay to be a soldier. Captain Rick Galloway and his men had been talked into volunteering for a dangerous mission -only to be ruthlessly abandoned when faceless CIA higher-ups pulled the plug on the operation. They were cut off in hostile territory, with local troops and their Cuban “advisors” rapidly closing in. And then the alien spaceship landed…