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Oath of Fealty Analysis

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Both Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle are science-oriented writers. The near-future setting of this novel allows them to extrapolate a believable future city (the arcology) with customs and mores based in the technology of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. From bungee jumping and hang gliding to a city-run day care center, a cooperative food delivery system, and remote work sites run by computer, Niven and Pournelle describe a futuristic city with a modern operational feudal government that works for its citizens.

This novel works surprisingly well in depicting Todos Santos as a realistic utopia while pointing out that the reason for the arcology’s success is its ability to exploit the surrounding city of Los Angeles, creating a technocratic, economic elite. The technocracy’s solution to outsiders’ attacks on its integrity not only is viable but also allows Todos Santos to maintain its independence without becoming completely isolationist. Niven and Pournelle carefully worked out the social, political, economic, and logistical aspects of this separate city-state. Engineer Tony Rand expresses the combined authorial presence when he describes the arcology as an exercise in creating a successful generational spaceship. The interdependence between the city of Los Angeles and the arcology of Todos Santos also portrays the type of interdependence and the technocracy that would likely develop in a viable, reasonably independent satellite colony.

One interesting science-fiction element is the brain implants of two of the main characters, Bonner and Churchward. These implants allow the characters to talk to the main computer system from anywhere in or linked to the arcology and allow the two Todos managers instantaneous communication with each other on a sub-audio level. This is a unique advantage to them in managing the city. Many other science-fiction stories using this type of communication link portray the characters using it as evil rather than self-interested but beneficent.

Oath of Fealty is a short, action-packed novel, and as such it is a fine example of the joint work of Niven and Pournelle. In many ways their combined authorial voice takes advantage of the strong scientific background and best writing styles of both of these authors.