Last night, I finished reading the last novel by the late Jerry Pournelle I will ever read.

For me, who has been a Pournelle fan for almost half a century, it was a sad moment. In my last review, of Starborn and Godsons, I reviewed Pournelle’s literary career, so I won’t repeat it. It is extraordinary.

But this final novel, Mamelukes, has a special place in my heart. It is a story for which I have been waiting for 33 years. No fooling.

Sometime in the late 1970s, the late Jim Baen challenged Pournelle, who had just finished a review of the subject of Unidentified Flying Objects and concluded, in a column, that there really might be something to it, to write a story that explained why aliens might be visiting the Earth covertly, rather than announcing themselves. Pournelle accepted the challenge.

The result was Janissaries. I saw the novel on display in a B. Dalton in the summer of 1979, and, already a Pournelle fan of his blockbuster novels co-written with Larry Niven, bought it without hesitation. It turned out to be better than I anticipated.

The story of a group of U.S. Army soldiers, sent with plausible deniability by the CIA to combat Cuban mercenaries in an un-named African nation, surrounded and doomed, but whisked away by a flying saucer, was fascinating all by itself. But that was only the beginning. It turned out that the “rescued” troops were to be taken to the planet Tran with instructions to secure a suitable area for the growing of a crop of plants that produced recreational drugs for an alien species, but which grew well only every 600 years.

And there was more. Tran was inhabited by humans who had been brought to Tran, with enough terrestrial flora and fauna to enable them to survive, millennia ago, all for the purpose of growing the drug-producing crops, by a member species of a decadent and stagnant galactic confederation that kidnapped other humans, too, to make them into slave-soldiers and civil servants to administer their confederacy (“Janissaries”, as in the Ottoman Empire). Tran was their illicit secret, inhabited by a bewildering assortment of Achaeans, Romans, Scythians, and Celts, and others, brought to the planet by the aliens.

The technology and culture was roughly 14th or 15th Century. They were primitive, but there were only 30 soldiers dumped in their midst to secure the crops and hence the drugs. But there was more.

Add to all that a female protagonist who was impregnated and dumped on Tran, with the soldiers by the spaceship’s pilot, a beautiful and abused contessa in distress, a mutiny among the soldiers brought to Tran, and ecological upheaval brought about by climatic changes that occur every 600 year, coinciding with the growing cycle of the drug crop. Then throw in Rick Galloway, a ROTC officer victimized by the mutiny, plagued with self-doubts but determined to survive, and head over heels in love with the young countess, who is, along with the California girl stranded on Tran, a complex character in her own right.

Who could resist it, at age 29 as I was at the time – or age 69, as I am now? Clan and Crown (now retitled Tran), and co-written with Roland Green, followed in 1982. It was just as good as the first novel. Storms of Victory, also co-written with Green and now re-titled Lord of Janissaries, was not quite as good, but carried the story forward in important ways.

Then nothing. But several years ago, Pournelle announce on his blog that he was working on a fourth volume. Declining health kept him from finishing; but he left extensive notes, and his son Phillip and well-known novelist David Weber completed the book. Their efforts were credible indeed. It is impossible to tell where Dr. Pournelle left off and his successors took up.

I won’t include any spoilers here. But Galloway’s reconciliation with his estranged wife, the spectacular Tylara, the addition of new arrivals from Earth on Tran, the dynastic issues in nations with which Galloway has become allied, and the continuing Galactic Confederation intrigue combine with non-stop action to make Mamelukes a fitting conclusion to the series.

Or is it? There are still loose ends. What about the San Francisco policewoman brought to Tran with other new arrivals, who appears and then fades from the story? What about the continuing conflict among the dynasties on Tran that remain un-resolved, and the rumors of wild nomads beyond the known borders of the parts of Tran we know? What’s going to happen with the Galactics?

We know that Weber has long been a Janissaries fan. We know he can write in this genre. We know the Pournelle Estate is interested in perpetuating the legacy. We can hope there is more to come.

And, at the same time, with the Department of the Defense and the United States Navy now admitting there are aircraft in the skies that do not appear to be of terrestrial origin, one has to wonder….Could Jerry Pournelle’s hypothesis be, just maybe, in some part… true?