Friday, 20 April 2012

League and After, Empire and After

To those who have read Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, imagine a new Complete Edition structured as follows:

Volume I, an introductory collection of nine stories from "The Saturn Game" in the twenty first century to "A Little Knowledge" in the twenty fifth century, with intermediate stories introducing Ythrians, van Rijn, Adzel and Falkayn, who will re-appear in later Volumes;
II, a Star Trader (van Rijn) omnibus, starting with The Man Who Counts;
III, a Trader Team (Falkayn etc) omnibus, ending with Mirkheim;
IV, an Avalon and Empire collection, ending with The People of the Wind;
V, a Flandry and Empire I omnibus, ending with The Day of Their Return;
VI, Flandry and Empire II collecting all seven shorter works about Dominic Flandry;
VII, Flandry and Empire III,
ending with The Game of Empire;
The Long Night, including The Night Face.

Of these eight proposed volumes, three would each include one novel plus shorter works. Another three would include two, three and four novels respectively. Thus, the entire series comprises twelve novels plus thirty one shorter works, my point being that the Technic History is long and substantial. In this respect at least, it surpasses Robert Heinlein's original Future History which comprises two novels and twenty three shorter works. The Technic History also covers more space and time than the Future History. Heinlein's characters take four stories to get off the Earth and four volumes to get out of the Solar System whereas Anderson's characters start in the Saturnian system and are well outside the Solar System in their second story. In very general terms, the two Histories follow a common pattern of economic expansion followed by political collapse and dictatorship but later progress towards a stabler culture.

The first four Volumes of the proposed Complete Edition correspond to the expanded Earth Book of Stormgate (See here). Unfortunately, Anderson did not devise any corresponding narrative framework for the later Imperial period or its aftermath. The Technic History can be described as "League and after, Empire and after." We can add "Commonalty" but this third form of interstellar organization appears only once in the concluding story and we do not see its aftermath.

  I hope that by the twenty ninth century, humanity will have transcended imperialism but Anderson helps us to appreciate human, and vividly imagined alien, life whatever its social structures.

"Where the mighty Sagittarius flows into the Gulf of Centaurs, Avalon's second city - the only one besides Gray which rated the name - had arisen as riverport, seaport, spaceport, industrial center, and mart. Thus, Centauri was predominantly a human town, akin to many in the Empire, thronged, bustling, noisy, cheerfully corrupt, occasionally dangerous. When he went there, Arinnian most of the time had to be Christopher Holm, in behaviour as well as name." (1)

(Holm is human but has joined an Ythrian choth where his name is Arinnian.)

Two centuries later, on another planet:

"Life spilled from narrow streets and surged between the walls enclosing the plaza..." (2)

Flandry's daughter sees shops and booths selling, among many other exotic items, "...miniature computers of the inner Empire..." and illegal blasters "...doubtless found in wrecked spacecraft after the Merseian onslaught was beaten back." (2)

Life remains vivid and colourful despite the persistence of military conflict.

(1) Anderson, Poul. The People of the Wind, London, 1977, p. 57.
(2) Anderson, Poul. The Game of Empire, New York, 1985, p. 3.

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