Friday, 22 June 2012

An Elder Race?

In "A Missing Ancient Race" (April, 2012), I argued that, although some works of sf show an elder race guiding lesser beings, Poul Anderson's Technic History more subtly and plausibly shows human and other beings believing that the Elders exist but never managing to prove this. Several volumes after The Day Of Their Return, a novel in which mere belief in the Elders had almost launched a jihad, a Jerusalem Catholic priest is just beginning to search among prehistoric ruins for evidence of a non-human Incarnation. He has all too credibly put a Christian spin on the Elders idea but we do not see him making any progress in his research, even though Admiral Dominic Flandry has generously offered to fund it.

However, Anderson tended to explore every possibility. In one short story, he even posited the occurrence of a genuinely Biblical miracle, the Sun standing still in response to prayers, in order to examine how people might respond to such an event. Instead of heeding the man who started the prayer campaign or just accepting that he knows no more than them, they would try to influence him to support their projects. In The Avatar, Anderson does assume the existence of a technologically and spiritually superior race but, instead of guiding humanity, the Others, as they are referred to here, let us use their T machines for cosmic travel but otherwise keep themselves hidden and leave humanity to its own affairs.

An Andersonian entrepreneur type character, Dan Brodersen, obliged like everyone else to accept tangible evidence for a superior race, reasons cogently about them:

if they were evil, they would have destroyed or domesticated us by now;
a race capable of building T machines is unlikely to have allowed itself to become extinct;
with that kind of technology, they will have made themselves better beings if evolution has not already done this for them;
why should they collectively move on to another universe when this one can be studied and enjoyed for as long as it exists?

It follows, from the evidence available to the characters and from Broderson's reasoning, that a race of technologically and morally superior beings exists in this universe but Broderson does not place any religious faith in them. He simply continues to conduct his business as the richest man on the colony planet Demeter while supporting cosmic exploration via T machines, exploration that will bring humanity into contact with other races, possibly eventually to include the Others.

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