Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Historical Dramas III

In Poul Anderson's Orbit Unlimited:

Torvald Anker founds the Constitutionalist philosophy;
the younger Laird leads the movement without meeting Anker;
Laird disappears, Governmental assassination suspected;
surprise ending - a Government Commissioner had for devious reasons paid an actor to play Laird, then retire with a new face and name.

So Laird is a historical figure who could be enacted in films but he himself was a role played by an actor on the stage of history and no one will ever know. Is that possible? Could it even have happened somewhere, some time? (I don't think so.)

As part of his deception, Commissioner Svoboda manufactures a long standing hostility between himself and his own son but thus manoeuvres the son and his family to a happy ending. Could anyone really do this? Why not just openly cooperate with and help the son?

Sometimes we remember an idea from an sf story without remembering either title or author. CS Lewis even had to make some acknowledgements on this basis. I read a novel in which a time traveller had, for some reason, paid an unemployed actor to play the role of Mycroft Holmes for the couple of times Mycroft appears in the Holmes Canon. Imagine returning home to the future to read or reread Doyle knowing that you had paid a guy to speak Mycroft's lines.

Poul Anderson's Time Patrolmen rub shoulders with Holmes and Watson. Thus, the timeline protected by the Patrol is not ours. The Time Patrol series and the Holmes Canon, fictions here, are true accounts there.

My American correspondent, Sean M Brooks, reminded me that another sf novel, Double Star by Robert Heinlein, has an idea similar to that in Orbit Unlimited. There is a real politician but he is kidnapped. To prevent a diplomatic embarrassment, his supporters persuade an actor to impersonate him. (During a private audience with the Emperor, the actor is asked, "Who are you, by the way? You have obviously not come here to assassinate me..." Told the truth, the Emperor remains silent.) The politician is rescued but dies and the actor continues in the role... He has effectively changed his identity. (I have known people who have changed their identities but not on that scale.)

Double Star has the plot of The Prisoner Of Zenda by Anthony Hope with three differences. Zenda:

is not sf;
has an additional romantic element - the impersonator would like to stay with the impersonated Prince's wife;
has the other possible ending - the kidnapped Prince is rescued, does not die and resumes his throne.

In a story within the story of The Eighty Minute Hour by Brian Aldiss, a British agent and Old Etonian plays the role of Tito. I have confirmed this memory on the Internet but have not yet found the reference by browsing through the novel. That is where my knowledge of this curious speculation rests at present. Might some of our public figures be professional actors? - or should I rephrase that question?


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

The reason why Jan Svoboda did not "openly" cooperate with his father Commissioner Svoboda
was because Jan was convinced the Commissioner had Laird assassinated. The Commissioner then used his son's mistaken belief to assist his scheming and maneuvering to bring on a deadly crisis between the Constitutionalists and the World Federation. To bring about Svoboda's goal of a colony being founded at another star if a reasonably terrestroid planet was discovered.


Paul Shackley said...

I understand why Jan didn't cooperate with his father but the father was playing a very devious game, even letting his son think that he, Svoboda Senior, was guilty of murder. I am not sure that such deviousness works in practice and would question its value anyway if it has to involve such a breach between father and son.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I agree, Svoboda paid a very high price to bring about the colonization of another planet--in being estranged from his son. I can only think Svoboda decided the ends he desired--founding a new colony and havinag his family included among those colonists--made the price worthwhile.

And I think the kind of intrigue and maneuvering we saw Svoboda doing is at least possible in real life politics.