Monday, 23 July 2012

Svoboda

In an earlier post, "Orbit Unlimited," I summarized as much fictitious sociological information as possible in a few sentences in order to convey how much of such information Poul Anderson imparts in a few pages, in this case in the first nine pages of Orbit Unlimited. I omitted personal information on the viewpoint character Svoboda although this is also socially significant.

Sold young to a Brotherhood thiefmaster but wounded at twelve by a guard's explosive slug, Svoboda, re-apprenticed to a fence,  learned to read and write, thus starting his ascent from Lowlevel to the Guardian Commission. His estimated age of sixty is ancient for Lowlevel but middle-aged for an upper-level Citizen or a Guardian. He has read Alice In Wonderland but knows that this is uncommon. Breaking out of the dead end Astronautical Department where his superiors had hoped to contain him, he has become Commissioner of Psychologics and now proposes to undermine Constitutionalism because that movement threatens radical social change.

A character with whom Anderson wanted us to sympathize fully would have stayed with Astronautics, turned it out of its dead end and encouraged gradual social change with the help of the Constitutionalists. Svoboda has the redeeming feature of a sense of humor. He is powerful, confident of his ability to break a fellow Commissioner, and able to influence the Premier.

What Anderson plausibly conveys here, as in the first Kith story and in Mirkheim, is conflict between socioeconomic classes in an imagined future society that is strongly grounded in knowledge of past societies.

Addendum, 23/7/12: By the end of Part One, it turns out that Svoboda, like an Asimovian psychohistorian, has manipulated a lot of people towards a satisfactory Andersonian conclusion. He will be dead soon but his son will go to Rustum. The idea that it would be possible to manipulate history by hiring an actor to play the role of the leader of a movement, then retire him while leaving open the possibility that he had been murdered is pretty amazing.

14 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    I think it's worth stressing that Svoboda did not stay with the Astronautics Department of the Federation in ORBIT UNLIMITED was due to the space effort being moribund or dying in his time. And that in turn was because the society dominant at that time was also dying. Which means there was no real long term hope for his descendants.

    Instead, Svoboda sought a really powerful department such as Psychologics because he wanted to scheme and maneuver in such a way that at least one colony off Earth at another star would be founded if a not too impossible to settle planet was found. And Svoboda managed matters in such a way that his son and grand children would be among those colonists.

    Which means Svoboda had three ideas motivating his career in the Guardian Corps: the current civliation on Earth was dying and was likely to either violently collapse or at best enter a long period of oppressive stagnation. Secondly, Svoboda wanted to increase the options for the human race by having a colony founded at another star. Thirdly, he wanted his family taking part in that colony.

    Sean

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  2. Yes. I find it a bit implausible that he could be so successfully manipulative, even hiring an actor to play the role of the leader of a movement! Has anything like that ever been done in real history? That revelation comes a bit like a deus ex machina at the end of the story.

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  3. I might need a break from rereading Anderson! (But I am finishing ORBIT UNLIMITED.)

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  4. Hi, Paul!

    No, I can't think of anyone in real life who was hired or cajoled into playing the role of front man for a political movement. Naturally, of course, we would not be supposed to know this or that politician was merely playing a role!

    But, I did think Poul Anderson made such a scenario seem to be at least plausible. And I was reminded of how Robert Heinlein had an actor agreeing to front for a politician who had been injured by his enemies in DOUBLE STAR. And then permanently taking over that role when the politician died.

    Considering how many of Anderson's books you've been rereading this year, I can certainly see why you need a break! I can think of other writers you might try out. Some being Avram Davidson, Cordwainer Smith, S.M. Stirling.

    Sean

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  5. DOUBLE STAR! Good comparison. I want to get back to some graphic novels: visual, not just verbal - midway between prose and film.

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  6. Hi, Paul!

    And of course DOUBLE STAR was written when Heinlein was still writing good books. Not the awful stuff we started seeing with STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. What a sad decline we saw in this once great writer.

    Sean

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  7. Imagine if that had happened to Anderson? (He wouldn't have let it happen.)

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  8. Hi, Paul!

    I'm simply grateful that even in his weak or weaker books, Poul Anderson always remained resolutely competent and readable. And I can only think of a mere two of his books which may be "weak": THE AVATAR and THE WAR OF THE GODS. And, as I've already said, even those were at least READABLE. By contrast, it was a grim struggle for me to read Heinlein's I WILL FEAR NO EVIL. The book had an interesting premise spoiled by Heinlein's increasing obsession with sex.

    Sean

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  9. But I think those 2 by PA are good! I summarised the T machine jumps of THE AVATAR because they are fascinating. RH's obsession with sex became truly offensive. Editors and publishers should never have allowed those books into print.

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  10. Hi, Paul!

    Oh, I agree, the SCIENTIFIC aspects of THE AVATAR were very interesting. I was not objecting to those. Guess I need to reread THE WAR OF THE GODS again. I remember thinking, after reading it the first time, that it was too derivative of Anderson's earlier works using Norse mythology (such as HROLF KRAKI'S SAGA).

    But, as I've said, even Anderson's "weaker" books were far more interesting and readable than Heinlein's later works.

    Poor Heinlein! His obsession with sex in his later works made them not merely offensive, but out and out pornographic. I agree, his editors and publishers should have rejected them. And they would have been doing RAH a favor!

    Sean

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  11. I wouldn't even call it pornography. I can't imagine anyone being stimulated by it.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      But that's exactly what pornography is, BORING. I was reminded of this text from Chapter III of A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS: "... Garb was continuous from neck or midbreast to soles, and while many men wore robes rather than trousers, every woman was in a skirt." This caused Flandry to think: "A reform I approve of," he thought, "I suspect most ladies agree. The suggestive rustle of skillfully draped fabric is much more stimulating, really, and easier to arrange, than cosmetics and diadems on otherwise bare areas of interst."

      Sean

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    2. You can't imagine anyone being stimulated by Heinlein's I WILL FEAR NO EVIL? I read it as thirteen year old boy. It may not speak very well of me, but I was stimulated.

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  12. Nd, ok. Thanks for sharing that!

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