Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Gearch

"In The Shadow" is the odd story out in Poul Anderson's The Queen Of Air And Darkness and other stories (London, 1977) both because it is not about interstellar travel and because its future politics are unique to it. Earth, or perhaps the entire Solar System, is ruled by a "Gearch" called Huang III (p. 91).

It seems that Huang's rule is hereditary, Oriental and despotic. He denies a Petition of Rights, thus causing riots which become an insurrection, suppresses the latter but then maintains control with measures like:

pardoning most insurgents;
making some reforms;
providing Government care for a dead insurrectionary leader's children;
giving the dead man's son, Karl, a good education as an astronaut;
sending Karl on a deep space mission that will both earn his gratitude and keep him out of the way for a while.

I was pronouncing "Gearch" with a hard "G" and to rhyme with "arch," thus "Ghee-arch." However, on page 101, Karl Rouvaratz refers disrespectfully to "...the Gearchy..." Clearly, then, "Gearch" is a contraction of "Geo-arch," meaning "ruler of the Earth." Even in this odd term, we see Anderson thinking carefully about the details of an imagined future society.

The Gearch's schemes backfire. By discovering and communicating with the scientifically advanced inhabitants of a shadow planet passing through the Solar System, Rouvaratz and his colleagues become able to transmit to Earth information that will cause a scientific and philosophical revolution among the technician class on which the Gearchy depends, thus also causing a social revolution. Thus, what starts as a quaint-sounding phrase, "...the Gearch was Huang III...," becomes a way to make a point about power relationships within society and about mechanisms of social change.

Rouvaratz, staying in the Outer System to communicate with the aliens, "...locked in metal for the rest of your life...," is free because:

"I'm my own man now." (p. 111)

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