Thursday, 26 July 2012

Three Paperbacks III

I now understand why the blurb of Poul Anderson's New America (TOR, New York, 1982) wrongly described the Rustumite colonists as "Jeffersonians" although their self-description, fully explained in the previous volume, Orbit Unlimited, is "Constitutionalists."

First, although the term "Constitutionalist" is present, it is not used a lot in the second volume. Secondly, the Rustumites have convened a Constitutional Convention to devise a libertarian government now that their population has grown enough to need more than a mayor and a council in a single town. We are not told the outcome of the Convention because the story is about a more urgent matter that must be settled first.

However, while preparing to participate in the Convention, Dan Coffin reads the Federalist Papers and thinks of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison. A group of extrasolar colonists in James Blish's future history are called "Hamiltonians" and someone reading or browsing through New America must have thought that the Rustumites were "Jeffersonians" if not, indeed, "Washingtonians."

Of the four Dan Coffin/Rustum stories collected in New America, the third, "A Fair Exchange," is an extended discussion of economics while the fourth, "To Promote the General Welfare," is a discussion of both economics and politics. We read conversations in "A Fair Exchange" and speeches in "To Promote the General Welfare." Does this spoil them as stories? On the contrary, Anderson addresses basic issues while considering both the future of Earth and the idea of a new colony. We see Rustumite issues grow from physical survival to social well being. On a personal level, we see a bullied and frightened schoolboy grow into an old, respected, influential public figure and we see his large lowland dwelling, empty and haunted after his wife's death, filled again with younger members of his family. There is a sense of completion.

Between "To Promote the General Welfare" and "The Queen Of Air And Darkness," is this curious italicized passage:

"Publisher's Note:

"Here ends the story of High America. But other worlds than Rustum were to receive the seed of Earth. Each responded in its own way to the men and women who had fled their own ruined planet..." (p. 158)

Even odder, after the last story:

"And so end these chronicles of the folk who took the long road to the stars. And long it is, not at all like those here, nor the highways of other fictional universes. It is unlike them in another way, too. It is a road that is always open. It is real..." (p. 260) 

Who wrote these passages, Anderson or a TOR editor? The passage on p. 158 could be part of the fiction whereas the passage on p. 260 stands back from the fiction and refers to the possibility of a real interstellar voyage as discussed in the concluding article. The passages seem to be a rather contrived attempt to make a unity out of four Rustum stories, two non-Rustum stories and one piece of non-fiction?

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