Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Know Your Enemy IV

"[Garver] was not a cruel man." (Poul Anderson, Satan's World, New York, 1977, p. 79)

Who tells us this? Is the proposition that Garver is not cruel communicated directly to the reader by that omniscient narrator who can also tell us what occurs unobserved elsewhere in the galaxy or does he instead inform us of Garver's own self-perception? This matters. If the narrator speaks from his own omniscience, then his statement is true within the fiction whereas Garver's self-perception could be self-deception.

In fact, it has to be the latter because the proposition that he is not cruel is clearly untrue. He tortures a prisoner - and morally blames the prisoner for it. If this is not cruelty, then it will do until the real cruelty comes along!

There are always important issues underlying Anderson's fictions. A South American general interviewed on British television seemed to think that, in a civil war, the torture and murder of prisoners was only to be expected and fully acceptable. It is to be hoped that anyone wearing a military uniform understands that, whatever the nature of the conflict, there are laws and conventions governing the treatment of prisoners. I would assure the general that, if he became my prisoner, then he would not be tortured.

An unlikely scenario but who can tell what will happen to any of us in the future? Reading science fiction might help to prepare us for almost any scenario. According to Sandra Miesel's Chronology of Technic Civilization, the twenty-first century will include "...a violent period of global unrest known as the Chaos." (IN Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 795)

We would like to read some stories set during the Chaos but, instead, we might live through it.

1 comment:

  1. "In fact, it has to be the latter because the proposition that he is not cruel is clearly untrue. He tortures a prisoner - and morally blames the prisoner for it. If this is not cruelty, then it will do until the real cruelty comes along!"

    I don't approve of Garver's behavior either, but it doesn't really make him a cruel man. He probably doesn't go to bear-baitings, or pull the wings off flies. He and his men interrogate Adzel for information, not sheer cruelty, and as he would see it, he's investigating murder and other crimes, trying to give justice to the victims, and establish that not even a merchant prince is above Commonwealth law. That isn't an unreasonable position, even if Anderson had greater sympathy with the other side.

    Regards, Nicholas

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