Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Mirkheim, Prologue, Y minus 9

Poul Anderson's Mirkheim (London, 1978) has an elaborate Prologue with nine subsections:

Y minus 500,000;
Y minus 28;
Y minus 24;
Y minus 18;
Y minus 12;
Y minus 9;
Y minus 7;
Y minus 5;
Y minus 1.

I have focused on Y minus 9 because I had been seeking out information on Nicholas van Rijn's adversary, Edward Garver. Sure enough, Garver is here. Now Lunograd delegate to the Parliament of the Solar Commonwealth, he introduces a bill to give trade unions control of the pension funds of employees who are Commonwealth citizens. The Polesotechnic League is split because the Home Companies will cooperate with the Garver Bill whereas the Seven in Space are indifferent and independents like van Rijn's Solar Spice & Liquors Company (relevant union: United Technicians, no longer the Federated Brotherhood of Spacefarers), which operate outside the Solar System but have markets mainly within the Commonwealth, will be adversely affected, at least according to van Rijn.

No doubt, as in real life, which Anderson faithfully mirrors, there will be disagreements even among the independents and there will also be union members disagreeing with their bureaucrats. Even the detail of a change of the relevant union between the first van Rijn story, "Margin of Profit," and this last work featuring van Rijn is authentic. In Britain during my working life, unions have merged and changed their names out of all recognition with an emphasis on the theme of uniting. There is even one called Unison, a merger of three, and another called Unite, a merger of I don't know how many. So I am unsurprised that van Rijn's Spacefarers have, maybe, merged with other employees under the more general job title of (United) Technicians.

But Y minus 9 is a superb Prologue subsection even apart from its new information about Garver and divisions within the League. Anderson is writing the Swan Song or Sunset of the League so he shows us everything again. We see the spires and towers of Chicago Integrate from van Rijn's penthouse on the roof of the Winged Cross and the "...expanse of trollcat rug..." inside the penthouse and there is a reference to his house in Djakarta. (p. 9)

We learn that David Falkayn and Coya Conyon, van Rijn's granddaughter, have married, that David is forty-one, Coya eighteen years younger and van Rijn thirty years older. The dates in Sandra Miesel's Chronology of Technic Civilization exactly match with this. We learn how fashions change and change again:

"Coya Conyon, who proudly followed a custom growing in her generation and now called herself Coya Falkayn..." (p. 10)

And van Rijn's ringlets are in the style of three decades previously when he was Falkayn's age.

The Falkayns are about to embark on their first joint interstellar expedition. Coya has joined David's trader team. But we will not see any of their joint exploits because she stops starfaring when she has children and they have both retired by Y, the time of Chapters I-XXI.

We get the feeling of the end of an era when we are told that loyalties are becoming more personal as confidence in public institutions dwindles and that van Rijn thinks that there is no chance of heading off the Garver Bill and is too tired to try.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    And the reason why the Garver bill so alarmed and dismaybe van Rijn was because it marked the beginning of that cartelization, control of private companies by the gov't, he so detested. It was a sign of the beginning of the end of the Polesotechnic League. The Mirkheim/Baburite crisis made its downfall inevitable.


  2. Sean,
    I understand van Rijn's reason. My position, if I were there, would be different. I would want unions to have a say in the investment of the pension funds of union members but I would want union leaders to be democratically controlled by their members, not at liberty to make any deal they wanted with government. But these are the sorts of differences we would be having if we lived in the Solar Commonwealth. Anderson makes it real enough for us to imagine living inside that society.

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Now, if the managing of pension funds had been something mutually agreed on by both unions and employers, I would certainly have no objection. And I don't think even van Rijn would object. But, what alarmed him was the gov't COERCING unions and companies into such arrangements. And the fact that both other companies and union leaders found such an arrangment convenient was another bad sign.


  3. I agree. We have to ask what are the government getting out of it. The link between voters merely writing "X" beside a name every few years and government ministers making their deals with and receiving funding from big companies and union leaderships is far too tenuous to count as democratic.

  4. Hi, Paul!

    Which is why I favor, along with van Rijn (and Poul Anderson) the idea of keeping gov't as small and limited as possible. Else it becomes corrupt, despotic, and incompetent (no matter what form of gov't it is). Gov't becomes bad because human being are so prone to weakness, folly, short sightedness, malice, etc.