Thursday, 22 August 2013


Poul Anderson's "Backwardness" (Kinship With The Stars, New York, 1991) identifies itself as science fiction at the very end of its first paragraph by informing us that a con man spends his spoils not only in Florida but also in Greenland Resort or even further away in Luna City. The name "Luna City" takes the reader right back to Robert Heinlein's Future History.

What happens next? The Galactics have arrived and are negotiating with the UN. Not the same "Galactics" as in Anderson's "Details" but another fictitious humanoid race that has faster than light travel and that comes to us before we have gone to them.

In fact, this is another "Galactic Federation" story. As I said when discussing Anderson's "Peek! I See You!," the Galactic Federation is not a single sf series but a kind of premise for disparate stories: there is a Federation out there but the details like how to join are for each writer to devise. "Backwardness" exists because Anderson has, in his own words, thought of another twist to a cliche. The clue is in the title. Who is backward? Us or a million year old civilization with interstellar travel?

Some freak of mutation gave Earthmen an average IQ higher than they needed for survival. Given enough time, the Galactics, with their lower average IQ, discovered enough physics to give them military and interstellar technology but they are only a short way ahead of Earth in those respects and behind in every other way so who is going to wind up running the Federation?

Human superiority was a feature of Campbell-influenced sf but Anderson, covering every possibility, also has stories in which aliens are superior. In fact, I remember a story that was the obverse of "Backwardness," in which an alien race was more intelligent. That story is probably in the collection The Gods Laughed and I will come across it when rereading.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

"Backwardness" is one story which doesn't seem to ring any bells in my memory. Not sure if I ever read it. And, I agree, Anderson liked playing with almost any scenario: such as human or non human superiority.