Friday, 2 August 2013

Galactics And Time Patrolmen

The Galactics in Poul Anderson's "Details," like the Time Patrolmen in the same author's Time Patrol series, operate with an import firm as their front organization in London at the turn of the twentieth century. However, the Galactics direct history whereas the Patrolmen merely protect it.

Imagine if two such organizations co-existed - extra-galactic space travelers and futurian time travelers do meet in the past of Earth in Julian May's Pliocene Exiles Tetralogy.

Anderson's Galactics and Time Patrol have opposed aims. However, although the Galactics try to direct human history toward peaceful, stable, international relations, events unfold as we know they did:

there is an unfortunate incident at Sarajevo;
Ulyanov gets into Russia;
Hitler comes to power in Germany...

This, despite all its horrors, is the history protected by the Patrol. Thus, if the Galactics and the Patrol did occupy the same timeline, then the Galactics' unsuccessful attempts would have to be guarded by the Patrol, even if Patrolmen remained unaware of the Galactic presence, whereas, if the Galactics learned of the Patrol, then they would have to oppose it. Could two such organizations conceal their existence so effectively that neither knew of the other? And, if so, then how many secret operators might there be? How complicated can history and reality get?

We do know that there are levels of reality that were unknown in the past and that other levels almost certainly will be discovered in future. This opens at least the possibility of non-human intelligences (supernatural, extraterrestrial, extra-temporal) operating among us now without our knowledge.

Time Patrolmen, with access to future medicine, live indefinitely prolonged lives so that they can spend years or decades in other periods yet return to their present apparently unaged. Similarly, the Galactics, although basically human, survive for millennia presumably thanks to their medical technology although this is not made explicit. They use their lifespans to guide primitive planet after primitive planet.

In an alternative history novel by Michael Moorcock, an old revolutionary called Ulyanov wonders at what point during his career he missed his opportunity. The first time I read Moorcock's book, I did not know by what name Ulyanov was known in our history. Anderson's Galactics arrange for Ulyanov to be smuggled into Russia in a sealed train, hoping that the revolutionary will pull Russia out of the War but not realizing what will happen next. In case Anderson's readers do not get it, he tells us that:

"[Ulyanov's] Party name was Lenin." (Seven Conquests, New York, 1984, p. 158)

Similarly, two Galactics unsuspectingly make a date for the evening of Thursday, October 24, 1929.

By the end of the story, the Galactics have not saved us from ourselves. Anderson's message is clear: it is down to us.

Addendum: A Galactic speaks disparagingly of Kaiser Wilhelm. I am no defender of Kaiser Wilhelm but I would not expect a Galactic's perspective to be identical with that of the author or his readers.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    Interesting, this speculation by you that the Galactics of "Details" and Anderson's Time Patrol might have shared the same universe or timeline. It does make me wonder how that could happen without one or both of them eventually finding out about the other. Since both organizations tried to remain inconspicuous, they might never have known of each other's existence.

    Your comments does opens up many lines of speculation. The Time Patrol's Prime Directive was to preserve history as unaltered as possible, even if that meant tolerating the rise to power of monsters like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. The efforts of the Galactics to prevent such tyrants from coming to power actually ENABLED their rise, which was sadly ironic.

    Kinda makes me think one of the points Anderson was making in "Details" was that dogooding efforts to "guide" mankind to a "better" society are all too likely to backfire and bring about something far worse.

    Since I'm a Burkean conservative, I agree with that conclusion. REAL reform has to be gradual, cautious, piecemeal, etc., for it to have a chance to succeed. REAL reform takes into account our corrupt and fallible human nature, etc.


  2. Hi, Paul!

    Whatever the faults of Kaiser Wilhelm, ingratitude was not one of them. I recall reading of how, despite heavy pressure from the Entente victors, the Dutch refused to drive out a man who had begged refuge with them after WW I. Wilhelm II did not forget this and during the last year of his life, during the German occupation of the Netherlands during WW II, he did what he could to lessen the harshness of the occupation.