Monday, 26 August 2013

Soldier From The Stars

The basic plot of Poul Anderson's "Soldier From the Stars" (The Gods Laughed, New York, 1982) is easy to remember: extra-solar but humanoid aliens sell their military services to the highest bidder among Terrestrial governments and thus come to rule Earth economically. But it is worthwhile to reread the story to appreciate the details.

The Thashtivarians have force screens for defense, invisibility and telepathy for espionage and superior weaponry for combat. Their general, Taruz of Thashtivar, negotiates not from orbit as I had thought but on a neutral Portugese island. He is asked why he seeks bids from individual governments instead of dealing with the UN but he knows exactly what he is doing and obviously had excellent military intelligence about Earth before his arrival.

It would seem to be an easy matter for the governments either to refuse to deal with him except through the UN or even to refuse to deal with him but he knows that they will accept his ultimatum - if you do not buy my services, then someone else will:

"'...Taruz is no more than the world had coming. A united world could have laughed at him. A peaceful world would never have hired him.'" (p. 266)

On the Portugese island, governments outbid each other until it seems that the winner will have to use Thashtivarian services to loot the world in order to pay the Thashtivarians. The US wins against the USSR only by bidding jointly with the British Commonwealth and other powers. Consequently, the USSR makes a nuclear strike against the US immediately, before any force screens are in place. Taruz will act only when he has been given a check for the first payment and when economic measures have been implemented to ensure that the check retains its full value.

Although Thashtivarian superiority ensures victory, the smallness of their forces and the enormity of the conflict ensure that there is considerable suffering and economic hardship.

It was thought initially that Taruz would buy portable wealth to sell at home but instead he invests in American industry. This is regarded as a good thing: the wealth is staying here. But now the US, the sole world power, is controlled economically and financially by the new Thashtivarian elite who do not impose an ideology but merely enjoy their wealth and property while, of course, funding US Presidents:

"'General Motors or General Taruz - does it matter who owns title to the machines?...It's not you or me or Joe Smith in any case.'" (pp. 257-258)

The concluding prospect is that, over several generations, the new elite will be culturally assimilated or will decay and be overthrown. Anderson's commentator character gives historical examples: Normans and Hyksos. He also quotes four words of Latin: "'Si monumentum requiris, circumspice!'" (p. 267) ("If you are looking for an example, look around you!")

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