Monday, 26 August 2013

When Half-Gods Go

(OK. Five more posts have been written so they are being added now.)

With the word "Gods" in its title, "When Half-Gods Go" has some claim to be the title story of Poul Anderson's collection, The Gods Laughed (New York, 1982). This is yet another Galactic Federation story, although here it is called the Galactic Union.

The story asks a serious question: how to convince disillusioned populations and suspicious governments of the validity of superior technology and psychic powers when all their experience to date predisposes them to perceive any prima facie evidence, however overwhelming, as just clever fakery or a good show?

Essentially the same question is raised by Isaac Asimov's "Belief," where a scientist needs colleagues to help him to understand his sudden inexplicable power of levitation but no one accepts it because they are convinced, or at least afraid, that, as soon as they have published their acceptance of the phenomenon, they will be shown to have been taken in by a clever hoax. That story ends not with an explanation of the levitation but with the beginning of serious joint research to find an explanation.

In "When Half-Gods Go," might the alleged Galactic emissaries be terrestrial mutants?

In this short work, we recognize many elements from other stories:

very humanoid aliens because of parallel evolution on Earth-like planets;
aliens who are adepts both in telepathy and in interstellar teleportation;
a need to equalize gravitational potentials;
nervous systems controlling matter and energy by triggering cosmic-force flows;
something unique in human psychology (in this case, the suspicion);
no economic motive for interstellar imperialism, especially not in a civilization based on individual development;
many advantages and no disadvantages of Union membership;
total disarmament required of member planets (but they can do it gradually);
a clever solution to the problem - in this case, although the Galactics no longer use spaceships, they can quickly mass produce a fleet and arrive in it because that is more credible.

Another strange character is the British anthropologist, Foxxe, who speaks like this:

"Rum go...I shall never understand you Americans." (p. 58)


  1. Hi, Paul!

    Mightn't "rum go" be archaic slang no longer spoken in the UK? I remember, in one of Dorothy L. Sayers myteries about Peter Wimsey one character said to a friend "He thought you a tart." At the time, I had not known "tart" meant prositute. That too might now be archaic.


  2. Sean,
    Oh yes, "Rum" is archaic and I have heard it in the past. It is a bit stereotypical to introduce a character and have him speaking like that straight off, though.
    "Tart" is still in use.

  3. Hi, Paul!

    Well, Poul Anderson wanted to suggest that one of the characters in "Where Half Gods Go" was British, so I thought it made sense, even if stereotypical, to have that character use UK slang. Interesting that "tart" is still used to mean "prostitute." An example of a fairly long lasting bit of slang.


  4. Hi, Paul!

    Drat! I should have said "WHEN Half Gods Go."