Friday, 6 September 2013

Assessing The Longest Voyage

In Poul Anderson's "The Longest Voyage" (Winners, New York, 1981), the Montalirian beliefs are:

the Fall of Man;
the birth of God's Daughter;
prayers addressed to her;
the authority of scripture;
polytheists looked down on as pagan or heathen.

Thus, during their thousands of years of isolation on an extra-solar planet, human beings have essentially re-invented Christianity.

Their "...ancestors...must have been fleeing the consequences of some crime or heresy, to come so far from any human domain." (p. 117)

That makes them sound like the Aenean rebels expelled by Dominic Flandry in Anderson's Technic Civilization History. However, we think that we know where those rebels wound up. Further, it seems that this story cannot belong to that series, even though Val Nira, the stranded space traveler, refers to Earth as "...Terra!" (p. 119)

In the interstellar civilization described by Val Nira:

wealth-carrying spacecraft are unarmed and unescorted because there is neither piracy nor war;
there is little crime;
the few criminals are easily apprehended, then cured of any illegal wish, thus becoming "...completely trustworthy" (p. 127);
the government, "...a devoted fellowship...chosen by examination...", seeks the common welfare (ibid.)

Is Val Nira exaggerating? Someone who was very naive might think that our present governments answer his description! The story might after all fit into the Technic History, although not into either the Solar Commonwealth or Terran Empire periods. These utopian conditions might conceivably exist in one of the spiral arms during the much later Commonalty period.

Captain Rovic does not, as I misremembered the story, commit murder. What happens is that Val Nira runs back towards his spaceship just as it explodes, thanks to Rovic detonating explosives inside it. Rovic says:

"'Someday, our descendants will build their own Ship...Meanwhile...we'll sail the seas of this earth, and walk its mountains, and chart and subdue and come to understand it...That is what the Ship would have taken from us." (p. 140)

I think that this is out of character. Rovic would not have taken it upon himself to make this decision for everyone else but would have secured the Ship for his Queen - he was circumnavigating their world to her glory. If he had then advised her to destroy the Ship, I - if I were present, of course - would have argued against it, although I consider it unlikely that he would devise such an abstruse argument in the first place. Their entire planetary population had been cut off from the human interstellar civilization for millennia. Thus, to rejoin that civilization without any delay would merely have been to regain what had been lost. Most of them would remain where they were and would still be able to explore their planet. I find it unlikely that a sea captain would place such a high value on further millennia of gradual exploration and discovery by his people's descendants.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    I remember agreeing or sympathizing with Rovic's reasons for destroying the Ship. But your counterargument makes me hesitate. At the very least, I would agree that Rovic did not have the authority to make such a crucial decision, that he should have reported this to his queen and her ministers, where the arguments pro and con destroying the Ship would be threshed out.

    I can imagine Rovic counter arguing that since he was so far that he could not report and consult with higher authorities. And therefore he had to decide on the spot. To say nothing, of course, of the difficulties arising from the Ship landing among a more primitive people who "possessed" it.

    Frankly, I'm skeptical of Val Nira's statements about his own peole. The seem implausibly utopian.

    I suppose it's possible to argue that "The Longest Voyage" could be set in the Tecnic History timeline. Eps. if we asssume a gap of thousands of years from the era of the Terran Empire to "The Longest Voyage." But, I'm skpetical. I think it's easier to assume this is an independent story Anderson wrote, one belonging to none of his series.