Saturday, 7 September 2013

Dialogue II

Poul Anderson's "Dialogue" (Dialogue With Darkness, New York, 1985) describes three successive stages of interstellar contact:

suspended animation and lasers;
tachyon communication;
FTL, thanks to tachyonically contacted aliens.

But these stages merely provide the background for the political machinations necessary to ensure that one particular man is the first human being to make an FTL crossing from Earth to Arcadia, thus solving the problem mentioned in the previous post.

The aliens, not the main focus of this short story, remain off-stage but are once described as "...three-eyed green-plumed..." (p. 264) - but I am not sure whether I like that description. Maybe it would have been better to leave them undescribed?

Anderson not only wrote historical fiction but also applied historical knowledge to futuristic science fiction. Thus:

in "Marius," a future revolutionary leader is compared to the Roman General Marius, who was good at warfare but made a hash of politics;
in the Technic Civilization History, the Solar Commonwealth and the Terran Empire repeat a recurrent historical pattern of growth and decay;
in "Dialogue," two men trying to contact a higher civilization discuss whether humanity might suffer the same fate as various "savages" who had died out when contacted by Terrestrial civilizations.

Anderson, through one of his characters, reminds or informs his readers that, when the savages did die out, which was not always, it was because those who were civilized had:

pushed them onto land where they could only starve;
forbidden hunters to hunt;
or exterminated them outright.

A more advanced race is not expected to behave like that and humanity is also expected to be able to retain its identity "...within a larger society, while contributing to it, as the Jews did within Christendom and Islam. (p. 256)

We do not see whether this is what happens because "Dialogue" is a short story which, despite its interstellar background, focuses on a single human relationship. However, the story's narrator makes a good start on inter-species diplomacy and the narrative framework implies that human society still flourishes five hundred years later.

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