Sunday, 29 September 2013

Planet Of No Return: Conclusion

Poul Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971) evokes an extremely primitive fear - imagine that a small group of human beings, you and your friends, find yourselves surrounded by a community of non-human beings who treat you as guests but who, you begin to suspect, do not intend to let you leave alive?

"...every now and then one of the aliens gave him a sidelong look which might mean nothing or might mean death." (p. 102)

This sounds like prime material for childhood nightmares. We might even remember some such. Of course, as soon as their suspicions have been confirmed, Anderson's adult characters take decisive measures to extract themselves from the danger zone. Moreover, this novel is science fiction, not horror fiction.

Thus, the real climax of the novel is not the night time gun fight with the aliens but the final argument with the human psychman who has been cooperating with the aliens to confine the human race to the Solar System. The psychocrats want a thousand years to make society and all its members sane before, they think, mankind will be fit to go into the galaxy. Needless to say, Andersonian heroes do not accept any social engineering and instead value freedom, diversity and interstellar freedom of movement now.

In Anderson's Psychotechnic History, the Psychotechnic Institute is banned in 2170 and the FTL hyperdrive is invented in 2784 whereas, in Planet Of No Return, psychocrats are not due to be removed from office until some time after the invention and use of the FTL warp drive. This is another indication that, despite their similarities, this novel does not fit into this future history.

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