Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Underworld

In Poul Anderson's The Byworlder (London, 1974), early twenty first century society has divided into Orthos, Byworlders and Underworlders. To us, "organized crime" means illegal activities like protection and prostitution run by large criminal organizations sometimes, especially in the Italian tradition, controlled by powerful families. Anderson's "Underworld" seems to take organized crime to a new level, an entire social subculture, although we are not told many of the details.

When the heroine of the novel is professionally kidnapped by a man with faked Secret Service ID, the hero, putting his personal knowledge of the local Underworld to good use, tortures a knowledgeable consultant clairvoyant, thus learning some addresses to which he directs the FBI, who indeed then rescue the kidnap victim from an address on the list. Too easy? Implausible?

This part of the novel contains little science fiction except that:

the success of the hero's ploy seems to depend on a greater degree of "Underworld" cohesion than existed in the period when the novel was written;

a technological innovation enables him to smuggle a weapon into the clairvoyant's presence despite being searched by a bodyguard.

The kidnapping, and before that a murder attempt, make sense, in terms of the plot of the novel, because the heroine has made a breakthrough in communicating with the orbiting alien whose technology had better not be acquired by any one Terrestrial nation. The Chinese are clearly bad news although the heroine's opposite number among their scientists is a good guy. The Americans are also trying to get a monopoly on alien knowledge so is their government acting for the best?

In a Poul Anderson novel, we can depend on individuals to make the right decisions.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

And one reason why I admire Poul Anderson is because of his willingness to unflinchingly show us tragic possibilities as well as more hopeful outcomes. Two examples being "Welcome" and "Murphy's Hall."