Monday, 30 September 2013

Valti, Desai And Seldon

In "Marius," the first story in Poul Anderson's Psychtechnic History, Professor Eino Valti:

uses sociosymbolic logic to plan the strategy for the liberation of Europe from Red Army occupation after World War III;
shows that a military leader turned politician would be a disaster for Europe as Marius had been for the Roman Republic;
predicts a second nuclear war fifty years after the first unless society changes direction - which, fortunately, it does, under his reforms as chairman of the Council, after the overthrow of "Marius";
remains off-stage and is merely referred to by the participants.

Since one difference between the timelines of the Psychotechnic History and of Anderson's independent novel, Planet Of No Return, is that the latter includes a World War IV, maybe Valti's timely intervention is what makes the difference?

Anderson's Eino Valti and Isaac Asimov's Hari Seldon have much in common:

each is mentioned at the start of a future history (the prequels in which Seldon appears were written later);
each applies mathematics to society and makes testable predictions;
thus, each helps to avert worse disasters later.

But Anderson's account is less implausible. Valti's science of society works within limits but does not prevent technological unemployment, a Humanist Revolt and the subsequent banning of psychotechnics itself. Apparently, the science is then misused in "The Snows of Ganymede," which I have yet to read.

Anderson's other social theoretician is Chunderban Desai in the History of Technic Civilization. Desai, applying not mathematical analysis but historical knowledge, predicts the Fall of the Terran Empire just as Seldon predicts the Fall of the Galactic Empire. Unlike Seldon, Desai cannot manipulate the course of future events but does warn Flandry and probably also others who are able to ensure that some colonies remain strong enough to preserve planetary civilization after the Long Night has ended interstellar contact.

So the Psychotechnic and Technic Histories each have their own, far more credible, counterpart to the Foundation's psychohistorian, Hari Seldon.

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