Monday, 21 October 2013

Political And Social Stories

The first volume of Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History does not generate a strong sense of a future history:

in "Marius," European partisans stage a coup;
in "Un-Man," the Rostomily team of Un-Men foils a conspiracy to wreck the UN world government;
in "The Sensitive Man," the Sensitive Man and an FBI agent foil a conspiracy to subvert psychotechnics;
in "The Big Rain," a single UN-man overthrows a dictatorship.

Only the first of these works is a short story. The rest are novellas or short novels. Thus, the four fill a volume. However, all are "political," not "social." They describe particular events but not everyday life. (Heinlein's Future History was rightly commended precisely because it gave the future a daily life.)

The first story in the second volume starts to redress this balance. It begins:

"The first robot in the world came walking over the green hills with sunlight aflash off his polished metal hide."

- Poul Anderson, "Quixote and the Windmill" IN Anderson, Cold Victory (New York, 1982), pp. 15-29 AT p. 15.

The phrase, "...green hills...," evokes The Green Hills Of Earth, the second volume of Heinlein's Future History. The robot, walking between widely spaced buildings, passes human beings at work and at play. Thus, we begin to get a sense of everyday social activity.

The scene shifts to a tavern where, for the rest of the story, two men interact socially by getting drunk. This story features not another gang of would-be dictators and their secret service opponents but three of the many individuals who, paradoxically, are comfortable although unemployed, both conditions caused by automation:

the first man is physically strong and has moderate mechanical skills so his services are no longer required;
the second man had quit his boring servotechnician job because his real ambition had been to be a mathematician whereas nowadays mathematical machines handle not only routine computation but also independent research, supervised only by the handful of  "'...top-flight geniuses" (p. 23);
even the non-specialized robot is unemployed because the non-specialized organic human beings directly control specialized machines for every purpose!

Of course, artistic and literary talent remain highly valued...

The dissatisfaction expressed in this story by the unemployed is one basis for the political conflicts later in the series.

Two other points -

(i) The robot says, "'I have no belligerent intentions...You should know I was conditioned against any such tendencies, even while my brain was in process of construction.'" (p. 27)

Thus, Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics at work outside Asimov's fictitious universe.

(ii) Sandra Miesel's Foreward comments that "...the Rostomily Brotherhood was destined to outlast the Institute that had created it." (p. 12)

But could the Psychotechnic Institute handle exogenesis? That sounds more like a job for the parallel Institute of Human Biology, which also outlasts the better known Psychotechnic Institute.

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