Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Superdielectrics

Chapter 5 of Poul Anderson's The Snows Of Ganymede (New York, 1958), summarizing the downfall of the Psychotechnic Institute by presenting a lot of concentrated information in just four and a half pages, mentions one detail that is not developed anywhere else in the series:

"[The Humanist movement] was made the more dangerous by the general availability of superdielectrics, accumulators of fantastic capacity which could be charged from almost anything; cheap, simple energy sources for vehicles and weapons.
"The balance of military power was shifting away from central government and toward the small, fanatic group. It was no longer possible to enforce order." (p. 50)

Does this make sense? Yes, cheap energy sources fit with the kind of technological advances that are made in the series. And there has to be some explanation of how a popular movement was able to start an armed revolution.

However:

superdielectrics should be mentioned as part of the background of later stories;
I have argued that, in the social conditions described, small fanatic groups would not be able to attract mass support;
the armed forces, also using the new enemy sources, would outnumber and outmanoeuvre any small groups.

4 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    Welcome back from your trip! I hope you had a good time.

    Hmmm, it seems to me that the "bugs" you've been discussing in your comments about the Psychotechnic League stories can be explained quite simply. The Psychotechnic stories were EARLY works of Anderson, when he was still learning how to both write effectively and working out and thinking thru the socio/political background of these stories. Which means Anderson did not notice some of the implausibilities you have been mentioning. Other series, such as the Technic Civilization and Harvest of Stars works, are more sophisticated and carefully thought through.

    In fact, Anderson eventually abandoned the Psychotechnic League series precisely because, at least in part, due to the weaknesses you have been pointing out.

    Sean

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  2. Sean,

    Thank you. A week and a half on the Mediterranean island of Menorca where we sunbathed, I swam in the sea and we visited a Catholic Cathedral with some very vivid religious art in which the Father appears in human form. A church on a hill is high enough to bestow a view of the entire coast line around the island.

    Thank you also for comments on Psychotechnics. I think the series might be defended on the ground that PA shows contradictory tendencies, e. g., education addressing individual and social needs on the one hand but irrational resentments on the other hand so the question becomes which tendency will prove to be stronger? The series is well worth reflecting on in detail whatever conclusions we come to about it.

    Paul.

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  3. "The armed forces, also using the new enemy sources, would outnumber and outmanoeuvre any small groups."

    The armed forces of the United States have explosives at least as good as Hezbollah, but back in the 1980s, a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed several hundred U.S. Marines with a truckload of explosives. If super-dielectrics enabled similar amounts of explosive power to be carried in a briefcase, the results might further shift in favor of small groups. Superior firepower is of limited use if the terrorists don't identify themselves by wearing uniforms, and don't provide visible targets of their own to counterattack.

    Regards, Nicholas

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