Friday, 13 December 2013

Expeditions And Regimes

Poul Anderson's sf addresses, among many other issues:

(i) political conflicts and future regimes on Earth;
(ii) interstellar exploration and colonization.

Under (i), Anderson shows global power shifting to different parts of the world and twice shows the USSR conquering the US. He links (i) and (ii) by asking:

(iii) What sort of regime would launch an interstellar expedition?
(iv) Might the colonists be political refugees?

"The High Ones," IN Anderson, The Horn Of Time (New York, 1968), perfectly combines (i) and (ii). A World Soviet regime has launched a slower than light spaceship, with suspended animation, to Tau Ceti but, en route, Whites have overthrown the Reds within the ship! Here we encounter an issue familiar from Anderson's Psychotechnic History and Planet Of No Return. Psych-tests were meant to have picked a stable crew so do the tests not work or did someone deliberately sabotage them? The White crew has no intention of returning to Earth except, if they can, as liberators.

What they find in the Tau Cetian system is an ultimate collectivist state where individuals have devolved until they no longer think. Originally intelligent bipeds now have the mentalities of ants, bees or termites. They are on a par with Wells' Morlocks and Eloi or with his Selenites who are biologically adjusted to perform necessary social roles.

Several features of the story are familiar to regular Anderson readers:

we are given the clues - inconsistent behavior by the aliens will be interpreted to mean that they are not intelligent;
there is a moment when our hero realizes the truth - "Holbrook gasped. 'God in heaven!'" (p. 62);
there is a moment when he escapes by grabbing a gun, kicking a guard etc.

Once the truth is realized, it is a very easy matter to evade, immobilize or kill the slow-moving guards, who have not encountered resistance for centuries, and to destroy the computer which is not intelligent but merely applies programs to instruct the population who are helpless without it.

A Soviet loyalist says of the aliens:

"'Their reasoning processes must be fundamentally akin to ours, simply because the laws of nature are the same throughout the universe.'" (p. 49)

That does not follow. Yes, logic and maths should be a basis for communication but only a meta-basic basis. Thought processes can differ considerably even between human cultures. And, of course, his very next sentence is absurd:

"'Including those laws of behavior first seen by Karl Marx.'" (ibid.)

If Marx were there, he would say, "I do not know about these aliens. We have to find out." And he would be intelligent enough to make Holbrook's discovery. There is a parallel situation in Isaac Asimov's future history. The laws of psychohistory describe human society. The Laws of Robotics are not merely about robots because they control robotic behavior towards human beings. Thus, both sets of laws refer to humanity. Therefore, both are irrelevant when considering extra-Galactic intelligences. Hari Seldon, Susan Calvin and Karl Marx would say, "We might find some parallels between human and alien societies but we will have to look and see."

Holbrook replies, "'Psuedo-laws for a psuedo-religion!'" (ibid.)

I do not agree that Marxism is a psuedo-religion but that "Soviet" dogmatic formulation of it certainly is. The Soviet loyalist, holding a gun on his human companions, says, to the approaching alien guards, "'I have them, comrades!'" (p. 65) - and is blown to pieces because, as Holbrook had realized, the aliens are incapable of making any fine distinctions; they simply obey orders to guard or to attack etc. Theirs is a degenerate civilization comparable to what Wells imagined in The Time Machine.

If a Stalinist regime conquered an entire planet and thus ceased to have any external competitor, then it would cease to have any competitive dynamic and would indeed become a horrific, deadening despotism that might eventually wind up as Anderson describes here.

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