Wednesday, 27 August 2014
The conspirators (see previous posts) assemble on an island but, before that happens, Poul Anderson summarizes that island's history for two full pages.
Coral polyps build an island in the mid-Pacific, near the equator, far from future shipping or airline routes. Seeds blew and coconuts floated. Polynesians, paddling for a thousand miles, steering by stars and currents, found the island and gave sacrifice to Nan (who is incorporated into a Trinity in the alternative timeline of Anderson's Maurai Federation). Returning with women and pigs, the Polynesians built a thatch village and fished.
White men brought smallpox, measles, TB, copra planters, Christianity, imperialism, tobacco and trade. They moved the natives elsewhere to use the island as a naval base or experimental station, then later abandoned it. Wind, rain and vines demolished their buildings. Gulls hovered, fish leaped and a shark patrolled. Then the conspirators arrived. What a fascinating history.
Certain characters or groups of characters appear only once, demonstrating distinct stages of the "change":
the boy who invents differential calculus;
Wato the witch doctor, M'Wanzi the leader and an armed ape;
Vladimir Ivanovitch Panyushkin the resistance fighter, an inventive priest and Fyodor Alexandrovitch the Sensitive;
Wang Kao the villager and Wu Hsi the prophet;
the supermarket attendant who lectures Brock about property;
the people with problems dealt with by Mandelbaum;
most of the conspirators.
The novel ends on p. 189 but begins on p. 9, has blank pages between chapters and empty spaces at the ends of chapters so I think that it could be more compactly packaged with just 160 pages of text - but how much is in those pages.
In his Introduction, Brian Aldiss rightly says that the opening vignette of the rabbit in the trap encapsulates the kernel of the novel.