Saturday, 26 September 2015

WAS THE DOMINATION INSPIRED BY MERSEIA? by Sean M. Brooks

I have wondered how S.M. Stirling was inspired to write his four Draka books (MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA, UNDER THE YOKE, THE STONE DOGS, and DRAKON).  One source to investigate is what Stirling himself said, such as the Introduction he wrote for DRAKAS! (a collection of short stories featuring the Drakas he had consented to other authors writing).  This is what Stirling wrote on page 2 of  DRAKAS! (Baen Books, 2000): "So a thought came to me, suppose everything had turned out as badly as possible, these last few centuries.  Great change make possible great good and great evil. The outpouring of the Europeans produced plenty of both."

I agree that Mr. Stirling's Draka books are dystopian alternate history science fiction, based on the premise of everything turning out as badly as possible.  BUT, what if, unbeknownst to Stirling, he had also been influenced in shaping the basic premises of the Draka stories by Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization stories?  Assume a small group of people with ideas similar to those of the Draka had left a hostile Terra soon after a FTL drive was invented to settle a planet deep in what became the dominions of Merseia in Anderson's Technic stories.

There actually was a human ethnic group within the Terran Empire whose ideas might have developed along the lines taken by the Draka if circumstances had been different!  I refer to the Zacharians, whom we see in THE GAME OF EMPIRE.  Matthew Zachary and Yukiko Nomura, the founders of the Zacharians, lived around the time when a FTL drive had been invented and mankind was beginning to leave the Solar System.  Their desire was to use genetic science to create an improved form of humanity which would provide the leaders of the human race.  To quote Kukulkan Zachary, from Chapter 17 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE: " ' Travel beyond the Solar System was just beginning.  Matthew Zachary saw what an unimaginably great challenge it cast at humankind, peril as well as promise, hardihood required for hope, adaptability essential but not at the cost of integrity.  A geneticist, he set himself the goal of creating a man that could cope with the infinite strangeness it would find.  Yes, machines were necessary, but they were not sufficient.  People must go into the deeps too, if the whole human adventure was not to end in whimpering pointlessness.  And go they would.  It was in the nature of the species. Matthew Zachary wanted to provide them with the best possible leaders.' "

All too predictably, the appearance of the genetically modified Zacharians aroused suspicions of them wishing to become a master race tyrannizing over mankind.  It caused the Zacharians to be alternately shunned or persecuted (with Kukulkan Zachary admitting the Zacharians MIGHT have become such a caste in the right circumstances).  It ended with the Zacharians settling the island they called Zacharia, on the planet Daedalus, orbiting the star named Patricius.  By the time the Terran Empire arose and restored order after the Time of Troubles, the Zacharians had become merely one more ethnicity in an Empire containing thousands of them.  Their resentment at this eventually led them to become traitors, co-conspiring with Merseia to place its agent Olaf Magnusson on the throne as a puppet Emperor.  Kukulkan Zachary tried to justify this in Chapter 20 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE by saying: " ' We owe the Terran Empire nothing.  It dragooned our forebears into itself.  It has spurned our leadership, the vision that animated the Founders.  It will only allow us to remain ourselves on this single patch of land, afar in its marches.  Here we dwell like Plato's man in chains, seeing only shadows on the wall of our cave, shadows cast by the living universe.  The Merseians have no cause to fear or shun us.  Rather, they will welcome us as their intermediaries with the human commonality.  They will grant us the same boundless freedom they desire for themselves.' "

Oh, the irony!  From aspiring to becoming the leaders of mankind, leaders who MIGHT have become like the Draka, the Zacharians eventually decided they would settle for becoming Quislings governing mankind under Merseian supervision.  And I disagree with Kukulkan Zachary--nothing prevented Zacharians from either enlisting in the Imperial armed forces or entering the Civil Service.  Being able and intelligent, many would rise to be among the leaders of the Empire.  But that would have meant adopting the preferred view of the Empire taken by both the other humans and non-humans within its domains, of becoming ASSIMILATED by the Empire, and renouncing the dream of ZACHARIANS being the leaders of mankind.

I wish to examine what we know of the ideology of racial supremacy which dominated Merseia in the days of the Terran Empire, to see how closely it resembled the beliefs of the Draka.  A few quotes from Chapter XIV of A CIRCUS OF HELLS will help: "They [the Merseians] didn't want war with Terra, they only saw the Empire as a bloated sick monstrosity which had long outlived its usefulness but with senile cunning contrived to hinder and threaten THEM..."  And: "No, they did not dream of conquering the galaxy, that was absurd on the face of it, they simply wanted freedom to range and rule without bound, and "rule" did not mean tyranny over others, it meant just that others should not stand in the way of the full outfolding of that spirit which lay in the Race..."

I did not believe a word of this!  As the Merseians expanded into the galaxy they contacted other intelligent races with as much right to exist as theirs.  Yet their reaction was to scorn them as beings inferior to them, and to dominate them because they were not Merseians.

In Chapter XIII of A CIRCUS OF HELLS we see some of Dominic Flandry's reflections about the Merseians and the beliefs driving them: "You gatortails get a lot of dynamism out of taking for granted you're the natural future lords of the galaxy," the man thought, "but your attitude has its disadvantages.  Not that you deliberately antagonize any other races, provided they give you no trouble.  But you don't use their talents as fully as you might.  Ydwr seems to understand this.  He mentioned that I would be valuable as a non-Merseian--which suggests he'd like to have team members from among the Roidhunate's client species--but I imagine he had woes enough pushing his project through a reluctant government, without bucking attitudes so ingrained that the typical Merseian isn't even conscious of them." 

The points I wish to stress about this otherwise out of context quote are these: Merseian belief in their superiority and destiny as rulers of the galaxy, their at best condescending attitude toward non-Merseians, a hint of how ruthless the Merseians could be to any who opposed them, etc.

The human ruled Terran Empire was Merseia's greatest and most powerful rival among oxygen breathing races.  How did at least some Merseian leaders regard humans and how would they treat humans?  An answer to these questions can be found in Chapter 10 of ENSIGN FLANDRY.  Brechdan Ironrede, Protector of the Roidhun's Grand Council, said of the human race: " ' They were magnificent once.  They could be again.  I would love to see them our willing subjects.'  His scarred features drooped a little. ' Unlikely, of course.  They're not that kind of species.  We may be forced to exterminate.' "  Note the casually chilling acceptance of the idea of exterminating an entire intelligent race.  And, by extension, all other non-Merseian races who dared to resist Merseian domination.

In ENSIGN FLANDRY we see one Merseian who did not believe in the evil ideology of racial supremacy and felt betrayed by his own leaders.  As Dwyr the Hook said in Chapter 12: " ' What was the conquest of Janair to me? They spoke of the glory of the race.  I saw nothing except that other race, crushed, burned, enslaved as we advanced.  I would have fought for my liberty as they did for theirs.' "  Dwyr concluded; " ' Do not misunderstand.  I stayed loyal to my Roidhun and my people.  It was they who betrayed me.' "  Dwyr thought like that because he had discovered how badly his own superiors had lied to him as regards being healed of severe war injuries.

To see how humans inside the Empire reacted to Merseians claiming their race was superior to all others I'll quote from Chapter XII of A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS what Bodin Miyatovich, Gospodar of Dennitza and governor of the Taurian sector said: " ' The Empire would have to get so bad that chaos was better, before I'd willingly break it.  Terra, the Troubles, or the tyranny of Merseia--and those racists wouldn't just subject us, they'd tame us--I don't believe we have a fourth choice, and I'll pick Terra.' " Here we see Merseian rule considered so harsh it amounted to treating non-Merseians as mere animals.

I have reviewed Merseian ideas of racial superiority and how both humans and non-humans reacted to them.  What was the political form desired for giving Merseian ambitions a practical shape?  In Chapter 9 of ENSIGN FLANDRY Lord Hauksberg remarked that the electors from the landed clans chose the Roidhun from the landless Vach, the Urdiolch, dismissing that, however, as an unimportant detail.  Commander Max Abrams disagreed, saying: " ' It's not a detail.  It reflects their whole concept of society.  What they have in mind for their far future is a set of autonomous Merseian ruled regions.  The race, not the nation, counts with them.  Which makes them a hell of a lot more dangerous than simple imperialists like us, who only want to be top dogs and admit other species have an equal right to exist.  Anyway, so I think on the basis of what information is available. While on Merseia I hope to read a lot of their philosophers.' "

 I'm grateful how Dr. Paul Shackley's commentary on Stirling's DRAKON (Baen Books: 1996) brought to my attention certain passages in Chapter 14 of that book which strengthens my argument.  After becoming aware of Samothracian advances in science, the New Race Draka had discovered there was a faster means of reaching the stars.  A few quotes from a discussion held by the Archon and the Directors of his cabinet will show how Draka ambitions resembled those of the Merseian Roidhunate.  On page 275 of the paperback edition of DRAKON, the Director of Colonization said, "We anticipated thousands of millennia to bring the Galaxy under the Domination of the Race.  This will reduce the timescale by orders of magnitude." Another Director responded saying, "Something that the Archons of the colony worlds may not be entirely happy about."  Because the Draka colonies were completely independent of the Domination on Earth, they might fear the Domination would try to rule them.  Archon Alexis Renston replied: "Needs must--and they will need us to defend against the Samothracians.  For that matter, even with better communications, interstellar government will never be very tightly centralized."

What I quoted above fits in neatly with what Brechdan Ironrede said to his son in Chapter 3 of ENSIGN FLANDRY: "But we cannot merely fight for our goal.  We must work.  We must have patience.  You will not see us masters of the galaxy.  It is too big.  We may need a million years."  And, to repeat what Commander Abrams said in Chapter 9 of the same book: "What they have in mind for their far future is a set of autonomous Merseian-ruled regions.  The race, not the nation, counts with them."  Both the Draka and the Merseians thought it would take their races many thousands of years, even a million years, to conquer the galaxy.  And neither proposed to attempt setting up a galactic empire--rather, regions and planets would be ruled by autonomous Draka and Merseian states.

I previously mentioned Merseian philosophers--which reminded me of what S.M. Stirling's character, William Dreiser, had done on page 64 of MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA (Baen Books: 1988): "He had done his homework thoroughly: histories, geographies, statistics.  And the Draka basics, Carlyle's PHILOSOPHY OF MASTERY, Nietzsche's THE WILL TO POWER, Fitzhugh's IMPERIAL DESTINY, even Gobineau's turgid INEQUALITY OF HUMAN RACES, and the eerie and chilling MEDITATIONS OF ELVIRA NALDORSSEN." It's disturbing to think there might be Merseian analogs of Draka philosophers like Naldorssen.  I can think of one possibly modifying factor: the Merseians belief in "the God" MIGHT soften the ruthless logic of their racist ideology.

To give a more adequate idea of what the Draka and their ambitions were like I'll quote from Stirling's fictional Draka philosopher Elvira Naldorssen's MEDITATIONS: COLDER THAN THE MOON (possibly the same invented book as the one mentioned in the previous paragraph), from page 230 of Stirling's MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA: "The Draka will conquer the world for two reasons: because we must, and because we can. Yet of the two forces, the second is the greater; we do this because we choose to do it.  By the sovereign Will and force of arms the Draka will rule the earth, and in so doing remake themselves.  We shall conquer: we shall beat the nations into dust and re-forge them in our self-wrought image: the Final Society, a new humanity without weakness or mercy, hard and pure.  Our descendants will walk the hillsides of that future, innocent beneath the stars, with no more between them and their naked will than a wolf has.  Then there will be Gods in the earth."

In conclusion it will help if I listed the ways Merseia resembled the Domination of the Draka:
1. Racial superiority of Merseians over all non-Meseians.
2. Inferior status, within the Roidhunate, of all non-Merseian races.
3. Willingness to exterminate entire races.
4. Enslaving of conquered non-Merseians.

In Poul Anderson's Terran Empire stories the focus was on the decline of the Empire and the urgent need to defend it, to prevent civilization from falling, not primarily on Merseia (except as the enemy of the Empire). Still, I believe I have collected enough evidence to show that the Roidhunate was a nasty place for non-Merseians.  I regret how Poul Anderson never thought of writing a few stories set entirely inside the Roidhunate, showing us the views of both Merseians and non-Merseians.  If he had, and if based on the evidence I collected, Merseia would strongly resemble a non-human Domination of the Draka, on an interstellar scale.

S.M. Stirling is a known fan and admirer of the works of Poul Anderson. I think it was at least possible that, besides experimenting with writing dystopian science fiction, unconscious reflection on Merseia's racism and its consequences was a factor shaping how Stirling developed the Draka.  To say, nothing, of course, of how the Zacharians might have contributed to this process.

20 comments:

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Draka society is unique. A very few Draka enslave a vast population, differentiated by race, treat them as inferiors and brutally crush resistance, even publicly torturing rebellious "serfs" as an example to others. The Merseians do not do this.
What did Matthew Zachary mean by the best possible leaders? He might just have meant what I would mean by leaders: individuals able to give a lead within society as a whole. Did he instead mean a small group that would dictatorially rule everyone else? If the latter, then they might become like the Draka on a planet with a low technological base but a large population of "serfs" would be redundant and counterproductive in a civilization with an advanced technology?
Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

To anyone reading these comments:
We let articles by Sean (and by anyone else who wants to submit one) stay at the top of the blog for a week to maximize their exposure. However, I continue to post and my new posts appear under Sean's article.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

S.M. Stirling's Draka books are grimly fascinating! He manages to make me think it was possible for people like the Draka to conquer and rule, despite the implausibility of the premise that everything which could possibly go wrong that would lead to the rise of the Draka WOULD go wrong.

Yes, I agree, the Merseians, most of them at least, are NOT as brutal as the Draka. Altho I would still argue that their racist ideology would make it easier for some Merseians to be that bad.

Yes, I believe the intention of Matthew Zachary was to genetically adapt a group of humans who would rise to become the leaders of mankind within Technic Civilization as a whole. And not to become a dictatorial caste, altho Kukulcan Zachary admitted that might have been possible in the right circumstances.

The impression I got from Stirling's Draka books that the Race would deliberately keep some sectors of their economy at a lower technological level precisely to make it practical to use large numbers of serfs. Agriculture and certain types of industry comes to mind. And, high technology would still be used by the Draka themselves and trusted serfs.

I'm looking forward to your comments on UNDER THE YOKE and how that Stirling books compares to any relevant works by Poul Anderson.

And thanks for keeping my "Was the Domination Inspired by Merseia?" essay at the top of your blog for another week!

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
UNDER THE YOKE is long delayed and I fear the worst but meanwhile I have found plenty to say about the Time Patrol.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

You think you might not get UNDER THE YOKE at all? Drat! I hope a second order is more successful.

And I have noticed how often you discuss Anderson's Time Patrol series! (Smiles)

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I know this is petty, but could a mistake I made in the fourth paragraph of my article be corrected? In that paragraph I misquoted from Chapter 20 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE a text beginning: " ' We OWN the Terran Empire nothing.' " The correct reading is: " ' We OWE the Terran Empire nothing.' "

Sean

Ketlan said...

Done. :)

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Ketlan!

Many thanks! I thought of asking you but didn't want to trouble you.

And have you any thoughts or comments about what I wrote? I won't be offended if you disagreed with me!

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Well, UNDER THE YOKE is a long time coming.
The Draka are brutal by policy whereas the Merseians prefer domestication and would even prefer extermination to perpetual repression. Nandalsson says that the Draka are fulfilled by imposing their will against the will of others. They continually risk successful rebellion.
I suspect that Ketlan does not comment often because he has read far less Anderson.
Paul.

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
As before, you are bringing in the page views.

David,
Submit an article on any aspect of Poul Anderson's works?

Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I'm certainly vain enough to hope my owe "scribblings" interests some readers! One reason why I contribute these occasional essays is because help make up for me no longer being able to write to Poul Anderson himself. After 1994 I regret to say I stopped writing to him--at least partly because I found the ideas and themes of his late phase books so strange and difficult that I needed time to assimilate them. Alas, PA died just as I think I was again getting ready to write a letter to him.

And many readers also "come" here to read what YOU say! (Smiles)

And I hope David or anyone else will be inspired to try their hand at writing an article.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

The thing to remember about the Draka is that they are EFFICIENT tyrants--they don't make the stupid, counterproductive, and simply WASTEFUL mistakes so typical of the Communists and Nazis. Quite simply, if a serf obeys his Draka overlords, they will, by their own lights, treat him mildly and take care of him.

Yes, I do agree, the Draka are constantly risking serf revolts, any of which might be successful. Unfortunately, so far, by skillful us of both the carrot and stick, such revolts were either prevented or quickly put down. And, later, non Draka humans were genetically modified to be DISINCLINED to rebel against the Domination.

Understood, what you said about Ketlan. Drat!

Sean

David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
I fear it'll be quite a while, if ever, before I feel ready to write an article, as opposed to the minor (hopefully helpful) notes I've been posting. For one thing, I'd need to check systematically through the entire blog to make sure no one else had already done a better job of saying what I meant to say -- or, worse, proved my intended thesis wrong before I even began! And right at the moment I don't HAVE an intended thesis in mind. Still, I appreciate the encouragement.

Paul Shackley said...

David,
It doesn't matter if you say what has been said before or if you say something that is shown to be completely wrong. It's the discussion that counts. I have repeated myself on the blog because I forgot what I had said before. You don't even need a thesis, just reasons why you like a particular work or even accidental associations that one work has for you that it doesn't have for anyone else. You don't even need to heed what I'm saying now although you might later!
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, David!

Understood, what you said about about the need both to avoid duplication or already having been, as you might believe, been proven wrong on this or that point. But, let me continue to encourage you to write an article of your own if the inspiration strikes you.

Sean

ndrosen said...

This is an intriguing possibility, but ?I don't think the Draka owe much to the Mereseians. They owe something to the Nazis, the Romans, European colonialists, the Old South, etc. To the extent they resemble the Merseians, villainous societies or races are likely to resemble each other, even if they are independent inventions, or they wouldn't be villainous. This is not to exclude the possibility of Merseian influence on Stirling's imagination.

Best Regards,
Nicholas Rosen

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Nicholas!

Thanks for your comments.

Quite true, villains will RESEMBLE other villains. Else they wouldn't be villains. All the same, I still saw a resemblance in the Merseians and Draka having racial views which seemed very similar in some ways. And then, of course, the genetically modified Zacharians reminded me of how the Draka eventually modified themselves and their serfs using genetics.

And one Zacharian character in THE GAME OF EMPIRE did concede that the if circumstances had been right the Zacharians might have become a ruling caste. Of the sort we see the Draka becoming in THE STONE DOGS.

And not all European colonialists, or even most of them, were slave/serf owners.

I still wonder if Stirling was unconsciously influenced by the Roidhunate and its racial ideology. I hope he sees my article and comments on it himself.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I forgot to add to my previous note that any extermination of an entire intelligent race by the Merseians would be just as brutal or worse as anything done by the Draka. Any such attempt at extermination of an intelligent species means the MASSACRE of untold millions or billions of people. Including wiping out worlds possibly settled by that race.

I think even the Draka would hesitate to commit such an atrocity, if only because it would be a wasteful destroying of possibly useful serfs. DRAKON explicitly mentions the preferred Draka policy of genetically modifying a recently discovered non-human/hominid race on a world discovered by small, unmanned "scouts" of the kind sent to other stars by STL means.

Sean

Ketlan said...

Sorry, Sean. It'll probably be an unpopular opinion on this blog but I really didn't get on with Poul Anderson's work, particularly the Time Patrol, which I lost interest in very quickly. The only book I loved was the Boat of a Million Years and I even found the final third of that disappointing. Not a fan, then, but I can see he has a devoted following. To be honest, I prefer contemporary fiction - meaning fiction set in or around the world in which we live. Anthony Burgess, Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson and James Ellroy are particular favourites.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Ketlan!

The fact you MOSTLY like THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS gives me some consolation! (Smiles) And, from the POV of trying to understand what it is about SF which "turns off" so many people, I'm sure we geeks would be interested in knowing how or why the last third of BOAT was so disappointing to you.

In candor, I find most "contemporary" fiction rather dull reading. I fear novels about middle class angst and so on are not to my taste. Too inward looking, perhaps.

Sean