Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Pact

Poul Anderson's "The Pirate," about Stellar Union Coordination Service field agent, Trevelyan Micah, is narrated a generation later by another Cordy who begins:

"We guard the great Pact: the young generation, the folk of the star frontier, so often do not understand."
-Poul Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), p. 211.

What "Pact"? The Social Contract? A Constitution? A Pax? A Pax enforced by nuclear or other futuristic weapons? (Remember the Space Patrol in Robert Heinlein's Future History or the Lunar Guard earlier in Anderson's Psychotechnic History.)

In this story, a planetary population has been killed by radiation. The title character aims to get rich quick by selling the idyllic planet with its empty dwellings to would be colonists. The Cordies say no, first, scientists and scholars need as long as it takes to study the dead civilization. The story ends as its narrator explains what he meant by the Pact:

"We guard the great Pact, which is the heart of civilization, of society, and ultimately of life itself: the unspoken Pact between the living, the dead, and the unborn, that to the best of our poor mortal abilities they shall be kept one in the oneness of time. Without it, nothing would have meaning and it may be that nothing would survive. But the young generations so often do not understand." (p. 251)

Anderson had to put the narration into the mouth of another Cordy. The omniscient narrator would not have been able to preach or philosophize like this. Having read to the end, surely we realize that "The Pact" would have been a more appropriate title?

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