Friday, 15 January 2016

Detail And Depth

(There are many covers of Orphans Of The Sky. This is the edition that I read in the 1960s, never suspecting that I would discuss a successor story, "The Troublemakers" by Poul Anderson, on a world-wide computer network in 2016.)

Anyone who has read Poul Anderson's many novels and collections might think, as I did, that his Psychotechnic History is a minor work, especially when contrasted with the same author's later future histories. I hope that I have demonstrated that this is not the case. Careful rereading and reflection reveal apparently endless details and depths in this series. I have still not finished discussing "The Troublemakers," in Cold Victory (New York, 1982).

Inside the generation ship, a small group of psychologists:

secretly controls and directs the "inevitable" (?) social conflicts, thus preserving a dynamic society while also providing a hard school for the rigors of colonization;

do not object when some crew members practice personal aggrandizement because such activity keeps those crew members occupied (!);

have engineered social injustices so that men of goodwill will campaign against injustice.

Both self-aggrandizement and social campaigning sharpen the crew. Events take their natural course with the few (how few?) psychologists "'...as unnoticed guides.'" (p. 107) They know that the demoted Evan Friday is organizing a Guildsmen's protective association but they had arranged for his demotion precisely so that he would engage in such activity. When Councillor Wilson plans mutiny, the Captain's assistant, Lieutenant Farrell, secretly a psychologist, is at Wilson's side, apparently as an ally.

However, no one, not even the transparently self-seeking Wilson, can be controlled like a puppet. Outwitting even his own supporters, he has acquired weapons from a sympathetic police officer so that now his men have the bulk of the police force bottled up in a park after an arranged riot. The attempted mutiny has "'...got out of hand...'" (p. 95) from the psychologists' point of view. Farrell, unable to leave Wilson, can nevertheless get a message to Friday to save the ship, knowing, or at least hoping, that Friday has sufficient following and resources to do this.

1 comment:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I agree that the Psychotechnic series should not be dismissed as a minor subset of Poul Anderson's works. At the very least, those stories were useful to Anderson in exploring how to speculate on social developments in history in fictional form.

    At the same time, Anderson eventually became dissatisfied with the Psychotechnic stories, as we know from the "Afterword" he wrote for THE PSYCHOTECHNIC LEAGUE. And, I think a major reason for that, besides the contempt he came to have for the UN, was increasing skepticism over the very idea of "psychotechnicians" even being ABLE to secretly manipulate any society, even a relatively small one.

    I think PA would agree with you when you wrote: "However, no one, not even the transparently self-seeking Wilson, can be controlled like a puppet." Not even the feeble Josip III, in Anderson's Terran Empire, who WANTED to be dominated by Aaron Snelund (even Josip is mentioned as sometimes having a thought of his own or making a sensible decision).

    Sean

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