Saturday, 19 November 2016

Barbarians And Civilization

In ancient times on Earth, barbarians encroached on civilization and remained a constant threat beyond its borders. Here is a striking image:

"Aiming a blow at the sand thieves was like driving a chariot wheel through a mud puddle: the contents spattered and flew apart in tiny globules, then ran together and all was unchanged. So the nomads were, striking at defenseless peasant hamlets or the donkey-caravans of merchants, then fading back into the endless wastes of the west."
-SM Stirling, On The Oceans Of Eternity (New York, 2000), Chapter Eight, p. 133.

However, sometimes barbarians encroached so far into civilization that they became civilized:

"The chronicles said the Amorites had come likewise from the western deserts long ago, and ended by ruling all the Land - Hammurabi was of that blood. His own ancestors had been herdsmen from the other quarter, in the mountains to the eastward." (ibid.)

Poul Anderson imagines exactly the same kind of encroachments and invasions but on an interstellar scale. See here. When Flandry, requesting a projection of a rendezvousing craft, sees a lean shape rushing forward not of Imperial manufacture but armed as well as his own ship, he thinks:

"Barbarians..."
-Poul Anderson, The Rebel Worlds (London, 1973), Chapter VII, p. 66.

The blurb on the back cover of this edition reads:

"The barbarians in their long ships waiting at the edge of the Galaxy...

"...waited for the ancient Terran Empire to fall..."

- and, in other works, Anderson wrote about Vikings in their long ships. Historical fiction and science fiction can be complementary.

3 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    While, at this time in history, we no longer have barbarians outside the borders of civilization menacing us, we still have our INTERNAL barbarians threatening us.

    And, if we ever get off this rock interstellar space, as I so much hope happens, we may yet again see "external" barbarians. Nations and tribes learning how to use advanced technologies and weapons without also learning to be civilized and responsible in their use. Anderson's stories "A Little Knowledge" and "Tiger By The Tail" shows us how this can happen.

    Sean

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    1. Sean:
      H. Beam Piper described the internal barbarians in *Space Viking*. Someone at a party, early in the story, referred to "Neobarbarians" as if they were the external type, "some race of invading nomads, Attila's Huns in spaceships..." and Otto Harkaman, a Viking with a deep knowledge of history, explained the truth, giving examples of varying types.

      Later in the book, we see Neobarbarians working to overthrow the government of one of the most advanced planets. Their leader's methods have a distinct resemblance, for anyone with a knowledge of history, to those of a fellow named Hitler....

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    2. Kaor, DAVID!

      Alas, I've read so few of H. Beam Piper's books, except his two books about the "Fuzzies," that I can't adequately comment. I think the Fuzzy books, while interesting, struck me as being rather too sentimental. And thus discouraged me from reading more deeply into Piper's eouvre.

      But, obviously, I should get at least his SPACE VIKING book. I like what you say about Otto Harkaman.

      And your second paragraph reminded me of how SOME on the Left in the US are egging on the protests against the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. Or even paying for riots (one thinks of very wealthy leftists like George Soros). (I'm sorry, Paul, but not all leftists are like you.)

      By "internal barbarians" I had in mind the social decay we see in major cities like Detroit and Chicago, where far too many people grow up badly educated and "socialized" in bad ways. And end up becoming criminals and gangsters. And the truly absurd reactions of many in US university campuses to the election of Trump struck me as both childishly immature and decadent.

      Sean

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