Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Non-Linear Sub-Series

The "Trader Team" sub-series in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization comprises just five works. In the first, "Trader Team"/"The Trouble Twisters," Nicholas van Rijn explains his trade pioneer crew idea to David Falkayn:

robot probes will investigate as yet unexplored planetary systems that have been bypassed by the frontier of known space;
a crew comprising a Master Merchant, a planetologist and a xenobiologist of different species will visit any that seem promising.

In this story, Falkayn leads his team on their first mission and coins a term for their new profession, "trouble twister." (1)

It might be expected that the remaining four works would describe four more missions but they don't. On the one hand, we are to understand that Falkayn's and other teams enrich van Rijn by continuing to pioneer for several decades. On the other hand, the remaining works present different kinds of events that are turning points for the team, for their civilization or for both.

In the second work, "Day Of Burning," the team is not pioneering but is on a rescue mission simply because theirs was the nearest League ship to the planet Merseia when a threat to all life on that planet was detected. Falkayn claims to have seen planets devastated by all-out nuclear strikes. That must have happened between stories and would not have been on a pioneer crew mission. This story is a turning point for Technic civilization because the Merseians later become the main adversaries of the Polesotechnic League's successor, the Terran Empire.

 In the third work, Satan's World, the team is on yet another kind of mission, investigating a data processing company based in the Solar System where, because of exploits that we have not read about, Falkayn is known to be:

"Right-hand man and roving troubletwister for Old Nick." (2)

(Falkayn's coinage has become a single word.)

This novel is a turning point for Technic civilization because it shows that the Polesotechnic League could be vulnerable to external threats which, in turn, is a prelude to recognition of internal threats to the League's continued prosperity and stability. The novel is a potential ending for the series: the team has to be split up and might not survive, as indeed Technic civilization might not. When, at the very end, they have defeated their enemies and are embarking on a new pioneering mission, things have changed. They have passed a turning point. Their share in Satan's World has made them rich for life. They now pioneer because they want to, not because they have to. In that sense, the first phase of their troubletwisting career has ended.

And this sub-series could have ended there. However, Anderson next wrote "Lodestar," based on an idea suggested by his editor John W Campbell, for a John W Campbell Memorial Anthology. The team visits an established League base. Thereafter, the story follows van Rijn and his granddaughter, Coya, who finally discover that Falkayn and his team have secretly worked against van Rijn's business interests in order to help the poorer rational species whose needs are ignored by the League. This is a turning point for the League, for the relationship between van Rijn and Falkayn and, we later learn, for the relationship between Coya and Falkayn who have married and started a family by the time of the fifth and last work in this sub-series, Mirkheim.

Arguably, the sub-series proper ends with "Lodestar." That is the last time we see Falkayn's team during that period of their employment by van Rijn. Mirkheim, set many years later, is a sequel in which, during many other epochal events, van Rijn reassembles the long dispersed original team but for a different kind of mission and in very different circumstances. We learn that Coya had married Falkayn and joined the team for five years but stopped pioneering when they started a family and that that had ended the team, with its members going their separate ways. Thus, there is another entire period, of Coya on the team, which is not covered by any of the stories.

As part of a longer history, the sub-series is also rich in both prequels and sequels that tell us what van Rijn and some of the team members did both before and after this period. But my point here is that Anderson, having defined the role of a trade pioneer crew, does not present merely a linear series about successive exploits of such a team. Taking it as given that they had such exploits, he instead paints a broader picture by spacing his stories out through time to show us what happened to the League throughout an entire historical period.

For what it is worth, I now think that the entire Technic History could best be collected as:

The Polesotechnic League (9 works);
Star Traders (9);
League And Empire (6);
Young Flandry (3);
Flandry And Empire (9);
Children Of Empire (3);
Long Night And Dawn (4).

It is possible to rethink this issue endlessly and to keep arriving at different conclusions. The problems are where to divide the omnibus volumes and what to call them. Van Rijn dominates his period, appearing not only in six works of his own but also in four of the five "Trader Team" works. Thus, the proposed Star Traders volume would, with the exception of "Day Of Burning," be an extended van Rijn series but with a pluralized title, Star Traders, not Star Trader, in order to acknowledge that this volume covers Falkayn and the team as well as Old Nick.

Again, Mirkheim's status as really a sequel to the Trader Team sequence could be acknowledged by placing it at the beginning of the following volume which would therefore be called League And Empire, not Avalon And Empire. Near the end of Mirkheim, Coya bears Nicholas Falkayn who addresses his son in the very next story set in the Falkayns' colony on the planet Avalon and this omnibus volume ends with Avalon resisting the Empire. Thus, League And Empire would be an appropriate title as showing not interaction (they do not coexist) but transition between the Polesotechnic League, beginning its decline in "Lodestar" and Mirkheim, and the Terran Empire, becoming territorially aggressive in The People Of The Wind.

(1) Anderson, Poul, David Falkayn: Star Trader (compiled by Hank Davis), New York, 2010, p. 206.
(2) ibid., p. 332.

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