Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Satan And Mirkheim

(Warning: in this post, I might discuss some Poul Anderson novels that I have not reread sufficiently closely, sufficiently recently. If I later spot any omissions or errors, I will correct them then but, meanwhile, page viewers are invited to point out any that they notice.)

Satan, in Satan's World, is a rogue planet that becomes industrially valuable when its frozen environment is re-activated by a close swing around Beta Crucis. Mirkheim, in "Lodestar" and Mirkheim, is a former super-Jovian planet whose sun went supernova and is industrially valuable as the only known source of supermetals. These are the sorts of resources that corporations compete to control and that civilized planets wage wars about.

There are two levels of speculative fiction here:

Might such planets exist out there in the galaxy so that they could be, for example, detected by Earth-based astronomers or discovered by a single expedition traveling at sub-light speed?

Might an interstellar civilization with faster than light capability be able to exploit such planets - with what economic, political and military consequences?

Satan's World and Mirkheim are the two trader team novels and both are centered on the discovery of a rare and industrially valuable planet. The non-scientific reader must be careful to remember why each of these planets is valuable and also how they differ.

The Grand Duchy of Hermes gained the stewardship of Mirkheim which, however, was later taken from the Duchy and placed directly under the control of the Empire. What of Satan? Vice Admiral Kheraskov tells Dominic Flandry that, in their time, Satan is "'...an ancient possession of the Duke of Hermes.'" (The Rebel Worlds, London, 1973, p. 21) Why should Hermes have got Satan also? Is it because Nicholas van Rijn controlled Satan and his protege, David Falkayn, was Hermetian?

Satan is in Sector Alpha Crucis of the Terran Empire whereas Hermes and nearby Mirkheim are in Sector Antares. The Rebel Worlds informs us that, during the Troubles, which separated van Rijn's era from the Empire, ownership of Satan "...varied...wildly..." and that "For a while it was abandoned." (p. 87) Eventually, "...an Imperial aristocrat sent down a self-piloting freighter..." (p. 88), but we are not told that that aristocrat was the Duke of Hermes.

"The defense of Satan became a major reason to garrison and colonize Sector Alpha Crucis." (p. 88)

So it does not sound as though Hermes, in Sector Antares, is involved in that defense? I wonder whether, when Anderson had Kheraskov tell Flandry that Satan belonged to Hermes, he was temporarily confusing Satan with Mirkheim?

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Satan became an industrially useful world because the swing near Beta Crucis heated up again the frozen atmosphere and seas of that rogue planet. But that would not have lasted long once it again moved into deep space. The enormous waste heat generated from nuclear reactions kept Satan from freezing again. It was the ability to use whole oceans as coolant which helped to give Satan its value as an industrial world.

I don't think it was necessarily odd or unusual for an Imperial aristocrat (the Duke of Hermes) to have taken possession of Satan when the Empire was arising. Recall how even persons of modest means can have properties in different counties, provinces, states, or nations. So, no, I don't think Anderson was momentarily confusing Satan with Mirkheim.

And I've read of serious speculations at websites like Centauri Dreams that there very well might be rogue planets like Satan. And, yes, I believe it would make sense for a civilization with a FTL drive to exploit, where possible, rogues like Satan for costly and risky heavy industries. And the great gained thereby would indeed have military and political aspects.