Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Galactic Federation

Poul Anderson's "Peek! I See You!" is a Galactic Federation story. This is not a single series but a kind of sf premise: that there is a vast interstellar federation out there with criteria for membership but Terrestrials do not know about it yet. Maybe our warlikeness debars us from membership and even from contact? But there can be other criteria, like possession of a technological civilization or of local interplanetary spaceflight.

Such stories, at least potentially, combine speculation about extra-solar civilizations with criticism of the current state of Earth. Who in their right minds would want to have contact with us?

For example, in a very short Asimov story called "Silly Asses," a galactic bureaucrat, hearing that Terrestrials have recently met Federation membership criteria by splitting the atom and landing on their Moon but that they are testing atomic weapons in their own atmosphere instead of in space, crumples up the Federation membership paperwork for Earth and throws it in his wastepaper basket, remarking, "Silly asses!" (I know that this is in an Asimov collection although I do not have the reference to hand.) This Asimov story is purely a comment on the arms race, not a speculation that the galaxy is administered by bureaucrats with paperwork and wastepaper baskets.

Anderson's "Details," on which I commented recently, is a Galactic Federation story in this sense although its federation is called the League and, impossibly, is entirely composed of human beings of different sizes and colors whereas the Federation in "Peek! I See You!" encompasses many bizarre organisms like:

yet another centauroid, in this case one who has gills and sound-sensitive areas alternating down his long neck and an elephantine trunk dividing into two arms and who shrugs by jerking his tail;
another hexapod-descended sophont whose three pairs of limbs have become respectively legs, arms and wings.

Anderson's imagination is, as ever, unbounded.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Ummm, I think you meant to say in your last sentence that "ANDERSON'S imagination is, as ever, unbounded." And I agree, Anderson was far more imaginative and interesting than Asimov.


Paul Shackley said...

Thank you. Error corrected.