Monday, 23 September 2013

The Byworlder: Conclusion

When discussing Poul Anderson's later novel, For Love And Glory, I drew attention here to a literary technique deployed quite often in that work. The concluding sentence or phrase of a chapter would indicate what was going to happen next: things were due to turn bad later etc. These anticipations encourage us to continue reading even though we usually forget them almost immediately.

The technique is used once in The Byworlder (London, 1974):

"...until the hour came when everything was ruined." (p. 162)

We empathize with the characters and vicariously enjoy their breakthrough in communicating with the alien so it is disturbing to be informed that everything is going to be ruined - and it is quite a long time before this happens.

As a result of violence in the spaceship, the Sigman and the Chinaman wind up dead. This leaves the potentially destructive ship under the sole control of a Byworlder, who does not turn it over to any Terrestrial government but instead monopolizes it for peaceful scientific exploration. Thus, a Byworlder saves the world, not from any external threat but only from itself. As I said a few posts ago (here), in a Poul Anderson novel, we can trust individuals, not governments, to make the right decisions. The death of the peaceful, beauty-seeking alien at the hands of an agent of the Chinese government is indeed ruinous but, even despite that, an ultimately satisfactory conclusion is reached.

When the Chinaman refers to the US government as "'...the fascists...'" (p. 180), the Byworlder replies:

"'You're supposed to be a semanticist. How can you think a swear word like 'fascist' means anything, or using it solves anything?'" (p. 181)

He is right. "Fascist" had a precise meaning in its original context but has become a swear word when extracted from that context and used in Chinese government propaganda.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Quite true, "fascism" once had a precise and definite meaning, as worked out in the writings of Benito Mussolini. But has since become mostly an empty cuss word used by people on the left to defame men on the right whose ideas were anything but "fascistic." Jonah Goldberg, in his book LIBERAL FASCISM, gives an interesting study of the term.