Tuesday, 10 September 2013

What Is There To Coordinate?

In Poul Anderson's The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Coordinator Trevelyan Micah compares the Stellar Union of his period to Earth from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. There is access to distant places but by long and difficult voyages and with slow communications so that no one realizes to what extent the ethos of a colony is diverging from that of its home country or planet.

However, one major difference in the Union is the lack of economic ties between home, colonies and other races. This should make for even greater diversity but also for less conflict? Why then are "'...[c]ross-purposes...breeding...'" (p. 105)? In other works by Anderson, we get the impression that economically self-sufficient planets, whether inhabited by natives or by colonists, might trade in luxuries and knowledge or ignore each other but need not fight about anything.

The short story about Trevelyan, "The Pirate," presents one of the responsibilities of the Coordination Service. An unrestrained entrepreneur would merely exploit an unoccupied planet whose population has recently been killed by radiation whereas the Service must preserve that planet unchanged so that its artifacts can be studied. Civilization requires knowledge and understanding of extinct sophonts, not just a quick buck for an individual.

An even greater problem emerges in The Peregrine. The anti-technological, symbiotic culture of the Alori cannot coexist with machine culture so the Alori set out to subvert human nature. Trevelyan says:

"'It's almost as if they were fanatics, like the militant religions of the statist tyrannies of old days on Earth...When I told you once there was no reason for interstellar empire, I ignored one possibility because I didn't think it existed any more. Empires are a defense. If someone attacked for ideological reasons, the planets assaulted would need a tight organization to fight back.'" (p. 159)

It is to be hoped that something can be salvaged before the Alori go under (there are several typographical errors in The Peregrine and I am about to reproduce one in this next quote):

"There wholeness-principle was something which had never been properly formulated in Union logic. It should be possible to make integrators which would not fix isolated data together but consider a local complex - society and its needs, physical environment, known scientific laws - in its entirety. Alori science, with the knowledge it had of the nervous system, would indicate ways to build such computers." (p. 161)

Trevelyan hopes that, by becoming Nomads, he and other Coordinators will synthesize Nomadism with Coordination and that, by building Alorian-influenced computers, the Service will synthesize Alorianism with humanity.

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