Thursday, 24 April 2014

After Genius

I had definitely not read Poul Anderson's "Genius" before and it is an interesting story. After it in the NESFA Press The Collected Short Works Of Poul Anderson (Framingham MA, 2009), there are:

"The Live Coward"
"Time Lag"
"The Man Who Came Early"
"Turning Point"
"The Alien Enemy"
"Enough Rope"
"The Sharing of Flesh"
"Flight to Forever"
"Barnacle Bull"
"Time Heals"
"The Martian Crown Jewels"
"Kings Who Die"

I had already read all but three of these works and have quickly read the rather lackluster "The Martian Crown Jewels" since acquiring the book so there is not much left before Vol 2, which I have yet to order. However, the remaining stories will be read and commented on.

Despite their exotic interstellar settings, "The Helping Hand" and "Genius" are serious discussions of how societies develop. I thought that I had finished comparing Isaac Asimov unfavorably with Poul Anderson but here again Anderson presents a more interesting account of a ruling group applying to society a mathematically formulated, predictive science of society. Station Seventeen, secretly directing the Empire, is like a Second Foundation but based on intelligence, not on hypnosis.

The geniuses of Station Seventeen, which is an entire planet, are intelligent, perceptive and cooperative enough to share socially necessary menial tasks equally among their entire population rather than relegating a social majority to lifetimes of drudgery. Mass-production will have to wait until mechanical knowledge is sufficient to develop entirely automatic factories because "'...few if any geniuses could stand to work on an assembly line all day.'" (p. 212) However, they "'...are in no hurry to advance their standard of living.'" (ibid.)

Production has, perhaps, four stages:

hunting and gathering;
horticulture and agriculture;
manufacturing, eventually industrialized;

In our history, the second and third stages necessitated social stratification and competition whereas the eventual production of abundance should make stratification and competition redundant. The geniuses manage every stage of production without either stratification or competition.

A society of geniuses has super geniuses who are as far beyond the ordinary mind as logic is beyond instinct. The surprise ending is a real surprise but also logical. The geniuses have already outwitted the Imperial social experimenters.

Occasional raiders from the Magellanic Clouds are also a neat idea.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I have to disagree with your comment that if ever mankind achieves a society where the merely material necessities of life are cheap and abundant, then social stratification and competition will cease. As a Catholic who believes in the empirically obvious fact that mankind is a fallen (or if you like that term better, imperfect) race, I do not think mere abundance will mean the end of conflict. Rather, people will compete for power or fall into bored hedonism and frustration.

And I think Poul Anderson would agree with me. Examples being the situation we see in the Harvest of Stars books and in GENESIS.

I'm sorry you thought "The Martian Crown Jewels" a lackluster story. I liked it and I was amused by the idea of a non human Sherlock Holmes. It's plain from this and other stories as late as "The Queen of Air and Darkness" that Poul Anderson was a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories.