Thursday, 26 February 2015

Literate Cultures

Intelligent beings might build and live in a literate and technological society that is not urban, therefore not describable as a civilization. Poul Anderson maybe presents more examples of this than we might realize:

In the Technic History
nomadic Altaians.

In the "Star Time" Diptych

(Another list that grew in the writing.)

Ishtarians are not only townless but even stateless. Rarely violent, they recognize just one criminal act: "...failure to obey the judgment of the jury that tried a lawsuit." (Fire Time, p. 107) Public services provided by the "legions" include arbitrating disputes, maintaining records and lighthouses, policing (slight) and a fire service (rarely needed since most buildings are stone or adobe). Sehala is not a capital city but a convenient rendezvous point because it is a prosperous area where certain activities are concentrated. Buildings are spread about with no streets between them. The Ishtarian physiology has little need of sanitation but anyone who runs an establishment disposes of whatever wastes there are as necessary because otherwise his neighbors would sue him.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I would qualify your comment about Altai a bit by pointing out it did have one true city, Ulan Baligh. The first paragraph of Section II of "A Message in Secret" goes: "Where the Zeya and Talyma, broad shallow rivers winding southwards over the steppes from polar snows, met at Ozero Rurik, the city named Ulan Baligh was long ago founded. It had never been large, and how the ony permanent human settlement on Altai had perhaps 20,000 inhabitants. But there was always a ring of encampments around it, tribesmen come to trade confer or hold rites in the Prophet's Tower. Their tents and trunks walled the landward side of Ulan Baligh, spilled around the primitive spaceport, and raised campfire smoke for many kilometers along the indigo lakeshore."

Thus Ulan Baligh served many functions: it was the commercial, trading, and religious center of Altail. And political as well, being the capital of the Nuru Bator and Yesukai ka khans.

I would argue that it was the Tebtengri Shamanate, a confederation of tribes in the arctic regions of Altai which can be said to be truly and wholly non urbanized.