Friday, 8 January 2016

The Politics Behind All The Fighting

I am determined to continue and complete the serial summary of the sequence of fight scenes in Poul Anderson's "Brake." However, I have at last come across the reason behind the fighting.

As I said before, the Solar Union period of Anderson's Psychotechnic History divides into a "social" trilogy and a "political" tetralogy. The "social" stories are, respectively, pre-Humanist, post-Humanist and extrasolar. The "political" stories feature:

Humanist conspirators with an asteroid base;
a Humanist Dictator on Earth;
psychotechnic conspirators on Callisto and Ganymede;
Western Reformist conspirators with an asteroid base (in "Brake").

The Western Reformists want to hijack a spaceship in order to supply their base. "Holmgang" and The Snows Of Ganymede had told us that opposition to Western technic society emanated from Asia. Now, this Oriental opposition has crystallized around Kali worship, which has even spread to North America and has generated its own opponents, the puritanical, pro-technological Western Reformists. Western Terrestrial women are described as "...crop-headed, tight-lipped, sad-clad..." (Cold Victory, p. 233) We really needed a "social" story set on Western Earth during this period, not an interminable fight sequence grudgingly explaining itself after thirty four pages of text. (The fact that the ship is temporarily in free fall affects the movements of the combatants and their use of guns but otherwise there was no reason for these long passages to be sf.)

However, "Brake" does complete the account of social degeneration on Earth. When Banning suddenly starts talking about Terrestrial ideological conflicts (p. 234), it sounds like an arbitrary mishmash of labels but it does make sense that the failures first of the Psychotechnic Institute, then of the Humanist Dictatorship, would lead to an irreconcilable polarization along the lines laid out in this story.

As with all of Anderson's works, there is more than we expect to be found in the Psychotechnic History when we delve beneath its surface.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Perhaps part of the difficulty you seem to have with "Brake" stems from it being a still relatively early story by Poul Anderson, first pub. in 1957. I've suggested in one of my essays that Anderson's career can be divided into early, middle, and late phases. And one thing to remember about his early phase is that he was still learning how to write, to find his true voice as a writer, in that phase. "Brake" could be considered an example of an early Anderson story where the author had not yet quite mastered how, where, and when to place combat scenes.


  2. Sean,
    Despite all this, "Brake" does complete the picture of the slide from the utopian economy down towards the Second Dark Ages.

    1. Kaor, Paul!

      I've gotten sidetracked from rereading the Psychotechnic series first by my trip to Hawaii, then by reading Greg Bear's THE FORGE OF GOD, Harry Turtledove's second and third SUPER VOLCANO books, and now Andy Weir's THE MARTIAN (a surprisingly interesting book!). But I do plan to get back to the Psychotechnic stories.