Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Superior Knowledge

A single individual with superior knowledge or technology might disrupt an entire society:

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain;
Lest Darkness Fall by L Sprague de Camp;
"Time Patrol" by Poul Anderson.

(One of Padway's audience is looking at us.)

Alternatively, an individual transported from a sophisticated civilization to a more primitive society might lack the skills necessary for survival:

"The Man Who Came Early" by Poul Anderson.

Anderson follows Twain and de Camp but also explores more than one possibility.

The single disruptive individual might be a space traveler instead of a time traveler. Thus, Dominic Flandry subverts an interstellar empire in Anderson's "Tiger By The Tail." ("Tiger By The Tail" introduced Flandry of the Terran Empire just as "Time Patrol" introduced Everard of the Time Patrol.)

SM Stirling transports not a single individual but Nantucket and its population to 1250 BC, thus multiplying the disruptions. William Walker goes it alone, albeit with some skilled help, and becomes an evil counterpart of the Yankee and Padway. Build a new civilization? Yes! Base it on slavery and crucifixions? No, thanks! The Nantucketers do a lot of good but, unfortunately, must divert a lot of resources into counteracting Walker.

Swindapa, of a tribe allied to Nantucket, says:

"'We had to become other than we were, or cease to be at all...'"
-SM Stirling, Against The Tide Of Years (New York, 1999), Chapter Twenty-Three, p. 380.

Because she has witnessed major technological and social changes in a single decade, Swindapa has realized what is true of all life. By preserving themselves and propagating their species, organisms were changed by natural selection. By changing their environment with hands and brain, our simian ancestors changed themselves into human beings. Those who preserve a tradition in a changed society preserve their idea of the tradition and thus change it. But meanwhile, to survive, we must maintain a material and cultural environment. So we have to live with continuity and change and without any help from gods, time travelers or space travelers.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

One thing I remember from L. Sprague de Camp's LEST DARKNESS FALL was that, at first, Martin Padway was not trying to drastically change the society he found himself marooned in. Instead, the changes he introduced was simply to help himself survive.

Yes, in "The Man Who Came Early," Poul Anderson was warning us to keep in mind not all time travelers might succeed.

Besides Anderson's "Tiger By The Tail," I would also suggest his "The Plague of Masters." In that story we see Dominic Flandry investigating the planet Unan Besar--with him setting in motions changes that would bring down the corrupt and oppressive Biocontrol regime.

And I do believe God can and does help us in some ways!