Sunday, 1 April 2018

A Hundred Thousand Worlds

Poul Anderson, A Stone In Heaven IN Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (Riverdale, NY, 2012), pp. 1-188.

A few more two-word sentences:

"All did." (VIII, p. 107)
"Yewwl dismounted." (p. 112)
"Flandry admired." (IX, p. 129)
"Cairncross scowled." (X, p. 133)

An early pulp space opera story by Poul Anderson was "Lord of a Thousand Suns." Cairncross aims:

" make himself lord of a hundred thousand worlds." (p. 133)

- but, in the latter case, Anderson conveys a sense of the Terran Empire and its member planets as substantial societies with diverse histories, economies and cultures.

We last see Cairncross thinking:

"Civilization was deathly ill; the rot had reached the heart. Nothing could save it but radical surgery." (p. 135)

But, if every local ruler is free to think thus and act accordingly, then civilization is finished.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I agree! All societies, real or fictional, have problems--including grave ones. But if these problems are to be solved or merely somehow coped with, it has to be (or should) done by lawful and peaceful means. A frequent recourse to violence WILL break down any society.


S.M. Stirling said...

Really overwhelming ambition has a certain purity.

What would being lord of a hundred thousand worlds get Cairncross that being lord of one world wouldn't?

In fact being lord of just one world would be a hell of a lot of work; spending a lot of time in meetings, reviewing and annotating reports, worrying about ambitious subordinates.

Paul Shackley said...

Why does anyone want to do it?
Chinese sayings: Two sages can share a blanket; two Emperors cannot share a kingdom. A rich man thinks of his estates; a wise man thinks of the universe.

S.M. Stirling said...

Sean: that depends on the society.

A lot of my ancestors come from the Anglo-Scots border country, the area that gave the words "blood feud" and "blackmail" to the English language.

There was a lot of chronic low-level violence there, to the extent that if you couldn't fortify it with a "peel tower" there was no point in building anything more elaborate than a wattle cottage, because it was sure to be burned down soon anyway. Nobody planted orchards because raiders would be sure to cut them down. The economy depended on livestock because that couldn't be burnt just before harvest, you could hide sheep and cattle, and/or steal them back or steal others yourself. One of the local sports was riding your horse into a stream and flipping salmon out with the point of your lance, which tells you something.

Every once in a while, the chronic raiding and feuding gave way to something major, a war or some reaver clan riding out two thousand lances strong to "break the border".

But that society functioned well enough, and lasted a long, long time. It even contributed a lot of good ballads, though they're almost all about robbery and revenge.

During the Reformation period, a well-meaning cleric set out to see whether the folk of Liddesdale, one of the worst bandit nests on the border (which was saying something) were Catholic or Protestant. He found no churches of any description, just fortified houses and the grim keep of the Master of Liddesdale.

He burst out: "Are there no -Christians- in this valley?"

The local he was talking to thought for a moment and replied: "Nae. We is a' Elliots an' Armstrangs here, laddie."

(If you want a very good and well-researched set of books set there, try Patricia Finney's series starting with A FAMINE OF HORSES, which uses an actual English Warden of the West March as the hero (and a very colorful guy he was, even by Elizabethan standards).

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul and Mr. Stirling!

Paul: some people are, like it or not, ambitious for what you would call non-rational reasons. It doesn't matter if you or I wished it was otherwise, the FACT remains that is the case. A reasonably wise or stable society finds ways and means for that kind of energy and ambition to be legitimately expressed. The chief value of democracy is that it allows ambitious men to seek power without needing to use force.

Mr. Stirling: yes, but the Border country of England/Scotland was, compared to the capitals of Edinburgh and London, a primitive and backward area. My thought was that a sophisticated, advanced, high tech society needs peace, most of the time, to simply function. COULD either the UK or US (or Anderson's Terran Empire) function if everyone lived in a state of low intensity warfare? You yourself argued that the state arose and took permanent root among human beings precisely because it enabled most people, most of the time, to live with some security of life and property.

And thanks for recommending Patricia Finney's books!


Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

I forgot to add that even if Edwin Cairncross succeeded in making himself Emperor, he would still be doing precisely what he had been doing as Grand Duke of Hermes: attending meetings, reviewing and annotating reports, and keeping a wary eye open for excessively ambitious subordinates.


S.M. Stirling said...

Sean: yeah, but what, apart from the impalpable psychic reward of thinking I AM ABSOLUTE BIG BULL GORILLA, what would he get for it? Same work, same rewards -- and he'd probably have to worry more about subordinates, because more of them would be aimed at him.

I think the "bull gorilla" thing explains it. Humans are very strongly motivated to compete for the #1 slot in whatever social context they're in, because we're all descended from men who did that.

S.M. Stirling said...

Sean: you're right, a complex civilization needs a more stable setting.

Paul Shackley said...

I grew up in the Border country but many generations later!
As a matter of fact, "Christian" was a Cumbrian surname and my father's family claimed a connection with Fletcher Christian.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Mr. Stirling and Paul!

Mr. Stirling: I agree, a powerful motivating factor in cases like Cairncross is the desire to thump your chest and roar I AM THE ABSOLUTE BIG BULL GORILLA!!! It's simply a FACT that many ambitious men are like that, like it or not.

Now, for a complex society with a high level of technology to survive, the state, whatever form it takes, HAS to have laws, rules, and customs on how power is gained and transferred. That is laws and rules of succession. And it is best if these laws, rules, and customs are believed to be RIGHT by the people(s) of that state.

Paul: rather cool, that you might have a personal connection to Fletcher Christian, of "HMS Bounty" fame!