Friday, 15 January 2016


Now I must state my disagreements with Poul Anderson's "The Troublemakers" (Cold Victory, New York, 1982).

The purpose is to colonize a planet of Alpha Centauri. However, the means to achieve this purpose is a six mile long spaceship taking a hundred and twenty three years, five or six generations, to deliver ten thousand people to Centauri. Is the sole purpose of those five or six generations to deliver human genes to Centauri?

Surely this particular means generates a subsidiary purpose: to study the cosmos from the unique vantage point of an interstellar spaceship for a hundred and twenty three years? Such cosmic exploration has two aspects:

how much can be learned about astrophysics, cosmology, cosmic radiation, the interstellar medium, the structure of space, unexpected discoveries en route etc?;

how will this new, small, purposive community express itself artistically and culturally during nearly a century and a quarter in space?

To begin with, the crew's attention needs to be focused outwards at the universe, not inwards at their own environmental or social arrangements. When discussing this with the secret psychologists, Friday concedes too easily that perhaps only ten percent of the population would be able to occupy themselves with science, art or music. What population? That may have been true of the seven thousand people on board in 2205, as described in the story. However, the Pioneer had been launched in 2126 with a crew of only two hundred. That crew could have been picked for their expertise in the arts and sciences. Heredity, education and culture would ensure that the majority of the following five or six generations remained focused on scientific and artistic endeavors.

Captain Gomez refers to:

"'...lives...spent in a cramped and sterile environment far from the green Earth...'" (p. 106)

The fact that their enclosed, artificial environment is entirely changeless and unchallenging is supposed to account for the crew's internecine strife. But the environment should not be like that. If conscious beings are going to cross interstellar distances, then they need to carry their environment with them and a human environment is more than cabins and corridors. In fact, the psychologists even seem to have made the Pioneer more cramped than necessary to suit their purposes. However:

even in the Pioneer, the parks simulate a Terrestrial sky;

Anderson's later Selenarchs show us that, given enough energy and creativity, an entirely enclosed environment can nevertheless be spacious, colorful, dynamic and stimulating;

the Pioneer crew could have access to audiovisuals from Earth and to projections of what their Centaurian environment might look like instead of to the giant telescreens showing mindless, tasteless programs aimed at a lower social class.

The psychologists seem to seek the lowest common denominator instead of the highest.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Don't forget Anderson's TALES OF THE FLYING MOUNTAINS. The last story in that book, "Recruiting Nation," plus the interstitial "interludes" shows us a more sophisticated generation ship/asteroid, called the "Astra". It uses futuristic technologies like the Bussard drive and "gyrogravitics" for powering sources. We see Anderson stressing a need for high culture while also warning us to have no illusions about human beings.