Monday, 11 January 2016

In The Slower Than Light Ship

In Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History:

the first slower than light interstellar spaceship, the Pioneer, is launched in 2126 on a hundred and twenty three years journey to Alpha Centauri;

in 2205, there are seven thousand people on board and the ship is under its second captain, Gomez;

the Captain's Court, which rules the ship and tries cases, comprises the Captain, three officers, representing Astrogation, Administration and Engineering, and one crew member;

the Captain invokes "'...a tradition that junior officers should be seen and not heard...'" (Cold Victory, p. 35);

the occasion is the trial of junior officer, Evan Friday, found guilty of sedition, mutiny and bribery, punishable by death or imprisonment;

in his statement to the Court, Friday alleges that -

he has been framed;
the ship has endured eighty years of tyrannies, revolutions and corruption;
there is "'...a ceaseless struggle for power which is used only to oppress...'" (p. 34);
two successive Captains have not exercised due authority;
the Captaincy is a farcical figurehead;
the officers are a tyrant caste;
the crew are an ignorant mob!;
on this basis, the expedition will fail.

Because of his youth and good record, he is merely demoted to Engineering Section crewman, his property sequestered.

Something is wrong:

only one crew member in the Captain's Court;
the third person narrator describes the Astro officers as a rigidly mannered caste;
junior officers are treated like children in Victorian England;
are any of Friday's allegations about the ship and the flimsy, perjured case against him true?;
how can this be happening in a spaceship where the common purpose should be to reach Alpha Centauri and colonize a planet, not to play power politics en route?

Having read the story before, I know what is going on but maybe I should have suspected something on the first reading?

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Even if no pyschotechncians had been manipulating the society of a multi-generational STL star ship, I would EXPECT there to be intrigue, political maneuvering, skulduggery, etc. Because such behavior is inevitably going to be a part of any human community and society. As Poul Anderson wrote of Catherine Kittridge hometown on the planet Vixen in Chapter VIII of WE CLAIM THESE STARS: "...the intrigues of her small city were as subtle as any around the Imperial throne."