Thursday, 4 May 2017


Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League series emphasizes:

that the merchant princes of the League, including Nicholas van Rijn, accumulate vast quantities of wealth;

that some League companies, not including van Rijn's, acquire their wealth unethically.

Even van Rijn is eventually told by his protege, David Falkayn, that he does not need any more! The wealth generated by Supermetals should go instead to the underdeveloped planets and species. Thus, Anderson addresses some central issues of economic and social justice - or the lack thereof.

By contrast, Ian Fleming merely flaunts the wealth of the wealthy and the lack of wealth in other parts of society:

"...a wealthy Belgian with metal interests in the Congo...a distinguished but weak-looking man whose francs were presumably provided by his rich American wife...a well-known Greek gambler who owned, as in Bond's experience apparently everyone does in the Eastern Mediterranean, a profitable shipping line."
-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (London, 1965), Chapter 10, p. 72.

Everyone! At best, this remark is humorous.

"...the American film star with alimony from three husbands to burn and, Bond assumed, a call on still more from whoever her present companion at Royale might be...a Mr and Mrs Du Pont, rich-looking and might or might not have some of the real Du Pont money behind them." (p. 73)

"...a prosperous-looking young Italian, Signor Tomelli, who possibly had plenty of money from rackrents in Milan and would probably play a dashing and foolish game. He might lose his temper and make a scene." (p. 73)

Fleming certainly knew the upper echelons of society.

"There was an excited buzz around the table. The word ran through the Casino. People crowded in. Thirty-two million! For most of them it was more than they had earned all their lives. It was their savings and the savings of their families. It was, literally, a small fortune." (pp. 86-87)

Fleming invites our vicarious enjoyment of high stakes gambling. There is an irony here that he does not highlight. Bond's gambling adversary, Le Chiffre, purportedly serves the cause of Communism - an issue that is long dead by van Rijn's and Flandry's times, although individual colony planets are free to practise diverse socioeconomic systems. Thus, additional instalments of the series could describe almost anything.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

While it was true that Old Nick did not NEED to accumulate even vaster wealth than what he already had by the time of SATAN'S WORLD, I think you missed an important point. It was the work, the effort of mind and skill, outwitting of rivals, even occasional danger, etc., in gaining that wealth which Old Nick enjoyed. We see mention of how, in his younger days, van Rijn personally explored, bargained, and traded among many worlds. And the pleasure that had given him.

I think it's only fair to point out that Dominic Flandry also enjoyed playing poker, and probably, at least at times, for high stakes. But he also used poker for beneficial ends. In Chapter IV of A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHAWOWS, Chives (Flandry's non-human butler) recounted how, disapproving of how the workers at a mercury mine were treated, Flandry instigated a game of poker with the mine owner, with the mine and the slaves working there as the stakes. Flandry won, albeit Chives admitted he had cheated. Flandry arranged for repatriation of the workers, probably slaves whom he also manumitted. Chives he kept because he needed medical treatmeant (and after a while Chives chose to stay with Flandry). The mercury mine was probably sold to more responsible owners.