Friday, November 16, 2007

Colourful Institutions in Science Fiction

If you immerse into the huge literature of SF you will soon experience the profusion of its sociological range, in particular, the establishments it creates.

Some of these, though splendidly described, are close analogies or even transcripts of establishments that have got existed in historical reality. A good illustration of this is Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League, a trading organisation modelled on the medieval Hanseatic League. His novels Satan's World and Mirkheim are first-class narratives put in the epoch of the League and featuring its maestro trader, Saint Nicholas avant garde Rijn.

Other, more than original, establishments take the word form of elite organisations of people with particular powers, so that they stop up as authorities in all but name, or at least as a sort of Overgovernment to which all authorities must take heed. Examples include the Lensmen in the narratives of Vitamin Vitamin E E Smith, and the Lords of the Instrumentality in the hereafter history invented by Cordwainer Smith. A fluctuation on this subject is provided by A Vitamin E avant garde Vogt in The Weapon Shops of Isher, in which the indestructible Weapon Shops, persisting behind force-fields throughout the history of the autocratical Empire of Isher, supply a sort of counter-government, Oregon counterpoison to tyranny; in other words a reconciliation military unit that guarantees no authorities can have got absolute powerfulness over its people.

Other SF establishments are in consequence firms, or companies, which offering unusual services to the user. The Ooranye Undertaking narrative "The Forgetters" have an organisation which supplies memory loss to order, and is used by an intelligence organisation to give its agent a cleft at the resistance with all preconceived notions wiped away. The house called General Services in Henry Martin Robert Heinlein's "We Also Walk Dogs" takes to supply absolutely anything (so long as it's legal) to anyone, and the narrative shows the staff successfully juggling the apparently impossible demands of its clients.

Some establishments are more than than houses but less than governments; for example, see a university or a great museum, or a learned society. Or a great and long-lasting criminal conspiracy! Jack Vance is a master-builder of this sort of particular corporation.

His novel The Killing Machine has a absorbing though screaming episode concerning "Interchange", an interstellar agent that put option abductors and their victims' households in touch, arranging for the "fees" to be "rescinded", or in other words for the ransom money to be paid. Its logotype is a handshake. The duologue is classic deadpan Vance.

Another of his establishments is called, simply, the Institute. We ran into it in the five books of the Demon Princes series. The Institute is an organisation dedicated to the proposition that

Space thrust have given a awful arm to any megalomaniacs who go on to happen in our midst. There is other cognition which, if equally free, could guarantee them tyrannical power. We therefore command the airing of knowledge.

The Institute is therefore a deliberately reactionist force, in the sense of restricting technological progress. It makes not desire things to acquire too comfortable:

For all its rawness and excess, we envy antediluvian world its burning experience. We throw that addition after toil, victory after adversity, accomplishment to a end long sought, is a greater beneficence than prebendary food from the nipple of an indulgent government.

Vance lets the Institute to set its statements and at the same clip he offers a counter-blast from the oral cavities of some of his characters, who bear down that the Fellows of the Institute are hypocrites, promoting labor and adversity for others while they dwell lives of easy richness themselves.

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