Monday, 15 September 2014

Wings Of Victory

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 5 July 2014.

From orbit around a newly discovered terrestroid planet, Vaughn Webner, chief xenologist on the Olga, a spaceship of the Grand Survey, detects:

Stone Age cultures, probably based on hunting-gathering-fishing by carnivores;
Iron Age cultures, probably based on herding of meat animals with cultivation for fodder but not agriculture.

Webner wonders how the Iron Agers maintain their metallurgic culture with so little trade and communication:

a few clusters of buildings, without defensive walls or streets, near primitive mines;
a few dirt tracks between buildings, mines and docks;
otherwise, only small isolated settlements or single buildings;
immense unpopulated areas.

This kind of hard sf story about a spaceship crew exploring a new planet is like a (much better) Star Trek episode and also a detective story:

 the characters and the readers receive clues in the shape of discrete data about a planetary environment;
a single explanation, when discovered or disclosed, integrates disparate data;
sometimes, as in this particular story, it is not initially obvious which species is dominant.

When it is revealed that the planet is called Ythri by its most advanced culture, regular readers will understand that:

the dominant species is indeed carnivorous;
each Ythrian needs a lot of territory;
Ythrians do not need roads for rapid communication.

Because "Wings of Victory" is a story, not a speculative essay, there are not only mysteries about the xenosophonts but also conflicts between the human beings but I am not going to post about those at 2.10 AM. 

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