THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE
Commentary by Joseph T Major on H. Beam Piper's SPACE VIKING (1963)
I. THE SPIRAL OF HISTORY
It can be thought ironic that H. Beam Piper was at the peak of his career at the time he was personally devastated. While he was impoverished enough to be living off pigeons he had shot from his window, editors were looking to give him money. Eventually, he would shoot himself in a fit of depression that it would seem had been brought about by a concatenation of personal, financial, and political factors. (His belief in reincarnation may also have encouraged him to suppose that he could, like Donald Crowhurst, drop out of a losing game and start over again.)
For example, John W. Campbell enthused "I'd just bought 82,000 words of 'Space Viking" (hell of a good job, too!) from H. Beam Piper," about this work on May 21, 1962 (The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume I, p. 393), and he proceeded to run it in the newly-renamed Analog Science Fact Science Fiction in November and December 1962 and January and February 1963. It can certainly be considered to be better than Subspace Explorers, the book that "Doc" Smith (the recipient of the letter) was selling to Campbell.
Piper's theory of history was cyclical, which parallels (and may help explain) his belief in reincarnation. (Politician stumping in Hyde Park: "This nonsense of reincarnation is a dire affliction on society." Heckler: "Come on, you said that in your last life.") The demands of interplanetary colonization, in his view, would require a more hierarchial society, one with derived authority from a central power. This doesn't quite explain why our hero is a baron, instead of (say) a C.E.O. of a subsidiary.
Piper's emulator Jerry Pournelle, in defense of a structure of nobility in The Mote In God's Eye (1973), pointed out that the titles would be translations, due to the evolution of language, and for all that the reader knew the "barons" and "counts" could be, say, "executives" and "vice-presidents". Earlier in his series Piper had described an evolution of language; Earth had had a great nuclear war and the subsequent space-going culture was from the Southern Hemisphere, so the language is a creole of Afrikaans, English, and Spanish.
Piper had prepared a detailed background reference for his work, his "TerroHuman Future History", a thick notebook evidently far more detailed than the original innovator's wall chart. Others have, knowingly or unknowingly, followed this course. Sometimes the abundance of background can lead to too much background exposition; or sometimes the background can be discussed to death with the writer's fans/researchers, and since this is so obvious, there is no need to clutter the story with it, leaving the non-participants rather confused. Piper had no circle of confidantes to absorb his time, neither did he have to endure the malign neglect that passes for editing these days. He was quite skilled at creating that background, to the point where the entire society is referenced by its own past. The shallowness of the "great biologists Darwin, Gould, and Prilosec Pentasa of Crohn IV" stuff from others' works is shown up by comparison. Discovering a certain ancient reference, ancient in the time-frame of the story, is itself a significant element of the plot.
Space Viking is full of ironies and indeed the climax can be considered (when we come to consider it) to be a supreme irony. The beginning has interesting considerations, too. Usually adventure novels end with the hero and the girl spooning under the moon (moons, every now and then) in whatever passes for June, but this begins: "They stood together at the parapet, their arms about each other's waists, her head against his cheek." [p. 1]
At first all we see of Lord Lucas Trask of Traskon is this passionate lover. It is the night before his wedding, and while this society may not have the superstition about seeing the bride on the wedding day, there are enough superstitions and social rituals for Trask and his affianced, Elaine Karvall, to be concerned. (One of the more interesting factors of this novel is the effort Piper went to in order to create a society, to devise its own rituals and beliefs.) Trask has done all a proper wedding requires, including building a fancy new house for the married couple, which sensibly they will be staying at for the first few months of their marriage, among their nearest and dearest, instead of getting started among strangers.
Nearest and dearest are a bit of a problem, though, as they come pressing in on the young lovers. Sesar Karvall, the prospective father-in-law, comes to announce the arrival of what will turn out to be two of the prime motivators of the plot (but we're getting ahead of the story). Right now, they both annoy Trask, for different reasons.
The overlord of all these people, Duke Angus of Wardshaven, is planning to finance a treasure hunt. Since the treasure happens currently to be the property of other people, armed ones, this entails a certain armed response on the part of the appropriators.
Such forcible enrichment has been the custom of people from Minoan Greece to Piper's own time, in the China Sea. However, the practicioners in this universe have settled on one particular group of people, and go by the melodramatic name of "Space Vikings". This can be considered a weakness, as it were, of unoriginality. Having seen computer systems not that computing plays much of a part in this universe, Piper having bought into the contemporary belief that systems would only get bigger and bigger, cf. The Cosmic Computer (1963, 1964) that use similar names for similar functions ("email", "folders", "pipes", etc. etc. having nothing about them of paper, cardboard, or lead (or copper, or PVC) respectively), this now seems less unreasonable. In any case, the usage fits in with Piper's theory of history repeating itself, not quite as farce the second time.
With perhaps a certain unconcern for the sufferings of others Trask doesn't care for what the Space Viking might do to others, but it does bother him what the fellow is doing to his home. Whatever benefits a frontier might offer in relief of social pressure are countermanded, in his mind, by the losses in population in general and skills in particular, along with some questionable speculation about genetic loss. This doesn't keep him from wanting to meet the man.
One can imagine this Captain Otto Harkaman taking a dragonship to Dublin, a knarr to Vinland, or a riverboat to Miklagard. What isn't quite to be expected is the fact that he can discuss historical parallels with Trask, and in the middle of the Karvall pre-wedding reception can discourse on genetic drift and sociological theory without batting an eye. In fact, in a primary issue he is in one accord with Trask, though with a different perspective: "That's what happened to the Terran Federation, by the way. The good men all left to colonize, and the stuffed shirts and yes-men and herd-followers and safety-firsters stayed on Terra and tried to govern the Galaxy." [p. 9] This cause for the decline and fall of the Terran Federation is most reminiscent of the distant decadent portrait of Earth presented in Heinlein's Time Enough for Love (1973)
Why they were all there in the first place is a different matter. At the end of a war of secession in the Terran Federation, the survivors of the losing faction escaped, heading for habitable planets outside the reach of the Federation. (The war itself features in Piper's The Cosmic Computer, from another angle.) Being a certain kind of antiquarian, they named their new world "Excalibur", and the other planets they colonized likewise took their names from swords out of medieval legend, like Gram, the setting of all the action thus far; the entire cluster thereby gaining the name of the "Sword-Worlds".
So the feudalism of the Sword-Worlds could be as much as anything else of military descent, the way the original feudalism descended from the Germanic chieftains dividing up the former Roman lands among their subchiefs, or the Shogun depending on the daimyos, who handed out koku of rice stipends to their samurai. For a military lot they seem rather mutinous, though. Trask sees Angus as a potential planetary unifier, something which Gram seems to be sadly in need of: "Some of the duchies, like Glaspyth or Didreksburg, are literal snake-pits. All the major barons are at each other's throats, and they can't even keep their own knights in order." [p. 11]
The feudalism is not a straight knights-in-shining-armor one. "It was the marriage of the farming and ranching barony of Traskon and the Karvall steel mills." [p. 6] The Book of the British Rich (1990), admittedly a not-always reliable source (for example, it includes Robert Maxwell), lists titled millionaires as well as untitled ones, and some of the former are buinessmen of one sort or another. For example, there are Lord Sainsbury (grocery chain), Lord Vestey (meatpacking), the Earl of Stockton (publisher Macmillan's [but the title comes from Harold, the publisher who dabbled in being Prime Minister]), Lord Hambleden (booksellers W. H. Smith's), and so on.
While there are vikings and feudal lords, there are also barbarians. Someone opines that, disordered though they may be, they could still vaporize the legendary Neobarbarians should they be so heedless as to attack, and Harkaman responds with a definition that is the statement of a key theme of this work:
. . . "These are homemade barbarians. Workers and peasants who revolted to seize and divide
the wealth and then found they'd smashed the means of production and killed off all the technical
brains. Survivors on planets hit during the Interstellar Wars . . . who lost the machinery of
civilization. Followers of political leaders on local-dictatorship planets. Companies of
mercenaries thrown out of employment and living by pillage. Religious fanatics following
Space Viking, p. 12
But Otto Harkaman isn't there for the purpose of discussing Spengler's and Toynbee's theories
with Lucas Trask. Duke Angus, like every other leader, is out to get money, and the particular
social structure of Sword-World society not being antipathetic to trade, he wants to try
expanding. In fact, Angus is planning to do some more colonization, to settle the planet Tanith.
The fact that Tanith is closer to the target-rich environment of the former Terran Federation,
and that Angus's new ship Enterprise will be seeking out, not new life and new civilizations, but
decadent old ones to rob, is sort of secondary. Harkaman might well consider it a symptom of
the decline and fall of the Sword-World Empire that he was available because he had lost his
previous ship in another of those local conflicts (except for, in a bizarre parallel, his bridge crew;
did his men wear red shirts?). Trask's short-term objection is that this Tanith Adventure will
take technicians away from Gram, and he quickly gathers confirmation from the others listening
in. (This is a reflection on the peculiar problems of expansion in a technological age. The
frontier hypothesis tends to fail when it's the skilled, not the nonconformists, who are drawn
The other new guest is not quite so nice. Lucas and Elaine have fancied each other for some time, but she has had other suitors, at least the suitor in question thinks so. Indeed, Duke Angus's nephew Lord Andray Dunnan believes a lot of things: "You lie damnably, in your stinking teeth, all of you! You've intercepted every message she's tried to send me." [p. 15] This was easy for Sesar Karvall, since the grand total of messages that his daughter Elaine had sent this ardent suitor was none.
A political study that has become of more concern these days is Richard Hofstader's paranoid style in politics; the ascription of vast, maleficient motives to shadowy, omnipotent bodies of conspirators, those in power plotting and scheming endlessly to get in power. The reasoning and standards of evidence used resemble considerably that of the ordinary paranoid, differing only in the object of the collusion. Indeed, some practitioners of the paranoid style are to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from those disabled by the delusions of grandeur and persecution consequent on the mental disability. The difference may be less than commonly thought.
Dunnan displays this well enough. There is a core of plausbility in his accusation that the marriage suits the other interests of those involved well enough Trask gets to diversify, Sesar Karvall acquires mineral resources, and their Duke Angus gains by the synergism. As is common in such belief structures, he overstates his thesis by adding in the victims of his bad financial management and megalomania. He caps this when Elaine and her attendants come down to settle this problem once and for all. She denies, one would think conclusively, any current or previous love interest in Dunnan, and for her pains gets included in the conspiracy. And screaming about his rights of succession, Dunnan is bundled off by his mysterious aide Nevil Ormm, apparently the only other person capable of tolerating him.
(This incident shows up a time-bomb in the political situation. Duke Angus has no children. Andray Dunnan is the son of his sister, and so the heir-presumptive. This could have been problematic even if the rest of the book hadn't happened. It's also interesting to note that Dunnan bases his claim on his mother having been Angus's elder sister; i.e., inheritance is by birth order, not males-first.)
Dunnan is raising mercenaries with which to carve out a dominion from the ruins of the crumbling baronies in the southern continent of Gram; Trask had cited this two-century old conflict as a symptom of social decline in the Sword-Worlds. With all the small-scale conflicts springing up again in the post-Soviet era, this situation seems more plausible than when the book was written. The armed historian Otto Harkaman notes that Dunnan seems rather a dangerous person to let go around unescorted, much less have command of troops (he also wanted command of the Enterprise but his uncle was not that foolish), but taking him out could cause political problems.
Everyone seems to be calmed down by next morning. The story resumes with Trask counting the minutes until he can take his new wife to their new home and making sure that everything is in order. Like most SF writers, influenced by the secularized intellectual order Piper had assumed that in the future religion would be cast on the ash-heap of history, aside from erratic and obscure survivals such as their using "Satan" as an expletive. (The decline of the existing Western religions has seen rather the rise of Eastern religions and new faiths; so much for that.) This is why the wedding ceremony is being conducted by their feudal overlord, Duke Angus. The greatest part of the ceremony is taken up with the reading of the marriage agreement. Piper would not seem to have been aware of the Jewish ketubah and he lived before the age of the prenuptual agreement, so this counts as an interesting prediction. This merger requires strict financial conditions; Trask doesn't "want his great-grandchildren and Elaine's shooting it out over a matter of a misplaced comma." [p. 21]
It also seems to be a step in Angus's campaign to establish himself as planetary ruler, as he not-so-subtly hints during the course of the ceremony. But it's over not too soon enough for those most intimately involved, and at least some of the ancient customs have survived, like throwing the bouquet. Also some of the less pleasant ones, like paparazzi. Already once Sesar Karvall has complained about the local equivalent of news helicopters taking pictures [p. 5], and now another aircar from one of those news services is getting some really intimate shots of the wedding. But that's no telephoto lens in the car:
. . . Then he saw who was in the car.
Andray Dunnan, his thin face contorted and the narrow mustache writhing on his upper lip; he had a slit beside the window open, and was tilting the barrel of a submachine gun up and out of it.
He shouted, and at the same time tripped Elaine and flung her down. He was throwing himself forward to cover when there was a blasting multiple report. Something sledged him in the chest; his right leg crumpled under him. He fell.
He fell and fell and fell, endlessly, through darkness, out of consciousness.
Space Viking, p. 24
II. THERE IS A TIDE
Trask wakes up soon enough but he wishes otherwise: "Elaine is dead. That didn't make sense. . . . Elaine was dead. There was no more Elaine, nowhere at all. Why, that must mean there was no more world." [p. 26] Compounding this agonizing grief is Trask's realization that he had even pushed Elaine into Dunnan's line of fire.
Space Viking is in many ways a dark and grim book, an appropriate tribute to the original, and this display of grief and grieving is a striking example of this. Trask slowly recovers physically, but his emotional recovery, the resolution of his grief, is going to be more complex and difficult. He shows such grave signs of grief as a different sort of denial: "I'll never enter that house as long as I live, and I wish that wouldn't be more than the next minute. That was to be Elaine's house. I won't go to it alone." [p. 28]
One of Dunnan's accusations against his enemies was that "they" had plotted to deny him command of the Enterprise; he was an experienced astrogator and veteran Space Viking and somehow that and his relationship made him feel entitled. Those troops he had raised made a really nice raiding group and at least the basic cadre of a starship crew. If he couldn't get his desire granted him, he could take it.
The Enterprise is gone, and Duke Angus has seen his liquid capital flit off into the sky with her. Otto Harkaman has seen not only his command fly away but the chance of another job has vanished in the meantime. Trask has his own solution to their problems, and his in addition: "Captain Harkaman, it might be that you could still get a command, here on Gram. That's if you don't mind commanding under me as owner-aboard. I am going hunting for Andray Dunnan." [p. 30] And to get the ship, he will trade it for his estate, which now means nothing to him anyhow.
The next thing is to discuss strategy. The former Federation is a big place, which just might make searching hard. After a while, Otto leads Trask around to the idea of going to Tanith anyhow, on the grounds that the place was the original destination of the Duke's enterprise and would still make a good base. It was not totally devastated by nuclear war, has resources, and seems only to have decivilized, so there are people there. Trask wants to begin somewhat differently, at the nearest Space Viking entrepôt, the planet Xochitil, but evidence of Dunnan's actions conveniently turns up.
As long as mythology is the topic, Trask has to dig down in it for a name for his new ship. He retains some feeling of fitness, not wanting to associate Elaine Karvall's name with the atrocities that will ensue. Finally a newscaster with a classical turn of phrase leads him to name the good ship Nemesis. So with a crew of irreplacable technicians, advantage-seeking politicians, and Otto Harkaman's bridge team, Trask and Harkaman set off in search of Andray Dunnan.
In the first anticlimax of this book, but then one could guess that from the portion remaining, Dunnan isn't at Tanith, so their 3200-hour voyage has been for nothing. The faster-than-light drive in the book has, it seems, a velocity of something like 8760c, or one light-year per hour, which would make their measuring time for space journeys in hours appropriate. The control-room scenes, of which this is the first [pp. 41-4], show that Piper put some thought into how such outfits would work.
Dunnan isn't at Tanith, but someone is, and now Trask gets a chance to see his colleagues in his newly-chosen career in action. Or perhaps not quite collegiate: "'. . . Captain Valkanhayn is a Space Viking.' He said that as though expecting it to be disputed. 'So, I am told, is his associate, Captain Spasso . . .'" [p. 50]
Boake Valkanhayn of the Space-Scourge and Garvan Spasso of the Lamia had heard of the Tanith Adventure and decided to claim-jump it, more or less. They went there and settled in, raiding the locals and trying to keep their ships and men going. (Like proper pirate captains they are sharing and sharing alike and owning and owning alike with the crews.) Presumably, they hoped, when the Enterprise turned up with its cargo, the Duke's subordinate would have to deal with them. If not a partnership, then by preference a leveraged buyout, and it would be hoped not a hostile takeover with nuclear weapons. Even the changed situation proffers them a chance of double-dealing.
The foundations that Valkanhayn and Spasso have laid aren't pretty ones. They collected a labor staff and collect the resources to feed it by raiding the locals. Harkaman had commented that they had had a reputation of picking on planets that were not particularly able to resist and this has extended to their treatment of the locals. Which in turn has engendered its own ugly servility: "You make slaves out of people, and some will always be slave-drivers; they will bow to you, and then take it out on the others. Harkaman's nose was twitching as though he had a bit of rotten fish caught in his mustache." [p. 59]
Not to mention the frightened maid who serves them drinks; obviously she isn't having her repressed submissive feminine sexuality stirred into realization by the kiss of a whip. Neither are Valkanhayn and Spasso laying the foundations for a dominion where only the strong survive and which will engender a race of superrich, super-science, superhuman conquerors. The armed historian Harkaman is more of the opinion that they will regress to the mean until their former slaves get a chance to strike back, which might in the end provide them with some organization and technology; a small repayment for the long suffering that brought it.
As Harkaman and Trask go out and observe at the closest native town, which has come to accept a certain acceptable level of violence. The appearance of an aircar elicits defense measures among the people of Tradetown, the local town not yet quite totally obliterated by the less-than-dynamic duo. Then it all comes together for Trask:
. . . "I'm going to do everyone a favor. I'm going to let Spasso and Valkanhayn persuade me to
take this planet away from them. . . . I can't catch Dunnan by pursuit; I'll have to get him by
interception. . . . This looks like a good place to intercept him. When he learns I have a base
here, he'll hit it, sooner or later. . . ."
Space Viking, p. 65
And he also quoted Harkaman a couple of times, which seems to have secretly pleased the man.
He has a couple of cogent questions about how to finance this, but then he also knows at least
Not that Spasso and Valkanhayn needed much persuasion, once they had all the details laid out for them. Said details, however, did include some comments about an end to mistreating the locals, which seems to have been less opposed among the crews than the captains feared, and wildly popular among the locals, not surprisingly.
Piper begins here to show a difference of character between the partners. Harkaman gives a professional evaluation of his dubious colleagues: "Valkanhayn can stay in command of the Space-Scourge; he's a spaceman. But Spasso's no good for anything." [p. 72] And in the next few hundred hours they have both evaluations confirmed.
To get the Tanith Adventure back on track they have to provide some seed capital. Also, a combat evaluation of their untested troops and their new, anarchical, allies is in order. The providers of these field evaluations will be three nearby planets, chosen to be raided in order of increasing technological level.
"Khepera left a bad taste in his mouth," [p. 76] Trask felt after their first raid. Piper makes it brutally plain why:
They found themselves alone, in a great empty hallway; the noise and horror of the sack had
moved away from them, or they from it, and then, when they entered a side hall, they saw a
man, one of the locals, squatting on the floor with the body of a woman cradled on his lap. She
was dead, half her head had been blown off, but he was clasping her tightly, her blood staining
his shirt, and sobbing heartbrokenly. A carbine lay forgotten on the floor beside him.
"Poor devil," Morland said, and started forward.
Trask stopped him with his left hand. With his right, he drew his pistol and shot the man dead. Morland was horrified.
"Great Satan, Lucas! Why did you do that?"
"I wish Andray Dunnan had done that for me." He thumbed the safety and holstered the pistol. "None of this would be happening if he had. How many more happinesses do you think we've smashed here today? And we don't even have Dunnan's excuse of madness."
Space Viking, p. 65
Having to put up with Spasso gloating over what a big success the raid had been only
exacerbated his revulsion. "That was a good one; that was a good one!" Spasso slavers [p. 76]
repetitiously, to the disgust in different measures of Harkaman and Trask. As Harkaman points
out, while the loot would have been stupendous for Spasso and the Lamia, for three ships and a
base it was trivial. Trask might have taken refuge in the usual source of oblivion, but
technology has made that deniable; apparently, if "alcodote-vitamine pills" [p. 82] means what it
seems to mean, the Federation created a preventative for drunkenness. As a result, Trask has a
visit from his Stranger In a Strange Land style Old One: "Elaine came to him, while he was
resting. She looked at him in horror, and he tried to hide his face from her, and then realized he
was trying to hide it from himself." [p. 82]
All this seems to have hardened his heart. On the next planet, Amaterasu, Trask talks casually about dropping a high-yield thermonuclear weapon on a town as an inducement to surrender, though in the end he is satisfied with a demonstration of electromagnetic pulse effects. Amaterasu has not yet had its Ieyasu to break down the sovereignties of the feuding daimyos; there are separate nations there including Eglonsby, their current target. Harkaman's information on the place is neither up to date nor complete, but he quickly provides a reference when a frightened President Pedrosan Pedro shows that the word "surrender" is indeed in his vocabulary, bearing the unbearable before the power of weapons too strong to resist (and not needing even one city destroyed).
"The Council will automatically ratify any decision I make."
. . . . "How large is this Council?"
"Sixteen, elected by the Syndicates they represent. There is the Syndicate of Labor, the Syndicate of Manufacturers, the Syndicate of Small Businesses, the . . ."
"Corporate State, First Century Pre-Atomic on Terra. Benny the Moose," Harkaman said.
Space Viking, p. 65
One of the more interesting features of the book is that there is a variety of governmental styles
presented. Later on we will encounter a hereditary presidency, a constitutional monarchy, a
socialist theocracy, and various other types of rule but not, strangely, a dictatorship of the
proletariat. (Eglonsby is, recall, corporatist.)
Piper does make one overstatement here, though: "Amaterasun surnames preceeded personal names, which hinted at a culture and a political organization which made much use of registration by alphabetical list." [p. 86] But Chinese and Chinese-influenced cultures and political organizations feature surnames that proceed personal names, without that much registration or listing.
Eglonsby, Inc. turns out to have something to offer besides the usual loot. If not eight million, they have a million and a half bayonets and an enemy to turn them on. Across the ocean is an enemy, the capitalist oligarchy of Stolgoland. Now there is all kinds of opportunity knocking, thanks to these visitors from the stars. (Haven't people been trading with Eglonsby and/or Stolgoland? We shall see later on that there is a good reason for them to be doing so.) Perhaps not surprisingly, there is more than just politics involved. Amaterasu seems to be a particularly light, or perhaps well-exploited, planet, as they have no fissionable materials anywhere. Harkaman noted the presence of airstrips and speculated, condescendingly, that they might even still have railroads. All these are run by oil, and with the principal oil fields being in the sea between Eglonsby and Stolgoland, they seem to be quite willing to shed blood for oil.
A little digging turns out that Stolgoland was ready to attack first. Being rather simple and believing in honesty in governmental relations, Trask becomes disgusted with both sides, particularly after finding out that the Eglonsbians don't intend to declare war, and that the Stolgonian ambassador offers him a bribe to switch sides. As preparation for the invasion, Trask and Pedrosan Pedro begin a vast deception operation, involving among other things control of the Stolgonian spy network in Eglonsby.
The first blows of the campaign fall with lightning swiftness. Trask's fleet nukes the Stolgonian invasion ports ("Neutralized was a nice word, Trask thought; there was no echo in it of the still-living, maimed and burned and blinded, around the fringes of ground-zero." [p. 91]) and loots the Stolgonian gold reserve. (In Henry Hazlitt's Time Will Run Back (1951) when at one point the entire Freeworld gold reserve, once gold is withdrawn from circulation as in Stolgoland, is concentrated in one place, to Freeworld President Peter Uldanov's horror; fortunately he did not have to also face Space Vikings.) The troops from Eglonsby are ferried in to take over, and Stolgoland is subjugated. Only then, Trask begins to treat his erstwhile ally with all the respect and trust he seems to feel is his due.
With the army of Eglonsby out of the way, the Space Vikings proceed to start looting that country. Not only specie, either, though there is a substantial amount available there also: "In spite of the socialistic and egalitarian verbiage behind which the government operated, there seemed to be a numerous elite class and if gold were not a monetary metal it was not despised for purposes of ornamentation." [p. 91] But money is only vile dross, in Robinson Crusoe's mordant observation, if there is nothing to buy with it, and so the Space Vikings also take things to buy, sell, and use. One team appropriates artworks, under the direction of Harkaman's chief gunner, a sometime painter. In a more mundane field, other units appropriate machinery and the raw materials for the use of the machinery. And in a more metaphysical field, Harkaman himself checks out many books from the Eglonsby libraries on a very long-term loan.
Eglonsby promptly collapses into chaos, while Trask keeps order among his own. As Pedrosan Pedro whines in impotent rage from the center of his transitory victory, Trask, Harkaman, Valkanhayn, Spasso, and the brotherhood lift off for their final target on this cruise.
"Beowulf was bad," [p. 93] is the succinct summation of this final raid, and indeed it is. They have nuclear power and weapons. The last time it was raided was sixty years ago and they presumably have had time to build decent defenses. Valkanhayn and Trask will take the Space-Scourge down to land troops and capture the plunder, which in this instance will be mostly fissionables, while Harkaman covers the attack from orbit in the Nemesis.
The space defenses of Beowulf are as tough as feared, if not worse, and a long running battle ensues just to make the landing. The Beowulfers have high-tech ground forces, too, and fight with all the desperation that the weak militias of Khepera displayed. Amid the shooting and the blasting, Trask has to oversee the loading of fission-power units. (As Heinlein had solar power the "Douglas-Martin power screens" of "Let There Be Light" so Piper had a power system based on a direct conversion of low-level fission into electric power. For those focused on fusion power, this choice may come as a disconcerting difference.) And he's a leader from the front, no doubt thinking that no matter how well armored his contragravity combat car is, it still isn't enough. Trask is a responsible leader, and well aware of the cost of war:
At last, when he was completely convinced that he had really been killed, and was damned and
would spend all eternity in this fire-ridden chaos, the Nemesis began firing red flares and the
speakers in all the vehicles were signaling recall. He got aboard the Space-Scourge somehow,
after assuring himself that nobody who was still alive was being left behind.
There were twenty-odd who weren't, and the sick-bay was full of wounded who had gone up with cargo, and more were being helped off the vehicles as they were berthed. The car in which he had been riding had been hit several times, and one of the gunners was bleeding under his helmet and didn't seem aware of it. When he got to the command-room, he found Boake Valkanhayn, his face drawn and weary, getting coffee from a robot and lacing it with brandy.
Space Viking, p. 97
For all that Trask is concerned about nuclear war not being good for children and living things,
he seems unconcerned about using powerful nuclear weapons. Part of the contribution to that
fire-ridden chaos was a nuclear weapon of a different degree, what they call a "Hellburner,"
since: "It was sunlight; a Bethe solar-phoenix reaction, and it would sustain itself for hours." [p.
96] That is, converting four hydrogen-1 atoms into one helium-4 atom, instead of the
radioisotopes of hydrogen, or lithium, used by "conventional" hydrogen bombs.
Once the battered ships limp back to Tanith, Trask sits down and begins reconsidering his situation. He feels reassured to now have two trustworthy subordinates. Boake Valkanhayn had had something happen, what is never quite explicitly stated, and as a result "He'd just let himself go and stopped caring." [p. 100] Under the changed circumstances he began to recover and to impose his will on himself and those under him, with agreeable (though the peoples of Beowulf, Amaterasu, and Khepera might have dissented from this opinion) results. So straightened-out is he, in fact, that Trask and Harkaman are going to send him off in the Space-Scourge to Gram with much of the loot. This also solves the other problem.
Valkanhayn and Garvan Spasso were two of a kind on Tanith. Harkaman, seeing something that at the time wasn't readily apparent to the reader, predicted that Valkanhayn could be reclaimed but that Spasso was hopeless. Which turned out to be the case. Working on the basis that "everybody is just like me, but I'm better at it," Spasso goes to Trask complaining about the new assignment.
Valkanhayn, he says, will take the loot off on his own and rob the robbers going by his conduct, presumably what Spasso himself would have done given the opportunity. To solve that problem, and all unknowing to Spasso theirs with him as well, Trask suggests that he go along to watch out for his rights. Meanwhile, covertly, Trask suggests that Spasso be given a position in Duke Angus's court that might well solve their problems permanently. (They'll be sorry.)
While the Space-Scourge goes off to convert money into capital goods, Trask sets about building his base. The first concern of commerce raiders, whether pirates, privateers, or auxiliary cruisers, is a base, a location where they can replenish, repair, and recreate. The providers of such services can expect to gain by the exchange. (This is true for any "boom" economy.)
The raid obtained tools and machinery from Eglonsby and power packs from Beowulf. With these capital goods, Trask sets about building a base, which entails in the process developing a local economy. Perhaps not surprisingly for a rancher, he starts raising meat animals "exported" from Khepera apparently that bad taste in his mouth didn't kill his appetite. Cultured meat doesn't seem to really satisfy the palate of the discriminating Space Viking.
The local economy shows a satisfying rate of growth in the first three quarters. However, that means that the Space-Scourge is nearly three weeks late over the 125-day passage there and as much back, which begins to become a matter of concern. Not about Valkanhayn, but about what he might have jumped into. What he had jumped into was rather a different situation, as he says when he does return:
"Prince Trask; Count Harkaman," he greeted. "Space-Scourge, Tanith; thirty-two hundred
hours out of Wardshaven on Gram, Baron Valkanhayn commanding, accompanied by chartered
freighter Rozinante, Durendal, Captain Morbes. Requesting permission and instructions to orbit
"Baron Valkanhayn?" Harkaman asked.
"That's right," Valkanhayn grinned. "And I have a vellum scroll the size of a blanket to prove it. I have a whole cargo of scrolls. One says you're Otto, Count Harkaman, and another says you're Admiral of the Royal Gram Navy."
"He did it!" Trask cried. "He made himself King of Gram!"
"That's right. And you're his trusty and well-loved Lucas, Prince Trask, and Viceroy of his Majesty's Realm of Tanith."
Space Viking, pp. 105-6
[The text has one error which is corrected above.] Baron Valkanhayn has come up in the world,
and is bringing a cargo of more than just patents of nobility and certificates of rank; that
freighter brings heavy armament to deter a repetition of Dunnan's wedding behavior and heavy
machinery for that armament to protect. The Tanith Adventure, Phase II, is being heavily
pursued with prodigious investment in physical and human capital.
In return, political capital is being amassed. Angus finally put his planetary unification plan into operation, using the Tanith Adventure as a cover. (It's an interesting comment on the sizes of the political entities involved and the advances in armament that five hundred soldiers could be a significant military force [p. 38].) Angus's uneasy neighbor Duke Omfray of Glaspyth was suspect; he seems to have sent some golden snakes creeping out of his own snake pit of a duchy into Andray Dunnan's pocket, all the better to spread confusion in Wardshaven. So they returned the favor, and went on to perpetuate a Bismarckian policy for Gram. Instead of a slush fund of Hanoverian cash, now-King Angus had the prospect of investment in Tanith as a carrot, thanks to Valkanhayn's well-timed appearance. And small wonder that the bearer of good news was ennobled. Meanwhile, Sir Garvan Spasso seems to have found himself a place in the state security of the new planetary monarchy, so that problem is taken care of, or transferred away anyhow.
While Trask is getting the new equipment squared away Harkaman borrows the Nemesis for a month or so to accumulate a cargo for the return trip. On such voyages, one can't ravish wenches (or cabin boys), swill down rum-bullion, or sit in the hold and fill it with sulfur smoke as a test run for Hell all the time. Most of the Vikings have rather mundane hobbies; Vann Larch, the gunner, for example is an artist. Harkaman, as said, is a historian, and he used his leisure to research the geography of Amaterasu. Why was a planet without any fissionable materials settled? Because it had another resource essential to spaceship engines, gadolinum. They could trade it for plutonium, but where would they get plutonium? Beowulf.
The prospect of synergistically profitable trade sounds appealing, but the parallel prospect of competition leaves Harkaman cold.
III. THEY ALSO SERVE WHO ONLY STAND AND WAIT
Among the salty quotes from Cap'n Otto Harkaman that his new employer picked up on was "And when somebody makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means." [p. 8] This stuck in Lucas Trask's mind; he quoted it back at Harkaman [p. 65]. It would be fitting for him to do it again now.
Perhaps they were too busy building up their resource base. At first, the only trade is with Gram, which seems to be shipping enough to and from Tanith. This takes a while to get started, and at one point Trask realizes that it's been two years since he left Gram and he's not one step closer to finding Andray Dunnan, much less paying him back for killing the newly-wedded Lady Elaine Trask of Traskon and badly wounding her new husband. (That is, Piper is pacing the story by not resolutely recounting long days of nothing in glorious detail.) Before another year is out the news begins to trickle in.
In spite of such things as the civil wedding with the religious overtones which joined Lucas and Elaine for that brief moment, the TerroHuman Future History is not entirely a-religious. The inhabitants of the planet Gilgamesh have performed a truly heroic, daring deed, worthy of the companions of the Sumerian gods, having lost technology and, by their own efforts, regained it. Having done so, they have proceeded to spread through the remnants of the Federation, the Sword-Worlds, and presumably other civilized planets, trading, settling down in small, closed, communities, and generally incurring the envy of anyone with more greed than sense. They practice "an absurd potpourri of most of the major monotheisms of the Federation period, plus doctrinal and ritualistic innovations of their own." [p. 112] Whether this is the result of ignorance of religious matters on the author's part, or an attempt to provide a viable parallel (for current, and later, use) without being perceived as giving offense, is a matter of speculation. It might be some of both.
One can guess some of those "major monotheisms" from the Gilgamesher custom of haggling. Trask may have regretted in this case his custom of getting first-hand intelligence by personally interviewing incoming ship captains, as the Gilgameshers seem determined to talk him to death. Catching his breath between bouts of haggling (sadly, we are not given glimpses of the Gilgameshers accusing Trask of wanting to starve their wives and children) Trask asks about Andray Dunnan, and learns of his first raid.
Over the next few months he begins to see a pattern emerging. First Dunnan raided a couple of planets for specie, then he bought furs on a world where raiding was useless, and finally he traded that specie and furs for equipment for a base on an airless world.
Dunnan also seems to be building up a substantial fleet. The reports that Trask is accumulating list a half-dozen ships of varying quality. This, by the way, indicates the depth of background which Piper brought to this work. There are a large number of planets mentioned, many with specific climates, cultures, or circumstances, which would seem to indicate that Piper had put a lot of work into even the incidental background items. There's none of this "it was raining on Tanith that day" monoclimate, monoculture, planets about as varied as a small town that are all too common in SF. (This multiplicity of invented references seems to have been one of the daunting factors that prevented Pournelle from doing Son of Space Viking. But it might have turned out worse than Gunpowder God.)
This accretion of potential foes increases Trask's concern, which leads him to start augmenting his defenses, even though Dunnan had declared "I don't want any trouble with Trask, and if he's smart he won't look for any with me." [p. 117] Sounds rather like the bluster of a street gang leader. Even the slack, sloppy ships could be a problem: "[At] any time in the last year and a half; either or both of those ships could have come in on Tanith completely unsuspected." [pp. 121-2] He seems to be thinking in terms of a surprise raid here, but even a thoroughgoing reconnaissance would have been about as bad.
Trask's active measures in response to that threat are more in the field of world-building. Neither Amaterasu nor Beowulf had interstellar spaceships because each lacked one material necessary for them, though each had another in abundance. The problem was more political than technological; to bring about this combination, it would be necessary to get the locals to cooperate with the people from Tanith, whose last visit to their small planets had not been of the friendliest. Amaterasu turned out to be more willing, thanks to some realignments in the ruling class. Beowulf was understandably more suspicious all that fallout and radioactive debris couldn't have helped, but greed overcame even the cry of blood from the ground. Not to mention that Trask is quite willing to educate students from both planets along with the locals of Tanith.
When that synergism gets going, the results are such as to cause disagreement among the partners. The first ship from Beowulf, sentimentally named Viking's Gift, emulates the Space Vikings in several ways, including conducting a raid and then flooding the market on Khepera with the booty. (America floods European markets with underpriced goods, then Japan floods American and European markets with underpriced goods, then Korea floods Japanese and American and European markets with underpriced goods . . .) Trask oughtn't to complain since his trading is doing as much to the domestic industries of Gram; the parallel would seem to be more with the erosion of the Spanish industrial base due to the overpricing of local labor; it was always cheaper to buy something abroad than to make it, which meant that the hildagos could concentrate on showing off their high and ancient nobility. The more commercial Sword-World nobles don't have that problem, but they do have their own.
This discussion of trade and commerce hardly fits the stereotype of "military SF". In Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1965), Piper would discuss as much the economic basis of conflict as the armed one. This is an omission perpetrated by both later and earlier writers. In Starship Troopers (1959) Robert Heinlein reductively reduces all causes for wars to population pressures, while the later writers on the topic concentrate on the cruelties and brutalities of killing civilians (pro or con), without even Trask's feeling of shame. (An exception is Harry Harrison's gross satire Bill the Galactic Hero (1965), which exaggerates to the other extreme, acting as if the Starship Troopers worked for United Fruit.)
Economic development has become Trask's primary goal, and his primary concern about Dunnan is no longer getting revenge for having become a 30-minute widower at his hands, but that with that substantial and growing fleet Dunnan might destroy his growing community. "What mattered now was planting and nurturing civilization on Tanith." [p. 119]
Meanwhile back on Gram, the home fires are chilling out, as King Angus gets more and more distant in attitude and cordiality. There was a strong hint of a basic problem in the royal family that had been shown back at the beginning of things. When Dunnan showed up at the pre-wedding bash, he presented a striking appearance: "His thin, pointed face was deeply lined about the mouth and penciled with a thin black mustache. His eyes showed white all around the irises, and now and then his mouth would twitch in an involuntary grimace." [pp. 14-5] After he went to space, according to personal report he grew "a small pointed beard," [p. 114]. Now the wedding itself was conducted by then-Duke Angus, who "had a thin, pointed face, almost femininely sensitive, and a small pointed beard." [p. 21] Well!
But there's evidently more than just looks that got passed down in the family. It seems that Angus's maternal grandfather was euphemistically described as being "slightly eccentric", and had to have keepers to keep him from being eccentric on, to, with, and by others. King Angus and Space Viking Dunnan don't have keepers, and apparently don't appreciate being reminded of the prospect.
This economic competition is causing stress between the home country and the colony. "And his Majesty felt that Prince Trask was placing entirely too much emphasis on trade and not enough upon raiding; after all, why barter with barbarians when it was possible to take what you wanted from them by force?" [p. 123]
The cooling of relations is conveniently displayed in audiovisual presentation. Originally, Angus had sent Trask personal messages in informal circumstances. These became gradually less informal and more like official statements for the record. Finally, Angus quit directly addressing Trask at all, sending messages through his former secretary, now Prime Minister, the fellow to whom Trask had originally suggested the swap of fief for ship, all those years ago.
Trask has good reason to be alarmed. Even if he is a subject, he is a Very Important One, the ruler of Gram's only colony (at least no other one is mentioned) and a significant taxpayer. And it isn't just an example of a parvenu ruler being standoffish for the sake of his new dignity. The King is faced with the problem of overmighty subjects: "He's King as long as the great lords like Count Lionel and Joris of Bigglersport and Alan of Northport want him to be." [p. 124] You would think that with all this Angus would wish very much not to offend someone who has, thus far, been loyal and supportive.
Not to mention having sent a most useful servant to Gram: "It seems there was a plot against the life of his Majesty. It was exposed by the zeal and vigilance of Sir Garvan Spasso, who was elevated to the peerage and rewarded with the lands and estates of the conspirators." [p. 125] Now there's a man who has reason to be glad Trask came to Tanith.
Soon enough there is a flat-out collapse in relations. Angus orders Trask to return to Gram forthwith and "render to us account of his administration of our colony and realm of Tanith." [p. 128] Which Trask promptly refuses to do, feeling secure at the end of his 125-day long tether.
Alienating a loyal supporter is about the last thing Angus should have done. His expansion is funded on economic crises and politically he has inherited, ah, rivers of trouble. With his heir-presumptive (Andray Dunnan, that is) being off somewhere in space, Angus has taken steps to ensure the succession. However, the steps come with a lot of risers, treads, carpet, stair-rods, bannisters, and other supportive items requiring expensive maintenance:
"Yes. You wouldn't know this Lady-Demoiselle Evita; she was only seventeen when you left
Gram, and hadn't begun to acquire a reputation outside her father's lands. She's made up for
lost time since, though. And she has enough uncles and aunts and cousins and ex-lovers and
what-not to fill out an infantry regiment, and every one of them's at court with both hands out to
grab everything they can."
Space Viking, p. 130
Trask isn't going to be singing, "Don't cry for me, Gram . . ." either. He might want to borrow
some of Harkaman's books about the history of Northwest Europe, Terra, Fifth Century
Pre-Atomic, and look into roses. (Another part of that background was a different "zero-date"
for the dating. Presumably 1942 is 0 Atomic, not 1 Post-Atomic.) Baron Rathmore, the
reporter of this stressful family situation above, is begging Trask to come home and settle the
situation before all they've gained on Gram is totally squandered.
Angus has shown himself as now not much better than his nephew at financial management. Back when they were all on Gram, Dunnan had shown himself such a spendthrift that his property was "mortgaged to the top of the manor house aerial-mast," [p. 4] in spite of Angus's having paid off his debts once.
Now they seem to have switched; at least it looks like Dunnan is now bringing in enough, in his own way, to keep his head above water financially. Angus, by way of contrast, has found a young wife an expensive investment, and is taking care of that, and other pressing financial matters, by the usual means: "Assessments on the lords, taxes on the people, inflation to meet the taxes, high prices, debased coinage," [p. 129] is Khepera-Amaterasu-Beowulf Raid veteran Baron Rathmore's description of the economic situation on Gram. At least they've been spared King Angus declaring that "The era of Big Government is over!" and Baron Spasso offering the lords and commoners a "Contract With Gram."
Trask is torn between crises, though. Another Port Royal in space has its own allures and regulars, and they have problems. Part of a promise Trask made to Otto Harkaman has been fulfilled, and Otto now has his own ship, the Corisande II, the successor to his original Corisande, lost so long ago in that petty Sword-World struggle. While raiding and/or trading as with their maritime ancestors from the turn of the second to first millenia Pre-Atomic, for Space Vikings those activities tend to blur depending on circumstances Harkaman encountered a competitor raiding a designated trade planet. Now Trask had already marked off his territory, as note the "keep-off" list of planets provided the Viking's Gift when they decided to pass along their earlier favor [p. 126].
Harkaman handily defeats the intruder and then follows him home. The Tanith Adventure, it seems, had had an inspiration. Always available, and at first, Trask's destination, was the Space Viking base on the planet Xochitl, run by a Prince Viktor. (It later turns out that Viktor is a relative of another Sword-World planetary monarch, but this is ahead of the plot.) Harkman arrived at Xochitl and had a very forceful interview with Prince Viktor regarding spheres of influence and other such matters, which produced a truce.
However, Trask has his own problems to consider. Another informant has come in with a report on a Dunnan raid that, considering the size of their known space, is practically real-time. Dunnan has raided the planet Tetragrammaton and had just left (three days ago) when his sort of colleague Roger-fan-Morvill Esthersaan of the Damnthing came in intending to do some real looting, and badly disappointed at being anticipated so destructively.
The problem seems to be what for. The raid involved not requisitioning the way Roger-fan-Morvill had in mind, nothing like the looting of Amaterasu and Beowulf described in unpleasant detail earlier. Instead, Dunnan nuked the two most loot-worthy cities on this planet. But if this is terror, who is Dunnan trying to frighten? Who trades, instead of raids, on Tetragrammaton? The Gilgameshers, of course, but Space Vikings know better than to raid Gilgamesh. Who else?
One of the few planets never to lose civilization, the trading power of that local section of the Galaxy, the planet Marduk. Dunnan has laid off interfering with Space Vikings and consequently the news from them has dropped off until now. All of Trask's recent information about his obsession has come from Gilgameshers until just now, and it's all been about terror raids on Mardukan trade planets. On the basis of this new information, Trask postulates a method to Andray Dunnan's madness:
"That's what I think. Remember our funadmental postulate: Dunnan is crazy. Remember how
he convinced himself that he was the rightful heir to the ducal crown of Wardshaven?" And
remember his insane passion for Elaine; he pushed that thought hastily from him. "Now, he's
convinced that he's the greatest Space Viking in history. He has to do something worthy of that
distinction. When was the last time anybody attacked a civilized planet? I don't mean
Gilgamesh, I mean a planet like Marduk."
"A hundred and twenty years ago; Prince Havilgar of Haulteclere, six ships, against Aton. Two ships got back. He didn't. Nobody's tried it since," Harkaman said.
"So Dunnan the Great will do it. I hope he tries," he surprised himself by adding. "That's provided I find out what happened. Then I could stop thinking about him."
There was a time when he had dreaded the possibility that somebody else might kill Dunnan before he could.
Space Viking, p. 135
This sort of decision had been inevitable ever since Trask had decided to start a base on Tanith,
instead of becoming a rover. Building a base had required building a community. Being the
builder of a community made Trask a ruler, and being who he was he had to be a responsible
ruler. One wonders if nowadays a novel about the dilemmas and advantages of nation-building
could be accepted. Going by the trend for having remakes of Mad Max, of rebuilding
communities being besieged by improbable armies and having to fight at great cost, one rather
thinks not any more.
Having set out his theory, Trask goes out to find evidence to disprove or prove it, taking the Nemesis on a Space Viking voyage. (He seems to have made at least one other to Beowulf [p. 118] and at one point says "I don't spend all my time on Tanith," [p. 137] so presumably has made more. How he was received on Khepera and Amaterasu would be interesting to note.) Tetragrammaton has a surprise in store for them. Going to the top (the "hereditary President of the democratic Republic of Tetragrammaton", think about that if you will) Trask finds a side to Roger-fan-Morvill he had not expected: "When the captain found out what had happened to us, he left some food and medicines for us." [p. 136] And Roger-fan-Morvill has been paid forward for that kindness, since Trask had bought his cargo at good rates, mainly for the information he had had to sell.
If Trask had thought that Dunnan had devastated Tetragrammaton, he learned that he knew nothing from devastation when he reached the next target on his list. The planet Seshat had been thoroughly nuked, with two hellburners, a more ground-penetrating weapon with the sinister name of "planetbuster", and for laginappe half a dozen ordinary ordinary! thermonuclear weapons destroying civilization there and exterminating most of the population. Perhaps fortunately for people's dispositions, Piper didn't also predict nuclear winter.
This is, however, a significant example of how casual attitudes were towards the idea of using nuclear weapons. Piper had had Earth suffer a nuclear war in the first century Post-Atomic, and the surviving people were not drawn up into tight little balls waiting for the end, in the style of On the Beach to The Day After. Instead, they built the Terran Federation, which eventually led to the current state of affairs.
It looks as if the next two potential targets might be just as bad off, so maybe, Trask reasons, going to the third might get them there ahead of Dunnan's people. And he's almost right.
The planet Audhumla could be a very rich cow for a Space Viking to milk, or butcher; they seem to be regaining civilization, but then they are also trading with Marduk, which seems to help. In commemoration of this accomplishment, the Royal Mardukan Navy and two Space Viking ships are putting on a fireworks show in orbit.
One of the two Space-Viking ships sends an inquiry to this newcomer. Trask responds, and to his dismay it's not Andray Dunnan inquiring. But it's almost as good; the other ship is the Enterprise, last seen lifting off Gram with Dunnan and a scratch crew, and these open hailing frequencies reveal Sir Nevil Ormm, Dunnan's right-hand man, last seen dragging him away from Trask and Elaine with an urging about "You fool, do you want to ruin everything now?" [p. 16]
Trask decides to intervene. The ensuing battle is far grimmer than the one the Nemesis and Space-Scourge had had against the Beowulfers. Featuring such realistic considerations as velocity vectors and such "modern" measures as ECM, drones, and interceptor missiles as well as the more SF-style screens and the by now (at least to the reader) commonplace nuclear weapons, Piper's presentation of conflicts in space is more finely-drawn than earlier portrayals of the concept, and a cut above the lightly-revised portrayals of sailing-ship battles that seem to be acceptable now. Because of the communications protocols of the Space Vikings, the battle gains an anachronistic flavor of private challenges, the way that Don Alonzo Perez de Guzman el Bueno, Duque de Medina-Sidona, and Lord High Admiral Charles Howard, Lord Howard of Effingham, began the first modern naval battle by invoking ancient proprieties. Before the battles of the Spanish Armada began in the Channel, Lord Howard sent a ship of his, the pinnace Disdain, to bear his challenge to the duke, and before the Spanish engaged, the duke had the sacred banner hoisted in his flagship.
These communications protocols have already figured in the story, as Spasso and Valkanhayn negotiated with this incomer to "their" planet. But Trask didn't want to fight them, really. He does have a difference of opinion with Nevill Ormm, though, and this does give him the chance to confront him, even if only over video.
The Nemesis and her new ally, the Royal Mardukan Navy ship Victrix, destroy the two Dunnan ships. Presumably it was to spare the Dalgleishan sensibilities of Miss Kay Tarrant, assistant editor of Analog (where, as was said, this book was serialized [November 1962-February 1963]), that chief weapons officer Vann Larch bellowed in the heat of battle, "I'll fix the expurgated unprintability!" [p. 143] instead of being explicit, the way a good soldier (somehow "sailor" fails quite to be the right term here, and "spaceman", while correct, doesn't describe the mileu all that much) would be, about Sir Nevil's intercourse with Mrs. Ormm, Sr. (Interestingly, though, Miss Tarrant did let stand the characterization of Queen Evita of Gram as a "slut" [see p. 129; Analog, 1/63, p. 119].) The tender feelings of parents of Analog subscribers had to be considered. Space battle seems to be less abhorrent to Trask, his only feeling after the Enterprise blows up being a semi-rueful "I wonder if I'll ever know if Andray Dunnan was on that ship?" [p. 144; edited] The Dunnan people had sought to leave Audhumla mutilated, and had made a fair number of refugees. Added to this are the crews of a battered Victrix and the mysterious stranger who rode in to save the day, Trask's Nemesis. The Victrix is repairable, but not immediately so; Trask offers to take the surviving crew back to Marduk in the Nemesis. His fellow captain, Prince Simon Bentrik, is feeling rather abashed about it all but he can count on at least one friend at the inquiry, to explain the peculiar reasons and circumstances of the battle. (One being something that seems so obvious once it's pointed out, the sign of a true intutive leap: An interstellar spaceship with the powerful engines postulated in the book is watertight and capable of submerging. Nevill Ormm's two ships hid deep in the ocean.)
The contrasts between the settled, established culture of Marduk and the more open, "frontier" styles of the Sword-Worlds speedily become evident. Harkaman had commented that the mentally stagnant had stayed on Terra [p. 9] The processes of evolution are creating a recession to the mean on Marduk, and they are becoming settled in their ways. Some people there, though, think that those ways are worth shaking up and will, or so Simon says, welcome the un-caste-bound Space Vikings.
Harkaman's history lessons haven't quite settled in, as Trask seems bewildered to learn that Marduk is a constitutional monarchy with an elected governing legislature with an indirectly elected second house, a parliamentary government, and a professional civil service. This does not quite accord with his philosphy and experience of government. Prince Simon is bewildered in return by the more force-oriented governmental relations of Sword-World politics, and Trask finds himself defending the very same political problems he had been denouncing to Otto Harkaman, back so long ago.
A particular factor of this "force-orientation" springs to mind. One suspects that Prince Trask [much less Piper] would consider a law mandating controls on the purchase of firearms, as the result of the wounding of a royal aide by a madman, an unacceptable infringement on the peoples' right to be heard. Banning some firearms altogether, because of a deranged killer's massacre of a school class, would be even more unspeakable. Trask believes very much in the "slippery slope" theory of socialization, and that slope has some remarkably ugly rocks at its foot:
"Well, what prevents the Government from enslaving the people? The people can't; you just
told me that they aren't armed, and the Government is."
He continued, pausing now and then for breath, to catalogue every tyranny he had ever heard of, from those practiced by the Terran Federation before the Big War to those practiced at Eglonsby on Amaterasu by Pedrosan Pedro. A few of the very mildest were pushing the nobles and people of Gram to revolt against Angus I.
"And in the end," he finished, "the Government would be the only property owner and the only employer on the planet, and everybody else would be slaves, working at assigned tasks, wearing Government-issue clothing and eating Government food, their children educated as the Government prescribes and trained for jobs selected for them by the Government, never reading a book or seeing a play or thinking a thought that the Government had not approved . . ."
Space Viking, pp. 150-1
Or worse yet, building a spaceship in order to, not undertake a profitable, if misery-spreading,
Tanith Adventure, but "subjugate the unknown beings on other planets, who may still be living
in the primitive condition of freedom, to the beneficient yoke of reason." [We, Yevgeny
Zamyatin, p. 1; 1922, 1952]
Zamyatin's One State, with its numbers governed by "science and reason" and absolute power and State terror, corresponds far better to the nightmare conjured by Trask than, say, the nameless pluralistic land of Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938, 1946). Throughout this work, Piper presents the problems of many forms of government. For all that Trask defends the direct, feudalistic form of government of the Sword-Worlds, where everyone has direct access to their rulers, and government is localized and can be comprehended by the governed, and Simon defends his own government, ruled by law and founded in moderation in more than one sense of the word both see that something is going wrong.
Even Prince Bentrik realizes that things are going wrong, at least on other worlds. After Trask has integrated "the infinite equation of the universe" [We, loc. cit.] and arrived at a solution with very constrained parameters, his new companions provide additional elements to plug into the solution set:
"They have something like that on Aton," one of the Mardukan officers said.
"Oh, Aton; that's a dictatorship pure and simple. That Planetary Nationalist gang got into control fifty years ago, during the crisis after the war with Baldur . . ."
"They were voted into power by the people, weren't they?"
"Yes; they were," Prince Bentrik said gravely. "It was an emergency measure, and they were given emergency powers. Once they were in, they made the emergency permanent."
Space Viking, p. 151
Permanent emergencies are nevertheless a commonplace of science-fictional politics. One
wonders, for example, how it is that the U.S. isn't in a political collapse at the end of Tom
Clancy's Executive Orders (1996), since in a little over a year there have been three presidents,
two wars, a nuclear catastrophe in Denver, and a plague and "in-genre" works tend to be even
V. THE SHOCK OF THE NEW
Trask had predicted that their reception would be a little odd. It was even odder than he could have imagined. It could well be thought that the IFF of the Mardukan Early Warning System would be jumping at the emergence of this armed stranger, and it should be hoped that they are trying to determine if Prince Bentrik is a hostage.
And then another busy man gets a welcome call. The Space Vikings should have been puzzled when their new Mardukan friends jumped to attention. Prince Bentrik is a very important person; he is getting a personal welcome home from the King of Marduk himself, Mikhyl VIII, and it turns out that Trask saved fellow royalty. There is a bit of disbelief on both sides, as when Mikhyl inspects his cousin's rescuer and asks "Are you really a Space Viking, Prince Trask?" [p. 154] a question he is going to get to answer face to face, since he has invited Trask to a reception.
The rovers are equally impressed by the development and patent wealth of Marduk. Having centuries of uninterrupted development behind it, Marduk has large cities with teeming social and cultural lives, not to mention adequate economies. And thanks to the technological developments postulated in the story, the cities are clean, green, and to all appearances highly livable. It's Trask's dream, the one he thought of for Gram and now for Tanith, and he says as much to his marine commander Paytrik Morland, one of the original Nemesis crew from Gram. The other man with him, Otto Harkaman's executive officer Alvyn Karffard, has a Space Viking's attitude.
"I don't care how many people they have," he said. "Marduk can be had. A wolf never cares
how many sheep there are in a flock. With twenty ships, we could take this planet like we took
Eglonsby. There'd be losses coming in, sure, but after we were in and down, we'd have it."
Space Viking, p. 156
Karffard thoughtfully made this bloodthirsty comment outside the hearing range of the
inhabitants of his longed-for target. Not that Trask wants to: "A raid, if successful, would yield
immense treasures, but cause a hundred, even a thousand times as much destruction, and he
didn't want to destroy anything civilized." [loc. cit.] Having gained immensely by trade, and
fostered the gain of others by vile commerce in spite of the ruin wreaked on Beowulf by his
raid, it was because of his raid that they could go to space at all, and their first ship was named
appropriately Viking's Gift and to get trade without having to fight for it was as much a goal
of the original Vikings. None would have been so mad as to attempt Miklagarth. The
complexity of this civilization remember, as the number of people grows arithmetically, the
relationships between them grow geometrically is enough to make Trask reconsider his
dismissal of the Mardukan form of government as overcomplex and absurd.
Piper had never been particularly admiring of the press, a science-fictional prediction for which he hasn't received much credit. Going by the rumors which spread, if the local video services could get (say) intimate pictures of Prince Bentrik's wife they would crank up the bandwidth getting them out. Rumors, most of them malicious, disseminate at a rate which is now drearily familiar to observers of the Internet, the technological advance which enables paranoia to travel at speed of electricity around the world. Moreover, the Government is sitting on the story. Prince Bentrik thinks the truth will out and be credited when it is outed but Trask is more sanguine: "Or, the more people will be convinced that the Government had something to hush up, and had to take time to construct a plausible story." [pp. 157-8]
With this depressing thought to mull over you can tell that Trask will never get on The X-Files, or find work with James Angleton Trask goes to the royal reception which is after all in his honor. And quite honored he is. First, he meets with Crown Prince Edvard, Crown Princess Melanie, and Princess Lucile Bentrik, Simon's wife. The donnish royalty of Marduk seems rather excited by this exotic visitor, and evidently the younger generation, in the person of Simon and Lucile's boy Steven really really wants to see a real for-sure Space Viking. It turns out that one of the reasons everyone was so exercised about Trask's saving the Vindex was that Simon was third in line to the throne, after Edvard and his daughter Myrna.
Though Trask is the cynosure of all eyes during the dinner, merely for being what he is, when he gets called away from the reception he becomes really noticed. It seems that even if the Mardukan Foreign Office hasn't yet recognized Tanith, the guy they are supposed to be working for does recognize Prince Lucas Trask of Tanith.
And King Mikhyl turns out to be donnish, or philosophical anyhow. At first their little private talk seems to be no more than an intimate chat, a head of state being equal with the only sort of person who can be his equal. But that simple, companionable attitude of the King's covers an experienced, insightful mind, and he begins digging into the whys and wherefores of the Space Viking. This entails retelling the entire tale of Andray Dunnan, which as the reader already knows it needn't be reiterated. Trask has been pondering the matter some more and has concluded that Dunnan is still alive, since he trusted only the late Nevill Ormm and so they would not have been together to be killed.
If King Mikhyl had known about Beowulf, he would not have been surprised. He has an example himself. Back on Tanith, when discussing what Andray Dunnan's plans might be, Trask had asked when and where the last Space Viking raid on a civilized planet had been, and been informed about the disastrous attack on the planet Aton [p. 135]. Prince Bentrik's officers had characterized Aton as a tyranny [p. 151]. Now Trask learns the connection; Aton had been on the verge of a destructive war, its Great Powers ready to rend each other and let the neutrals fight over their corpses. The outside threat made them allies, if unwilling ones, and from there a unified planet, if a badly run one. Evidently only destruction from without could save them from destruction from within, the King tragically concludes.
Piper is laying the foundation here for a profound thesis about the nature of humanity. Some writers herald the untamability, the fierce wildness of man. Piper seems to find it a tragic flaw, a source of destruction and the anthesis of civilization. Civilization is something worth defending, which was why Trask so feared Dunnan raiding him, not out of any pacifism, but because of the sheer waste.
And perhaps the destruction is coming in a different way:
". . . There is also destruction by erosion, and while it's going on, nobody notices it. Everybody
is proud of their civilization, their wealth and culture. But trade is falling off; fewer ships come
in each year. So there is boastful talk about planetary self-sufficiency; who needs off-planet
trade anyhow? Everybody seems to have money but the government is always broke. Deficit
spending and always more vital social services for which the government has to spend money.
The most vital one, of course, is buying votes to keep the government in power. And it gets
harder for the government to get anything done.
"The soldiers are sloppier at drill, and their uniforms and weapons aren't taken care of. The non-coms are insolent. And more and more parts of the city are dangerous at night, and then even in the daytime. And it's been years since a new building went up, and the old ones aren't being repaired any more."
[Trask added:] "And finally, nobody bothers fixing anything up. And the power-reactors stop, and nobody seems to be able to get them started again. . ."
Space Viking, pp. 163-4
But so far no Mardukan John Galt has threatened to stop the motor of the world. If he were, at
least science, technology, and rationality would be fostered. The threat to Marduk is not so
"Prince Trask, have you heard of a man named Zaspar Makann?"
"Occasionally. Nothing good about him."
"He is the most dangerous man on this planet," the King said. "And I can make nobody believe it. Not even my son."
Space Viking, p. 164
VI. THE IRON DREAM
James A. Michener noted a certain tendency among SF writers, and putting words into the mouth of a NASA administrator invited to sample some by an astronaut fan described it: "Worst of all, they're strongly antidemocratic. Their first choice would be a one-man dictatorship, a Hitler or a Mussolini or a Stalin, cleaned up a bit. Second choice would be a benevolent king. Our kind of democracy would be far, far down the line." [James A. Michener, Space, p. 384; 1982]
It was probably just as well that he (Michener, that is; the conversation with the above quote is set in 1965 surely the astrofan would have given his boss a copy of Space Viking to sample) did not encounter Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream (1972). Casually skipping over the second title page would imbue the questioning reader with a definitive proof that such opinions were prevalent and that this Spinrad was the worst case. But the second title page is for a book titled Lords of the Swastika by Adolf Hitler (1953), and the whole book is an indictment by Spinrad of those same attitudes. Presenting Lords of the Swastika as a vastly popular, award-winning, significant SF novel is his way of driving home this point, this admiration of the idea of dictatorship. And indeed Feric Jaggar, the Heydrich lookalike in the author der Führer's place, presiding over vast rallies featuring triumphs of the will and scythe-slashing campaigns against disgusting mutants, would be horridly plausible as a thirties pulp hero.
When Trask finished his discussion of the theory and practice of dictatorship, one of the Mardukan officers laughingly denied the possibility of it ever happening on Marduk. But the name of a demogogue came up in that connection, and Trask began asking after this Zaspar Makann. No one quite seemed to be clear who or what he was or who he was for, the labor unions or the manufacturers or the importers, but they agreed that he would get rid of the Gilgameshers. Trask draws the obvious parallel, but then he's been taking Otto Harkaman's advice that "[Practically] everything that's happened on any of the inhabited planets has happened on Terra before the first spaceship." [p. 13] This is itself a repetition writ larger of the theory that practically everything that's happened in modern history had happened in the Renaissance Italian city-states, so studying the one will enable the student to comprehend the actions, and be able in turn to apply this comprehension to the actions in the greater field.
One could guess in Zaspar Makann's case from seeing him:
A face looked out of it. The features weren't Andray Dunnan's the mouth was wider, the
cheekbones broader, the chin more rounded. But his eyes were Dunnan's as Trask had seen
them on the terrace of Karvall House. Mad eyes. His high-pitched voice screamed . . .
Whenever he stopped for breath a shout would go up, beginning with the blocks of uniformed
"Makann! Makann! Makann the Leader! Makann to Power!"
Space Viking, p. 164
And when he got power . . .
VII. SPACE VIKING: THE NEXT GENERATION
In the first century Pre-Atomic, Tom Sawyer and his friends longed to be pirates, and a millenium and more later, boys still want to run away for the prospect of adventure, brotherhood, and plunder (days of rum and wenches are not quite within their concept, yet). Simon and Lucile Bentrik's son, Count Steven of Ravary (looks like were're in a George V mode, where George's great-grandchildren on the younger lines are no longer princes and some of their children will be Mr. and Ms. Windsor) is a bright ten-year-old, combining precocious knowledge with juvenile enthusiams in that alternatively charming and irritating manner that bright children have. Trask's characterization of his comments as "That's the way a Sword-World noble would talk, Count Steven," [p. 167] is a gem of double-meaning.
If all the citizens of Marduk were as loyal and respecting of trust as Count Steven was, it would be well for the planet and its relations with Tanith. But it isn't, and so the bloodthirsty Space Viking has to hide out at the Crown Prince's estate in the country. Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun, well in the garden anyhow, Trask is thinking moodily about his losses at the gunfire of Andray Dunnan when he gets interrupted.
The appealing little girl with a cute wiggly puppy who breaks into his thoughts is, one supposes, entitled to do so; she is Princess Myrna, next in line to the throne after her father the Crown Prince. However naïve Edvard might be about politics (as we shall see), he seems better at childraising, and is having Myrna brought up with not only proper education but moral education.
So she manages to shock Trask even while charming him:
"Gee, are you a tyrant? You're awfully big and strong. I'll bet you've slain just hundreds of
cruel and wicked enemies."
"Thousands, your Majesty."
He wished that weren't literally true; he didn't know how many of them had been little girls like this Myrna and little dogs like Mopsy. He found he was holding both of them tightly. The girl was saying: "But you feel bad about it." These infernal children must be telepaths!
Space Viking, pp. 177-8
Before Trask can anguish himself to death or earn a child molestation rap (which in the
circumstances would be treason), he gets rescued. The princess's companion comes rushing up,
to whisk Myrna away to her studies "Square root." [p. 179] Myrna is all of eight years old.
How reassuring to know that in the future, children will be studying real math and not how to
feel good about numbers.
It is hardly a burden for Trask since this same person had been his dinner companion last night. About the only thing he had noticed then was her looks: "She was beautiful black hair, and almost startling blue eyes, a combination unusual in the Sword-Worlds." [p. 171] The racial mix that the people of the TerroHuman Future History sprung from is not that of the usual assumptions. Variations exist, e.g. Roger-fan-Morvill Esthersan: "His mother's people could have been Nergalers; he had coarse black hair, a mahogany-brown skin, and red-brown, almost maroon, eyes." [p. 131]
Trask seems to be flirtatious, if not smitten, and indeed Myrna notices enough to "decree that Lady Valerie should be the Space Viking's girl on the planet of Marduk." [p. 183] Miss Tarrant likely wouldn't think it Nice to go into what the Space Viking did for female companionship on the planet of Tanith.
All the same, morality in the Sword-Worlds seems to have swung towards a more restrictive attitude. During the marriage, the impendingly former Elaine Karvall took off her shawl in the Karvall colors to replace it with the shawl in the Trask colors "the only time a respectable woman did that in public," [p. 23] and if that's how they feel about bare shoulders, further exposure seems even less likely.
Matters on Marduk are serious enough for Trask to appreciate a romantic diversion. It would be nice if more of the grownups on Marduk were as perceptive and straightforward as Myrna and Steven. Trask was diverted from gazing into Lady Valerie's . . . eyes by some of the other dinner-table company. Prince Edvard is perhaps as tired of court life as his father is, and his way of getting away from it all is to invite "ordinary folks" to his estate.
Thus it's professors and social workers to whom Trask has to explain the governmental structures of the Sword-Worlds, not nobles, and they seem to suffer from educated incapacity. (But he doesn't have to deal with a shady businessman an arm and hammer maker? who has ties to both the Gilgameshers and to Makann, and who would jump out of a window if Edvard commanded him to.)
When the nobles of the Sword-Worlds aren't shooting each other they seem to be reasonable enough. "Social services" on the frontier worlds are a rather different set of considerations than on Marduk:
"If you mean schools and hospitals and keeping the city clean, the people do it for themselves.
The government, if you want to think of it as that, just sees to it that nobody's shooting at them
while they're doing it."
Space Viking, p. 172
Looking at it that way, it doesn't seem so bad.
Even back then, most people wouldn't have recognized the Townsend Plan, the intellectual ancestor of today's Social Security System, in the Mardukan Self-Sustaining Rotary Pension Plan. Not to mention the cost of it all: "When he wanted to know where the money would come from, he had been told that there would be a sales-tax, and that the pensions must all be spent within thirty days, which would stimulate business, and the increased business would provide the tax money to pay the pensions." [p. 173] Trask at least seems to realize that the startup money has to come from somewhere, which is more than the economics professor he is discussing the matter with does.
Trying to characterize it with a joke about Gilgameshers only gets Trask in worse trouble. The local version of political correctness hasn't yet progressed to the doctrine that "Gilgameshism is a form of racism" and so Trask is lectured about respecting diversity. Which sermon would be more credible if everyone didn't start just afterward agreeing that Makann has a point here and there.
Not in this case, one hopes. Makann's People's Welfare Party is bombarding the Mardukan airwaves with sweeping but vague assertations about a sinister plot of the traitors around the King, the Space Vikings, the Gilgameshers, and the Interstellar Banking Conspiracy. (You can tell that Piper was not a perfect prophet because he failed to mention black aircars in this connection.)
Trask is trying to attain some sort of trade agreement with Marduk. Trade being domestic, he ends up being dragged into domestic Mardukan politics, and not just the People's Welfare Party, either. There is the realistic consideration that imports from Tanith could undercut the Mardukan domestic market just like they did on Gram. The ruling coalition is unstable enough to make waiting necessary.
Though if they don't do something about the rioting, trade won't matter. In the true spirit of Feric Jaggar, Zaspar Makann is doing more than just talk. In a blood-chilling scene, Trask watches Makann's storm troops, the People's Watchmen, charge the Royal Palace and assault the police guarding it. At home he would have dispersed such an assault with gunfire and gone on to shoot anyone in a similar uniform. (British police averted gang warfare in London by dispersing and harassing, not quite so violently, the distinctively-dressed Mods and Rockers and Teddy Boys. When racially-based gangs began to become significant, suddenly this public peacekeeping became racist, and the gangs became more powerful.) But Crown Prince Edvard would have none of that:
"That may be the way you do things in the Sword-Worlds, Prince Trask. It's not the way we do
things here on Marduk. Our government does not propose to be guilty of shedding the blood of
He had it on the tip of his tongue to retort that if they didn't, the people would end up shedding theirs. Instead, he said softly:
"I'm sorry, Prince Edvard. You had a wonderful civilization here on Marduk. You could have made almost anything of it. But it's too late now. You've torn down the gates; the barbarians are in."
Space Viking, pp. 185-6
And with this comment, untreatied and unsettled, Trask departs for Marduk. Having about
three weeks in transit, he can read up on Terran history, Central European Area, First Century
Pre-Atomic: "By the time the ship came out, with the yellow sun of Tanith in the middle of the
screen, he knew a great deal about Hitler . . . and he understood, with sorrow, how the lights of
civilization on Marduk were going out." [pp. 186-7]
When Otto Harkaman comes back from his cruise, he echoes Trask's conclusions and adds one of his own: "It wasn't the war that put Hitler into power. It was the fact that the ruling class of his nation, the people who kept things running, were discredited. . . What they have on Marduk is a ruling class that has been discrediting itself." [p. 191] This suggests a closer and more ominious parallel.
The established order of things in British society received a severe, stunning shock by the Great War, and another one by the Great Depression. Intellectual opinion began to swing towards the idea that democracy was "all wet" and the only choice was between a rule of an elite based on science or of an elite based on sentiment. On a less intellectual plane, the Bright Young Things flirted with red or brown outfits. As with the guest of Lord Redesdale's who was confronted by two of the Mitford sisters, and when asked whether he was fascist or communist, responded that he was democratic. "How wet," Jessica the communist and Diana the fascist replied. (Perhaps fortunately, the youngest sister, Deborah, has from time to time extolled in The Spectator the virtues of such democratic icons as her uncle by marriages Harold Macmillan, Earl of Stockton.)
British fascism, or at least fascist-sympathizing, was more widespread if less effective than British Communism and communist-sympathizing. There were no pro-Nazi equivalents of Philby and Maclean. But perhaps there is an ironic comment about the fundamental similarity of it all; Kim Philby's father, the explorer Harry St. John Philby, was interned as a Nazi sympathizer.
But the People's Welfare Party is an outsider group, not an interest (open or covert) of the Mardukan elites. This would seem to make Makann more William Joyce than Sir Oswald Mosley, Bt. (note that Mosley was son-in-law of that arch-Establishment figure the sometime Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary George Nathaniel Curzon, Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, and then of David Ogilvy Mitford, Lord Redesdale, father of Deborah, Nancy, Unity, Jessica, Pamela, and Diana (the second Lady Mosley)).
The upper classes in the Sword-Worlds aren't giving Trask much peace, either. The avarice of Queen Evita of Gram has grown, and Traskon has been a small part of its feeding. Meanwhile, other parts of Gram have been slipping out of Angus's less-than-benevolent rule. Other Space Vikings have tried to cut themselves in on Trask's trading community, and the strife engendered, while successful, seems to be setting the stage for worse relations. Harkaman's analysis of all these trends is brutally direct:
"You know why? Our rulers are the barbarians among us. There isn't one of them Napolyon
of Flamberge, Rodolf of Excalibur, or Angus of about half of Gram who is devoted to
civilization or anything else outside of himself, and that's the mark of the barbarian."
"What are you devoted to, Otto?"
"You. You are my chieftain. That's another mark of the barbarian."
Space Viking, p. 192
That sound you hear is Robert E. Howard, exponent of the thesis that barbarians are better
people, advocates of the honest, simple life, too close to nature to be cruel, spinning in his
grave. And since then more SF writers have advocated doctrines of the sort that Harkaman is
condemning here, even in himself. The analysis given by Michener in Space is unfortunately all
VIII. THE ART OF PUBLIC SPEAKING
One of Trask's captains soon arrives with some bad news from Marduk, borne by some significant guests. The election on Marduk, the one whose anticipation had left the government paralyzed, has resulted in a People's Welfare Party-led coalition government. In a mix of models, a faction in the Crown Loyalist Party is supporting the PWP the way that the German Nationalist Party supported the National Socialists using the Morrow-Lindberghian slogan about "the wave of the future". Small wonder that new guest Count Steven of Ravary, not "mature" enough to rationalize surrender, says disdainfully, "If you can't lick them, lick their boots," [p. 196] and has to be restrained by his mother from making a comment about Crown Prince Edvard the ineffectually deferent Prime Minister to Chancellor Zaspar Makann licking apparently somewhat higher up on "them." Prince Bentrik has become more observant of omnious parallels of late and is protecting himself against hostages by sending his wife and child to Tanith, where they will be safe.
The Chancellor is elected by the upper house of the Mardukan legislature. The upper house is chosen by the lower house after each election. The Prime Minister is appointed from the majority party in the lower house. Trask had thought Mardukan government unduly complex [p. 150], but after realizing it had to administer over two billion people, demurred from that first opinion [p. 156].
Not that he has a very good welcome to offer Lucile and Steven. Back on Gram, Angus has been putting into effect a few lessons from Pedrosan Pedro, also Perón Juan, and some of his supporters aren't being very supportive any longer.
While Otto Harkaman had found more poaching on their restricted area and had taken steps to ensure that the raiders wouldn't be raiding their territory again. But others may take the hint the wrong way.
Trask's principal concern in that regard is fellow base-overlord Prince Viktor of Xochitl. Viktor is building ships and stockpiling arms for something. A preemptive strike on Xochitl would not be a good idea, either, since it might pass the strike it was intended to preempt and both of them would lose. Piper has given some thought to the strategies mandated by his technology. Far from making war impossible, the great delays of interstellar travel have only made it all the more problematic. Between Viktor's buildup and Angus's, Andray Dunnan's ever-present threat and the new one from Zaspar Makann, Trask is in dire straits indeed.
Nothing happens, though, except for increased strategic anxiety. Viktor has taken his felicitous armada and departed, presumably for somewhere else since he hasn't come to Tanith. Marduk has had a change of policy about the "self-styled Prince of Tanith", it can easily be guessed why by anyone recalling Makann's fervent "Space Viking, go home!" rallies.
Factionalism, if not outright party politics, has appeared on Tanith, with some of Trask's subordinates wanting to respond to these reports by raiding Xochitl, since it happens to be empty, while others have been reading a different brand of history from Otto's and are all for a shorter-range vengeance raid, on the local Gilgamesher colony. While Trask tamps this down a more urgent problem rises up.
The solution to that question of Prince Viktor's whereabouts is forcibly presented to them. He has gone to Gram, attacking there as an auxiliary of the exiled Duke Omfray of Glaspyth (the sub-rosa financier of Andray Dunnan's original assault) and his cousin and Omfray's in-law King Konrad of Hauteclere. The Space Vikings are disgusted that they let Xochitl go unplundered when it was wide open, while the people from Gram figure that a counter-intervention is a moral necessity. (If conditions on Gram were bad enough, the earlier calls for Trask to take over there would likely reassert themselves.)
Either faction's policy, if acted upon, would be a long-term disaster for Tanith as well as the target. Getting mired in the snake-pit of Gram would be insidiously devastating to the development of Tanith, while the instant reputation of untrustworthiness that a raid on Xochitl would produce would be more blatant, but just as bad. A diversion is in order, a realignment of their differing interests towards a mutually inclusive target: ". . . Remember, I was reading up on Hitler, coming in from Marduk? I will tell them all a big lie. Such a big lie that nobody will dare to disbelieve it." [pp. 206-7]
For all that it was the impetus of Trask's adventure, the matter of Andray Dunnan had fallen rather low in Trask's list of priorities, as the negativity of mere vengeance had given way to the more positive role of building civilization. But Dunnan had been behind the terror-raids on the Mardukan trade planets. One of Dunnan's ships had been trading on Marduk on a regular basis. (One of those, no less, that had so frightened Trask simply because he hadn't known that its captain had thrown in with Dunnan, and the man could have been trading on Tanith, scouting it out, all unknowing. Right idea, wrong place.)
Perhaps that was why Trask had flippantly asked Princess Lucile, "And who is Prime Minister? Andray Dunnan?" [p. 196] When he talks about a "big lie" in this connection, he may be only expressing a subconscious conclusion of his. But when he addresses his captains and associates on the issue at hand there's nothing tentative about it: ". . . Our real enemy is on Marduk, not Xochitl; his name's Zaspar Makann. Zaspar Makann, and Andray Dunnan, the man I came out from Gram to hunt; they're in alliance, and I believe Dunnan is on Marduk, himself, now." [p. 207]
The members of the factions seem to have had the same inchoate feelings about the affair. The ones with the most first-hand experience of the Mardukan situation are the most willing to believe. This reaction astounds Trask with the thoroughness and vehemence of the conversions of both sides. Cynically, the fingering of a particular enemy seems to be the unifying factor that resolves this political dispute. It's Aton all over again [see pp. 162-3].
Just in time, too. The next news from Marduk is brought by Prince Simon himself, and it's none too good. Makann has taken over, and if the Mardukan Parliament hasn't burned down it isn't for lack of trying. Makann has purged the Parliament, and then got his incident. "The Crown Prince had been assassinated. The assassin, an unknown man believed to be a Gilgamesher, had been shot to death by People's Watchmen guarding Prince Edvard at once." [p. 211] Combining the Nights of Broken Glass and Long Knives, with echoes of the Huey Long assassination, Makann moves against all his domestic enemies, not only staging a coup but wiping out the army so he can replace it with a new model army built around the People's Watchmen. Ernst Röhm (and The Iron Dream's Stag Stopa) would have been delighted.
Prince Simon himself has had an adventurous time since the takeover, working covertly and on the fringes until he could get to the Moonbase. He has fomented a mutiny in the Royal Navy, and fortunately there's no ice between Marduk and its moon, so this Kronstadt has better chances of survival. This temporary refuge also attracted other, valuable refugees, namely little Myrna, the girl who could be Queen. (And her attendants, a matter which Trask seems to find of substantial interest. That's thoughtful of him.)
And now they have fled to their only refuge. Evidently, Trask couldn't arrange a scrambled channel, so as a large crowd of welcomers (including the press, which just won't let Trask alone) comes to greet their comrade-in-arms, Trask has to rush in quickly to make sure his "big lie" gets confirmed by Prince Bentrik, so:
"While you're talking to anybody here, always remember that Andray Dunnan is working with
Zaspar Makann, and as soon as Makann consolidates his position he's sending an expedition
"How in blazes did you find that out, here?" Bentrik demanded. "From the Gilgameshers?"
Space Viking, p. 212
IX. GREAT EXPECTATIONS
In The Iron Dream, Feric Jaggar comes to Held from his exile in the mutant lands. By sheer chance but good fortune, he encounters almost immediately the leader of the Human Renaissance Party, a tragically small group fanatically dedicated to defending true humanity. Energizing it by his superior Will, he welds these inchoate elements into a mass movement, forging a powerful political machine, the Sons of the Swastika, that sets about carving a True Human dominion out of the crumbling ruins of the evil Dominator Empire.
An objective observer might well sum up his career like this:
"A crackpot agitator in Drepplin; he had a coven of fellow-crackpots, who met in the back room
of a saloon and had their office in a cigar-box. The next year, he had a suite of offices and was
buying time on a couple of telecasts. The year after that, he had three telecast stations of his
own, and was holding rallies and meetings of thousands of people. And so on, upward."
Space Viking, pp. 215-6
The specter of the outsider-agitator, covertly funded by invidious foreign malefactors, is itself a
staple of rabble-rousers. This does not totally invalidate the model i.e., the Soviet funding of
other Communist parties, see John Barron's Operation SOLO (1996), or the Italian funding of
the British Union of Fascists but it is an all too easy answer to jump too, one that often (but
not always) permits avoidance of real thinking. It would be nice if all our problems were caused
by the GOG (Gilgamesher Occupational Government). Also, Brezhnev and Mussolini didn't get
much for their money, not to mention that the FBI and MI-5 had infiltrated each movement
This doesn't mean, though, that there weren't real problems on Marduk. Harkaman might have worded his theory differently had he (or the author) not suffered from the Anglo-Saxon fixation on "pragmatism" over "ideology". As presented in dramatic relief, intellectual opinion on Marduk had given up on the concept of liberal government before ever Andray Dunnan arrived on the scene.
This concept was expressed by Harkaman back at the beginning, in his comment about "homemade barbarians" [p. 12], and then in Trask's observation, after seeing the Mardukan intellectual elite in action, that looting the place wouldn't need a war fleet: "Just infiltrate it with about a hundred smart confidence-men and inside a year they'd own everything on it." [p. 173] Unfortunately for him and them, someone else had had a similar idea first:
". . . We decided, long ago, that Dunnan was planning to raid Marduk. It appears we
underestimated him. He wasn't planning any raid; he was planning conquest, in the only way a
great civilization can be conquered by subversion."
Space Viking, p. 215
Paranoids can plan. As the joke goes "I'm crazy, not stupid," and while Dunnan's derangement
is debilitating, it appears not to be handicapping. Trask has already had one demonstration of
Dunnan's skill at planning, in his plot to steal the Enterprise and ambush Trask's wedding, a plan
requiring deception and carefully applied force. Those who think that cheating and plotting and
stealing are the ordinary order of business perforce spend much time thinking about those
matters, and mental illness being no respecter of intelligence, can end up devising
When in violation of the Treaty of Versailles Hitler moved troops into the Rhineland, the French counted his strength and found theirs wanting. But the Deuxième Bureau had fallen down on the job; that great army backed by masses of paramilitary SS and SA was a reorganizing shambles of raw conscripts backed by showy, ineffectual thugs. Hitler's dramatic, winning bluff contributed to his feelings of omnipotence, and derailed the efforts of the internal and external oppositions. Nine years later, that mighty Will proved less availing against the Soviet, American, British, French, and Canadian armies.
A lesser force would have sufficed in 1936. With this in mind, Trask begins mobilizing for his own campaign. Fortunately, as his "big lie" seems to have been based on subconscious intuitions of the truth, he doesn't have to worry about it being turned against him:
"You didn't really believe Dunnan was on Marduk?" Boake Valkanhayn asked.
"Actually, I didn't. I had to have some kind of a story, to talk those people out of a crusade against Omfray of Glaspyth." He left unmentioned Valkanhayn's own insistence on a plundering expedition against Xochitl. . . .
Space Viking, p. 215
Presumably, had he been discussing this with one of the emigrés from Gram, he would have said
something like "I had to have some kind of a story to talk those people out of a plundering
expedition against Xochitl," and leave unmentioned their insistence on a crusade against Omfray
of Glaspyth. As Harry Turtledove has repeatedly argued in his novels, diplomacy often consists
of leaving the contending parties equally dissatisfied.
Dunnan has turned up on Marduk, as "Admiral Dunnan of the People's Armed Forces," commanding the troops. This seems to portend a second Night of the Long Knives, or a Great Purge Trial, followed by an assault on the "Space Viking terror". A preemptive response would seem to be in order.
Piper believed, though, that diplomacy could best be secured by arms, and arms are on hand. Trask begins by confidently assuring the assent of the other two captains on hand, Harkaman and Valkanhayn, and their three ships the Nemesis, Corisande, and Space-Scourge. They in turn opine that the other planets of the alliance, Beowulf and Amaterasu (two from Beowulf, one from Amaterasu), and the emigrés from Gram (two ships) will contribute to the fleet. Finally, there are the Space Vikings who came in to sell and hung around with the prospect of loot (three ships) and the "requisitioned" transport the latest batch of refugees hired to take troops to Gram.
Twelve ships total, and if it's not quite that twenty, it's quite enough for him to boast the biggest Space Viking fleet in history. Not quite, another opines: "'It isn't a Space Viking fleet,' Prince Bentrik differed. 'There are only three Space Vikings in it. The rest are the ships of three civilized planets, Tanith, Beowulf, and Amaterasu.'" [p. 218] Trask can now answer King Mikhyl's "Are you really a Space Viking, Prince Trask?" [p. 154] with a firm "Not any more."
But Bentrik's son Steven, if enthusiastic in a Tom Sawyerish way, has a direct, unsophisticated, and peculiarly sort of insightful perception of the foe: "'We are Space Vikings!' he insisted. 'And we are going to battle with the Neobarbarians of Zaspar Makann." [p. 218] He has been given a real, not a makework task, even if one appropriate to his capabilities.
And speaking of capabilities: For all that the transit to the Mardukan trade planet naval base is long, it isn't dull for Trask, since he has to keep Princess Myrna's lady companion from being bored. (Perhaps that's why Count Steven is assigned to play with Myrna.) But then, had it not been for Lady Valerie, they wouldn't have had Myrna there at all. She had armed the house staff, led them in a raid to capure Prince Edvard's space yacht, and took off for the Moon. Myrna had decreed that Lady Valerie would be the Space Viking's girl on Marduk. This Conan-style rescue (incidentally, she has the looks) sounds more like she could be a Space Viking captain herself. (In more recent writings, likely she would be.) So Trask is not suffering by keeping her company, and really they deserve it.
Prince Bentrik, meanwhile, is undergoing his own sort of suffering, or self-analysis anyhow. With the government disabled, it having democratically destroyed democracy, Bentrik is in a dreadful moral quandary. Having already organized a mutiny, he finds himself forced to go one step further in authority and stage a coup, to name himself regent of Marduk. This should come back to haunt him.
The Mardukan fleet is divided, with about half at home having gone over to Makann. Trask will take the four ships from the trade-planet base to add to his fleet of eleven combatants and a transport up against nine, three Mardukan, six Space Viking. They will begin by investigating Dunnan's covert base, which is on the outermost planet of the Mardukan planetary system.
Again, we see Trask's projections being usefully reused, since he had feared that Dunnan might have set up such a base on a outer planet of the Tanith system. The base is there, but abandoned, for reasons that are dreadfully obvious. The reports from Marduk itself are not good. Makann seems to be in direct control, but Supreme Commander of the People's Armed Forces Admiral Dunnan has as metioned above brought substantial strength of his own to the cause.
Makann has preserved the forms of government, appearing with King Mikhyl on telecasts as the King not entirely voluntarily urges obedience to the government. (Think of revolutionary Grenada, where the "progressive" government of Bernard Coard kept the Governor-General so as to avoid having to be re-recognized, but there they couldn't keep him doped up and he authorized (if perhaps it was backdated) the Caribbean peacekeeping intervention .) But frail flesh can't echo His Master's Voice forever, no matter how much the old man gets doped up, and soon enough Makann is urging support of the new order of things all by himself. But all the speeches in the world won't protect them from the oncoming ships.
The ensuing fight has a terrible carnage. One of the Tanithan ships is lost, as are two of the Mardukan ones on Trask's side. The surviving ships are seriously damaged. At least they're still alive to feel the pain. The victorious fleet then begins the final stage of the campaign, moving in to land troops.
Trask had characterized Makann's People's Watchmen as well-trained [p. 184]. But being bullyboys doesn't seem to count for that much against "Space Vikings no, Royal Army of Tanith men" [p. 238] and they are overcome in what seems a rather speedy campaign for the liberation of a planet of two billion population. But then, apparently the People's Welfare/Dunnan regime had only the toleration of the mass of the governed. Perhaps the example Trask and Bentrik made of the one city that did rise in favor of Makann, sending the three Space Viking ships off to loot it [p. 238], tilted the balance.
King Mikhyl is alive sort of; his mind is gone from the combination of drugs and old age. Zaspar Makann isn't; like one of his models he blew his brains out in a final stand. And that leaves the remaining resisters, fortified in the basement of the Royal Palace. Until they call for a truce. They will offer their former leader Andray Dunnan in return for their own miserable lives, which seems a quick way to wind things up:
. . . "It's agreed!" he called. "Bring him out."
There were fewer than two score of them. Some wore the uniforms of high officials of the People's Watchmen or of People's Welfare Party functionaries; a few wore the heavily braided short jackets of Space Viking officers. Among them, they propelled a thin-faced man with a pointed beard, and Trask had to look twice at him before he recognized the face of Andray Dunnan. It looked more like the face of Duke Angus of Wardshaven as he had last remembered it. Dunnan looked at him in incurious contempt.
"Your dotard king couldn't rule without Zaspar Makann, and Makann couldn't rule without me, and neither can you," he said. "Shoot this gang of turncoats, and I'll rule Marduk for you." He looked at Trask again. "Who are you?" he demanded. "I don't know you."
Trask slipped the pistol from his holster, thumbing off the safety.
"I am Lucas Trask. You've heard that name before," he said. "Stand away from behind him, you people."
"Oh yes; the poor fool who thought he was going to marry Elaine Karvall. Well, you won't, Lord Trask of Traskon. She loves me, not you. She's waiting for me now, on Gram."
Trask shot him through the head. Dunnan's eyes widened in momentary incredulity; then his knees gave way, and he fell forward on his face. Trask thumbed on the safety and holstered the pistol, and looked at the body on the concrete in front of him.
It hadn't made the least difference. It had been like shooting a snake, or one of the nasty scorpion things that infested the old buildings in Rivington. Just no more Andray Dunnan.
Space Viking, pp. 240-1
Revenge doesn't make the least difference any more. Six years of building civilization, and a
dire struggle to preserve it, have entirely replaced the initial desire. Then, "There was no more
Elaine, nowhere at all. Why, that must mean there was no more world." [p. 26]
But now there is a new world to build. Not alone, either:
. . . There was Valerie Alvarath. They'd enjoyed each other's society in the Nemesis. He
wondered if she would want to make it permanent, even on a throne . . .
Elaine was with him. He felt her beside him, almost tangibly. Her voice was whispering to him: She loves you, Lucas. She'll say yes. Be good to her, and she'll make you happy. Then she was gone, and he knew that she would never return.
Space Viking, p. 243
X. THE WINTER OF THE WORLDS
As has been said, Piper believed in a cyclical theory of history; events repeat themselves. His theory might be rendered as "Who knows the past, knows the future."
The defects of the quasi-feudal, autocratic rule of people like "Angus of about half of Gram" [p. 192] are clear and are made clear throughout the book. Piper presents elected governments as having their own problems too; in a conversation after their destruction of the Makann-Dunnan fleet, Bentrik deplores the deficient immune system of the Mardukan body politic: "There's something wrong with democracy. If there weren't, it couldn't be overthrown by people like Zaspar Makann, attacking it from within by democratic processes." [pp. 232-3] (But recall that Makann had aids in the form of money and helpers from Andray Dunnan. It must have taken considerable searching by Dunnan to find Makann, but from his point of view it was clearly worth it.)
It should be noted that France had a substantial authoritarian movement between the World Wars, one that disrupted the already inherently unstable French political scene, and afterwards provided valuable intellectual and political assistance to the Occupation. Having seen both sides, Trask has a darker view of the possibilities:
Space Viking, p. 233
[The qualifier seems to be a carry-over from the unsold, at least in that form, story "When In the Course . . .", which has an interfertile non-Terran human race on the planet Freya, of apparently independent origin. The story itself later became the basis of the first section of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, and was reprinted in its original form in the Piper collection Federation.]
Piper's take on this thesis is a less positive one. The "wild" men in this story are the Feric Jaggarian "blond Aryan beasts", the Andray Dunnans and Garvan Spassos, the Zaspar Makanns and Anguses of Gram, the ones who spread disruption and impose their will on others. Others who exist only to fulfill their needs as in Dunnan's belief that Elaine Karvall really wanted to marry him, and his spiteful, vicious murder of her when she proved she didn't.
The heroes are flawed, but they have an awareness of their flaws; Harkaman's "You are my chieftain. That's another mark of the barbarian." Trask's acceptance of Myrna's "But you feel bad about it," the "it" being the deaths he has been the cause of. Like, for example, the incident of the man grieving for the woman (his wife? lover? sister?) on Khepera and Trask's putting him out of his misery: "How many more happinesses do you think we've smashed here today? And we don't even have Dunnan's excuse of madness."
Piper's writings display a conflict between his beliefs in individual effacacy and his beliefs in historical trends. Thus, Trask ends his musings on trying to patch up government on Marduk with thoughts of a League of Civilized Planets, to include Marduk and Tanith and their trading communities [p. 242]. In the later stories in the series [published in the Piper collection Empire], there is a Galactic Empire, ruled by descendants of Steven and Myrna either Trask's plans didn't happen or they didn't work out. But then, the "Foundation" of The Cosmic Computer (1963), the superplanning computer that would compute a "psychohistorical" [not that Piper uses the term, but the book seems to be his own take on Asimov's thesis] plan to save civilization from the fall of the Federation, seems to have vanished without effect on the interstellar civilization of this story.
Perhaps the only solution is Bentrik's: "Then we'll just have to make it work as the best way we can, and when it breaks down, hope the next try will work a little better, for a little longer." [p. 233] We will do as much as we can.