Lensman: The Case Against

Triplanetary 2 – Chapter 1: Arisia and Eddore

Welcome to the read! In this installment, we’re going to get a lot more detail on just how bad the Eddorians are.

Since Eddore was peopled originally by various races, perhaps as similar to each other as are the various human races of Earth, it is understandable that the early history of the planet—while it was still in its own space, that is—was one of continuous and ages-long war.

The sentence that comes immediately before this is the one about how all Eddorians have a consuming lust for power, and I’d like to read this sentence in context with that one – that the continual warfare is the result of that will to dominate. Unfortunately there’s a paragraph break between them, indicating that this is the start of a new thought, that thought being that the coexistence of multiple races ‘understandably’ results in a state of war. That’s really hard to reconcile with even the Triplanetary society presented later in this book, let alone the Civilization of later books, where beings of amazingly different physical and mental setups live and cooperate in harmony. I can only guess that either this is meant to be read in context with the previous sentence, or else it’s an artifact of the author’s toxic racial context.

And, since war always was and probably always will be linked solidly to technological advancement, the race now known simply as “The Eddorians” became technologists supreme.

This sentence is meant to do two things: first, to draw a contrast between the Eddorian mastery of technology and the Arisian abandonment of technology for mental powers; and second, to further build up the Eddorians as a formidable threat.

On a side note, I’m not sold on the assertion that war is ‘linked solidly’ to advances in technology, even though it’s a kind of common wisdom that I still hear repeated today. I think that connection only happens when the contest is both close enough that innovating for advantage is seen as a necessity, and yet also spares the combatants the resources to fuel that innovation. From the perspective of 1948, where World War 2 had spurred innovation in almost every field, and where even World War 1 and the American Civil War had brought significant developments, that might seem reasonable. On the other hand, between the start of the Civil War and the end of the Second World War, the U.S. was involved in an astonishing number of wars, mostly against its own indigenous population, in which the U.S. had overwhelming advantages, and those were not associated with any particular technological development. Of course, those wars weren’t (and aren’t) part of the popular understanding of history.

All other races disappeared. So did all other forms of life, however lowly, which interfered in any way with the Masters of the Planet.

This is obviously meant to be an indictment of the Eddorians on moral grounds: they have committed multiple genocides and also multiple extinctions. I happen to think it indicts them on intellectual grounds as well: diversity is strength, especially in the long-term. I wonder if it’s also a War of the Worlds reference – in that book it’s speculated that the Mars has no bacteria (and thus the Martians no resistance to such) because the Martians eliminated them all.

Then, all racial opposition liquidated and overmastering lust as unquenched as ever, the surviving Eddorians fought among themselves: “push-button” wars employing engines of destruction against which the only possible defense was a fantastic thickness of planetary bedrock.

This seems to support the less racist reading of that first sentence – even in the absence of racial divides, the war goes on.

Finally, unable either to kill or to enslave each other, the comparatively few survivors made a peace of sorts.

So, peace does come after they’re down to one race (sigh), but it also comes with a particular technological situation where the defense of subterranean bunkers has trumped the available offenses, and that’s given actual credit as the reason. It must also have seemed like an intractable problem at the time, because the Eddorians are both immortal and very patient, so if they thought they could invent their way around it (and given how many weapons we see later against which planetary bedrock would be little defense) they probably would have just taken the time.

Since their own space was practically barren of planetary systems, they would move their planet from space to space until they found one which so teemed with planets that each living Eddorian could become the sole Master of an ever increasing number of worlds.

The term ‘from space to space’ here refers to interdimensional travel, although that’s not really explained in the text for a very long time. The idea had a long pedigree by science fiction standards – back to the 1890s at least, or 1884 if you count Flatland; but at the time it was a fancy owing more to fairy tales than scientific theory, because the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics doesn’t show up until 1952.

This was a program very much worthwhile, promising as it did an outlet for even the recognizedly insatiable Eddorian craving for power.

It’s interesting that the Eddorians are able to distinguish their power-craving, given that it’s a relatively abstract motivation and they would seem to have no context for people without it.

Therefore the Eddorians, for the first time in their prodigiously long history of fanatical non-cooperation, decided to pool their resources of mind and of material and to work as a group.

So at first glance this is nonsensical; surely there must have been cooperation in the past, to allow the specializations of labor necessary to develop the science and technology that they are masters of. Even if, with their unlimited lifespan, they could eventually become supreme polymaths, and even if their mutable bodies are substantially more powerful and versatile than human, it’s just ridiculously inefficient for an aspiring world conqueror to do everything by themselves. I think the key words are ‘decided’ in this sentence and ‘enslave’ from three sentences ago. There have been group projects before, but they involved one Eddorian compelling others to work together by force.

Union of a sort was accomplished eventually; neither peaceably nor without highly lethal friction. They knew that a democracy, by its very nature, was inefficient; hence a democratic form of government was not even considered. An efficient government must of necessity be dictatorial.

So they effectively use a democratic consensus to decide upon a dictatorship. Remember that, because we’re going to see it again later in this series, and not where you might expect.

Nor were they all exactly alike or of exactly equal ability; perfect identity of any two such complex structures was in fact impossible, and any difference, however slight, was ample justification for stratification in such a society as theirs.

At first glance that sounds appropriately dreadful for a species with the sort of psychology we’ve seen depicted. On second thought it becomes faintly ridiculous, suggesting that one Eddorian may end up subordinate to another based on, I don’t know, being able to recite a single extra historical factoid, or displaying a vocabulary one word larger. On further reflection, though, that ridiculous version would still be a nerve-wracking dystopia to actually live in, where there’s such a fetish for personal ability that literally any iota of knowledge could mean the difference between Bob giving you orders and vice versa.

Thus one of them, fractionally more powerful and more ruthless than the rest, became the All-Highest—His Ultimate Supremacy—and a group of about a dozen others, only infinitesimally weaker, became his Council; a cabinet which was later to become known as the Innermost Circle.

There are two ways to look at this. From one perspective, you have the big bad being distinguished from his lowliest underling only by the tiniest margin: the equivalent of Scrabble scores. From another perspective, you have an organization where every member is a big bad because they’re distinguished only by Scrabble scores.

The tally of this cabinet varied somewhat from age to age; increasing by one when a member divided, decreasing by one when a jealous fellow or an envious underling managed to perpetrate a successful assassination.

So even after the increased exposure to each other re-opens the possibility of trying to kill or enslave each other directly, the social order they’ve established endures; there’s murder, but not war. At least there’s no explicit attribution of that to a lack of racial diversity.

And thus, at long last, the Eddorians began really to work together. There resulted, among other things, the hyper-spatial tube and the fully inertialess drive—the drive which was, millions of years later, to be given to Civilization by an Arisian operating under the name of Bergenholm.

On one hand, this is the author getting way ahead of himself, because these inventions aren’t going to become relevant for quite a while and mentioning them here just muddies up the intro. I will say that when each of those does show up in the narrative they’re treated as game-changing breakthroughs. That’s probably intended to increase how threatening the Eddorians are, because things that are tech miracles to our POV characters (themselves having tech miracles relative to the reader) are millions of years old to them. It does raise the question of how, with such a head start, they can be contested at all. I don’t think that’s ever really addressed.

There’s a kind of inexplicable technological progress plateau that shows up in a lot of sci-fi. For example, Star Wars tech seems to be unchanged since the Old Republic era, and all the major powers in Star Trek seem to have reached the exact same level of technology at the same time (and progress from TOS to TNG eras is pretty limited). When I say inexplicable, I obviously mean from an in-universe perspective, because it’s plain that those franchises and others use particular technology details as part of their setting identity. In this case, I’m reminded of the Babylon 5 setup, where the elder beings (who also have a crazy long head start on the younger beings) have technology that is merely ‘very impressive’ and not ‘incomprehensibly overwhelming.’ That is, they seem to have some important breakthroughs and refinements, but they are still operating on more-or-less the same assumptions.

Another result, which occurred shortly after the galactic inter-passage had begun, was the eruption into normal space of the planet Eddore.

Speaking of important breakthroughs, the Eddorians can move their entire planet between dimensions. We’re told earlier that the planet came to our ‘space,’ but now we know it was deliberate.

“I must now decide whether to make this space our permanent headquarters or to search farther,” the All-Highest radiated harshly to his Council.

This is an odd choice. Until now, the Eddorians have been presented as extremely alien. With their amorphous shapes, extradimensional origins, and astronomical antiquity, they’d fit in nicely alongside any of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror entities. That’s kind of severely undermined by giving them ordinary dialogue, especially dialogue this banal, which I don’t think was necessary. They get so little dialogue that it seems totally possible to have worked around that and maintained that mystique.

What is nice is the use of the term ‘radiated,’ which is an efficient method for suggesting an exotic form of communication, and that does introduce a little more unfamiliarity into this depiction.

“On the one hand, it will take some time for even those planets which have already formed to cool. Still more will be required for life to develop sufficiently to form a part of the empire which we have planned or to occupy our abilities to any great degree. On the other, we have already spent millions of years in surveying hundreds of millions of continua, without having found anywhere such a profusion of planets as will, in all probability, soon fill both of these galaxies.

There’s that astronomical scale again: they have surveyed hundreds of millions of dimensions. So their dimension-hopping isn’t like a thing that’s unreliable or meaningfully taxes their resources, they apparently can do it about a hundred times a year, and probably only that infrequently because it takes a few days to survey the new territory.

There may also be certain advantages inherent in the fact that these planets are not yet populated. As life develops, we can mold it as we please.

What it means for the Eddorians to ‘mold’ life is unclear. Genetic engineering as we understand it isn’t really a concept when this is written. My guess is that this means artificial selection, probably also social engineering. The idea of malevolent aliens meddling with your species since before it was sapient is pretty chilling; there’s no possible defense, and maybe you don’t even mind because you’ve been modified not to. While we meet a number of unpleasant aliens, I think we only see one species that’s confirmed to be the result of an Eddorian ‘molding’ project, and they really are the worst.

Krongenes, what are your findings in regard to the planetary possibilities of other spaces?” 

The term “Krongenes” was not, in the accepted sense, a name. Or, rather, it was more than a name. It was a key-thought, in mental shorthand; a condensation and abbreviation of the life-pattern or ego of that particular Eddorian.

This is the first hint we get that the Eddorians’ exotic communication method is thought transmission – telepathy.

“Not at all promising, Your Supremacy,” Krongenes replied promptly. “No space within reach of my instruments has more than a small fraction of the inhabitable worlds which will presently exist in this one.”

Some of the limits of Eddorian tech are on display; their instruments have a maximum range, and they apparently cannot make planets in anything resembling a reasonable time-frame or they would have spent the last hundreds of millions of years doing that instead.

“Very well. Have any of you others any valid objections to the establishment of our empire here in this space? If so, give me your thought now.”

No objecting thoughts appeared, since none of the monsters then knew anything of Arisia or of the Arisians. Indeed, even if they had known, it is highly improbable that any objection would have been raised. First, because no Eddorian, from the All-Highest down, could conceive or would under any circumstances admit that any race, anywhere, had ever approached or ever would approach the Eddorians in any quality whatever; and second, because, as is routine in all dictatorships, disagreement with the All-Highest did not operate to lengthen the span of life.

First, while it seems inefficient to waste time asking for constructive dissent when you’ve already established a culture that punishes dissent, I think that might actually be a very efficient way for the All-Highest to get his power fix; a single sentence, and the submission of his near-peers is established. Second, this section introduces Eddorian racial arrogance, which was notably missing from previous descriptors. Arrogance is a classic evil overlord weakness, but taken to this extreme it kind of compromises how threatening the Eddorians seem, because it’s just so irrational.

Think about what that description of Eddorian arrogance means: were there beings on their homeworld that were, say, physically stronger than the Eddorians, as horses or oxen or whales are stronger than humans? If so, they could never admit it, which strikes me as a terrible survival trait. Was that kind of irrational egotism somehow selected for strongly early on in their development? Perhaps a telepathic predator which projected crushing self-doubt that could only be countered by pathological egotism?

It also means that no Eddorian could ever write an equivalent of War of the Worlds, could ever be prepared to engage an alien species of even near-equal development. Presumably their only hypothetical alien contact scenarios depict only their own total dominance. That assumption isn’t going to do them any favors when they meet the Arisians in the next sentence.

“Very well. We will now confer as to… but hold! That thought is not one of ours! Who are you, stranger, to dare to intrude thus upon a conference of the Innermost Circle?”

“I am Enphilistor, a younger student, of the planet Arisia.” This name, too, was a symbol.

So this is the meeting between the two species of ancient superbeings, and while they have been set up as being extremely different, at this moment of meeting we are shown that they have very similar naming conventions.

Nor was the young Arisian yet a Watchman, as he and so many of his fellows were so soon to become, for before Eddore’s arrival Arisia had had no need of Watchmen.

Eddore’s arrival creates a whole new role in Arisian society.

“I am not intruding, as you know. I have not touched any one of your minds; have not read any one of your thoughts. I have been waiting for you to notice my presence, so that we could become acquainted with each other. A surprising development, truly—we have thought for many cycles of time that we were the only highly advanced life in this universe….”

I remember the depiction of telepathy in this series being at least a little incoherent. There’s a distinction made here between ‘reading’ private thoughts and ‘receiving’ radiated thoughts that I think is blurred later on.

“Be silent, worm, in the presence of the Masters. Land your ship and surrender, and your planet will be allowed to serve us. Refuse, or even hesitate, and every individual of your race shall die.”

That’s some pretty hackneyed evil overlord dialogue, but it does a pretty good job of communicating just how aggressively unreasonable the Eddorians are supposed to be.

“Worm? Masters? Land my ship?” The young Arisian’s thought was pure curiosity, with no tinge of fear, dismay, or awe. “Surrender? Serve you? I seem to be receiving your thought without ambiguity, but your meaning is entirely….”

This response cracks me up, but it’s also a really good demonstration of how different the contexts of the two species are. Enphilistor understands all the words used, but the arrangement is completely baffling to him.

“Address me as ‘Your Supremacy’,” the All-Highest directed, coldly. “Land now or die now—this is your last warning.”

“Your Supremacy? Certainly, if that is the customary form. But as to landing—and warning—and dying—surely you do not think that I am present in the flesh? And can it be possible that you are actually so aberrant as to believe that you can kill me—or even the youngest Arisian infant? What a peculiar—what an extraordinary—psychology!”

And just like that, we’re back to similarities: here’s some Arisian arrogance on display. The interaction between these two species is a few not-very-informative sentences, and yet Enphilistor considers it bizarre – a sign of defective mentality – that his species’ invulnerability isn’t taken for granted.

“Die, then, worm, if you must have it so!” the All-Highest snarled, and launched a mental bolt whose energies were calculated to slay any living thing.

Here we see that the Eddorians, apart from telepathic communication, have some ability to use mental powers to replicate what less-gifted species have to use technology for. It’s a bit strange because it’s not so long ago that they were set up as the technologists in contrast to the Arisian mentalists, and now they plainly have access to both.

Enphilistor, however, parried the vicious attack without apparent effort. His manner did not change. He did not strike back. The Eddorian then drove in with an analyzing probe, only to be surprised again—the Arisian’s thought could not be traced!

On the other hand, they do seem much less good at mentalism than the Arisians. Remember, this is the All-Highest, the single most competent (no matter how slim the margin) of his species, while Enphilistor is ‘a younger student.’

And Enphilistor, while warding off the raging Eddorian, directed a quiet thought as though he were addressing someone close by his side:

“Come in, please, one or more of the Elders. There is a situation here which I am not qualified to handle.”

This is a simple thing, but it also demonstrates the differences between Arisians and Eddorians. Can you imagine an Eddorian as they’ve been presented calling for help? Admitting that they weren’t qualified to handle a problem?

Anyway, that’s the show portion of the show-and-tell on the Eddorians, and their terrible first contact protocols. Next time, we’ll get the Arisian response.

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