Triplanetary 6 – Chapter 2: The Fall of Atlantis
Welcome to the read! I mentioned in an earlier installment that I think this might be the very first example of a sci-fi take on Atlantis, so let’s see what that turns out to be.
3. — ATLANTIS
Ariponides, recently elected Faros of Atlantis for his third five-year term, stood at a window of his office atop the towering Farostery.
Faros is a Greek word (or close approximation thereof) meaning lighthouse or beacon, which I think is a cool title for an elected official; it is not linguistically related to the Egyptian title of Pharoah. Farostery seems to be an entirely original word, but I assume it’s a poetically lighthouse-like structure that serves as the Faros’ administrative headquarters. I also assume that the Faros is the head-of-state, as lesser civil servants don’t usually have towering buildings named for their title.
Plato’s Atlantis was ruled by a confederation of ten kings, so this is greatly deviant from the source material, and as far as I can tell is breaking new ground – that is, no previous interpretations of Atlantis put aside the rule of kings. I suspect this is representative of the ‘cultural pattern’ they have developed that is at odds with the Eddorian principles.
His hands were clasped loosely behind his back. He did not really see the tremendous expanse of quiet ocean, nor the bustling harbor, nor the metropolis spread out so magnificently and so busily beneath him.
Ariponides is getting his brood on, I see. Plato’s city of Atlantis did not have a harbor, instead being connected to the sea by a canal. This seems like a much more conventional arrangement.
(Experiment time! We haven’t had a description, but notice what sort of clothing you picture this guy wearing.)
He stood there, motionless, until a subtle vibration warned him that visitors were approaching his door.
I’ve always read this ‘subtle vibration’ as a technological alert system, but on closer inspection it could just be Ariponides feeling his visitors’ footsteps through the floor.
“Come in, gentlemen…. Please be seated.” He sat down at one end of a table molded of transparent plastic.
The aim here is obviously to modernize the Atlantean setting. We already know that this Atlantis is a nuclear power, but now we get to see that they have other modern technologies as well. Plastic (including transparent varieties) was around before the American Civil War, but it was really taking off in the 1940s.
“Psychologist Talmonides, Statesman Cleto, Minister Philamon, Minister Marxes and Officer Artomenes, I have asked you to come here personally because I have every reason to believe that the shielding of this room is proof against eavesdroppers; a thing which can no longer be said of our supposedly private television channels. We must discuss, and if possible come to some decision concerning, the state in which our nation now finds itself.
(Experiment follow-up: What sort of clothing do you picture the various Atlanteans wearing at this point, and how does it compare to your original vision?)
I think almost all councils in this series, official or impromptu, include a psychologist; it just seems to be a quirk of the setting. The shielded room and private television channels are more modern context. Broadcast television in the U.S. was properly established in 1941, and so was still only a handful of years old when this was being written.
“Each of us knows within himself exactly what he is. Of our own powers, we cannot surely know each others’ inward selves.
This is some oddly philosophical talk for a state-of-the-nation meeting.
The tools and techniques of psychology, however, are potent and exact; and Talmonides, after exhaustive and rigorous examination of each one of us, has certified that no taint of disloyalty exists among us.”
In this respect, at least, the Atlanteans seem to be more advanced than the author’s day (and indeed our own). I don’t know what ‘tools and techniques’ Talmonides is supposedly using, but I suspect they’re related to the polygraph, whose prototype was bought by the FBI in 1939.
“Which certification is not worth a damn,” the burly Officer declared. “What assurance do we have that Talmonides himself is not one of the ringleaders?
Ah, so we have some sort of conspiracy that’s infiltrated the government. That contextualizes all the ‘inward selves’ and ‘loyalty’ talk.
Mind you, I have no reason to believe that he is not completely loyal. In fact, since he has been one of my best friends for over twenty years, I believe implicitly that he is.
Well, then we have the assurance of you as a character witness, don’t we?
Nevertheless the plain fact is, Ariponides, that all the precautions you have taken, and any you can take, are and will be useless insofar as definite knowledge is concerned. The real truth is and will remain unknown.”
This is an unusually florid way to say ‘we can be certain of nothing.’ I’m surprised that it is the military officer who is so concerned about philosophical absolute certainty, the job seems to call for a more pragmatic approach.
“You are right,” the Psychologist conceded. “And, such being the case, perhaps I should withdraw from the meeting.”
I don’t get the motivation for this gesture. If Talmonides is under sufficient suspicion to recuse himself, then (as Artomenes just pointed out) his certifications are worthless and everyone else is just as suspect.
“That wouldn’t help, either.” Artomenes shook his head. “Any competent plotter would be prepared for this, as for any other contingency. One of us others would be the real operator.”
Artomenes seems to attribute extraordinary abilities of foresight to ‘any competent plotter.’
“And the fact that our Officer is the one who is splitting hairs so finely could be taken to indicate which one of us the real operator could be,” Marxes pointed out, cuttingly.
From an in-fiction perspective, I agree with Marxes; Artomenes’ comments generate an air of paranoia and otherwise accomplish nothing. As a reader, I suspect that the air of paranoia is intended by the author, but handing all responsibility for it to a single character just colors that character.
“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” Ariponides protested. “While absolute certainty is of course impossible to any finite mind, you all know how Talmonides was tested; you know that in his case there is no reasonable doubt.
The Faros cuts through the crap. Apparently there was the assurance of testing that leaves no reasonable doubt, which Artomenes knew of; I guess he dismissed it because his paranoiac tendencies demand philosophical certainty.
Such chance as exists, however, must be taken, for if we do not trust each other fully in this undertaking, failure is inevitable. With this word of warning I will get on with my report.
That’s some decent leadership-type talk.
“This worldwide frenzy of unrest followed closely upon the controlled liberation of atomic energy and may be—probably is—traceable to it.
Nuclear weapons are dramatic things, and despite strong anti-Japanese sentiment, the use of them against the Empire of Nippon created widespread unrest in our own history, so this is a reasonable assumption. We aren’t given any context for how nuclear weapons were introduced to these peoples’ geopolitics, so it’s not clear how justified a ‘frenzy’ might be.
It is in no part due to imperialistic aims or acts on the part of Atlantis. This fact cannot be stressed too strongly. We never have been and are not now interested in Empire.
These, and the four following sentences, appeal to me as a writer. At first glance they seem like clumsy exposition, as the Faros makes the Atlantean case to Atlantean officials who must know the facts already and need no persuasion. On the other hand, the Faros’ position probably requires him to give frequent speeches, so maybe he just unconsciously slides into oratory mode every so often, at which point it’s characterization that also justifies exposition, which is a neat little technique.
It is true that the other nations began as Atlantean colonies, but no attempt was ever made to hold any one of them in colonial status against the wish of its electorate.
This sentence is such an appeal to American identity that at this point I’m convinced that we’re supposed to read Atlantis as a close analogue for the contemporary-at-the-time late-1940s USA. I will also say that even if the sentiment isn’t actually sincere, simply expressing it as an ideal makes the Atlanteans the best people we’ve seen in the story so far.
All nations were and are sister states. We gain or lose together. Atlantis, the parent, was and is a clearing-house, a co-ordinator of effort, but has never claimed or sought authority to rule; all decisions being based upon free debate and free and secret ballot.
This is the sort of thing that sounds good, especially to Americans in 1948, but is also romantic and naive. I think it’s meant to be taken by the reader at simple face value, which is fine, but I think it gets more interesting if it’s read with a skeptical and cynical eye.
If Atlantis is meant to be a close analogue for the late-1940s USA, then it’s an analogue for a country that had a history of talking a good deal about freedom while also continually engaging in empire-building, both explicit and implicit. Debates and ballots both are vulnerable to corruption, intimidation, and propaganda, and Atlantis could be using non-military force to push its foreign policy upon other nations while using the non-military nature of that force as deniability. That wouldn’t necessarily make them bad, or even not good (international politics being what they are, some moral compromise is only realistic), but it would mean that Atlantis is not a cartoon of virtue, nor its colonies cartoons of suspicion.
“But now! Parties and factions everywhere, even in old Atlantis. Every nation is torn by internal dissensions and strife.
It sounds a little like this is implying that parties and factions are not the usual condition, which is weird because one-party states don’t have a great rep, but whether it’s notable that they exist or just that there’s more than usual, it seems they’ve gotten out of hand.
Nor is this all. Uighar as a nation is insensately jealous of the Islands of the South, who in turn are jealous of Maya. Maya of Bantu, Bantu of Ekopt, Ekopt of Norheim, and Norheim of Uighar.
Uighar seems to be a reference to the Uyghurs, a group with ancient roots in northern China and Mongolia. Maya is a reference to the Mayans of South America. Bantu is a reference to the African language group and associated peoples. Ekopt seems to be a portmanteau of Egypt and also the Copts. Norheim is the name of a few places (in Norway and Germany) and generally implies a north Germanic situation. The Islands of the South is a less obvious reference, but at a guess it refers to Australasia. So the Atlantean diaspora is a global-scope international community.
The idea that Atlantis is the original source of the human species, with all ancient civilizations being Atlantean colonies, is part of the Atlantean myth popularized by Ignatius Donnelly, but he didn’t originate the idea. It’s drawn from a centuries-old racist pseudohistorical movement called Mayanism, which attributes the achievements of the Mayans (and other ancient civilizations) to an advanced Atlantean precursor nation, or extraterrestrials, either being apparently more plausible than dark-skinned people having architectural skills.
I don’t know if this perpetuation of a racist trope is deliberate or thoughtless on the part of the author, but I do know that it’s unnecessary. This Atlantis already deviates from the popular Donnelly version of Atlantis in technological advancement, democratic principles, and apparently geography, so it’s not like the author was shackled to an established version for authenticity. It’s also never plot-relevant that the other nations be Atlantean colonies and not just other nations lost to time.
A vicious circle, worsened by other jealousies and hatreds intercrossing everywhere. Each fears that some other is about to try to seize control of the entire world; and there seems to be spreading rapidly the utterly baseless belief that Atlantis itself is about to reduce all other nations of Earth to vassalage.
It’s never explicitly stated that this is what Gharlane is up to, but I don’t think there’s any doubt. It’s pretty clever as dastardly plans go. The development of atomic power was mentioned as a turning point in Arisian history, but the first step to atomic power is nuclear weapons, which creates both a means to collapse a planet’s development and also a political instability. Gharlane seems to have simply bolstered the natural nuclear paranoia and let human nature take its course.
“This is a bald statement of the present condition of the world as I see it. Since I can see no other course possible within the constituted framework of our democratic government, I recommend that we continue our present activities, such as the international treaties and agreements upon which we are now at work, intensifying our effort wherever possible.
There’s a nice example of real principle: Ariponides isn’t willing to pursue courses outside the framework of his democratic government, even if he might see them. It’s not clear what it is that he’s not proposing, but his commitment is clear enough.
We will now hear from Statesman Cleto.”
“You have outlined the situation clearly enough, Faros. My thought, however, is that the principal cause of the trouble is the coming into being of this multiplicity of political parties, particularly those composed principally of crackpots and extremists.
‘This multiplicity of’ is importantly distinct from ‘multiple,’ so I think my earlier concern about the text condemning the mere existence of multiple parties was unfounded.
The connection with atomic energy is clear: since the atomic bomb gives a small group of people the power to destroy the world, they reason that it thereby confers upon them the authority to dictate to the world.
This seems a bit tenuous. I don’t really buy that there are that many people who would be willing to hold the world hostage, especially when following through on that threat destroys themselves as well. That would require a degree of cultural nihilism that just isn’t established. I think a far more plausible connection would be that since whoever controls the government now has the power to destroy the world, there are a lot more people interested in being the government, if only to keep that power out of other peoples’ hands.
My recommendation is merely a special case of yours; that every effort be made to influence the electorates of Norheim and of Uighar into supporting an effective international control of atomic energy.”
Note that the nations of concern correspond to Germany and (probably) China. At a guess, Russia didn’t get an analogue because it didn’t have a famous ancient culture. It’s a little weird that China gets villainized here, because the most recent relation they’d had with the USA in 1948 was ally against the Japanese, and because the country didn’t properly go communist until late 1949. Maybe as the pan-Asian representatives, they’re standing in for Japan, and this reflects lingering postwar anti-Japanese sentiment?
“You have your data tabulated in symbolics?” asked Talmonides, from his seat at the keyboard of a calculating machine.
“Yes. Here they are.”
A calculating machine is a mechanical (as opposed to electronic) calculator, and were apparently what passed for a desktop computer from the 1900s to the 1960s.
“Minister Philamon,” the Faros announced.
“As I see it—as any intelligent man should be able to see it—the principal contribution of atomic energy to this worldwide chaos was the complete demoralization of labor,” the gray-haired Minister of Trade stated, flatly.
Huh, this makes it sound like the Atlanteans have made it to nuclear power plants, not just weapons, since I don’t know how nuclear weapons would especially demoralize labor. That would put the Atlanteans as not 1940s America, but 1940s America twenty minutes into the future, seeing that nuclear power plants didn’t become practical until the early 50s.
“Output per man-hour should have gone up at least twenty percent, in which case prices would automatically have come down. Instead, short-sighted guilds imposed drastic curbs on production, and now seem to be surprised that as production falls and hourly wages rise, prices also rise and real income drops.
Yes, that’s definitely nuclear power that Philamon is talking about; nuclear weapons don’t improve ‘output per man-hour,’ but more abundant electricity… might? So I guess it’s a double-threat: nuclear weapons causing political strife, and nuclear power causing economic turbulence.
I don’t know enough to really comment on the econo-speak and whether it’s at all plausible.
Only one course is possible, gentlemen; labor must be made to listen to reason. This feather-bedding, this protected loafing, this….”
“I protest!” Marxes, Minister of Work, leaped to his feet. “The blame lies squarely with the capitalists. Their greed, their rapacity, their exploitation of….”
Marxes is revealed as a Karl Marx reference.
“One moment, please!” Ariponides rapped the table sharply. “It is highly significant of the deplorable condition of the times that two Ministers of State should speak as you two have just spoken.
Given their titles, it seemed very likely to me that this bickering was simply an older argument intruding into the affair of the moment, but it’s supposed to be a reflection of the general turbulence of the time.
I take it that neither of you has anything new to contribute to this symposium?”
Both claimed the floor, but both were refused it by vote.
It seems harsh that after being asked a question the two Ministers are then denied the opportunity to answer it, but at least it’s democratically harsh.
“Hand your tabulated data to Talmonides,” the Faros directed. “Officer Artomenes?”
“You, our Faros, have more than intimated that our defense program, for which I am primarily responsible, has been largely to blame for what has happened,” the grizzled warrior began.
The only defense program that’s been mentioned here is the simple existence of nuclear weapons (of which nuclear power is a natural development), so is Artomenes supposed to be a stand in for General Groves, the military administrator of the Manhattan Project? I guess there’s a read where this more-than-intimation happened off-screen in a previous conversation, but that would be extremely awkward writing.
“In part, perhaps it was—one must be blind indeed not to see the connection, and biased indeed not to admit it. But what should I have done, knowing that there is no practical defense against the atomic bomb?
Okay, for Artomenes and his defense program to be ‘to blame’ for the situation triggered by nuclear technology, they have to have been the ones to develop the first nuclear technology. To have developed the first nuclear technology out of concern for defense from nuclear technology implies a nuclear race – the principles were out there, other people were also seeking to develop them, and in lieu of a ‘practical’ defense, they needed first-strike advantage (in the short run) and a deterrent (in the long run). So far, so like our own history.
Every nation has them, and is manufacturing more and more.
Here’s a deviation. At the time this work was published, the USA was still the only nuclear power in the world, the USSR not detonating their first bomb until 1949. Apparently part of their twenty-minutes-into-the-future includes the fulfillment of nuclear proliferation anxieties.
Every nation is infested with the agents of every other. Should I have tried to keep Atlantis toothless in a world bristling with fangs? And could I—or anyone else—have succeeded in doing so?”
This reads to me like Artomenes has a guilt complex about his part in creating the nuclear state of affairs. I’m sure there’s a psych term for his desperate casting about for alternatives he didn’t take. In fact, Artomenes comes off as pretty unstable throughout this scene. First he’s paranoid, then he’s guilty, and later on…
“Probably not. No criticism was intended; we must deal with the situation as it actually exists. Your recommendations, please?”
The Faros practices some more good leadership. He briefly addresses Artomenes’ point to let him know he’s been heard, but redirects the conversation back to immediate practical matters.
“I have thought this thing over day and night, and can see no solution which can be made acceptable to our—or to any real—democracy. Nevertheless, I have one recommendation to make.
Unlike the Faros, Artomenes is willing to propose a course which is against the principles of their society.
We all know that Norheim and Uighar are the sore spots—particularly Norheim. We have more bombs as of now than both of them together.
This doesn’t sound like it’s going anywhere good.
We know that Uighar’s super-sonic jobs are ready.
The first manned supersonic flight took place in 1947, so this is another reference to a recent-to-1948 tech development. It’s not clear if Uighar’s ‘jobs’ are bombers or missiles, though.
We don’t know exactly what Norheim has, since they cut my Intelligence line a while back, but I’m sending over another operative—my best man, too—tonight. If he finds out that we have enough advantage in speed, and I’m pretty sure that we have, I say hit both Norheim and Uighar right then, while we can, before they hit us. And hit them hard—pulverize them.
There it is: Artomenes is proposing a nuclear first-strike strategy.
Then set up a world government strong enough to knock out any nation—including Atlantis—that will not cooperate with it.
As a follow-up, he proposes a mind-boggling feat of politics: just the unification of the world, after making a pariah nation out of Atlantis.
This course of action is flagrantly against all international law and all the principles of democracy, I know; and even it might not work. It is, however, as far as I can see, the only course which can work.”
It is a particularly military perspective, especially in states of total war, that sometimes there are no acceptable courses of action, so you must choose from the monstrous courses of action available. In some respects, this is the same position that the Eddorians put the Arisians in; except of course that the Arisians never acknowledge the unacceptability of their actions.
“You—we all—perceive its weaknesses.” The Faros thought for minutes. “You cannot be sure that your Intelligence has located all of the danger points, and many of them must be so far underground as to be safe from even our heaviest missiles.
Hidden and/or protected launch sites are second-strike nuclear strategy, allowing a nation that does not get first strike to retaliate. I was surprised to see such a well-developed sense of nuclear strategy in a book published before the Soviets had the bomb, but apparently gaming out nuclear conflict scenarios began well before even the Manhattan project produced results, and that made its way into fiction.
We all, including you, believe that the Psychologist is right in holding that the reaction of the other nations to such action would be both unfavorable and violent.
Well, obviously! As far as I can see, the closest Artomenes’ plan could come to working is that after Atlantis pulverizes Uighar and Norheim, and is pulverized itself either by its targets’ second-strike or by the other nations, the remaining nations might be so aghast at what’s happened that they’d be driven to a diplomatic solution. Even that’s an optimistic scenario.
Your report, please, Talmonides.”
“I have already put my data into the integrator.” The Psychologist punched a button and the mechanism began to whir and to click.
This is interesting, because it supposes an extraordinary advance in computing powers in the ‘twenty minutes’ Atlantis is ahead of the 1948 USA. I don’t think any mechanical calculator could perform a function more advanced than calculating a square root, so dealing with the kind of sophisticated data described here would be far beyond them. Pre-transistor predictions about the future of computing are infamous for underestimating how far and fast the field would advance, and this series will provide us with at least one spectacular example of that; but this is closer than a lot of people got: it’s much more powerful than machines of the time when it was written, and it doesn’t seem to be particularly enormous.
“I have only one new fact of any importance; the name of one of the higher-ups and its corollary implication that there may be some degree of cooperation between Norheim and Uighar….”
This is actually strange, because in the circle of international hate set up above, Norheim was listed as being ‘insensately jealous’ of Uighar, which makes their cooperation seem unlikely.
He broke off as the machine stopped clicking and ejected its report.
“Look at that graph—up ten points in seven days!” Talmonides pointed a finger. “The situation is deteriorating faster and faster. The conclusion is unavoidable—you can see yourselves that this summation line is fast approaching unity—that the outbreaks will become uncontrollable in approximately eight days.
There was a mechanical calculator called the Ordonnateur Statistique, created in the mid-1800s, that was somehow supposed to summarize social statistical correlations, but I know nothing else about it. At a guess, that machine is intended as the ancestor of this fictional one.
With one slight exception—here—you will notice that the lines of organization and purpose are as random as ever. In spite of this conclusive integration I would be tempted to believe that this seeming lack of coherence was due to insufficient data—that back of this whole movement there is a carefully-set-up and completely-integrated plan—except for the fact that the factions and the nations are so evenly matched.
Talmonides has intuited Gharlane’s influence, but cannot seem to conceive of a nihilist and non-national actor, the now-stereotypical Nolan-Joker sort. That’s not really believable, given how one of their problems is a multitude of fringe political movements, but perhaps Talmonides has thought of the possibility and rejected it without mention; maybe the resources to covertly carry out such a plan simply aren’t available to any of the local crackpots.
But the data are sufficient. It is shown conclusively that no one of the other nations can possibly win, even by totally destroying Atlantis. They would merely destroy each other and our entire Civilization. According to this forecast, in arriving at which the data furnished by our Officer were prime determinants, that will surely be the outcome unless remedial measures be taken at once.
This raises the question of why the other nations don’t seem to know this. Why would they aggress if it could be ‘shown conclusively’ that they could not possibly win? Are their calculators not as good as Atlantis’, or are they being written as unreasoningly aggressive?
You are of course sure of your facts, Artomenes?”
“I am sure. But you said you had a name, and that it indicated a Norheim-Uighar hookup. What is that name?”
“An old friend of yours….”
“Lo Sung!” The words as spoken were a curse of fury.
Lo Sung is a reasonable approximation of a Chinese name (and not of a Japanese name), which suggests that Uighar is meant to be more of an analogue for China than Japan.
“None other. And, unfortunately, there is as yet no course of action indicated which is at all promising of success.”
“Use mine, then!” Artomenes jumped up and banged the table with his fist. “Let me send two flights of rockets over right now that will blow Uigharstoy and Norgrad into radioactive dust and make a thousand square miles around each of them uninhabitable for ten thousand years! If that’s the only way they can learn anything, let them learn!”
Man, that ‘curse of fury’ description was not underselling it. I don’t know the background, but Lo Sung’s name makes Artomenes so angry that he becomes even more irrational than he was.
Also, ‘Norgrad’ is obviously intended to sound like a Russian city name, like Kaliningrad or Volgograd. I’m not aware of any cities that end in -stoy, but I guess that suffix is meant to recall Tolstoy, a famous Russian name. I think this is meant to hammer home that the two nations are also standing in for a nuclear USSR, but it’s a pretty confused analogous space at this point.
“Sit down, Officer,” Ariponides directed, quietly. “That course, as you have already pointed out, is indefensible. It violates every Prime Basic of our Civilization. Moreover, it would be entirely futile, since this resultant makes it clear that every nation on Earth would be destroyed within the day.”
When speaking for himself Ariponides stopped with the moral argument, but he includes a practical element when speaking to someone who is willing to go beyond the moral arguments.
“What, then?” Artomenes demanded, bitterly. “Sit still here and let them annihilate us?”
Artomenes has been all over the place in this scene, and now he’s moved on to childish. It’s kind of bizarre, because it seems like he’s behaving in a way that displays a manifest unfitness for his responsibilities, but neither the text nor the other characters ever comment on it.
“Not necessarily. It is to formulate plans that we are here. Talmonides will by now have decided, upon the basis of our pooled knowledge, what must be done.”
“The outlook is not good: not good at all,” the Psychologist announced, gloomily. “The only course of action which carries any promise whatever of success—and its probability is only point one eight—is the one recommended by the Faros, modified slightly to include Artomenes’ suggestion of sending his best operative on the indicated mission.
What mission is this? The only recommendation Ariponides has made is the continuation of ‘our present activities, such as the international treaties and agreements upon which we are now at work.’ The only mission that’s been mentioned was part of Artomenes’ rejected first-strike plan.
For highest morale, by the way, the Faros should also interview this agent before he sets out. Ordinarily I would not advocate a course of action having so little likelihood of success; but since it is simply a continuation and intensification of what we are already doing, I do not see how we can adopt any other.”
This foreshadows the grimness to come. The high officials are out of options and are simply doing their utmost with the course that is left to them, and although that sort of situation is usually the set-up for a heroic success, we know that Atlantis is doomed, that even their best efforts are simply not enough. That’s decent pathos, and also the demonstration of the effectiveness of one Eddorian against a whole world of a younger species.
“Are we agreed?” Ariponides asked, after a short silence.
They were agreed.
Join me next post for the last of this chapter, where after three sessions of set-up, we get some genuine action as pay-off.