Wednesday, 5 March 2014

‘Home’ – Poul Anderson

Is home where the hearth is or where government spending allocates it?

Yep, it’s time for another short story from Poul Anderson’s ‘The Queen of Air and Darkness’ collection. I’m not one for ‘full on’ reading resolutions this year but I do want to read older fiction as well as stuff that I wouldn’t normally pick up. ‘Home’ fulfils both of these criteria being a science fiction tale first published in 1966 (‘Orbit’ magazine, originally called ‘The Disinherited’) so here we go…

What happens when it becomes economically unfeasible to explore and colonise space? When there’s no money left, you really need to focus on what you have and make that work instead; that’s the concept underpinning ‘Home’ where Earth authorities have decided that the age of exploration is done (there’s nothing much out there anyway) and it’s time to bring everyone home. And that was the first thing that got me about this story; if resources are that stretched then why bring people home at all? More mouths to feed and all that, why not leave them out there? Especially if they’re actually happy where they are in the first place.

And that’s the real focus of this tale, what does ‘home’ mean when you’re making it on another planet entirely? Does anyone have that right? Obvious parallels are drawn with what happened to the American Indians; a little too obvious for me and a line that detracted from further exploration into the character of Yazkov Khan, the man sent to bring the scientific expedition (more like colonists now) home. Here’s a man whose job has essentially made him homeless and obeys the orders of the Earth Directorate even though he violently disagrees with their new mandate. There’s real conflict here but it’s only really hinted at in the final paragraph and that’s a bit of a shame. Khan is a really interesting character and deeper exploration of this could have lent ‘Home’ a lot more impact than it had (although, in fairness, I wasn’t expecting ‘Home’ to end the way it did, not at all).

What Anderson does do well is paint a picture of an idyllic existence that no-one would want to leave; a planet where the natives only real aspiration is to enjoy life, an aspiration that the human colonists are only just starting to understand and aspire to themselves. In that context then, the reader has to wonder whether the colonists are being brought home because of financial constraints or so that this Directorate doesn’t have to stretch quite so far in order to consolidate its power… Sinister undertones to a downbeat ending then.
‘Home’ gives its readers much to consider then and I certainly don’t regret the time spent reading it. I just couldn’t help but wonder if a little extra time spent fleshing out Khan, as a character, would have made this story even more thought provoking than it already is. Writing for magazines inevitably means word count but still, just a thought…

No comments:

Post a Comment