Short Reviews – The Double-Dyed Villains, by Poul Anderson

Friday , 30, March 2018 21 Comments

The Double-Dyed Villains by Poul Anderson appeared in the September 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

The sword and rocket ship are clearly indicative of Science Fiction.

I am going to need to hurry up and read Poul Anderson’s “important” books that are still being discussed in Appendix N and Pulp Revolution circles, or I’ll be too bummed out by his 1940s short fiction to go into any of his stories without a massive prejudice against him.

Campbell’s lead in for the story is “E. E. Smith suggested one way of maintaining peace in the Galaxy. But there might be another, equally effective method—”. If Smith’s method was the best of the best of the best of the best of all men heroically fighting, Anderson’s is a cowardly and manipulative deep state collaborating with the worst of the galaxy’s criminal elements to avert war. Really, it comes across as apologia for a CIA which, at the time this piece was written, was busy helping Nazis get out of jail and set up global criminal enterprises.

The Double-Dyed Villains tells the story of one Galactic Patrolman on the run from a planetary government, interspersed with tableau set on other worlds illustrating different cultures’ feelings towards the Galactic League, the actions they hope to take against the League to liberate themselves, and how the Galactic Patrol thwarts those efforts.

The main “A” story: the Galactic League gave the Luanian’s colony, Lhing, to the Marhal; Luan has elected a secessionist government and compiled an impressive list of grievances and evidence of the Patrol’s corrupting influence across the galaxy. Wing Alak is a Patrolman who had been making all sorts of underworld contacts with criminals, mobsters, traffickers and drug-dealers setting up an undercover-op to destabilize the Luanian independence movement. Unable to keep the new government from rising to power, Alak gets outed as a spook and goes on the lam. Alak teams up with a drug-pushing dragon-man, kidnaps the Prime Minister’s young daughter, and blackmails him into stepping down. He then gives a lengthy sermon on why it’s better for a corrupting deep-state to manipulate governments into maintaining peace than to allow societies to govern themselves for better or worse without foreign interference, espionage, bribery, blackmail, honey-potting, etc. and risk conflicts. It’s all cool, though, because the Galactic Patrol aren’t actually allowed to kill anybody and he wasn’t really going to kill the Prime Minister’s daughter.

It’s worth remembering that Alan Moore never intended Rorschach to be viewed as the “hero” of Watchmen—he was supposed to be a kook whose absurd principles were the only real threat to the plans of the real hero, Ozymandias, to bring about world peace. Yes, it was at a price—the good of the many at the expense of a few, and based on a lie–but it WAS peace! Of course, readers gravitated towards the grim and disturbed, but deeply and passionately principled Rorschach, who would rather die than be enslaved by the tyranny of a falsehood.

What Poul Anderson gives us is a Watchmen where Alan Moore tells us outright that Ozymandias is the good-guy and there is no Rorschach to take a principled stand against the lies, treachery, corruption, and lawlessness being used for the Greater Good. Even if the point is well-argued and seemingly unassailable when put in terms of weighing many lives against the graft, corruption, and manipulation necessary to save them, it feels unmistakably evil and wrong.

This story could be read as an illustration of the wrongness of such an approach to maintaining galactic peace–Galactic Patrol are the “double-dyed villains”, after all. Their actions DO lead to deaths in many cases, though they absolve themselves of responsibility by clinging to their golden rule and self-assurance that what they do is for the good of the galaxy.

It’s an undeniably well-written story, but there’s no one to root for–if you would stand against the Galactic Patrol, you tacitly support war, death, genocide–massive loss of innocent human life; if you concur with Alak’s and the Patrol’s reasoning, you lower your eyes in shame and genuflect to men who see themselves as your moral and ideological betters, who would control you and your way of life as they see fit because they believe they know what is best for you.

21 Comments
  • Bies Podkrakowski says:

    Its astounding that this Anderson’s story survived the purge of the Internet Archive by his daughter. Most of his stories were removed. It was butchery of pdfs.

    As for the moral of the story, yes – young Anderson was rather progressive in his views on nations. Some of his earlier stories are irritating this way.
    But he gets better, much better. In my opinion “No truce with kings” is a perfect antidote for this piece.

  • Terry Sanders says:

    I always got the impression that your theory at the end was correct. He was drawing an ugly picture of a deep state that had built itself entirely around “peace at any price.”

    In a later story ofin the same setting, an alien crewmate refers to humans as the bloodthirstiest race in the Galaxy, saying that every other race agrees with him. It’s obvious. Nobody else is so inherently vicious that *this insane setup* is the only way they can think of to keep from annihilating each other.

    SF authors in the early Campbell were quite fond of this kind of thing. Create an totally insane situation and play it out with a perfectly straight face, as a way of making the reader think about the underlying problems the insanity was meant to solve. In another story, Anderson postulated a world in which industrial magnates used mercenary special-ops groups as kidnappers for hire to deal with the competition. Not because they were all Evil Capitalists, but because the inherent violence in Man had to be let out *somehow,* and this was better than nations nuking each other. Sort of like THE PURGE, with more rules. I don’t think he was advocating that one, either.

  • Xavier Basora says:

    Well this story certainly would make a very interesting scifi techothriller. It gives writers raw material to reflect on the humsn condition. In the meantime with the current events, this story gives rather startling contemporary issues.
    xavier

  • Blume says:

    I have this problem with his Van Rijin character.

    • Bies Podkrakowski says:

      Disagree.

      Van Rijn – merchant prince, amateur xenologist (is that a word?), liar, cheater, drinker and womanizer, occasional hero – in other words he is perfect!

      • Blume says:

        Everything after amateur xenologist is the kind of thing this article is critizing. And the story I read had zero heroics from him.

        • Bies Podkrakowski says:

          What was the title of this story?

          • Blume says:

            Its one that has a couple depending on the publication. I remember it as either war or planet of the winged beastmen. In the van Rijin method its titled the man who counts.

          • Bies Podkrakowski says:

            @Blume

            For some reason I cannot reply directly to your post.

            „War of the Winged Men”? It is one of my favorites. Diomedes is great planet.

            I think I know where you have problem with van Rijn. It has to do with heavy metals, right? Or it is about cards? Old Nick could be quite dastardly, ruthless and sneaky when his life and life of his companions was on the line.

            I didn’t like it when I first read the book, but later I started to grow on van Rijn. He is not classical hero, he is more like Falstaff or more likeable Long John Silver. But his dirty tricks lead to more or less good endings and – that’s important – allow him to make money. Also they wouldn’t survive on Diomedes if not for his creative solutions.

            If you want a bit more heroic van Rijn try “Territory”. Spoiler: he still manipulates on a grand scale.

            But as I wrote – it is not van Rijn role to be a typical hero. For that you might want to check David Falkayn stories. He works for van Rijn as a trouble shooter and is more classical, straighter hero.

  • deuce says:

    Read “The Virgin of Valkarion” or “The Makeshift Rocket”, Alex. That should right the ship. Poul had a few missteps. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the very best in the history of the genre.

  • Ostar says:

    In one of his collections of his earlier works (I think it was “Un-Man and other Novellas”) Poul basically admits in his commentary on the stories that he was wrong in much of his political worldview back then.

    • Mary says:

      And alas, it’s the sort of error that can harm your fiction. Especially if you specifically write about politics. All sorts of stories in the Psychotechnic League are painful in that respect.

  • Rational Reader from Isreal says:

    Rorschach represents Nazis, racists and Trump voters. I can see Rorschach wearing a Pepe the frog T-shirt. He’s disgusting character and we should all celebrate that Dr. Manhatton (a Jewish scientist and man of reason) disintegrated another piece of anti-semite scum from the universe.

  • JD Cowan says:

    I suppose I must have been lucky with the stories of his I have read. I haven’t come across anything like this yet.

  • Cambias says:

    Anderson could understand (and depict sympathetically) a wide range of viewpoints. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming the protagonist speaks for the author.

  • TWS says:

    I asked him whether he would have written his stories the same way now as he did then (this was the early 80’s).

    He said, ‘No, but I do not disown the stories. If I would have written them differently now, I still would have written them differently then because I was a younger man.’

    Essentially experience and maturity changed both his skills and his interests and viewpoint. It was an interesting conversation.

  • Brett Baker says:

    Please remember that the story was written in 1949. A lot of stuff was written from the viewpoint of “whatever it takes to stop the forthcoming atomic war”.

  • Alex says:

    Wish I’d been around over the weekend to respond to more of this. But it’s good to know that “he got better”, so to speak.

    So, yeah, I’ll hold off on his older stuff for a bit, then revisit it after I’ve had a chance to read his later works and get a better sense for the writer he became rather than the writer he was.

  • […] What if Sturgeon’s Law is right, but it’s only Campbell-era Astounding that skews it true?!* I’m not quite ready to go that far, but the September 1949 issue has hardly been promising, and Special Jobbery was certainly not the palate cleanser I needed after Poul Anderson’s The Double-Dyed Villains. […]

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