I. In examining Asimov's story, there may be outlined two or three interpretations: (1) a space opera with a political background, (2) political theorizing with a space opera as the vehicle, and (3) (?) boy-meets-chases-girl-cum-space-bronc. In this discussion, the first or second is accepted.
Asimov suggests a fairly complete control of the habited universe by the "Tyranni," humanoid conquerors ruling in a way more akin to the empire system of the ancient Persians (satrapies) than that of the modern-day Soviet empire. The Tyranni have a system of local governments, in which the conquerors interfere only to the extent of collecting taxes and moving the "throne," a front arrangement consisting usually of the pre-Tyranni aristocratic ruler of the given planet or system. Thus, the basically aristocratic system is retained, with such titles as "Rancher," "Autarch," and "Director." The Tyranni ruler is himself styled the "Khan."
The action in the story considers a young man, the newly-made Rancher of Widemos, who is not allowed to regain his murdered father's throne because of that worthy's opposition to the Tyranni. The Rancher, Biron Farrill, is more or less the foil for the Autarch of Lingane, an ostensible rebel against the Tyranni. Lingane seeks the "Rebellion Worlds" in order to get help in his plan to set himself up as successor to the conquerors. As the story moves on, Widemos, with the distractions of Artemisia and her uncle -- daughter and brother respectively of the Director of Rhodia, a feeble-minded dupe of the Tyranni Commissioner -- comes to decide that the ancient regime must go, and a new, more democratic, or at least more popular, form of government must be installed in the universe.
Never quite trusting Lingane, young Widemos finally discovers and foils the Autarch's plan of treachery. In the closing stage of action, it turns out that the Director of Rhodia is far from the feeble-minded person he seems, but actually is leader of the incipient rebellion, and is in possession of the magic document which will assure victory -- a copy of the United States Constitution.
II. Whiteside's book is a type of analysis of the sort of affairs which can take place within a state governed by such a constitution. "The Author's observations and analyses prompted the writing of this little volume to 'point a finger at' the weakness', mistakes, and absurdities of past decades." (p. 4)
The book supposedly derives from a manuscript, in letter form, found in a wrecked spaceship. The "letter" is from one "William William" of Wen Kroy, the capital and largest city of the state of Wen Kroy. The name of my country is Amkonia, situated on the planet Mars." (p. 9)
The reader is told of the reign of the 32nd elected Prince, Manderlane, who, as governor of Wen Kroy, and a "Spendocrat," was chosen in the year 1932, taking office in 1933, following the great Stock Market Crash of 1921. Manderlane "immediately formed a committee of advisers and, never thruout all history had there been assembled as many STAR GAZERS, MYSTICS, KNAVES, ECONOMIC SOOTH-SAYERS, and ASSORTED CRACKPOTS as comprised this group."
The reader is then treated to a discourse on "Mme Yuwara Meddlepot," the Minister of Labor; the Gazuppa Exterminating Authority; the Great Malvena Valley Project; and the Business Activation Bureau scheme. These resemble, not unintentionally, Mme Perkins, Henry Wallace's AAA, the TVA, and the WPA. Along with these not too very deep and penetrating analyses, the reader is similarly exposed to a rather disappointing and certainly bad-tasting fable on the "Boogaloos" (who resemble Terrestrial Negroes) and how these were frightened in an armed skirmish by a pack of frogs. (pp. 62-63) If this is meant by Whiteside as criticism of the Negroes' fighting qualities, he is on shaky historical ground. In any case, this is a cruel and insulting piece of tripe.
Whiteside reaches a peak in his outlook on the "Second Planetary War" (pp. 65-67) in which he tells of the defeat of "Gambot," a state lead by one "Renton." Renton is, or was, a former sergeant in the Gambotian army in an earlier war. He formed, in the interwar period, a party called the "national Association of Patriotic Sitizens" (sic) or "Naps"; and with the political control of Gambot assured by this group, Renton, with the monetary support of another state "Engold," soon obliterated the revolutionary "ZuZuists," and carried on a pogram against the "Abolites." The war was formented by Renton, who wanted control of the entire continent of "Rupia" on the grounds of economic necessity. He was opposed by Engold, who prevailed on the great demon Manderlane to bring his people of Amkonia, who opposed the war by 80% into battle against Renton. Naturally, the Engold-Amkonia alliance was victorious.
In retrospect, Manderlane is judged by his deeds: having "spent the country groggy," having as friends and advisors "Pinks" who were ZuZuists in deed and utterances (p. 73). and lastly for being almost totalitarian.
III. At first glance, these two books seem little related. But inasmuch as both are used as a vehicle for the Author's ideas on definite political matters, they have a common root. Aside from the possible criticism that Asimov is not a political propagandist, and that Whiteside's book is simply and purely a sour attempt at satire on the Roosevelt regime, there are definite points of contact in the works.
The last, and perhaps most important consideration, is whether science fiction is a valid vehicle for political criticism. Judging solely from these two stories, one might question its effectiveness, but hardly the validity. the validity derives from the simple fact that is read and noted. Effectiveness is a different matter, depending on the degree of interest the story arouses, the relative position of the political propaganda in the writing, and numerous other highly technical factors. Tyrann, while not a "Political" novel, certainly uses the political motif to good advantage, hanging the story on it in such a manner as to make the action dependent thereupon. (The sincere Marxist might well object to Asimov's result!) But when evaluating Whiteside's book, one is driven to the conclusion that science fiction is not the most effective possible carrier of political satire.
This statement, I must emphasize, is drawn from but one example (see Clemens's CONNECTICUT YANKEE, or Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS for good examples), and I do not ascribe universal validity to it. It is my hope to examine in later articles the role of "political" science fiction. In the meantime, I would greatly appreciate any comment, criticism, or story suggestions which might aid in this attempt at finding and testing.
Data entry and page scans provided by Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
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