Friday, 26 April 2013

The Last Temptation

Sometimes we read a work of fiction trusting that it will make more sense as we proceed - or if we remember to think about it afterwards - or maybe if we read the sequel?

The Covenant governing magic is invoked in James Blish's Black Easter but not explained until the later conceived sequel, The Day After Judgement. In his "A Style in Treason" (Anywhen, New York, 1970), why do governments employ self-proclaimed "traitors"? Has the word changed its meaning? Are they merely intelligence officers whose self-description recognises that they might be double or triple agents? They do not work in secret but can be identified because they "'...wear the traitor's clasp...'" (p. 24).

 A man currently called Da-Ud tam Altair is Court Traitor to the Rood-Prince on the planet Boadacea. His duties include "...singing the Rood-Prince to sleep to the accompaniment of the sareh...," a native instrument (p. 31). He finds and sells secrets like "' to make bombs...'" (p. 25). Does he steal them from his employer?

When the central character, Simon de Kuyl, reveals himself to Da-Ud as the Traitor-in-Chief of High Earth, Da-Ud responds:

"'I have nothing to sell but the Rood-Prince...and a poor stick he is.'" (p. 32)

In what way precisely would Da-Ud sell the Prince? And is this what he is employed to do as soon as the opportunity arises? And, meanwhile, do his duties include anything more serious than playing the sareh? The text raises more questions than it answers.

Lord Gro explains in one of his Discourses that, despite political separation of extrasolar colonies from High Earth, "...a roughly uniform interstellar economy..." enforces "...a more thorough rule..." (p. 27). OK so far. He then addresses, not entirely satisfactorily, the central puzzle of the story:

"In this [economic] connection, one often hears laymen ask, Why do the various worlds and nations employ professional traitors when it is known that they are traitors? Why would they confide to the traitors any secret valuable enough to be sold to a third party? The answer is the same, and the weapon is the same: money. The traitors act as brokers in a continuous interstellar bourse on which each planet seeks to gain a financial advantage over the other. Thus the novice should not imagine that any secret put into his hands is exactly what it is said to be, particularly when its primary value purports to be military." (p. 27)

Brokers buy and sell shares but how does this relate to the traitors? A government might buy disinformation from a novice but real intelligence from an adept? I will continue to analyze the story.

No comments:

Post a Comment