If one returns to War of the Wing-Men, it should be apparent that its original title when published as a serial in Astounding Science-Fiction, “The Man Who Counts,” was far more apposite and intelligent. Van Rijn is the man who counts. There is in this an immediate sense of injustice, for the man who does all the work is his engineer-companion, van Rijn confining himself to learning languages, talking politics, gambling with the Diomedeans—and discovering the true cause of the Flock-Fleet conflict. In a conversation at the end of the book, the female human, Sandra, rejects the engineer and decides to bear a child by van Rijn, not because she prefers van Rijn but because as an aristocrat she believes that his is the better bloodline. The point of this “human triangle” is that although technology is vital, even more vital is a combination of Machiavellian politics, cultural anthropology, and animal ecology, a field now barely explored.
Embedded in Anderson’s Polesotechnic League stories, then, is a commentary on contemporary culture. Like many science-fiction authors, Anderson believes that contemporary political systems are largely irrelevant. They overestimate the importance of technology and of economics, while at the same time failing to see that political systems ultimately are determined by technology. It takes someone like van Rijn to stand outside the system and view it objectively.
Anderson has been...
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