MORGENRÖTE?Marching Through Georgia, by S.M. Stirling, Baen Books paperback, 1988 Under The Yoke, by S.M. Stirling, Baen Books paperback, 1989
The Stone Dogs, by S.M. Stirling, Baen Books paperback, 1990 Drakon, by S.M. Stirling, Baen Books paperback, 1996
First three volumes collected, but without appendices, as The Domination, Baen Books, hardback, 1999
UTOPIAN AND INDEED DYSTOPIAN fictional societies are often an impressive way of putting political and social ideas in a sort of fictional shop window, the more easily to be seen and admired, or the opposite. It is much easier, of course, to demonstrate ideas and ideologies working on paper than in practice. But also such demonstration may, if done well, have far more impact upon the reader than any number of dry ideological/philosophical tomes. A talented author can bring his dream, or nightmare, far more vividly to his readership by offering them a picture of it happening, rather than a dry blueprint or plan for achieving it. Not surprisingly, therefore, utopian/dystopian fiction has a long and interesting history. From Sir Thomas More’s eponymous 16th Century work, through those Lemuel Gulliver found on his Travels, the late-19th-Century-Socialist future vision of England embodied in William Morris’s News From Nowhere, the 20th Century nightmare visions of consumerism in Brave New World and communism in 1984, to Ursula K. LeGuin’s anarchist world of Anarres in The Dispossessed. Now we have a Nietzschean vision realised – impressively in this reviewer’s view - in American writer S.M. Stirling’s Draka series.
Like all such visions it has to be set Somewhere Else, not on an undiscovered island, as did More and Swift, or another planet as did LeGuin. Nor simply in the future, as did Morris, Huxley and Orwell. Though Stirling’s tetralogy reaches its climax in a future, in 2442 AD. But the future of a different past. In a different timeline, in which things happened otherwise. This is a genre increasingly popular not merely amongst science fiction writers like Harry Turtledove but also some professional historians, who use counter-factual speculations of the "if such-and-such had happened otherwise, what would have happened next?" type to cast light on historical issues. The plethora of timelines thus depicted may indeed, incidentally, be fact rather than fiction if the 1956 Everett Conjecture on the Schroedinger’s Cat Paradox turns out to be correct, as increasingly physicists are coming to the conclusion it may be.
The historical details of Stirling’s Draka timeline, which diverges from ours during the American Rebellion in 1779, some of which are distinctly arguable, are, as in all utopian/dystopian fiction, secondary plot devices to get the reader to the society the author wishes to depict. A society Stirling, unlike many such writers, depicts at several stages during its evolution towards its ultimate form, the "Final Society". What Stirling offers us is a society based, fairly explicitly since its timeline’s Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche is among those whose writings are cited as influencing its development, upon such Nietzschean principles as the necessary subordination of the masses to the Will to Power of an aristocracy of genuine merit and of the objective of such an aristocracy to transcend its humanity in the quest for the Superman. By which the German philosopher meant the being as much beyond present-day mankind as we are beyond our apelike ancestors, rather than some American with a penchant for putting his underwear on over his tights in telephone boxes! The Draka would agree wholeheartedly with such sentiments as these, from Beyond Good and Evil: "A good and healthy aristocracy must acquiesce, with a good conscience, in the sacrifice of a legion of individuals who, for its benefit, must be reduced to slaves and tools. The masses have no right to exist on their own account: their sole excuse for living lies in their usefulness as a sort of superstructure or scaffolding, upon which a more select race of beings may be erected."
As erect them the Draka do. Starting as American Loyalist refugees from an American Rebellion Britain loses more comprehensively than in our history, settled in 1781 at a Cape of Good Hope seized from a Netherlands which jumped on Britain’s back while she was engaged in fighting the transatlantic rebels in 1779 rather than, as in our history, 1781. The Loyalists thus settled at the Cape as the Crown Colony of Drakia (after Sir Francis Drake), in their history as in ours, were drawn from the at least one-third of Americans who stood loyal to the Crown. They were joined by many of the Hessian mercenary troops Britain had deployed in America, paid off in South African land. Then by Icelanders made homeless by the great Mount Hekla eruptions of 1783-84, and French aristocrats fleeing the guillotines of the Revolution. Receiving a further refugee boost when the US overran Canada in the War of 1812. With such a massive influx of population, rapidly absorbing the Dutch colonists at the Cape, the Drakian settlers rapidly spread inland. Smashing the black tribes of the interior and reducing them, like the blacks many of them had owned in America, to slavery on farmsteads and, as they strike gold on the Whiteridge – our Witwatersrand – mines. Gold which pays for the Industrial Revolution to begin in Southern Africa as well as in England as steam engines are brought in to work the mines and later railways are built to transport the precious metals and agricultural produce of the Highveld to the coast.
Throughout the 19th Century the colony prospers and spreads north across Africa, and indeed south from an Egypt settled after Napoleon’s 1798 expedition there is repelled. Gradually but steadily becoming more and more independent of, and culturally and politically alienated, principally over the slavery issue, from, Britain. The Crown Colony of Drakia becomes the Dominion of a Drakia elided into Draka - first by dialect and later deliberately as its citizens sieze on the homophonic coincidence with Greek drakon – "dragon" (ultimately a red dragon clutching the sword of power and the shackle of mastery becomes the official insignia of the Drakan State). Initially the Drakians pay lip service to the British Imperial abolition of slavery in 1834 – converting black chattel slaves, as happened in many places in our history, into theoretically free but in fact no better off "indentured bondservants". Later, as their growing economic and military power enables them to ignore protests from London, the African "serfs" are placed legally in the same position as Roman slaves: pro nullis, pro mortis, pro quadrupedis – "as if nothing, as if dead, as if animals", their lives at the mercy of free Citizens (though killing someone else’s serf without the owner’s permission is a tort actionable at civil law!). The Dominion of the Draka achieves its final title, the Domination of the Draka, in 1919 after it breaks the last ties with Britain in a Great War which sees the Drakans grab much of the Middle East and Central Asia to add to all of Africa and the island of Ceylon.
The Domination’s European-descended Citizen population is further augmented throughout the 19th Century. By Confederate refugees, for example, after an unsuccessful attempt to help the South win its freedom in the 1860’s. The last mass immigration the Domination, which can afford to be increasingly choosy, allows. Though it welcomes exceptional individuals, Nietzsche, Carlyle, Gobineau, even Oscar Wilde, who sympathise with its growing rejection of Victorian Christianity and its egalitarian free-trade liberalism and puritanism.
Such is the Drakan State when we meet it in the first of Stirling’s books, Marching Through Georgia, set in the early 1940’s when the Drakans meet a (historically somewhat implausible given the radically altered history of the previous 160 years!) Nazi Reich in the Caucasus. By then the Domination has become a fully evolved alternative to America and its values, indeed, after it defeats the Nazis and overruns all of continental Eurasia except for India (grabbed by the Draka in 1975), SE Asia and American-defeated Japan, the only alternative. After which the rest of the 20th Century is an increasingly desperate arms, technology and space race, as the Domination and the US-led "Alliance for Democracy" (essentially our "Western" consumer-capitalist soi-disant "democratic" society) face off in a rather more vigorous Cold War.
The mature 20th Century Domination depicted in Marching Through Georgia and its sequels Under the Yoke and The Stone Dogs, describes itself as an "aristocratic republic", and its social system as "Feudal Socialism". Around 90% of its inhabitants, (rather less numerous in absolute population terms as time goes on than in our timeline, as the Draka prevent Third World populations breeding like maggots and devouring and destroying the lands they inhabit) are "serfs". In effect, chattel slaves. The 10% Citizen minority is exclusively European. Mostly northern European - according to figures dropped into the narrative at one point 40% of male Citizens are fair haired and 86% light-eyed, average male height being 183 cm; one character is described as having "eagle-faced blonde good looks...almost a caricature of what a landed aristocrat of the Domination of the Draka is supposed to be".
Citizens enjoy a considerable measure of freedom. As the Draka Karl von Shrakenberg explains it to an American journalist "the Domination is not a totalitarian dictatorship of the Nazi type…oligarchical collectivism is probably the best term. The citizen body as a whole is our idol, not the State or its officers; they merely execute and co-ordinate. And citizens all have the same fundamental interests, which means that criticism – tactical criticism - can safely be allowed. Which makes for greater efficiency". In fact, as Stirling puts it in the numerous and rather interesting Appendices in which he describes those details of Draka society, technology and history that cannot easily be worked into the narrative: "For the Citizen population, the Domination is a rather mild authoritarianism. There is an elected government, and a fair degree of freedom of speech and association. However, fundamental criticism (e.g. of serfdom) is not permitted, and the power of the Security Directorate has tended to gradually increase. Since there is a large degree of uniformity of opinion among the citizen population, that is not felt as much of a hardship." Citizen opinion is reflected in (free and fair!) election results, which give the pro-status quo Draka League a consistent 70%, with groups like the pro-free-market Liberals and the socially-liberal Rationalists the sort of miserable single-figure percentages with which any readers who have been involved in political efforts to offer western electorates any similar radical alternatives to the social status quo will be only too familiar! The Assembly thus elected itself elects the Head of State, the Archon, for a 20-year-term by a two-thirds majority. The Archon appoints the heads of the Government Directorates – Security, War, Technical (technology & science), Conservation, Eugenics, Transportation etc. but all are answerable to the elected Assembly. Provided they do not – as few do – question the fundamental ideological basis of their society, Draka Citizens perceive themselves as politically free. As they are: exactly as free, no more and no less, with exactly the same constraints on what they may do with our freedom, as we British and American citizens are today. If anything, Draka Citizens prize their freedom more than do ours. Individuality of thought and action is valued, even in the military, Draka "were disciplined enough, but lacked the sort of meekness that obeyed bureaucratic dictates without question". Unlike many of our Britons and Americans, alas.
The economy is decidedly non-Capitalist. Large scale industry is owned, mostly jointly, by the State, the free-employee Guilds, and the Landholders’ League. The latter is a co-operative of large plantation holders (not, strictly, landowners, as land is held from the State in heritable usufruct, revocable on neglect or misuse). There is also a thriving small business sector, mostly in arts, crafts, skills and handmade luxury goods. Almost all Citizens own at least a few serfs as domestic servants. The plantation holders, whose lifestyle is reminiscent of a mixture of the antebellum South and Classical Rome, may own hundreds of serfs, mostly field hands but also house servants, stewards etc. Most serfs, however, live in barrack-like compounds of up to 10,000, working in factories, mines etc. Conditions are somewhat boarding-school-like but food and medical treatment is adequate – a great improvement on conditions for most in our Third World, and they are also protected from being the victims of wars, famines etc. Even crime is very rare, because punished with condign forcefulness.
The Draka enforce total submission and obedience with the utter ruthlessness necessary when you are outnumbered many to one by your slaves. Submission and obedience which may extend to Citizens availing themselves of suitably attractive serfs’ bodies (though Race Purity Laws ban female Citizens from such use of male serfs, until 100% effective contraception enables their relaxation) But given that, their ethos requires that serfs be decently treated and looked after. The implicit bargain is "Obedience and submission: protection and guidance". As one Citizen character puts it, "they have to obey, and be punished if they don’t. Beyond that, no harm in kindness". Serfs being gratuitously neglected or ill-treated by their owners are liable to confiscation and resale by the State, and a Citizen who neglects or gratuitously ill-treats his serfs is held in low esteem by his fellows, much as a 19th century English squire who similarly ill-used his horses or hounds would have been. Many Draka value their favourite serfs with genuine affection as dog-lovers value their dogs or equestrians their bloodstock. Serfs are, in any case, valuable property not to be ruined or wasted. Eventually, the aim is to dispense with the need for coercion altogether "obedience is not enough: in the long run, the objective is domestication".
It might well be argued, as Nietzsche would have, at this point that 90% of the population of our own society appear to be domestic animals already, the only meaningful freedom therefore being that of the remaining 10%. From a purely humanitarian viewpoint also, most present-day Africans, Afghans and so on would be a lot better off, a lot happier, and live a lot longer if they lived in Stirling’s world! Indeed, when in the final novel of the series, Drakon, Stirling’s Draka world seeks to take over one like our own, one Draka sincerely observes that for the enserfed masses of our Earth, "it really will be a utopia, of sorts. No more wars or terrorism, no more sickness or poverty or famine, no more environmental problems." By no means all serfs are unhappy with their lot. Indeed, two-thirds of the Draka armies, the Janissary Corps, are made up of serfs officered by Citizens. In return for a variety of privileges the serfs are eager to volunteer and fight loyally and well for their masters. As of course actually happened historically in the slave armies of the Turks (the original Janissaries) and the Mamelukes of medieval Egypt.
The Draka Citizens, moreover, do not merely declare themselves to be the Master Race. They try their hardest to actually be it; morally – they are imbued with an ethic of honour (upheld if need be by recourse to duelling), duty, courage, ferocious to their enemies but treating their friends with decency and kindliness, the qualities of what Nietzsche called a Herrenmoral and physically - from the age of five, Citizen children spend two-thirds of their year in single-sex boarding schools, in which physical fitness is almost a religion.
Science, culture and the arts are not neglected. Military service in the Citizen Force is universal for both sexes (who have achieved social equality in a natural and PC-free way – here Stirling begs to differ from Nietzsche’s somewhat misogynistic view!), and any Citizen who is later found to be below the required standard of fitness for his or her age is liable to a six-month recall to the Colours. Those Citizens retarded or otherwise inherently defective are "put in a comfortable institution, sterilized and encouraged in life-shortening vices". The Domination in some respects consciously models itself on Sparta, although it values creativity more. As a society at war with the rest of humanity – "there aren’t many of us and nobody loves us" is a common Draka saying – and one that knows that it cannot stably share a planet with an equally inherently global-hegemonist Americanism, the art of war necessarily holds a central place in Draka society. In any case, the virtues it inculcates are valued by the Draka, who would agree with Nietzsche in The Joyous Science "We rejoice in everything, which, like ourselves, loves danger, war and adventure – which does not make compromises, nor let itself be captured, conciliated or faced".
They also rejoice in beauty and the natural world around them. Their capital, Archona (on the site of our Pretoria) is typical of Draka cities: "marble and tile public buildings and low-rise office blocks, parks and broad avenues, the University campus and pleasant, leafy suburbs with the gardens for which the city was famed….In the centre of Archona, where the Avenue of Triumph met the Way of the Armies, there was a square with a victory monument. A hundred summers had turned the bronze green and faded the marble plinth; about it were gardens of unearthly loveliness where children played between the flowerbeds. The statue showed a group of Draka soldiers on horseback; their weapons were the Ferguson rifle-muskets and double-barrelled dragoon pistols of the eighteenth century. Their leader stood dismounted, reins in one hand, bush-knife in the other. A black warrior knelt before him, and the Draka’s boot rested on the man’s neck ". Such politically incorrect monuments aside, Draka cities are spacious and green, their buildings designed for beauty as well as function. Beauty their society values as an end in itself. As an Arch-Strategos (Field Marshal) observes in congratulating one of his junior officers for winning the Archon’s Prize for a book of poems: "The Glory of the Race is accomplishment, and beauty is as much so as power".
Another accomplishment of the Race is avoiding wrecking the planet. The Draka are keen conservationists, even if, as a critic among their American enemies sneers, it is "an aristocrat’s conservationism". Vast areas – over 15% of Draka territrory initially, later much more - are set aside as nature reserves, cleared of human populations, unless, as with the pygmies of the Ituri forest, they and their unspoilt way of life are to be conserved too. Third World populations are brought under control as we have signally failed to do. The Draka restore wolves and leopards to the Europe they have conquered. Partly to hunt themselves, partly to deter potential runaway serfs. But also because they are wild and beautiful and the Draka value both.
Both the beauty and the conservation are, Stirling implicitly and provocatively suggests, only made possible by the neo-Nietzschean stratification of society. An endless supply of cheap serf labour makes building beautiful buildings, from the cities to the mansion houses of the rural Draka Plantations, economical as they are not in consumerist society. Thus indeed were built Versailles and the Parthenon. The Citizens are endowed by serf labour and domestic servants with the leisure to create art, literature and culture which the creative elements in our society often lack in the daily scrabble to make a living. The serfs themselves are not materially deprived, but nor are they encouraged to consume endless gadgetry and resources the world cannot afford to provide for so many. Nor do they rot their minds with TV etc. Instead, they put their leisure time to healthier use, producing a healthy folk culture, music, song, customs etc instead of consuming mind-rotting Hollywood trash.
A society dominated by landed and cultured aristocrats, rather than ruled by the imperatives of corporate greed, is able to value beauty and nature above profit. In any case, cheap serf labour makes profit pull in less harmful directions. For example, economic as well as social imperatives will lead to fields being tilled by hand, since hands are cheaper as well as environmentally kinder than machines. Also, hereditary landholders in a stable society can afford to and will think ahead to conserve the land and its life over the long term for their descendants, rather than chemically raping it in quest of a fast buck a la our modern agribusiness. A Draka saying: "Live as if you were going to die tomorrow: farm as if you were going to live forever".
Attitudes and accomplishments Stirling contrasts harshly with what is essentially our America, with its consumerism, cult of individual selfishness, and greed. Even a Draka defector remarks of his new home in the Land of the Free: "The air stinks, everything’s ugly, there’s no decent hunting, and the people are soft and contemptible". More fundamentally, as a Draka commander observes "Very democratic, democracies; accordingly, they have trouble planning more than a year ahead…the most of them’re short term thinkers; we can use that any number of ways. Example, by getting them to sell us their technology for profit." The Domination values social stability, and seeks to control change. By contrast, muses one of them "it must be powerful lonely to be a Yankee; by the time one of them is middle aged, everything they grew up with is gone. Like having the earth always dissolving away beneath your feet. Cut off from your ancestors and your descendants both. Here, barring catastrophes, I can be reasonably sure that in a thousand years what I value will still exist.". Even Stirling’s Americans – in an observation that is tellingly relevant to the world today – perceive some of the weaknesses of their society: "the great American public doesn’t like being confronted with evil, or with a protracted struggle. We’re not a people who believe in tragedy; history’s been too good to us. Evil is something we conquer in a crusade, and then everybody goes home a hero".
Stirling’s Draka confront the brain-rotted consumer and the greed-enslaved capitalist of "democratic" America with the warrior and the aristocrat. More than that, with the warrior and the aristocrat serving an end nobler than the short-sighted self-gratification which is the raison d’être of Yankee "freedom".
At the root of Draka society is that "transvaluation of all values" Nietzsche saw as so necessary. Rejecting Christianity by the late 19th Century as a slave religion incompatible with their social order (The Anti-Christ would doubtless explain their reasons eloquently!), the Draka toy with an attempt to revive Odinism in the 1890’s. This never really gets beyond a fad, since few can be induced to take it seriously, and leaves little beyond a tendency to incorporate the names of Odinist deities when giving vent to oaths! Thereafter, influenced by Nietzsche and his disciple and successor, the Draka philosopher Elvira Naldorssen, the Draka come to believe simply in the destiny of their Race, its Will to Power and ultimate need to transcend itself. A Will to Power, Wille zur Macht, in the Nietzschean sense not of megalomania and lust to personally rule over others but as a will first to racial survival and then to achieve, to accomplish. Conquest, certainly, but not only that. As one young officer puts it "when the last enemies are enserfed, there is no limit to the accomplishments of the Race! The transformation of human nature and the Solar System…". To that end, the Draka believe that "what life is about is the achievement of honour through the fulfilment of duty". Somewhat different to the achievement of riches through the fulfilment of profit targets… The Draka greeting is "Glory to the Race!", to which the reply is "Service to the State!". Not, as one senior Draka officer muses, as end an in itself, but because the State is "the instrument of the Race, people and blood and her own descendents". And the function of the Race is to transcend itself, to progress across Nietzsche’s bridge to the Übermesch.
This is ultimately what the Draka do, initially by decades of attempting to improve the Race by the sure but inevitably slow means of a State-sponsored eugenics programme. Being afflicted in carrying out the necessary research by considerably fewer "ethical" constraints (as far as non-Citizens are concerned pretty much none, actually!) on investigation of the human genome than are inflicted by Baroness Warnock and her ilk upon scientists here, they are ultimately able to achieve the ultimate eugenic technology - direct modification of that human genome. This is certainly possible in principle, but a very long way beyond our practical grasp today. We can’t get the serfs to experiment on! Thus they genetically engineer their descendents and those of their serfs into two new species of mankind, Homo drakensis and Homo servus. Viral modification of the fertilized egg in utero simply means that the last generation of human parents give birth to the first generation of post-human babies (though actually most Draka women by the late 20th Century save themselves the travails of pregnancy by having their fertilised eggs implanted in serf host mothers’ wombs who perform the subsequent labours themselves, a practice in which any suitably wealthy female readers of this review may indulge themselves in our society now, at a price!) They also finally defeat the Americans (Stirling, in common with all writers in this genre, can ensure that the side he wants to win wins!) except for a remnant who flee to the Alpha Centauri system.
Drakon, the final novel (so far) in the series, begins 443 years after the Draka victory in the Final War, in Year 442 of the Final Society (2442 AD), in a world which has been thus transformed. The drakensis Master Race are physically beautiful and superbly designed specimens, much stronger, fitter and healthier than humans, with lifespans measured in centuries (indeed, eventually they are potentially indefinite), genius-level IQ’s, and sundry useful additional features such as cat-like night vision. The servus are also physically attractive and healthy, though smaller, weaker (no stronger than unmodified humans) and much more locally ethnically (and culturally) diverse than the essentially heroically-Nordic-looking drakensis. Servus are designed to age and die swiftly and painlessly in their ninth or tenth decades of life. They are in fact physically closer to the original sapiens. Temperamentally, the drakensis are explorers, warriors, adventurers and leaders, "magnificent predators", the servus meek, biddable, kindly and somewhat timid, though their most intelligent individuals are as intelligent and in some ways often more capable of creative and original thought than the drakensis. The relationship between the two posthuman species (they are not interfertile) is no longer a coercive one of master and slave but essentially symbiotic. The servus enjoy obeying, serving and pleasing their drakensis overlords and the drakensis equally feel tender and protective to their servus servitors. The relationship, as in social insects, is heavily mediated by pheromones emitted by both species. Each species complements the other and neither would wish to exist alone. The servus are as happy to be servus as the drakensis are to be drakensis. The social order is as stable as that of ants or bees, and for the same reason – it is genetically programmed into its citizens. Who can thereafter be left free of any form of totalitarian political control – it is simply unnecessary. As Gwendolyn Ingolfsson, the drakensis protagonist of Drakon, observes "We drakensis don’t need ideology much, we’ve got genetics instead. Our social order is hard-coded into our genes." Not that either species lacks individual personality, or would be regarded as inhuman or antlike by our sort of human. Quite the reverse, in fact. When an accident with a experimental "wormhole" interstellar transport device dumps the redoubtable Miss Ingolfsson sideways and backward in time into our 1995 America, "feral" humans find her charming, charismatic and indeed extremely attractive, inspiring worshipful devotion in a number of cases. Her attempt to develop the industrial and technical base to regain contact with her own timeline, and that of an agent of the American colony on a planet of one of the Alpha Centauri stars, injected down her inter-temporal "track" to stop her, both aided by Nineties humans, form the essential story of Drakon.
It is Gwendolyn Ingolfsson who shows a Californian environmentalist she is trying, successfully, to recruit what the Draka Final Society, comprised of what Nietzsche might well have been happy to greet as his Supermen, has done with our world. First she asks him to "Imagine a world where the population of Earth is five hundred million and stable, not seven billion and rising. Where not an ounce of fossil fuel is burned. No mines, no factories, no fission reactors or coal-burning plants, no tankers full of oil. The sea and the skies and the land swarm with life, and whole continents re nature preserves…it’s possible, given the right technology and the right management." Using what are essentially holographic moving snapshots from a 25th-Century pocket photo album, she shows him such a world:
"’This is Haiti’..He knew Haiti, the wasted, eroded hills, barren as the Sahara, the pitiful, starving people, hardly a tree or an animal besides goats left west of the Dominican border. This showed tropical rainforest, lush and untouched, the view sweeping down mountain valleys where mist hung in ragged tatters from the great trees. A spray of birds went by, feathers gaudy; he could hear their cries, faint and raucous. The view swept down to the coast. Here were people, squares of sugarcane, a hillside terraced and planted to glossy-leaved bushes he recognised as coffee. Workers with hand tools or simple machines were busy amongst them. The view moved closer; he could see they were brown-skinned, stocky and muscular, well-clothed. One laughed as he heaved a full basket onto a floating platform. In the middle-distance a white stone building covered in purple bougainvillea stood on a hillside amid gardens. Beyond it was Port-au-Prince harbour. There was no city, no teeming antheap of ragged peasant refugees. Just a few buildings half-lost amid greenery, a stone wharf, and a schooner tied to it. And a big skeletal structure, like a dish of impossibly rigid rope. ‘That’s the orbital power receptor’ Gwen said.
"Now, the Yangtze Gorges’. The great river ran unbound through tall beautiful cliffs, no sign of the giant concrete dam the Chinese had used to tame the wild water.
‘Great Plains, North America – near what you’d call Fargo’. Tall grass, stretching from horizon to horizon. And across it buffalo unnumbered, in clumps and herds of thousands each. The horned heads turned in mild curiosity, there was a stir, and a pack of great grey lobo wolves trotted through, twenty strong.
‘Bitterfeld, eastern Germany’. He knew that too, one of the worst chemical waste nightmares left by the old East German regime. The picture showed a stream flowing through thick poplar forest. Behind it were oaks, huge and moss-grown. He heard the chuckle of water, the cries of birds, wind in the branches. The view moved through them at walking pace, pausing at a wildcat on a tree limb, at a sounder of wild boar, in a sun-dappled meadow clearing where an aurochs raised its head in majesty. Its bellow filled his ears.
‘The Aral Sea. Which had disappeared almost altogether – the legacy of the old Soviet Union’s insane irrigation megaprojects. The window into a world that wasn’t showed whitecaps on blue water.
‘The delta of the Syr Darya, where it empties into the Aral’. A huge marsh. Through the reeds and onto a firmer island moved striped deadliness, a Siberian tiger. Waterfowl rose from the water in honking thousands, enough to cast shadow on the great predator.
"Paris. No Eiffel Tower, although Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe still stood. The air was crystal. From overhead, he could see that the mediaeval core remained, Notre Dame, the radial roadways laid out in Napoleon III’s time. None of the great sprawl of suburbs he knew; Versailles stood alone among its ordered gardens. Dense forest and open parkland stretched from the outskirts; occasionally a building would rise above them, usually roofed in green copper The roadways were grassy turf. Foot traffic was pedestrians, or small machines that floated soundlessly beneath their passengers. Aircraft moved through the air above, elongated teardrop shapes and blunt wedges moving without visible support; a colourful hot-air balloon drifted among them.
’The Serengeti, looking north-east’. A herd of hundreds of elephants, moving with slow, ponderous dignity through a landscape of lion-coloured grass and scattered flat-topped thorn trees. His eyes darted about; lions, giraffe, antelope, a dozen rhino. Snow-topped Kilimanjaro rose like an empress in the distance. Beyond it was something new, something alien: a great pillar stretching up into the sky until it turned into a curving thread, vanishing into the blue. ‘The Kenia beanstalk- think of it as a tower or a cable reaching from Low Earth Orbit to the surface’.
"And this is the Valles Marineris, on Mars’. The sky was a faded blue, with a hint of pink. The view was on the edge of a reddish cliff, overlooking a vast expanse of deep-blue water five hundred feet or more below; miles distant across it the edge of another cliff showed. The waves were like none he had ever seen, taller and thinner in section than water could support" (in Earth’s three-times-greater gravity pull) "While he watched, a whale breached, soaring out of the sea until only its tail was under the surface. A blue whale, and huge. It crashed back with a mountainous spray of surf. The view tilted downward, showing a city dropping in terraces from the cliff-face. The buildings were white or soft pastels, built with domes and arches and pillared colonnades, connected with roadways of coloured stone or sweeping staircases. Gardens surrounded every building and lined the streets. Just below him stood a group of people. People like Gwen. He recognised a likeness in some of them. Racial? Tall, with a slender muscularity, light-eyed, their hair shades of blonde or red. Some of them wore tunics or robes, others only tight briefs. Those near-naked ones were being fitted with gossamer gliding wings on frameworks thinner than thread but steel-rigid. The helpers were of a subtly different type, shorter, trim and healthy but without the sinewy tigerish look of the first variety…The flyers exploded from their perch in a rainbow of colours. Condors glided along the cliff face, among the men and women."
The Draka also used their mastery of genetic technology to recreate species that once existed, like mammoths, and create ones that didn’t but perhaps should have, like centaurs and fauns. Their Final Society was stable, largely static, but not stagnant. Besides terra forming Mars, and being in the process of likewise turning Venus into a living world, the overlords of Earth sent interstellar probes across the long light years to the stars. Followed, in five cases where a habitable world had been found, by colony ships, their folk, servus and drakensis both, sleeping away the long decades of the voyage through the endless night between the stars in virtual suspended animation, to set up independent daughter societies. Seeding the stars with the Race and thus ensuring its survival in the face of cosmic catastrophe, and embodying the Racial Will to Power beyond Earth’s sky.
Well, there we have it! A vision, dream or nightmare, take your pick, sprung from the practical application of the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche (and possibly – if Stirling has read him - those of the Italian political philosopher Julius Evola). Stirling himself does not reveal in his books whether he personally considers the Domination of the Draka a utopia or a dystopia. He need not, and indeed if he wishes to continue as a widely published author in our modern USA perhaps had better not! Lest he discover, as have others before him, that the Land of the Free is no more free than any other land if you start calling into question the basic ideology of the state. After all, what could more Politically Incorrect than his tale of how racist White South Africans conquer the World!
Whether the Nietzschean society of the Domination is a good or a bad thing matters little in a practical sense. There is, as a character in Drakon observes, no way to get there from here, short of a member of Homo drakensis popping out of a trans-temporal wormhole in front of one! in which, alas fantasy, case, this reviewer at least would be seriously tempted to offer any assistance in his somewhat modest power. An "Enslave the Entire Electorate Party" would be likely to fare even worse at the polls than other attempts to offer the electorate an alternative to their current Gadarene rush toward the precipice of social and environmental collapse.
The purpose of utopian/dystopian fiction is less practical than philosophical. It is a way of challenging ideas, of reflecting the author’s own society and its ideology in a distorting glass. It is as such, rather than as science-fiction or adventure/war story or whatever (though the books I think succeed on that level too), that Stirling’s Draka series is important and definitely worth reading from a political/philosophical viewpoint. Even if one fundamentally disagrees with its, and Nietzsche’s, philosophical premises. One reviewer who presumably did so disagree, the late American libertarian and classic science fiction author Poul Anderson, still thought Stirling’s series was "an exciting, evocative, thought-provoking – but of course horrifying – read".
Stirling offers us what one reviewer called an "anti-America", a society that has rejected virtually every assumption and value that lies at the heart of the American Way – and the "Western Values" which it has exported and imposed on the world. And argued, eloquently, that the result – whilst distinctly strange and in some ways repellent to members of our society, need not necessarily be barbarism or mere tyranny. The Draka built what Nietzsche in The Joyful Science called "a new order of things – even..a new slavery" – and Stirling plausibly depicts them also building a society which is more artistically, architecturally and scientifically creative than our own, a society living sustainably and in harmony with the living Earth. As ours conspicuously does not, which is why the indefinite continuation of our current "Western Society" is not a viable option regardless of whether its ovine masses are content with it. Stirling raises the question of whether Nietzsche might actually be right when he says, also in The Joyful Science, that "the strengthening and elevation of the human race always involves the existence of slaves", whether humanity as a whole might indeed be best advanced if a small elite were enabled to fulfill their full potential at the cost of the servitude of the mass, rather than by the enforced egalitarian medio-critisation of the whole. This sets the 10% elite who can use true freedom free, as few have been liberated before. It also benefits most of the rest of Earth’s population.
As Stirling rightly observes, most of the human species, as opposed to that privileged minority of it lucky enough to dwell in the few rich Western consumer societies, would be physically a lot better off as valued domestic animals decently fed, protected and cared for in return for their labour. Rather than being "free" to starve or be slaughtered. It might be added that most of the Western consumer minority might well be spiritually better off as serfs, denied the mind-rot of TV and Capitalist mass "culture" and thereby forced to reinvent the rich folk culture that Capitalism destroyed. It might also do the masses good to be compelled to confront the explicit reality of their serfdom instead of being no less exploited as the deluded wage-slaves of global Capitalism. Being thus denied their dishwashers and their soap operas might actually do them considerable good!
Stirling offers, with Nietzsche, the vision of the next step for humanity, the advance across the bridge to the Übermensch. And, as the German philosopher did not, to offer a coherent vision of what such Supermen might actually be like as people. Also of how we might actually physically bring them to birth, something about which Nietzsche simply could not really have anything useful to say, given the state of 19th Century Science, finally, to depict the society they could build. A Final Society, regardless of what one may feel about the slave-state of the Old Domination which created it, is to most minds surely, unarguably a utopia.
The vital question is raised, a question grasped most notably by Nietzsche but since stifled in a smother of liberal egalitarian Political Correctness, of whether Man has any future unless he does seek to transcend himself, to take the next evolutionary step, to become the Superman. Stirling’s disillusioned environmentalist activist Carstens is very probably right when he observes "It’s in the nature of humanity to foul its nest. You’d have to change human nature: that’s why I gave up"(and, parenthetically, why this reviewer gave up his own political activism some years ago). Homo sapiens fouls its nest socially and personally as well as ecologically. That’s why the weakness of other utopias, such as William Morris’s, is that, to be realistic, they probably couldn’t be built in the first place and they certainly wouldn’t last if they were. Human weakness, corruption, stupidity, vanity and greed would rot them from within or destroy them from without. The weary record of history - as Gibbon observed "little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind", - indicts humanity and condemns it, if it will not save itself by transcending itself, to certain extinction, along with much of the top tier of the biosphere. Shown a vision of that biosphere, the living world, redeemed, Carstens can but be confounded: "I never dreamed…I never thought human beings could be such stewards of the Earth". To which the only answer which will ever be possible is Gwendolyn Ingolfsson’s: "They can’t. I’m not human".
As Nietzsche saw, Man is not the end and pinnacle of evolution, but merely a step along the way. Intelligent life in the true sense has yet to appear on Earth – as is perfectly evident from the sorry saga of history all the way to the headlines in today’s newspapers. Unless we choose to create it ourselves, it probably never will. As long as we remain, as Nietzsche put it, Human, all too Human, we are as a species doomed. A fate Stirling’s Draka, for all their spectacular infringements of "human rights" etc. chose to escape by not remaining human. If we do choose racial self-transcendence, no matter what the cost, no matter what the means, then our descendants, better in every way than us and living in a world they built better in every way than our own, will be able to say proudly with Stirling’s Gwendolyn Ingolfsson: "I’m not human. But my ancestors were, and what they dreamed, we are". It is a dream Friedrich Nietzsche dreamed, long ago. And a dream S.M. Stirling portrays vividly today. It is a dream we must make reality tomorrow. One way or another. If not the way Stirling shows us, then another way at least as effective. Or the future for us all, in the long run, will be a nightmare worse than any dystopian fiction, ending almost inevitably in the extinction of humanity. An extinction, unlike that of any other species, which will not be misadventure but suicide. Suicide through terminal stupidity and cowardice.
[Return to home]