September 26, 2010

Hopi in The Gods Laughed

I recently read this science-fiction collection of short stories:

The Gods Laughed

Poul Anderson (Author)Inventive and cynical science fiction stories, July 29, 2006
By frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

Anderson was asked to pick his favorite stories for this collection, published in 1982. If there is a common theme in this volume, it is the idea that man faces things bigger than himself when he starts to confront the larger universe. These are worlds a long way from the notion of man as conquering hero.

Poul Anderson (1926-2001) was one of the great writers of the Golden Age. Potential readers may rather begin with one of his longer works, but this is still a very strong collection.
The stories include:"Peek! I See You!" (1968) Sean F.X. Lindquist is fairly convinced that he just saw a flying saucer. The only question becomes what does he do about it? (This was my favorite story in the collection.) Comment:  In this story, the vagabond hero is flying a plane over the Four Corners area when he spots a flying saucer. He follows it to a secluded canyon where it lands in...a Hopi pueblo.

The pueblo is called Wuwucimti and its leader is called Sikyabotoma. These are either really Hopi names or good approximations of ones. The leader says he's also called Joe Andrews, a name he took in the Army. This is also quite plausible; many Indians did something similar.

The Hopi supposedly established this hidden village when they fled the Spaniards after the Revolt of 1680. The history is true, although there are no hidden Hopi villages. But the premise is reasonable for a science-fiction story.

Sikyabotoma and his fellow Hopi Indians are more or less normal people. They wear modern clothes, speak English, and so forth. There are no headdresses, buckskins, beads, feathers, whoops, dances, etc. In fact, a man wearing a sombrero is the only ethnic stereotype in evidence.

Why the Hopi?

The Galactics have offered membership in their Federation only to the Hopi. Their envoy Klak't'klak doesn't want to let any other Terran countries in. Why not? Sikyabotoma explains:You mean how can he refuse the USA, and the USSR, and France, Britain, and China, and--Well, it's easy. They haven't anything unique to offer. Not in a galaxy loaded with civilizations. All that Wuwucimti has, really, is a convenient location, and people who don't swarm over every ship that lands, stealing things and asking stupid questions.Earlier Klak't'klak says the Earth has a "drab, fragmented, quarrelsome, early-mechanical kind of civilization." If the Federation let other Terran countries in, he adds, "Those dismal characters would yell for so much technical assistance that their whole planet would be one gigantic college for the next fifty years."

I'm not sure Peek! I See You! is the best story in the collection, but I like its point. Namely, that a group of traditional Indians has the most desirable culture from an alien perspective. These Indians aren't inquisitive or acquisitive; they're willing to leave the aliens alone.

It's reminiscent of the "probe" in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which deemed whales the most intelligent lifeform on Earth. Many SF books have presented humans as the galaxy's dominant species because they're a domineering type. Indeed, some books have said humans are so dangerous they need to be isolated or imprisoned for the good of all.

Rob's review

In The Gods Laughed, superior alien beings have to deal with us pitiful, childish humans. Unlike most short-story collections, there are no weak entries here. They're all good examples of the SF seen from the 1950s to the 1970s in books by Heinlein or Asimov and TV shows like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.

For more on the science fiction of that era, see Racism in Heinlein's Friday and Quipucamayoc in Babel-17.

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