Satan's World

by Poul Anderson
Series: Polesotechnic League
Reviewed date: 2018 Mar 13
Rating: 2
220 pages
cover art

Satan's World
The world is a rogue planet, orbiting no star, swinging through interstellar space. By chance it will pass close to Beta Crucis, heating the dead frozen planet slightly before it rushes off again to the cold depths of space. David Falkayn thinks the planet would make a great industrial base for certain kinds of transmutation processes. The processes require vast amounts of cooling, which Satan's World has, and produce planet-killing amounts of deadly pollution--which is no problem on Satan's World. The planet is immensely valuable.

I'm a skeptic
I don't really buy it, though. I can't imagine that relatively cold planets without sentient life are all that rare, so Satan's World can't be uniquely valuable in this regard.

In any case
But there is someone else who wants Satan's World: an alien race. Previously unknown to anyone in the Technic civilization, these aliens have built an elaborate spy operation right in the heart of the Commonwealth. But there is something about this planet that causes the aliens to risk everything--even outing their sophisticated spy operation--to claim it before the Polesotechnic League. What is the secret of Satan's World?

The planet is a red herring. There is no secret. Its value as an industrial base is its only value. The real puzzle here is the aliens: who are they, what do they want, how to stop them from invading and destroying the human race and all its allies.

And it's kind of boring. The aliens are called the Shenna, and they are violently aggressive herbivores from a planet called Dathyna. Anderson spins some tale about how the unique evolutionary pressures of their world created this race of violent herbivores, but I didn't quite buy it.

It's Sexist
And I mean really, really sexist. All the major characters are men. Even Chee Lan, the female alien, is functionally male in her attitudes and actions. There's the presumption that women are overly emotional. There's the alien race whose evolution created a sub-intelligent female: the females "lost a certain amount of intelligence and initiative" because they had to care for the young while the males went off to war and conquest.

The sort of sexism is present in a lot of the early science fiction. It's not great, but when it's paired with a respect for women, I can sort of accept it as part of the story. For example, both Doc Smith's Lensmen and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan and John Carter treat women with a sort of paternalistic protectionism. Women are to be cherished, safeguarded.

But Nicholas van Rijn's treatment of his staff I can't get over. He's rich, he's the libertarian hero, he's the role model for this future civilization Poul Anderson has created. He's a cigar-chomping, beer-guzzling, whiskey-swilling, libertarian hedonist, and a great man who expects competence, initiative, and greatness from his lieutenants. And he keeps a harem of "scarcely clothed" women to serve him beer and sandwiches, women whom he grabs and slaps and then placates with promises to buy them expensive (and revealing) dresses.

That's the kind of sexism that I can't get over.

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