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Anderson, Poul – “Genius” (1948)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: There’s an interstellar human empire, and it’s kind of ossifying slowly in deliberate echoes of the Roman empire, and there is a “Psychotechnic Foundation” devoted to using “psychotechniques” to guide the historical phases of this empire in order to forestall the inevitable decline to which the current inertia is leading. To that end, the psychotechnicians have seeded a number of planets with various human genetypes, the most prominent of which is Station Seventeen, a planet of super geniuses. The conflict here lies in a seemingly endless discussion (on a ship en route to Station Seventeen) between Heym, the psychotechnician in charge of this project, and Goram, an atavistic ape of a military man who has been sent to investigate the possible dangers posed to the empire by these super-duper-geniuses. The meat of this story is a paean to said super-duper-geniuses, who are superior to common meat-and-potatoes humans in every conceivable way (a point also made earlier about the alien Kingman, whose advanced intellect made him “as convinced of his superiority to us as–say–Napoleon or Edison would have been dumped down among a tribe of Australian bushmen”), delivered via endless debate between Heym and the ape-like Goram, who wants to wipe out the life on the planet. Did I mention that Goram is kind of atavistic or brutish, even?

The pages and pages of argument here boil down to:

1. “All progress is due to gifted individuals”
2. “The ordinary man is just plain stupid. Perhaps proper mind training could lift him above himself, but it’s never been tried. Meanwhile he remains immensely conservative, only occasional outbreaks of mindless hysteria engineered by some special group stirring him out of his routine. He follows, or rather he accepts what the creative or dominant minority does, but it is haltingly and unwillingly.”

Eventually Heym and Goram go down to the planet incognito to observe more, and Heym, despairing of his ability to reason with the atavistic, brutish Goram, attempts to murder him. There is then the big reveal (not that Station Seventeen was Earth, as I was half expecting) that the geniuses were even more intelligent and advanced than Heym realized, Goram is a native of the planet and a spy in their employ, and they are covertly taking over the universe. “After all, Homo intelligens can no more be expected to serve Homo sapiens than early man to serve the apes.”

Like Foundation (which began in 1942), this was published in Astounding under the supervision of John Campbell, so I have no idea if this was originally supposed to be tied in to Asimov’s work or published in dialogue with it or just if no one cared that they were recycling premises.

The utopia of Station Seventeen, by the way, is the only non-warlike society the Empire has ever seen, post-scarcity and non-materialistic (largely because “few if any geniuses could stand to work on an assembly line all day”), physically spread out (in contrast to the world-city sprawls of the Empire), and had “casually accepted equality of the sexes even at this primitive level of technology.” Not a single woman appears in the story, though.

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