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Robinson, Frank M. – “The Santa Claus Planet” (1950)

07/10/2012

A story commissioned specifically for this book, which kind of distorts the meaning of a “year’s best” anthology if you ask me. I’m becoming more and more convinced that my problem with these volumes lies less with the general state of the field mid-century and more with Bleiler and Dikty’s specific tastes and goals (1956 and Judith Merril can’t get here fast enough).

Supported by extensive anthropological research, we’re told, this story is about a space ship that, following the time-honored tradition of the space navy, finds some hospitable planet on which to land and celebrate Christmas (Christmas not being Christmas without solid ground and the smell of pine, which appears to be abundant throughout the universe). Having landed on the titular planet, two suckers from the crew are sent out into the cold to invite any local “Terran speaking community” to join their “synthetic roast goose” feast. The natives (“probably the degenerate remnants of those who had colonized the planet hundreds of years ago”) turn out to be playing second fiddle to a marooned Terran trader, and the rest of the story is given over to his narration.

The natives on this planet, it seems, enjoy a habitat so lush and resource-intensive that they have evolved some sort of super-capitalism that involves dueling “challenge gifts” whereby participants exchange gifts and then “destroyed them to show how worthless the items were in comparison with their own wealth.” This “conspicuous waste” made them the “original capitalists;” partisans of “a fanatical, perverted capitalism run wild;” and something about them making great stock brokers. Being natives, though, they also get called out for their derogatory attitude towards women (is there a name for this trope?), lack industrial technology, and love shiny things.

Now, I would love to read this as a commentary on creative destruction, but aside from the idea of annihilating existing wealth, that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny at all. If anyone can tell me what this is supposed to revealing about capitalism, I’d love to hear it – it’s kind of a Benjamin Barber-ish attack on unbridled consumer capitalism, I guess.

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