Souvenir

Story Background
“Souvenir” was published in Fantastic Universe in October 1954. I read it in We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume 2. It can be found there on pages 355–365.

cover

Plot Summary
The robot pilot informs Rogers that they have finally reached Williamson’s World. Williamson’s World was settled by Frank Williamson in the first attempt to establish a Terran colony outside of the solar system. No future evidence of his colony was found and it was presumed lost and it remained so for three hundred years. Rogers meets a young man after landing who assumes immediately he is from the Galactic Relay Center. He identifies himself as Gene Williamson (the great-great-great-great-grandson of Frank Williamson). The two share their admiration for Williamson.

While driving in a car to a settlement, Gene expresses concern for the Relay’s intentions. He assumes correctly that they want to control the planet now that it has been found. Roger assumed that if they survived they would have descended into barbarism, but instead they seem to have developed a technological, but small-scale society. Rogers explains that the Relay homogenizes cultures and that something that developed on its own in isolation is hard to get used to. Gene tells Roger that they had been receiving messages from Relay for a century, but have chosen to ignore them. He also describes his society as modeled of the medieval commune, with self-sufficient agrarian communities, accompanied by specialized industrial units for manufacturing. Rogers is baffled by this. Descent to barbarism or keeping up with social development makes sense but to prefer an “inferior cultural stage” is insane, in his view. Rogers challenges them on their failure to use robots to do work. They use some machines, and robots are just other machines. Humanity is a tool making creature and to be human is to use tools. Gene ignores him. Gene takes them to his manor, where the people are eating collectively. The social structure is patriarchal, with the oldest man serving as the formal head of each manor. There are few older men because of constant tribal conflicts. Gene suggests that they will break up more over time, into even more distinct tribes with distinct languages. They currently borrow from many tribal cultures for their social symbolism and customs.

While enjoying a cigar, Gene tells Rogers more about Williamson’s World. Although they have water-powered electricity, they go to bed early to enjoy dancing, singing, and acting at night. Rogers is still bothered by this planet’s refusal to keep up with galactic norms. He tries to explain why the Relay maintains a uniform cultural level. It speeds up development by ensuring that no discover needs to be made twice and it prevents war. Williamson’s World may recreate the conditions that caused greed, envy, and hostility. After this pitch, Rogers presents Gene with the Articles of Incorporation into the Relay. Gene informs him that they already decided not to join.

Meanwhile, the battleship is in orbit around Williamson’s Planet. The commander sends Corporal Peter Matson to the surface. He locates the village.

Rogers tells Gene that he has six hours to approve the Articles before the battleship in orbit will destroy the settlements on the planet. Cultural variation cannot be accepted. Gene tells him that the effort to maintain cultural unity is impossible.

Roger returns to the battleship and discusses the situation with Commander Ferris. After six hours, the planet sent up antiquated rocket ships in an effort to oppose the battleship. The attack fails entirely and a few moments later, Relay sets off the mines places on the planet. Rogers is certain that nothing of Williamson’s World remains.

Back at his home Pete Matson meets his wife and son. He brought his son a souvenir of Williamson’s World, a handmade wooden drinking cup.

Analysis
“Souvenir” is a particularly rich story to analyze and is one of Dick’s best stories on the issue of cultural homogeneity. This was one of the first questions he explored in his science-fiction writing. “Stablity,” unpublished in his lifetime, was about a homogenized global culture that attempted to create sustainability by preventing any innovation. In “Souvenir” the Galactic Relay achieves cultural unity by forcing everyone to keep up with the news technologies and cultural trends. The Galactic Relay functions much like 20th century capitalism, forcing the opening of market, producing a homogenized global culture. Already we are close to this on a planetary scale. Societies that resist free trade agreements or pursue political alternatives as transformed into pariahs or opposed with massive military power. The Galactic Relay is actually quite easy to understand because it so common to use.

Williamson’s World is harder to analyze. They seem to have created a small-scale form of post-scarcity anarchism. They have titular heads of each community (the oldest man) but they seem to be democratic in practice. The various communities fight each other in endemic tribal warfare, but there seems to be no real competition for resources. The wars are closer to a form of play and entertainment, based on playacting various historical epochs. We are reminded of Tom Sawyer’s penchant for playing pirates or robbers when we read about the efforts of men on Williamson’s World to play medieval knights or American Indians. Despite these wars, the settlements have a ruling tribunal to work out the big questions facing their society. They apply technologies to make their life easier, but do not allow technology to separate humanity entirely from production. They keep a minimal division of labor, but each manor is almost self-sufficient. The society invests no resources on developing weapons. In their defense of their planet from the battleship, they simply use the weapons laying around. It is actually a fairly good model of a possible small-scaled technologically-informed anarchism. It is not perfect, of course. There is a high death rate for adult men and they were entirely unable to protect themselves. I doubt that many readers will come away from this story sympathizing with the Relay and their genocidal efforts to sustain a banal cultural homogeneity.

I am glad Dick did not shy away from the logical conclusion of the rediscovery of Williamson’s World. A more cowardly writer (I am thinking of the film Avatar now) could have had Rogers utterly convinced by Gene Williamson. Rogers would then use his inside knowledge of the Relay to defend the planet from the attack. If they did make “Souvenir” into a film, I am certain that we would see something like that happening. In fact, once discovered, Williamson’s World had to be destroyed. In the same way that the discovery of an isolated tribe in the Amazon rainforests will lead to entire their physical destruction or their cultural destruction. In an era of cultural homogeneity and globalization, resistance is simply not an option.

Resources
“Souvenir” at philipkdickfans.com.

Article from Psychology Today on the psychiatric benefits of resisting progress.

The need for human-scaled technologies.

A TED talk on the relationship between technology and culture.

Advertisements

About tashqueedagg

Searching for the radical themes in American literature. American literature for the age of Occupy
This entry was posted in Alien Invasion, Empire, Environment, Philip K. Dick, Politics, Power, Space Exploration, Technology, war and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Souvenir

  1. Pingback: Philip K. Dick’s Philosophy of History: Part One | Philip K. Dick Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s