Tuesday, June 8, 2010

William Tenn's "The Servant Problem" (novelette, satire): The "ultimate" triumph of power seekers!

I began reading it may be a week back, the day the media was reporting of the close shave with disaster of passengers of 3 planes for a shamefully irresponsible reason: President of India was returning to Delhi from somewhere, & the visiting President of Turkmenistan(?) wanted to go see Taj Mahal. So powers that be shut off the second busiest airport in the country for an hour! And because it involved "VIP Security", no one was to be informed - not even the planes approaching Delhi! Only after reaching there were they told to go land elsewhere. One of the planes landed in Jaipur with just 3 minutes of fuel remaining, other two with may be 10 minutes worth of fuel!

Like many, I was feeling very indignant - public servants behaving as public masters. So this story immediately stuck a chord - it begins with precisely this theme: public servants doing everything in their power to become masters of the public. In fact, the ministers are called "Servants" - like the "Servant of Security", "Servant of Education", ... Dictator is called "Servant of All". The mansions they live in are called "Hovels"! There is a very Kurt Vonnegut feel to early parts of story, though it's more verbose; then irony begins to creep in.

It's not a one sitting reading; took me many days to finish. But I loved the early parts.

Story summary.

Today is "the day of complete control": "Garomma, the Servant of All" - dictator of World State for 25 years - has now a completely thought-controlled citizenry: citizens automatically feel ecstasy when they see him! This is because of propaganda & indoctrination program he's been running.

Through the celebrations of this special day, we will learn that Moddo, Garomma's humble adviser, is the true controller of Garomma. But wait, there is someone else who has complete control over Moddo, & someone else with complete control over this worthy, & this ultimate controller himself helpless against Garomma!

Fact sheet.

First published: Galaxy, April 1955.
Rating: B. 
Related: Stories of William Tenn.