Friday, August 27, 2021

"The 'Degrader' Criminal Requires Specialized Handling"

BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION author Arthur C. Clarke no doubt said and wrote many things in his life, but the only comment of his that we can recall from memory is this one: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." When criminals happen to get their hands (or pincers or tentacles or whatever) on such technology, that's the moment which justifies an intervention by the . . .

"Philosophical Corps."
By E. B. Cole (1910-2001).
First appearance: Astounding Science Fiction, March 1951.
Illustrations by Edd Cartier (1914-2008; HERE).
Short story (16 pages).
Online at (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 50).
     "The usual methods of detection and capture would serve to apprehend this type of criminal, but the psychological and theological effects he leaves behind, require action by specialized personnel."

How do you overcome the activities of a small group of interstellar criminals who wish to exploit an entire planet full of hapless, easily misled natives for their own personal gain, their m.o. being systematic deliberate cultural contamination? The Philosophical Corps, with their super-high technology, believes they have the answer . . . .

Principal characters:
The Corps:
~ Jameison, Wells, Dale, Owens, Isaacs, Daws, Miller, and Bowman.
The locals:
~ Lanko, Dasnor, Banasel, and Senemanos.

Here we have Star Trek's Prime Directive and the willing executors of it fifteen years early:

  "As they talked, the sun rose. Sweeping darkness before it, the star glared down—huge, brilliant, dominating. Sharp, harsh shadows and blinding reflections replaced the vagueness of the night. This was a young world—satellite to a young, active star. Quite conceivably, thought Dale, this was its first civilization. Equally conceivably, this new civilization might survive—might grow and mature in a normal manner and emerge, triumphantly successful at the first attempt, rather than coming to a dead, sterile end, as many civilizations, blighted by premature, unlawful contact with more advanced peoples, had done."
  ". . . The three guardsmen rapidly explained the Universal Federation to their prospective recruits. At first, incredulous that the tiny points of light in the sky might contain worlds as great and even greater than their own, the ten gradually came to realize the scope of the Galaxy. Their crude and degrader-distorted philosophy was replaced by positive knowledge of the many civilized worlds in space. Memory pictures projected by the three with the aid of the hypnotizer ray gave them actual views of advanced civilization, and of degrader damage on other worlds. Swiftly, though with care that mental damage did not result, they were given a full view of galactic civilization."
  ". . . you know the peculiar terms of service the Stellar Guard imposes. You know, for example, that no guardsman can associate with any but other guardsmen while on a primitive or undeveloped planet. During your time on this world, you will have no close friends—no wife—no children. You will have to observe a good many other stringent regulations. It is a hard life, but a satisfying one, and after retirement, the reward is high."

Typo: "night [might] of Atakar?"

References and resources:
- There were five stories in the Philosophical Corps series; numbers 1, 3, and 4 below were blended into a fix-up novel, The Philosophical Corps (1961) (ISFDb data).
  (1) "Philosophical Corps" (1951) (short story), Astounding Science Fiction, March 1951 (above)
  (2) "These Shall Not Be Lost" (1953) (novelette), Astounding Science Fiction, January 1953
  (3) "Fighting Philosopher" (1954) (novelette), Astounding Science Fiction, April 1954
  (4) "The Players" (1955) (novelette), Astounding Science Fiction, April 1955
  (5) "Here, There Be Witches" (1970) (novelette), Analog, April 1970.
- The Star Trek series occasionally dealt with the idea of cultural contamination, for example, both unintentional—"A Piece of the Action" (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE)—and criminally intentional—"Devil's Due" (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE).
- Everett Bush Cole was a pulpster in good standing: Wikipedia (HERE and HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and Project Gutenberg's small Cole collection (HERE).


  1. Definitely an interesting premise!

    1. I'm hoping to read the entire series when (or if) they become available online.