My first and only experience with Eric Frank Russell was the tiny, glowing piece that opens Brian Aldiss’ Penguin Book of Science Fiction ”Sole Solution”. Evocative for such a short work, I tucked Russell’s name away as a writer with potential, and that should I encounter another of his works, would read it. His 1951 novella …And Then There Were None was encountered, and, has been read. A wildly different piece than the evocative imagery opening Aldiss’ anthology, it nevertheless remains thoroughly enjoyable, even to this day.
…And Then There Were None is the story of a visit by the Terran Ambassador to the planet Gand. Though humans inhabited the planet more than four centuries ago, it is the first visit of Earthlings, since. Landing on the planet in style, the ambassador immediately sends one of his entourage to the closest person, a farmer, and demand he come for an audience to describe Gand and what has happened on the planet in the intervening centuries. Nonplussed, the farmer deflects their request with indifferent wit and returns to his work, as do the others the entourage accost. Eventually making their way to a nearby town, the ambassador is aggrieved to find that nobody cares to speak with him, most, in fact, doing their best to avoid his spaceship. Moreover, each of townspeople keep using a strange word, ‘myob’, to conclude what passes for conversation. The ambassador angry at the perceived lack of respect thrown his way, more drastic measures are employed to get to the bottom of the indifference, including infiltration. But in the end, the most important question is: who’s befuddling who?
If it isn’t obvious, …And Then There Were None is a work of satire, and a fine one at that. Anarchy the tool used to leverage his political agenda into position, Russell contrasts Gandian and Terran interests to strong effect. Given the jaded perspective, humor follows every meeting of the two sides, the word play as British as can be. The result is a text that, interestingly, works hand in hand with the grand American tale of the Mayflower, but never quite reaches Revoltuionary War status.
In the end, ...And Then There Were None is a work of satire that posits freedom is the most fundamental human concern, and that it is possible to maintain through communal pacifism. Humorous and insightful, Terry Pratchett, whether intentionally or not, would take on the inertia built by Russell, and others like his stories. A fun but clever read.