The chain of events is started by an agent of the Federacy Survey Service secretly observing the humanoid inhabitants of Bilbeis IV, living in a Bronze Age culture. The agent is greatly impressed with the Queen of a local city state, who is a highly efficient administrator, very benevolent and beloved by her people, and also very progress-mined, actively promoting and rewarding technical innovation and new knowledge. Discovering that the Queen is terminally ill with cancer, the Earth agent breaks the Survey Service's most fundamental rule, the Rule of Non-Interference. He pretends to be a healer from a distant part of the planet and administers a Federacy medicine. Though the locals are not quite the same as Earth humans, the Queen's life is saved. The agent's career is ended, and he is made an example of how not to behave. However, he feels that it was well worth the price, admitting to himself that he is in fact in love with the Queen, though she would never know of it.
1500 years later, another Federacy ship visits the planet. Expecting to find the ancient Interference to have had no more than a local and brief effect, they are shocked to discover that the medicine did not just heal the Queen - it made her immortal. After 1500 years she is still very much around, worshiped as "The Goddess" and heading a world-wide benevolent and progressive theocracy.
Though the result was quite beneficial to Bilbeis IV and its inhabitants, it could be disastrous to the Survey Service, which would be seen as having grossly "interfered" and substantially changed the entire culture of an entire planet. This could play into the hands of a powerful political lobby which long sought to curb the Survey Service or close it down altogether. The current head of the Survey Service is completely ruthless in seeking to suppress the incriminating information, resorting to all available means up to and including serial murder. The central portion of the book is in effect a science fiction spy thriller, with a very perilous game of interplanetary hide-and-seek played by young anthropology students who got accidentally involved.
The final section returns to Bilbeis IV where "The Goddess" outwits a Federacy expedition visiting her court, one of whose members tries to assassinate her. The book ends with the Goddess determined to gain space technology and pay the next visit herself - and seems likely to achieve just that.
Though set in a space-faring culture rather than one spanning alternate timelines, the Survey Service in "Non-Interference" anticipates many of the themes of the better-known Crosstime Traffic Series - being an organization from a highly developed culture set up to secretly send agents into various less developed cultures, who must hide their origin and find some cover story within the local culture.
The name "Survey Service" for the galaxy-spanning organization is shared with the otherwise very different universe of Space Commodore John Grimes, created by H. Bertram Chandler .
Table of Contents Edit
- Second Survey
- The Report on Bilbeis IV