Wednesday, 18 July 2018


The narrator of Poul Anderson's The Avatar, XIII, p. 124, had been a great, proud, blue and white salmon, hatching in gravel, thrusting to the sea, prowling, chasing, exulting, then, much later, swinging back home with many others, surviving predators, then scooping a place for her young.

The Summoner came and took her into Oneness where she was Fish. Each of these one-page chapters divulges a further hint of this transcendent process.


The narrator of Poul Anderson's The Avatar, VI, p. 55, has been a crawling caterpillar, a sleeping pupa and a flying moth. He sensed his environment but did not remember his former forms.

The caterpillar sensed crisp sweet juicy leaves, warm sunlight, cool dew and endless odors. The moth saw vague shapes but knew more by fragrance. He ate nectar and sap. Flying by night, he and his flock saw what he later learned were the lights of men.

Gathered up into Oneness, he says that "We" knew his whole life from the egg. "The One" is my term for the cosmic totality that is also the object of religious experience but Insect means something more specific.


Poul Anderson's The Rebel Worlds, A Stone In Heaven and World Without Stars begin with alien povs (points of view). His The Avatar, I, p. 1, is narrated by a birch tree which acknowledges that it was not conscious during the period described. It was white and slender in a meadow. Its leaves drank sunlight, danced in the wind and changed to gold.

Contradictorily, the tree claims not to have seen, heard, sensed, been aware or understood yet at the same time to have felt and known. This is because its organism will be subsumed into a greater consciousness as we will learn.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

What Next For The Black Chamber?

In SM Stirling's Black Chamber, look out for a discussion of HG Wells and references to:

an ERB series, neither Tarzan nor John Carter;
the British Secret Service of the James Bond series;
the FBI of our timeline;
Franklin Roosevelt's declaration of war in our timeline.

Black Chamber begins with the exciting prospect of a technological twentieth century but ends with a horrifyingly changed global power struggle. In the remaining volumes of this trilogy, will there be:

a protracted Great War;
a German world empire resisted by the Black Chamber;
an American Empire in all but name;
an American Empire even in name?

The future looks bad. Things can only get bitter.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Across The Atlantic

SM Stirling's new heroine, Luz, travels to Europe by airship and returns by submarine. Stirling's text conveys that, in 1916 (B), these are new and exotic ways to travel. This is retro-sf. We have to remember earlier periods:

Jules Verne described a balloon, a submarine, a space projectile and a combined speedboat, submarine, automobile and aircraft (see here);

HG Wells described aeroplanes, a deep sea sphere, the Cavorite sphere and the Time Machine;

ERB describes an undiscovered continent, a tunneling machine and interplanetary ships;

Poul Anderson, one culmination of sf, describes aircars and several means of STL, FTL and time travel.

Tomorrow, when not preoccupied with family matters, I will rejoin Luz and her companions in mid-Atlantic.

Social Chaos

In Poul Anderson's The Avatar, Earth sounds as chaotic as it gets in the pre-interstellar period of his Psychotechnic History:

planetary crowding;
New Islam;
unfeasible secessionisms;
legitimate grievances;
centralized global government;
revived Keynesianism!

Keynesian policies? Public spending on useful projects to boost the economy? Perish the thought. Let the market be unconfined!

Such arguments will continue as long as the present kind of economy continues. But nothing will last forever.

Grapple Guns

We have all seen a certain masked avenger climbing the outside of a tall building by hauling himself up a line that he has fired from a grapple gun. Alan Moore's vigilante, Rorschach, does also. SM Stirling shows us that this would be no easy matter. His new character, Luz, is a fictional spy who not only fights enemy agents but also spies, with lock-picks and a camera. Her night-time climb to a guarded office in a castle tower in freezing rain is an adventure in its own right that does not need any encounters with armed guards or fights on the rooftop to increase the excitement.

Like Fleming's Bond and Anderson's Flandry, Luz is sexually active but, unlike them, not always heterosexual. Descriptions of homosexual encounters are perhaps a further social change. See Social Changes.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

People In Different Timelines

(Nikola Tesla.)

There is a reference to a "Father Flandry" in SM Stirling's Black Chamber, TEN, p. 204. An ancestor of Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry? No. Father Flandry is a celibate Catholic priest and not in the same timeline as Dominic. But there could be a third timeline in which they are directly related.

In the Black Chamber timeline, Nikola Tesla works for President Theodore Roosevelt's National Advanced Research Projects Institute. We anticipate rapid technological advances in the twentieth century of that timeline.

In Lancaster Real, I will visit Ketlan on the Marsh Estate and attend the Zen group at the Friends' Meeting House tomorrow and meet the guys in the Gregson on Wednesday and we will have a big family birthday party here at Blades Street (scroll down) on Saturday. As ever, I strive to blog.

Actual To Alternative

Knowledge of history is necessary for writers of historical fiction and of alternative history fiction and advisable for writers of future histories. Poul Anderson wrote all three kinds of fiction. His major future history series, the History of Technic Civilization, is based on a theory of history.

Any alternative history has a point of departure from actual history. In SM Stirling's Black Chamber, this point is President Taft's afternoon nap on May 25th, 1912.

Readers lacking knowledge of the period might think that some of the details of the actual history are parts of the alternative history. Thus, there was an Irish Republican Brotherhood before there was an Irish Republican Army and Hugo Gernsback did edit science magazines as well as sf magazines although maybe the June 1916 issue of The Electrical Experimenter was different in the Black Chamber timeline?

Russia is going to Brest-Litovsk for a peace treaty a year and a half early and Admiral von Hipper rises faster in the German Navy.

Alternative Lives

Alternative histories include alternative lives and careers for historical figures. There are too many examples to list here.

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, there is Prince Rupert of the Rhine. See here. Also, by implication, there is the William Shakespeare who was not the Great Dramatist but the Great Historian.

SM Stirling's Black Chamber has, among others, alternative versions of Theodore Roosevelt and Colonel Nicolai. The author must keep such characters consistent with their real life counterparts while at the same time presenting their responses to altered histories.

This is essentially the same procedure as when one author writes another's character, e.g., Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series features not only Cyrus the Great and Hiram of Troy but also Sherlock Holmes.

Action-adventure fiction is endless. We accept not only new stories of old characters but also new characters like Stirling's Luz who kills men and spies on Nicolai's war preparations. The World Wars are endlessly re-fought in memory, recorded history, historical fiction and alternative history. Will the German's secret weapon be deployed against American cities?