Monday, 26 September 2016

Two Gods And One Being

Manannan is humanoid (see image) whereas Lir, never anthropomorphized, is sometimes described as three-legged and single-eyed but only to evoke "...something strange and terrible." (p. 122)
-copied from here.

Thus, Lir is a shapeless god of the chaotic sea. For more on Him, see here. He seems to have met His match in a Bronze Age sea god imagined by SM Stirling:

"The enemy ships were gliding closer. On each stern was a small platform with a statue on it, a grotesque juju with three legs, six arms, and a single staring eye - Arucuttag of the Sea, Lord of Waves, Master of the Storm, to whom the captains gave gold and man's-blood."
-SM Stirling, Against The Tide Of Years (New York, 1999), Chapter Eighteen, p. 282.

The captains throw gold into the sea? And practice human sacrifice? Some gods need to be reminded that we imagine/create them, not the other way around.

Apart from the arms, the physical descriptions of Lir and Arucuttag are identical: one eye and three legs. One eye means focus. Three legs mean mobility. It would be an easy matter for the Ysans to recognize these two deities as different Gods representing one Being. See here.

An Eye For Wisdom

Odin sacrificed an eye for wisdom. See here.

" did it happen you lost your eye, Lord?'
"Eodan smiled. It was a wry smile, not ungentle, but wholly without youth. He had known too much ever to be young again. He said, 'I gave it for wisdom.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Golden Slave (New York, 1980), XX, p. 279.

The Golden Slave is a historical novel and we have realized while reading it that Eodan is the original of Odin. Eodan, like the title character of Anderson's sf novel, Ensign Flandry, has lost his youth. Therefore, he has matured? Therefore, he has gained some measure of wisdom? Maybe.

SM Stirling's William Walker tells a barbarian chieftain:

"'I don't miss the eye. You see, I sacrificed it for wisdom.'"
-SM Stirling, Against The Tide Of Time (New York, 1999), Chapter Eighteen, p. 281)

This novel is science fiction. Far from being the original of Odin, Walker is a time traveler who knows well how to exploit the power of myths. The barbarian steps back and shudders. Here, "wisdom" would mean not only insight and understanding but also supernatural power. Walker and his fellow time travelers will prevent the history that led to the myth of Odin but Walker himself might well initiate a myth of a one-eyed demon. His companion, Hong, already claims to be an avatar and not of anything good.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Not Paranoia But Realism

In Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry, is Max Abrams paranoid about the Merseians? No. He makes a realistic assessment:

the Merseians have no reason to be on Starkad;
there is a mystery as to how they came to be there;
they are obviously stalling the talks.

So Abrams digs deeper and finds something monstrous. His apparent paranoia pays off. And he would not have been equally "paranoid" towards any and every alien government.

However, Poul Anderson created the Merseians to be formidable opponents in a space opera series. He shows us very different aliens in other works. In how many real life situations is Abrams' apparent paranoia warranted? Here we enter controversial territory. This blog invites controversy - but, in the current post, it merely raises a question for page viewers to consider!

Acknowledging Sources

An author can acknowledge his literary sources in an introduction/author's note/afterword etc or in the text. Poul Anderson's Author's Note to The Psychotechnic League informs his readers that he modeled his Psychotechnic History on Robert Heinlein's Future History. Anderson's Introduction to Operation Chaos tells us that its idea of magic as technology derives from Heinlein's "Magic, Inc."

However, let us find some acknowledgments within the texts. In Heinlein's Future History, the title character of Volume I, The Man Who Sold The Moon, says:

"'I read Verne, and Wells, and Smith...'"
-Robert Heinlein, "Requiem" IN Heinlein, The Man Who Sold The Moon (London, 1963), pp. 222-238 AT p. 226.

So, straight off, we have Anderson acknowledging Heinlein who in turn acknowledges Verne, Wells and Smith. Elsewhere in The Man Who Sold The Moon, we read:

"In 1900 Herbert George Wells pointed out that the saturation point in the size of a city might be mathematically predicted in terms of its transportation facilities."
"The Roads Must Roll," pp. 49-85 AT p. 56.

Anderson acknowledges Wells without naming him in There Will Be Time (see here) and maybe even less directly in "Time Patrol" when Manse Everard time travels to the year in which The Time Machine was published. In Operation Luna, Anderson's sequel to Operation Chaos, the narrator reads novels by Lyle Monroe, which was a pen-name of Heinlein.

Heinlein's The Door Into Summer, about both suspended animation and time travel, acknowledges Mark Twain by mentioning Connecticut in its opening sentence and Wells by informing us that the insurance companies give away free copies of The Sleeper Awakes.

SM Stirling acknowledges:

Twain when Hong nicknames Walker "'Mr. Montana Maniac at King Agamemnon's Court.'" (Against The Tide Of Years, p. 238);

ERB in The Sky People - and again in Against The Tide... when Alston, hearing "...a weird yell...," thinks, "Maybe it's Tarzan...," (p. 270), then goes on to mention Burroughs by name;

Anderson and other fsf writers in Conquistador.


Heinlein acknowledges Verne, Wells, Smith and Twain;
Anderson acknowledges Wells and Heinlein;
Stirling acknowledges Twain, Burroughs and Anderson.

Mundane And Exotic

We make an artificial distinction between the mundane and the exotic. The mundane is just the exotic that we have got used to. When Diana Crowfeather takes the Wodenite Axor to the Sign of the Golden Cockbeetle on the planet Imhotep, there are six outback miners (human), two joygirls (human) and one Tigery (a Starkadian refugee). To Diana, this is mundane. Axor was exotic when she first saw him but he soon becomes familiar. Diana's environment has a constant interface between the exotic and the mundane. But so does ours.

Early in the twentieth century, it was still thought that our galaxy was the entire universe. In the 1960's, it was still theoretically possible that planets were rare or even unique to the Solar System. Now we mentally inhabit an exotic expanding universe of many extrasolar planets, black holes, dark matter and dark energy. Contemporary novels refer to computers and the Internet in a way that would still have been science fiction until very recently. Indeed, sf anticipated such developments. See here.

I am still toying with the idea that, while characters in contemporary fiction go about their mundane business, Manse Everard of the Time Patrol lives in his apartment in New York. How can fiction adequately reflect this coexistence of the mundane and the exotic?

Crossovers II

I am rereading Stieg Larsson's crime novels and would not want the integrity of such a novel to be compromised by, e.g., the sudden appearance of an alien spaceship. Nevertheless, while reading such a novel, we know that it is set on Earth which is just one of many planets. We just do not need to be reminded of the fact. For how Poul Anderson places a contemporary detective novel in its cosmic context, see here and here.

Our cosmic context is not just interplanetary. Cosmic rays, neutrinos, gravity waves and dark energy go right through us so maybe time travelers do as well? It is good to alternate between contemporary fiction and science fiction while remembering that these genres express different aspects of what Poul Anderson calls All One Universe.

Saturday, 24 September 2016


Can there be plausible crossovers between fictional series of different genres? Not often. Nicholas van Rijn can visit the Old Phoenix but an appearance by a fantasy hero would be an unwelcome intrusion in a hard sf series. We can accept that the various universes coexist in a single multiverse but usually do not interact. If there were to be interactions, then they could be allusive and ambiguous rather than in your face, e.g., one and the same character might be a merchant in a historical novel and a time traveler posing as a merchant in a time travel novel.

The superhero genre is ahead of the game in this kind of interaction:

heroes with scientifically based powers meet heroes with magically based powers;

when Plastic Man, drawn in cartoon style, met Superman, drawn more realistically, it was explained that the drug that caused Plas' stretching power also distorted his perceptions so that Supes looked cartoonish to him;

when Alan Moore was editorially instructed that his fantasy series, Swamp Thing, had to participate in the company-wide crossover of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, he explored the supernatural after-effects of the Crisis.

Lessons might be learned by writers of prose fantasy and sf. A Crisis in Poul Anderson's Old Phoenix multiverse might manifest in different ways in the diverse universes without compromising the integrity of those universes. Trygve Yamamura solved cases that seemed to have a supernatural element. Maybe that element was present on a level that he did not detect but that was known to Valeria Matuchek.

Without Technology

Space Travel Without Spaceships
The Galactics in Poul Anderson's "The Chapter Ends."
The Black Nebulans in Anderson's "Sargasso of Lost Starships."
Joel Weatherfield in Anderson's "Earthman, Beware!"

Time Travel Without Time Machines
There Will Be Time.
"The Man Who Came Early."
"Missing One's Coach."
A Connecticut Yankee.
Jack Finney's two novels and most of his short stories.
Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return.
Audrey Niffeneger's The Time Traveler's Wife.
L Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall.
Alison Uttley's A Traveler In Time.
Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden.
SM Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy.

As usual, more than you might think.

Flypaper And Vanished Worlds

See John Steinbeck quotation here.

"'The flies have conquered the flypaper,' she quoted."
-SM Stirling, Against The Tide Of Years (New York, 1999), Chapter Seventeen, p. 251.

"I wish I could quote that great line of Steinbeck's, about the flies having conquered the flypaper."
-Poul Anderson, "Star of the Sea" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), 16, p. 606.

A great line? What does it mean? An army has conquered a country but has got bogged down in it?

The beautiful young princess speaks four languages:

"...and a bit of what seemed to be a very archaic form of Sanskrit." (Against The Tide..., p. 253)

"Ian...was working on a history of the Indo-European languages in his spare time. He would be working even harder on it if there were some way of publishing in the vanished world uptime. Not many people on the Island were interested." (ibid., p. 254)

A vanished world! We recognize "uptime" as Time Patrol terminology.

"Had the weather been the same this day in the destroyed world?"
-Poul Anderson, The Shield of Time (New York, 1991), p. 356.

A destroyed world! Thus time travelers think of timelines that they have left behind.


A fanzine article once formulated one of the rules of the ERBian universe, i.e., a woman about to be assaulted will be inevitably be rescued at the last moment. It remains only to compile a list of examples, e.g. Jane, about to be assaulted by an ape, rescued by Tarzan; Jane, about to be assaulted by Tarzan, rescued by the power of her purity etc. Some practical guidelines emerged, e.g., watch out for those Emperors of Abyssinia; if the assault occurs in a boat, then the assailant can be laid out with an oar etc.

It is also a truth universally acknowledged that a woman rescued from barbarians will turn out to be a young and beautiful princess who will marry her rescuer. SM Stirling plays with this idea in Against The Tide Of Years (New York, 1999), Chapter Fifteen:

"'So, Colonel, I hear it's a princess we rescued,' he said. 'A young, beautiful princess at that.'" (p. 234)

But what would be the implications of rescuing a princess? Stirling immediately spells it out:

"'Paddy, for once rumor does not lie - and there's all sorts of political implications involved.'" (p. 235)

The news that there is a surviving member of the Mitannian royal family is a complicating factor just when everyone is declaring independence and the Aramaeans are burning and looting. The Babylonians are stretched thin and the Nantucketers do not want complicating factors like a beautiful young princess.