Monday, 25 September 2017

Regions And Gobblies

Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet (London, 1966).

The orspers always look dreadful.

"Judging from the names and the fragments of Christian belief, [the Ship's] complements had been purely North American; regional distinctions had still been considered important in those days."
-Chapter IX, pp. 68-69.

In the days of Solmen, North America is regarded as a mere region!

The only Christian fragment that I can see is the reference to "Father," which could have a more general significance and makes sense in terms of women having to use parthenogenesis.

I asked about "Cobblies." Now we get:

"...Critters and Gobblies."
-Chapter X, p. 74.

Was "Cobblies" (p. 38) a misprint for "Gobblies" (p. 74)?

James Blish once said that I read his works very closely. I think that I am going even further with Anderson. The blogging format helps. It is possible to pause and comment on any word or phrase and, with some writers, it turns out to be worthwhile to do this.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Expect The Unexpected

Although sf is about the unexpected, some of its features become familiar.

Davis Bertram:

exercises in double gravity, like Dominic Flandry;
misses coffee, like Time Patrollers;
must not disrupt the societies that he visits, like the Enterprise, Okies and Time Patrollers;
becomes involved in local wars, like a lot of space and time travelers.

In some ways, we learn what to expect, even though we seek the unexpected. Entirely predictable sf fails. Poul Anderson succeeds.

The Evolution Of Future Histories

Extrasolar colonists and interstellar traders are complementary, not contradictory. Thus, James Blish's Okies could have traded with his Adapted Men. However, the logic of the pantropy series took it into a remote future when Earth had changed enough to be recolonized by Adapted Men whereas the logic of the Okies with their antiagathics had some of them surviving until the end of the universe which, for narrative purposes, came sooner than expected with a cosmic collision. The two series, having acquired incompatible endings, also acquired different although parallel beginnings. References to Oc dollars, the ultraphone and "gods of all stars" in The Seedling Stars suggest a stage in their composition when the two series could have been one.

Poul Anderson's Technic History features a Terran Empire ruled from Archopolis whereas both his "The Star Plunderer" and his "The Chapter Ends" refer to a First Empire ruled from Sol City. However, "The Star Plunderer" became a pivotal story in the Technic History whereas "The Chapter Ends" became the culmination of the Psychotechnic History.

In Robert Heinlein's works, Dahlquist, the Space Patrol, Rhysling, a Stone Family in Luna City and particular versions of Martians and Venerians link five early Scribner Juveniles to The Green Hills Of Earth, Volume II of the Future History, but the Juveniles are incompatible with the Future History as a whole. Thus, Heinlein wrote what I call a Juvenile Future History.

So far, this post has referred to three sf authors each writing two future histories but the real situation is more complicated. Anderson wrote several future histories (see here). Blish gave his Okies the instantaneous Dirac communicator but then had to develop the full implications of this communicator in a third future history. My advice: read them all.

Anderson-Blish Parallels

(i) Both Poul Anderson and James Blish have a shorter future history, a longer future history and other relevant works.

Anderson - shorter: Psychotechnic; longer: Technic.
Blish - shorter: pantropy; longer: Okies.

(ii) For parallels between the culminations of the two shorter future histories, see here.

(iii) In both the Psychotechnic History and the pantropy future history, a spaceship crashes on a planet and the spaceship crew and passengers colonize that planet with one-to-one genetic versions of themselves. Anderson's all women crew must reproduce by parthenogenesis whereas Blish's pantropists contribute germ-cells from which microscopic, aquatic Adapted Men are developed to inhabit fresh water pools.

Anderson's women with the surname Udall become hereditary rulers whereas Blish's la Ventura and Dr Chatvieux become the templates of many generations of leaders called Lavon and thinkers called Shar, respectively.


(Neptune: a gas giant planet and an alternative to either Jupiter or Saturn.)

Alternatively, Aesgil might be a gas giant and I-IV its satellites. That seems more likely.

Right now, this blog is focused on a few installments of a single future history series. However, our wider contexts remain:

the complete works of Poul Anderson;
all future history series;
in fact, all science fiction and imaginative literature;
the history, cosmology and philosophical issues that form the background of Anderson's works.

And here is one of those issues. Recently (here), we referred to the evolution of intelligence. Intelligence emerges when consciousness advances from sensation and perception to abstraction. An intelligent animal not only feels hot, and not only perceives sources of heat, but also applies the concepts of "hot" and "heat." I suggest that this advance from perception to abstraction is a qualitative transformation inside material brains and not an interaction between those brains and any specially created immaterial entities. We are part of "One Universe." In fact, we are its self-consciousness.


Series characters can reminisce either about earlier episodes or about adventures remembered by them but not by us. A Nomad recalls:

"'The flying city on Aesgil IV, and the war between the birds and the centauroids.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter XIX, p. 164.

Maybe we can read about this flying city in a previous episode? No, all that we find earlier in the Psychotechnic History is the founders of the Nomads remembering that:

"We had ridden centauroids who conversed with us as they went to the aerial city of their winged enemies -"
-Poul Anderson, "Gypsy" IN Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), pp. 12-34 AT p. 29.

This is a slightly different description:

an "aerial" city might hover rather than fly;
"winged" antagonist might not be birds.

I am grateful for these two differently worded accounts.

Thus, Aesgil IV was visited at least twice, first by the lost Traveler, then later by a Nomad ship, the Peregrine. Aesgil IV must be the fourth planet of a fictional star called "Aesgil."

We are intrigued by this war between centaurs and sky-dwelling fliers. I thought that there might have been a corresponding Greek myth. Certainly centaurs fought. No matter how much Anderson wrote, some of his characters were going to recall adventures that we have not been able to read about. Nevertheless, we thank the Muses and the author himself for the extent of Anderson's works.

In The Country Of The Blind...

In the country of the blind, the one-eyed (or two-eyed) man is king? No, he is not. According to HG Wells, the blind population thinks that this single man is deluded and offers to cure him be removing the deformities from his face. He is lucky to escape with his sight. Appropriately, since we have just discussed birds, the blind know of "angels" that can be heard but not felt - birds.

On the "Virgin Planet," a single man is king? No, he is not. According to Poul Anderson, the women think that Davis Bertram cannot be a mythical "Man" returning in power because they capture him easily. He can only be a dangerous "Monster" (alien), and must not be allowed to re-enter his spaceship in case he turns its technology against them. His capture by one community means war with others and our old friend, the Pathetic Fallacy, returns in force:

"The main door of the Big House crashed open. Torchlight flared, spilling on the cobbles. Minos became suddenly wan. Iron clanked, and the Greendale Macklin strode forth, tall and angry, her women bristling about her...
"'This means war!'"
-Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet (London, 1966), Chapter VI, p. 45.

Does Minos suddenly become wan in reality or only in the women's perceptions?

Native Intelligence On Atlantis?

In Poul Anderson's Virgin Planet, there are many species of large birds on the planet Atlantis so must one such species become intelligent? Not necessarily. See:

Avian Aliens
Scientific Speculation And An Artistic Convention

Intelligence is not inevitable. Many species survive without it. There may be planets where no species is naturally selected for intelligence. Alternatively, some active, alert, adaptable animal able to change its behavior in response to environmental alterations might nevertheless be overcome by circumstances and fail to survive before it has become a talking tool-user.


Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet (London, 1966), Chapter VI.

"The lower castes had charms against being psyched by the Critters and the Cobblies and other unseen mountain dwellers." (p. 38)

What are Cobblies? I cannot find this word in a dictionary and have encountered it in only one other work of fiction, City by Clifford Simak. Googling reveals that "cobblies" are also referenced in Existence by David Brin. In City, cobblies are undescribed but frightening intruders from other dimensions, like unsettling sounds heard in an old house. I found a link here to the on-line text of City although past experience indicates that such links do not work for all blog readers.

I now google or otherwise investigate every unfamiliar word or phrase in Poul Anderson's texts. The effort is usually worthwhile.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Montalbano's Moment Of Realization

Two strands of reading converge:

I said here that I was reading Montalbano as well as Poul Anderson;

I frequently post about moments of realization in Anderson's works -

- typically, our hero is speaking, stops in mid-sentence, goes rigid, has just realized the solution to a practical problem but will not reveal the solution to the reader until he has solved the problem at the end of the story.

Now Montalbano goes through precisely the same routine:

"Their night-time search of Borsellino's house and office had been for naught and...
"He froze.
"He had the distinct impression that the entire digestive apparatus in his belly had come to a sudden stop.
"He poured himself half a glass of whisky and downed it in a single gulp. Sweat began pouring out of him. How could he have forgotten so completely about it?"
Andrea Camilleri, A Voice In The Night (London, 2016), TEN, p. 143.

How indeed?

The reference to the detective's digestive apparatus is significant because Salvo Montalbano, like SM Stirling's characters, enjoys good food although I am not about to start adding his Italian menus to our food thread.