Thursday, 19 July 2018

Three Fictional Secret Agents

Having repeatedly reread Ian Fleming's James Bond series and Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series, I am more familiar with Bond and Flandry than with any other fictional secret agents like, e.g., Richard Hannay or George Smiley. Having just read SM Stirling's Black Chamber, I am now also familiar with Luz O'Malley Arostegui.

in "the present" (the time of writing)
progresses from defeating Le Chiffre in France to killing Scaramanga in Jamaica
meets the President of the United States briefly after foiling a raid on Fort Knox

in a future
progesses from saving the Terran fleet to sponsoring his daughter and her companions
becomes an Imperial advisor

in an alternative history
foils a massive German gas attack on the US
has known Theodore Roosevelt since her childhood

So far, only Flandry's story advances to the next generation. 


Poul Anderson, The Avatar, XXXVI, pp. 314-318.

The man who is an avatar of Man gets four whole pages of text. He is fully articulate even when not in Oneness.

Ten months before his birth, his mother dreamed that the spirits bore her below the world. When he was an adult, the Summoner bore him to where he "...was every god who had ever been, and understood everything that was." (p. 317) When he was to return to his life, One offered him forgetfulness but he declined. Having learned that the world is vast and eternally changes, he became a great healer and prophetic leader. He knows that Oneness is yonder among the stars.

I have summarized Anderson's texts. Please read or reread the texts in their entirety for the details that I have had to leave out.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018


Poul Anderson, The Avatar, XXIX, pp. 258-259.

For how the "avatars" operate, see The Avatar III.

The avatar of Mammal, a chimpanzee, gets two pages instead of one. Here we have an organism that can more credibly remember earlier experiences.

She remembers:

her mother;
warmth and odors of flesh;
fragrance of hair;
smells of soil and growth;
sunbeams between green-gold leaves;
the Eldest leading the band to good trees and fruit and driving away the leopard;
learning to find bananas, birds' nests, insects and grubs;
lookout duty at the river;
springing, swinging and soaring;
wonder at eveything;
giving birth;
ants and vultures at a body;
becoming the first female in another band;
eating the best food and watching over children;
staring outward;
being borne by the Summoner to become One;
returning to live out her days, haunted by mostly forgotten joy.

Bird II

Poul Anderson, The Avatar, XXI, p. 185.

The avatar of Bird, a crow, relates that:

he dreamed;
his universe became empty;
hungry and angry, he tapped and broke the shell;
his eyes were dazzled;
opening his mouth, he was fed but was also crowded by others;
plumed, then shoved from the nest, he learned to fly;
he possessed the sky and raided the earth (Anderson fans remember Ythrians);
belonging to the flock, he watched for hawks or men;
the flock enjoyed life;
caught by a fox, he escaped but lost the power of flight;
darkness approached but the Summoner came and kept him alive for a while. 




I believe that inanimate objects and plants are unconscious. Sometimes I am challenged to prove this but, of course, there is no obligation to prove a negative. The onus of proof is on anyone who asserts a positive proposition. But it is easy enough to show that there is no reason to ascribe consciousness to, e.g., a chair or a tree. And, when an electric toy soldier moves across the floor, we can account for all its movements without ascribing consciousness to the soldier itself. Therefore, we treat it as unconscious and I do not have to prove that it is.

The avatars of Tree, Insect and Fish gain most of their power to remember and articulate when they are taken into Oneness. When Tree claims to have known, he ought to mean that he knew when he was One, not before.

Next up is Bird but I am being interrupted here.


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.