Sunday, 20 May 2012

Memorable Conversations

It can be satisfying to reread a single chapter of a novel as if it were an independent short story. For this purpose, I usually prefer rich conversational passages as against action sequences although the space battles in Poul Anderson's The People of the Wind and Ensign Flandry are good also. In conversation, characters reveal themselves and reflect on their situations, thus often outlining the plot of a novel.


In Chapter 3 of The Day Of Their Return, Chunderban Desai:

recalls a conversation with Uldwyr of Merseia;
experiences a conversation with Aycharaych of Chereion;
replays a holographic recording of his conversation with Peter Jowett.

Uldwyr is one of several well realised Merseian characters. Like several of his species, with the exception of Tachwyr the Dark, he appears only once. Desai and Uldwyr are fluent in each other's principal languages but it is easiest for Desai to speak Anglic and Uldwyr to speak Eriau. By referring to the planets Starkad, Talwin and Jihannath, Uldwyr alludes to the previous three novels in the History.

If we have read the series in its internal chronological order, then we know before Desai that Aycharaych works for Merseia. When Desai views his conversation with Jowett, we can feel that the point of view has shifted to that of the Desai engaged in the conversation although Anderson reminds us that the real time Desai is watching the recorded conversation by writing "...the image of Jowett said..." (1)

Desai asks for Jowett's help, then:

"- He snapped of the playback." (2)

- returning us abruptly to Desai's present. The Desai point of view chapters in this novel are the ones that I reread most often.


In Chapter Three of A Knight of Ghosts And Shadows, Dominic Flandry converses with the Duke of Mars, then with Emperor Hans and later with Chunderban Desai. These four men personify aspects of the Empire: 

the Duke is a decadent holder of public office, with extrasolar colonists of Mars as his subjects;
Hans is the pragmatic usurper holding the Empire together;
Flandry is a gifted professional Intelligence officer;
Desai is the competent professional diplomat and theoretician of the fall of empires, a much more plausible character than Isaac Asimov's Hari Seldon.

In Chapter Nine, Flandry has definitive exchanges with his opponents, Tachwyr and Aycharaych.

Van Rijn

Earlier in the History, the entirety of the story "The Master Key" was a conversation. Two characters described combat that they had been involved in but there was no flashback narrative. The reader could see that the characters were seated comfortably while recounting their ordeal. The conversational style of fiction has a lot to recommend it.

(1) Anderson, Poul, The Day Of Their Return, London, 1978, p. 34.
(2) ibid., p. 35.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I agree the conversations Anderson invents in many of his works are especially interesting. Far more so than the ones found in Asimov's novels. One example of the former being Admiral Kheriskov's briefing of Flandry in Chapter II of THE REBEL WORLDS.

But, I don't think you were correct to call Tetsuo Niccolini, Duke of Mars, "a decadent holder of public office" in Chapter III of A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS. This is part of how he was described: "He had never been more than a well meaning fop, but in these last years, when antisenescence and biosculp could no longer hold wrinkles, baldness and feebleness at bay, he had developed a certain wry perspective. Unfortunately, he remained a bore." Anderson was far more inclined to describe characters as kindly as possible, after all. The impression I got was of the duke being a wistful old man with no illusions.