Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Orion Rises

 When I wrote that Orion Shall Rise by Poul Anderson (London, 1988) was "Rooted In The Past," I had not yet reread to pages 306-308 where a hundred women - maidens, wives and grandmothers - meet at standing stones to curse a usurper who:

"...claimed his world-view embraced eons, but...had no real conception of ancientness. He could not admit that a people may have a right to preserve their own nature..." (p. 306)

The curse, in the names of Deu, Zhesu-Crett and all saints, is Christian. A distinction is made between saints "...on high..." and " the Afterworld..." "...on high..." must refer to the aristocrats in the aerostat who, we have been told, are commonly regarded as "saints."

This curse takes us right back to the earliest European history and even evokes the Nine Witch-Queens in Poul and Karen Anderson's historical fantasy tetralogy, The King Of Ys. The town that was Quimper in the Ys period has become Kemper in the Orion period. Orion Shall Rise encapsulates the past of Europe and a future for the world. The old religion Christianity, represented by a Bishop in Devon, clashes with the new philosophy of Gaeanity, represented by the cursed usurper.

We had known from early in the novel that "Orion" was a top secret prohibited technology project in a country defeated by the conservationist Maurai. On page 311 of 468, we are finally told exactly what it is although perhaps I should not state that here? The Maurai go to war to suppress Orion but are resisted by their adversaries' peculiar "Lodge" system. What seemed to be a population fleeing from invaders turns out to have been a population mobilized to use hidden weapons to destroy the Maurai Marine Corps. Any population outnumbers any invading army so that, if the population is motivated, armed and organized, then invaders beware. Anderson knew the importance of different kinds of social organization.

The Pey-d'Or is a tavern introduced early in the novel and a place that becomes familiar as characters meet and return there. They include "the Stormrider" Iern and the balladeer Plik. Anderson endows the latter with a (slightly implausible?) poetic/prophetic ability to mythologize the historical events occurring around him and to predict in general terms how they must go. Although an archaic Nicene Christian, he knows that:

"...the gods are doomed - everybody's gods - and what new ones will come striding through their ashes, we shall not live to understand." (p. 316)


"The Apollonian Domain and Arthurian Maurai are up against Orphic Gaeanity and the Faustian Northwest...the Norrmen are demons readying to overthrow the gods of sky, sea, and earth - though chthonic gods have always had their own dark side - and the war that is coming will bring an end to the world." (p. 270)

The Norrmen of the Northwest are industrial demons challenging European aerostatic government (sky), the Maurai (sea) and Gaeans (land).

Although in this instance writing sf, Anderson, through Plik, applies the language of mythological fantasy and ensures that the reader does not miss the significance of seemingly small events that will have enormous consequences later in the narrative. By " end to the world..." is meant an end to the present world order. A four sided conflict is an improvement on the twosidedness often seen in popular fiction. A Gaean, secretly helped by the Northwest Wolf Lodge, has seized control of the Domain but is provoking civil war.

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