Friday, 27 July 2012

The Queen Of Air And Darkness

"The Queen Of Air And Darkness" (in The Queen Of Air And Darkness and other stories, London, 1977), potentially a major story by Poul Anderson, hits the reader with too many mixed messages, I think. The narrative is divided into unnumbered sections.

The first section contains several clues that it is set on another planet, the most obvious being a reference to "...the moons..." (p. 10), although the characters suggest fantasy:

two "...Outlings...," a flute-playing boy called Mistherd and a singing girl called Shadow-of-a-Dream, meet under a dolmen on Wolund's Barrow (p. 9);

a winged "pook" called "...Ayoch...," with a "...half-human face...," carries a stolen human child towards "...Carheddin under the mountains..." (pp. 9-10);

their Queen, variously addressed as "...Starmother...," "...Snowmaker..." and "...Lady Sky...," appears (pp. pp. 10-11).

Ayoch used "...dazedust..." to steal the child but not from "...yeomen...," instead from a camp where there were "...engines..." (p. 10) Thus, technology has somehow entered this (apparent) fantasy setting.

The second section also gives two messages but different ones. A woman called Barbo Cullen, whose son has been kidnapped, consults a high-cheeked, beak-nosed, pipe-smoking, unmarried private investigator living in an untidy, dusty apartment with laboratory equipment against one wall, who surprises her with information about herself which he then explains that he has deduced from her appearance. Thus, this Eric Sherrinford is based on Sherlock Holmes but the setting is science fictional because they are on the planet Roland to which he has traveled from the planet Beowulf.

So the first section presents apparent fantasy in an apparently extraterrestrial environment whereas the second section presents a detective story in an unequivocally extraterrestrial setting. The strands begin to converge when we learn that there are "...stories about the Outlings stealing human children..." and that the boy had disappeared from an exploratory camp where the dogs were drugged. (p.14)

The mystery is that there is no evidence of any present natives on Roland. But the reader has already seen the Outlings so we are already know the solution to the mystery that this literary descendant of Holmes is to solve! Thus, I think that the story fails to be the sf detective story that it could have been. There is more than this in the story so there will be some further posts.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I don't agree that as an SF mystery "The Queen of Air and Darkness" is a failure. The reader might soon know the answers, but the mystery aspect remains for Sherrinford and Barbo Cullen. After all, using the methods pioneered by Sherlock Holmes, Sherrinford still needed to confirm what he was deducing. It was still a mystery, at least for Barbo Cullen, for most of the story.


Paul Shackley said...

But it would have been far more mysterious if we had not known until the characters did, like if Sherrinford had interviewed a woman who had glimpsed her grown child peering thru a window...

Nevertheless, I am finding the story endlessly fascinating to analyse.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Yes, perhaps a more conventional keeping both readers as well as Sherrinford in the dark approach might have been better for "The Queen of Air and Darkness." But I did not find the method Anderson preferred to use here all that bad. Or perhaps Anderson wanted to put more stress on how the natives of Roland were waging a subtle kind of war on the unsuspecting colonists from Earth.

And would a woman who glimpsed an "outling" twenty or more years after loing her child really recognize him as the adult the child became? Memories fade and people do change in appearances as time passes.