Friday, 31 August 2012

A Midsummer Tempest VIII

More rhyming dialogue, missed earlier, in Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975):

" 'Climb down to earth, now; do not seek to flee. I've longer legs than you, 'tis plain to see.' "

and, immediately below that:

" 'I reckon here's where we change trains, my loard'...'A moment, pray. I'll further look inboard.' " (p. 76)

- and that is followed by rhymes that I did quote earlier. I might find a few more before I finish rereading. But the main point is that much of the dialogue is prose disguised as verse, most of it not rhyming but "blank." If I may re-arrange an earlier exchange, on pages 12-14:

"Your Highness, cast your melancholy off,
"You'll find enjoyment and surcease from strife.
"The household staff and others you may meet
"Are under oath to breathe no word of you,
"And known to me for their trustworthiness.
"And thus, by day, though guarded, wander free
"About these grounds. I dare not let you ride.
"I would I did. I'm eager in the hunt,
"And you will like my horses and my hounds.
"But you can fish, play ball, do what you wish.
"I hear you are of philosophic bent.
"Well so am I. Make use of any books.
"Do you play chess? I'm not so bad at that.
"At night, I fear, you must be locked away
"In your apartment, high in yonder tower.
"But 'twill be furnished with the tools of art -
"They say you draw and etch delightfully -
"And you'll have access likewise to the roof.
"There often I beguile a sleepless night
"By tracking moon and stars across the sky.
"Come too! I'll show you mysteries in heaven
"And maybe they'll convert you to the truth."

"That lies not in your sour and canting creed."

"Were you not raised a Calvinist, my lord?"

"I try to be a proper Protestant,
"Yet not cast off what's good from olden time.
"I'd lifer hear a service that a rant;
"I do not think my Romish friends are damned,
"Nor that 'tis right to persecute the Jews;
"I'd hang no helpless granny for a witch.
"That day we captured Lichfield, I was glad
"To let its staunch defenders leave with honours.
"But when we entered the cathedral close
"And saw what desolation had been wrought
"On ancient lovely halidoms - Enough."

"There goes a daybreak wide across the world,
"Which causes pretty stars to flee our sight.
"But oh, those stars were shining infamous
"Within that chamber which a tyrant kept.
"'Tis pity that you fight for fading night."

"I grant that James was not the best of kings -"

"He was the worst...and followed Gloriana.
"Harsh taxes to maintain a wastrel court,
"Oppression of a rising merchant class
"In whom the seeds of England's greatness lie,
"And rural rule by backward-looking squires:
"Such was the legacy that Charles disowned not.
"And worse, his Queen herself is Catholic;
"The Papists get an easy tolerance;
"The Church of England stays unpurified.
"Small wonder, then, that free-souled men demand,
"Through Parliament, long-overdue reform."

"I am no judge of that - I'm merely loyal.
"And yet - you people prate so much of freedom -
"How free are they? No lord looks after them.
"You're free to let them go in beggary
"Across the gashed and smoky land you'd make."

"I thought your Highness a philosopher
"Who also cultivates mechanic arts."

"Well, that I do. I like a good machine."

"What think you of our late-invented cars
"Which run by steam and draw a train behind?"

"They've been too rare for me to more than glimpse,
"And railway builders all seem Puritan.
"We captured one such...locomotive, is it?
"Near Shrewsbury, upon that single line
"That leads into the West. I did admire it,
"But had no time from war to really look."

"I love them as I do my hunting horses.
"The morrow is the truest freight they bear.
"To date, they are but small, as well as few,
"Scarce faster than a beast although untiring.
"They mainly carry wagon loads of coal
"To feed the hungry engines in the mills
"And manufacturies of cloth and hardware
"Which men like me are building ever more of -
"You may not understand what we are doing
"From such few glimpses as you got by chance.
"But you - but men now live who'll see the day
"When this whole island is enwebbed with rails
"And locomotives like Behemoth's self
"Haul every freight, plus civil passengers,
"And troops, and guns in time of war - a day
"When power does not grow from birth or sword
"But out of mills and furnaces."

On antisemitism, mentioned here, I have read, but would need to confirm, that Cromwell welcomed Jews to England and that some Jews investigated his ancestry to see if he might be the Messiah.

A Midsummer Tempest VII

Some Ongoing Points of Interest

Valeria Matuchek is a continuing character. She is a baby at the end of Operation Chaos and a teenager in Operation Luna and makes a cameo appearance as a graduate student in A Midsummer Tempest, although only in the "behind the scenes" space of the Old Phoenix. That gives her slightly more exposure than Holger Danske who stars in Three Hearts And Three Lions and cameos with Valeria in A Midsummer Tempest. We have seen two generations of Matucheks on the Earth where magic/"paraphysics" is both science and technology.

Regarding those "ten lost tribes of Israel," I think the Mormons claim that they became the Native Americans? I think also that, in Biblical terms, being lost from the sight of God means ceasing to exist? And that makes sense historically. A tribe that has failed to maintain its identity, has dispersed and intermarried, has thereby ceased to continue its independent existence. It has not gone to some place so that scholars can deduce where it has gone. Instead, it has gone out, like a switched off light.

I remember that humour was a feature of A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975) and that Puritans were often the butt of the humour. However, I am at present rereading some harrowing scenes of oppression, flight and pursuit although this line struck me as comical:

"A man, ugly, unkempt, and smelling of manure, slouched in the outer doorway." (p. 61)

A Midsummer Tempest VI

In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck comments on humanity:

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (Act 3, Scene)

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975), Oberon comments on Puck:

" 'Forgive him, Prince. Unaging Faerie folk too oft blow rootless on the winds of time, and ripen not to wisdom like you mortals.' " (p. 48)

Puck, as rendered by William Shakespeare, is well answered by his own King, as rendered by Poul Anderson.

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Shakespeare writes A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest for Morpheus, in return for inspiration, and Shakespeare's company first performs A Midsummer Night's Dream before the court of Oberon and Titania shortly before the Fair Folk withdraw from Earth. They might have less reason to withdraw from the alternative Earth described by Anderson? - but I have yet to reread to the end of the novel.

Parallel Passages

" 'Sir, the German delegate is here,'
" 'Send him in,' rumbled the voice. 'Leave us alone but stand outside, just in case.'
"Everard entered. The door shut behind him. Scant light seeped through a leaded window."

(Anderson, Poul, The Time Patrol, New York, 1991, p. 375) 

" 'Commander Flandry, sir.'
" 'Send him in,' replied a deep, toneless voice. "Leave us alone but stay on call.'
" 'Aye, sir.' The lieutenant stood aside. Flandry went by. The door closed with a soft hiss that betokened soundproofing."

(Anderson, Poul, The Rebel Worlds, London, 1973, p. 127)

The first time I read the Time Patrol passage, I thought that I had read it before. A little research uncovered the Rebel Worlds passage. Anderson may have expected readers to notice a faint echo of an earlier work.

Manson Everard of the Time Patrol, in his guise as Everardus the Goth, meets the Roman general Petillius Cerialis to negotiate an end to a Germanic uprising against the Roman Empire. Dominic Flandry of Terran Imperial Naval Intelligence meets Admiral Hugh McCormac to negotiate an end to McCormac's Rebellion against the Terran Empire.

These works represent two different interactions of science fiction with history. The Time Patrol series is historical science fiction. The Dominic Flandry series is part of a science fiction future history. Cerialis and the rebels against whom he fought are historical figures. Cerialis and McCormac exist in the past and the future of different timelines because the timeline guarded by the Time Patrol does not include the Terran Empire defended by Flandry. Thus, despite their uncannily parallel passages, these two scenes are about as far apart spatiotemporally as they could be although Anderson's imagination encompasses both.

In Anderson's fiction, the Roman Empire exists in at least three pasts:

(i) gods exist and magic works;
(ii) the Time Patrol exists with time travellers sometimes mistaken for gods;
(iii) the Roman Empire provides a model for the later Terran Empire.

Alternatively, in The Golden Slave, set during the Roman Republic, we see neither real gods nor time travellers but the human originals of Odin and Thor so that this novel is neither historical fantasy nor historical science fiction but historical fiction and could be set in the past of the Terran Empire.

A Midsummer Tempest V

I missed at least one chapter-ending rhyme in Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975):

" 'Let's go inzide the church to talk o' this, that none may zee us and think aught amiss,'...'At best, tha road we tread be dangerous to England an' to Rupert an' to us.' " (p. 37)

With this post, I am probably signing off for the month of August. Family arrivals, departures and a wedding will fill the rest of today. But what a find is A Midsummer Tempest! I have said before that it pays to reread Anderson for his descriptive passages, ideas, arguments that the reader can engage with, cross-references both to his own works and to others' ,eg, Shakespeare's, Kipling's, application of scientific knowledge to the detailed imaging of other worlds and environments etc. But I had not suspected verse or poetry disguised as prose and the need for the reader to work to extract the former from the latter.

If I had lived in seventeenth century England, I would have fought for Parliament against the King (of course). The Puritan and Glorious Revolutions of that century brought Britain from absolute monarchy through a brief republic into the constitutional monarchy that we have today. Thus, we currently live under a Revolutionary Settlement although some people are surprised to hear it. That is the political issue. Religiously, it is a different matter. I would have supported freedom of worship which the Puritans wanted for themselves but not for others. Thus, like Prince Rupert in the novel, I would have opposed Puritan intolerance and iconoclasm. This struggle was eventually won. The Church of England remains established but I am free to attend a Buddhist meditation group and Pagan Moots.

A Midsummer Tempest IV

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975), this verse is printed as continuous prose:

"I hear the linnet and the lark declare
"That we have seen all murkiness depart.
"The flowers flaunt their hues through brilliant air,
"And it is only raining in my heart.
"When yesterday I heard how great thy woe,
"A lightning bold struck lurid hell fire white;
"I heard the thunder toll, the stormwind blow,
"And nothing else through centuries of night.
"But day must break, and gales lie down to rest,
"And sunshine hunt the clouds across the sea.
" Alone in nature is the human breast,
" Where grief, like love, may dwell eternally.
" Unless there come an ending of thy pain,
" I must forever stand and wait in rain." (p. 31)

Also, the verse is interrupted after "...centuries of night..." by "She sighed" and after "...dwell eternally..." by "She bent her bared head." I swear I read it years ago without noticing the rythme or even the rhyme. But now I find it more comprehensible if it is laid out as poem.

This novel is set on an alternative Earth. Could there really be a world where people, at least some of the time, spontaneously speak in rhyming verse? Could there be a parallel Earth where crowds of people in the street suddenly burst into song and dance to unsourced music as in an opera or musical? Or sing the praises of whatever product they are using as in a TV commercial?

In The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore goes one step further than Anderson. Because LEG, a comic strip, combines fictitious characters from many sources and from different media, Moore even incorporates opera. A man about to be summarily hanged, asked if he has anything to say, expresses his feelings in song apparently to no one's surprise. Anderson's character, Jennifer, does not sing but seemingly has no difficulty in spontaneously expressing herself in a Shakespearean sonnet which I did not recognise as such until I had copied it out in verse form, then counted the lines and checked the rhyming scheme: abab cdcd efef gg.

A Midsummer Tempest III

Shakespeare sometimes ends a passage with a rhyme. Could there be an alternative universe where this regularly happens? In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975):

"For Fortune's wheel has many turns to go, and where 'tis bound for, none but God may know." (p. 30)

" 'Well, camarado, let's prepare to sail, while tide is ebb and wind not yet a gale.' " (p. 56)

" 'The hounds are baying, Ironsides, away! We'll have the sun erelong to see our prey.' " (p. 65)

" 'Here's brew, whole casks o' nut-brown yale! We'll not go thirsty, though we may go stale.'
" 'Our prize's tank and tender are quite full'...'To Stoke or further were a steady pull, save that for speed, we must first turn around, and send that message'...'So we'll seize the ground.' " (p. 76)

" 'Wilt thou be first, good Sergeant Righteous Gerson? Thou canst then hear me practice my next sermon.' " (p. 143) 

" 'Aye, go. We'd best not closet us o'erlong like this...'
" 'But soon I'll deal for one poor dram of bliss.' " (p. 150)

"Then be my compass, old enchanted ring...I wonder, wouldst thou care to hear me sing." (p. 160)

" 'I promised ere I soared into the air, no other lips than hers would tell thee this...A very unpretending kind of kiss...Steer yonderwards!...This time thou shalt not miss!' " (p. 181)

" 'Ah, well, beloved, let's to our repose. The world and time have also need for crows.' " (p. 186)

" 'Thou'rt far too good for me. But so's the sun. God gives with spendthrift hand. His will be done.' " (p. 203)

" 'Let a new Parliament be called to us, and with us write new laws which long may stand because they serve the welfare of our land.' " (p. 223)

" 'Fare always well'...'Titania, away!'...
" 'Come, darling, let's get home before the day.' " (p. 227)

I read Poul's text too many years ago and what he did with language did not know.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A Midsummer Tempest II

I cannot disagree with any of Prince Rupert's confession of faith, which I here re-present as verse:

"I try to be a proper Protestant,
"Yet not cast off what's good from olden time.
"I'd liefer hear a service than a rant;
"I do not think my Romish friends are damned,
"Nor that 'tis right to persecute the Jews;
"I'd hang no helpless granny for a witch."

(A Midsummer Tempest, London, 1975, pp. 12-13)

Because, in the timeline of A Midsummer Tempest, Shakespeare was the great Historian, it follows that pre-Roman Britons knew that the Earth is round: King Lear knew of "...the thick rotundity of the world..."

But how did Shakespeare know that Lear knew that? The Puritan character, Shelgrave, argues in a circle:

Shakespeare describes English people at Troy, in Theseus' Athens, in Rome, later in Italy and in Denmark;
it follows that the English spread north, having had to leave some southern country;
but the Bible reveals that the people who spread north, having had to leave a southern country, were the ten lost tribes of Israel;
it follows that the English are God's chosen people;
therefore, "...they always kept a seed of truth alive, which flowered in the great Historian..." (p. 22)
it follows from this that Shakespeare's description of English people at Troy etc is accurate.

I bought a second hand book on Anglo-Israel theory, published at the height of the British Empire, which argued:

the "Tuatha de Danaan" people who entered prehistoric Ireland were the tribe of Dan;
the Irish/Scoti colonised the part of Britain that came to be called "Scotland" (true);
King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England (true).


Queen Victoria was in direct line of succession from David and Solomon;
the British are the Chosen People;
the British Empire fulfills the promise to Abraham that his descendants will be a great nation and that others will die out;
the British Empire will never end.

The argument is endlessly elaborated:

British possession of Mediterranean ports fulfills a Biblical prophecy about "gates";
the United States plays the role of "Manasseh";

Rupert's and my "Romish friends" believe that St Peter was the first Bishop of Rome, therefore that the present Pope is the direct successor of the chief disciple of the incarnation of God. Anglo-Israel theory put Queen Victoria in a similar position. As a direct successor of David, she was a divinely appointed monarch. Geoffry of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain instead traces British royalty back to Troy.

Ethiopians have claimed a Solomonic monarchy, the Ark of the Covenant and the Messiah. These are powerful myths.

A Midsummer (Night's Dream And The) Tempest

After rereading Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions, the logical next step is to reread his A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975). Both are alternative history fantasies and the hero of the former cameos in the latter.

Chapter i of A Midsummer Tempest reads like historical fiction because it describes a battle in the English Civil War. Chapter ii reads like science fiction (sf) because it presents anachronistic technological advances, a railway and semaphores near industrialised Leeds and Bradford, in the seventeenth century. Chapter vi reveals that we are reading a fantasy because Oberon calls forth the Faerie folk and they refer to both Titania and Puck.

  Chapter xii reveals the basis of the fantasy, or are we back to sf? This seventeenth century occurs on a parallel Earth, an idea that can be rationalised scientifically. What differentiates this parallel is that Shakespeare was a historian, not a playwright. Thus, Faeries exist and there were clocks in Caesar's time and cannon in Hamlet's. Therefore, their world was technologically ahead of ours from an early date so that their Industrial Revolution was able to start in the seventeenth century. That single premise explains all the discrepancies. There are either infinite or factorial N universes but, in this and the related volumes, we learn of six:

the Shakespearean history;

the Carolingian romantic history where Holger Danske originated;

our history where Holger, in a different identity, saved Niels Bohr from the Nazis;

an Aztec pantheon history from which Holger barely escapes while trying to return from our world to his Carolingian history;

a history in which the effects of cold iron were degaussed about 1900, thus magical/"paraphysical" forces were technologised, World War II was against the Saracen Caliphate and inter-cosmic travel has begun;

the pocket universe or interuniversal nexus containing the Old Phoenix where Shakespeareans, a Carolingian and a "paraphysicist" meet.

A Midsummer Tempest is to be recommended both for creative imagination and for literary style, with verse and poetry disguised as prose:

" 'Mesim 'twar wise we haul our skins from heare,' panted the dragoon, 'while still they may hold wine.'
" 'And while I yet may hope to bring together men enough that they can cover their retreat...and mine,' Rupert said." (p. 6)

Rearranged as dramatic verse, that becomes:

Dragoon: Mesim 'twar wise we haul our skins from heare
While still they may hold wine.
Rupert: And while I yet may hope to bring together men
Enough that they can cover their retreat...and mine.    

Holger Danske And Unwritten Sequels

Holger Carlsen, the hero of Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), turns out to be Holger Danske whose legendary status we nowadays can easily confirm by googling.

The full list of threats faced by Holger is:

a suit of armor;
Elf Hill;
a dragon;
a giant;
a werewolf;
a nixie;
a troll;
the Hell Horse;
the Wild Hunt.

Is the end rather abrupt? Having retrieved his sword Cortana and regained his memory:

"He rode out on the wold, and it was as if dawn rode with him." (p. 154)

But then we are back with the "outer narrator" visited by Holger who tells him:

"I rode out and scattered the hosts of Chaos, driving them before me." (p. 155)

That is all. Then Holger was back on this Earth in the Danish resistance helping Niels Bohr to escape from the Nazis, thus waging essentially the same fight in two worlds.

Despite Anderson's prolific output, there are sequels that were never written. Holger disappears again from this world but we do not see him return to the Carolingian world of his origin. We do see him lost between worlds later but not in a direct sequel to Three Hearts...

The Foreword to Anderson's The Broken Sword (London, 1977) ends:

"As for what became of those who were still alive at the end of the book, and the sword, and Faerie itself - which obviously no longer exists on Earth - that is another tale, which may someday be told." (p. 12)

But it wasn't.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Episodic Adventures

In the "American Gothic" story line of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing (1985-'86), the title character plant elemental successively encounters several major horror fiction themes:

a werewolf;
a serial killer, "the bogeyman";

So far, unoriginal but there is a double point to this sequence:

first, the author creatively re-imagines each of these familiar ideas;

secondly, they build up to a horror beyond them all, in this case the conjuring of the Original Darkness that was before the Creation.

Poul Anderson had used the same technique thirty two years earlier in Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977; first published, 1953). The hero of this novel successively fights:

an animated suit of armour;
a dragon;
a giant;
a werewolf;
what else? (I am still rereading.)

And these episodic battles build up to a major attack by Chaos on the Law of which our hero is the Defender.

(In Swamp Thing, the Darkness rises out of the Chaos beyond Hell and advances against the Light, even fomenting civil war between demons preferring the Devil they know and those welcoming ultimate darkness.)

I mentioned the dragon and the giant in the previous post. Anderson continues his scientific approach with the werewolf:

"...lycanthropy was probably inherited as a set of recessive genes." (p. 83)

Someone with a full set of genes will be killed as a wolf in the cradle.

"With an incomplete inheritance, the tendency to change was weaker." (p. 84)

A woods dwarf can follow the scent of a werebeast in its animal form:

"Holger wondered if glandular secretions were responsible." (pp. 86-87)

And, when the suspects have been reduced to four, Holger applies detective techniques to identify the shape-changer.

(By contrast, Alan Moore uses his werewolf story to raise some feminist issues.)

Magic And Science

A good fantasy author writes logically and plausibly about a familiar idea. For example, if giants existed, what would they be like? In Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977):

"...we of the Great Folk sit in our halls throughout the endless winter night of our homeland year after year, century after century, and pass the time with contest of skill. Above all are we fond of riddles. It were worth my while to let you pass, could you give me three new ones of which I cannot answer two, that I may use them in turn." (p. 75)

- which explains why a giant at a bridge asks a traveller three riddles.

Of course, Anderson applies scientific principles. A fire breathing dragon retreats when a gallon of water is thrown into his mouth, generating steam in his hot interior. A giant is squat and short-legged in proportion to height because he needs enough cross section to bear his weight. Gold stolen from a sun-striken giant is cursed because, when carbon becomes silicon, there are radioactive isotopes. Maybe it is the actintic radiation in sunlight that adversely affects Middle Worlders?

Since I am still rereading Three Hearts..., I will look out for any further scientific rationalisations.


Poul Anderson's fantasy novel Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977) has a unique flavour that I missed on first reading. It is more than a string of well-presented cliches. Things and signs are not what they seem. In particular, Faerie is not neutral.

In childhood, I was pleased to read the theory that fairies had been angels who remained neutral during the War in Heaven. That seemed to explain their status as a third class of supernatural being inhabiting neither Heaven nor Hell but Nature. It was always satisfying when one mythology explained another. A second example is the Greek mythological explanation of pharaonic zoomorphism: attacked on Olympus, the gods fled and hid in Egypt, disguised as animals.

In Three Hearts And Three Lions, in the parallel world to which Holger Carlsen has been transported, Faerie supports Chaos against Law. For this reason, Holger as guest in the castle of Duke Alfric, lord of Faerie, recalls (to me) not other visits to Faerie, as in "The Land of Summer's Twilight" in Neil Gaiman's The Books Of Magic, but the hospitality received by the damned soul Christopher Rudd in the castle of a Lord of Hell in Mike Carey's Lucifer, a sequel to Gaiman's The Sandman.

There seem to be four realms: Heaven, Earth, Hell and the Middle World, the last comprising Faerie, Trollheim, Giants etc. (Why "Middle"? In some reckonings, Earth, Midgard, is in the middle.) A woods dwarf tells Holger that the Faerie folk:

" in wilderness, which is why they be o' the dark Chaos side in the war." (p. 27)

Alianora adds that they:

"...canna endure broad daylight, so 'tis forever twilit in their realm." (p. 37)

This sounds like Gaiman's "Summer's Twilight."

Alianora speculates:

"If Chaos wins, mayhap yon dusk will be laid on the whole world, and no more o' bricht sunshine and green leaves and blossoms...And yet does Faerie have an eldritch beauty..." (p. 37)

Is this getting a little confused? I do not expect the Fair Folk to oppose sunshine and blossoms. And a victory for Chaos and/or Hell surely mean universal darkness, not the eldritch beauty of Faerie twilight?

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


I have gone directly from rereading Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars (1997) to rereading his Three Hearts And Three Lions (1953). The contrast could not be more complete: forty four years back through Anderson's career from late science fiction (sf) to early fantasy. Between the early fifties and the late nineties, there was an earlier period of very different sf.

The Fleet Of Stars is Volume IV of a hard sf tetralogy of imaginative speculation about the future of society, artificial intelligence, interstellar travel and the cosmos. Three Hearts And Three Lions is the first of four more loosely connected fantasy novels about parallel universes where history was different and magic works.

The Harvest Of Stars tetralogy, culminating in The Fleet Of Stars, uses the terms "chaos" and "chaotic" in their modern scientific senses whereas Three Hearts... presents a supernatural/magical cosmic conflict between Law and Chaos that is also to be found in Michael Moorcock's fantasies and, under the names of "Order" and "Chaos," in DC Comics including Neil Gaiman's The Sandman which I have previously compared to Anderson's works. (I have just found a character's name common to Three Hearts... and The Sandman: Alianora.)

Despite all the differences, the reader remains conscious of being in just another part of Anderson's  imagination. We need not worry that, if we enjoy one of the genres in which he works, we will dislike others simply because they are different.


Poul Anderson wrote several linear series but also perfected the technique of obliquely interconnecting his works of fiction. Of the following works:

The Golden Slave
The King Of Ys Tetralogy (with Karen Anderson)
The Broken Sword
The Demon Of Scattery (with Mildred Downey Broxon)

- the first is a historical novel set during the Roman Republic;
the second is a historical fantasy about the last days of the city of Ys during the decline of the Roman Empire;
the third is a historical fantasy that refers to drowned Ys;
the fourth is a story told during a journey made in the third, The Broken Sword.

Of the following four fantasy novels:

Three Hearts And Three Lions
Operation Chaos
Operation Luna
A Midsummer Tempest

- Holger Danske appears in two, Valeria Matuchek appears in three and they meet in the inter-cosmic Old Phoenix where other characters meet in two short stories. Thus, although Operation Luna is a direct sequel to Operation Chaos, the quartet as a whole is more many-sided than, eg, if Anderson had simply written four Operation volumes.

Framing Devices

When an author tells us a fantastic story, he can also tell us how the story came to him. He can add that it is not necessarily true or that he has changed details like the protagonist's name. Framing devices are an art form. In a series, they can either become an ongoing story in their own right or can be abandoned as the reader becomes familiar with the scenario.

Poul Anderson's fantasy novel, Three Hearts And Three Lions (1953), and his science fiction novel, There Will Be Time (1973), have essentially the same framing device although in the latter it has become more complicated. The former begins as it ends with a "Note" by an unnamed first person narrator, an engineer who had been a colleague of the protagonist Holger Carlsen over twenty years previously in the period 1938-'41. Between the Notes, in Chapters One to Twenty-Four, Holger's story is narrated in the third person.

The first Note had told us that there was no proof that the story was true. In the concluding Note, Holger tells his colleague the story, then searches through grimoires for a way to return to the Carolingian world where he had adventured and from which, it seems, he had originally come - he was found on a doorstep in our world. Finally, he disappears, the perfect lead in to a sequel. Anderson deploys classic ingredients but does it well. In fact, regular Anderson readers do meet Holger once more not in a continuation of his own story but lost between worlds in another alternative reality novel.

The first person narrator of the Foreword in There Will Be Time (New York, 1973), assuring us of course that he does not pretend that the story is true and even referring to such a claim as a "...literary convention..." (p. 5), is none other than the author, Poul Anderson. But he received the story from the fictitious but plausible Dr Robert Anderson, first person narrator of the Chapters I-XVI, and that second Anderson tells us the story of the time traveller Jack Havig in the third person. Dr Anderson interacts with the main protagonist throughout the novel, unlike Holger's engineering colleague.

Thus, twenty years after Three Hearts And Three Lions, Poul Anderson uses the same kind of framing device but with increased subtlety.


In Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars, the Inrai are Lunarian freedom fighters/terrorists hiding in the Martian desert, attacking caravans. Anachronistic maybe but Anderson makes them plausible. Their cause is hopeless especially when one of their attacks has been repulsed with fatalities. However, they persevere and play a crucial role.

Fenn contacts the Inrai who contact the Lunarians on Proserpina who contact download Guthrie who is now exploring the inner Solar System. Fenn and Guthrie rendezvous in space where, combining their knowledge, skills and resources, they steal data from a gravitational lens and expose an attempted deception of the human race.

From that point on, the reader is concerned about the fate of Fenn, shot dead but possibly to be downloaded and resurrected, and about the consequences of the exposure of the attempted deception. It would be easy to forget the Inrai but they were inserted into the novel for a reason and, without them, Fenn would not have met the legendary Guthrie. The Inrai have in fact furthered the cause of Lunarian freedom.

"Fenn Woke"

Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars (New York, 1997) ends with a two word chapter: "FENN WOKE." (p. 403) What does this mean?

Fenn has been shot dead but his brain has been preserved and its contents will be downloaded into an artificial neural network that will be carried at sub-light speed to an extrasolar colony where technology will allow Fenn's personality to be re-incarnated in a newly grown human body. Does "FENN WOKE" mean that all this has happened or just that the download has been activated? I think that the former is implied but the latter is possible.

Does the conclusion of The Fleet Of Stars feel like a double anticlimax? The reported galactic civilisation does not, after all, exist. Further, not only has the cybercosm tried to deceive the entire human race but its attempted deception has been exposed quite quickly. Not that I wanted it to succeed but the cybercosm is now revealed to be both dishonest and incompetent. This means that:

I do not think that it lives up to its self-description of "pure intellect" - surely deception should be as unacceptable to it as violence?;

Anderson had carefully preserved a moral ambiguity about the cybercosm's interaction with human society but the question is now answered decisively - the cybercosm has become manipulative, therefore harmful, unless, of course, it is obliged to return to its original role of merely helping the majority who "...want to keep on in their familiar lives." (p. 401)

Download Guthrie calls the attempted deception a "...conspiracy." (p. 396) Chuan, a man who interfaces and communes with the cybercosm, replies that "conspiracy" is " ugly word..." (p.396) It is accurate. Chuan also describes " beings..." as ", fallible, reckless, greedy, often hideously cruel -" (p. 396) We need not remain so. Indeed, "greedy" is a one-sided cliche when we consider that cooperation is basic to humanity and that people, as Anderson shows, are capable of generosity, love and forethought.

Such organic beings, according to Chuan, "...should not run loose in the universe." (p. 397) But they have wrought wonders at Proserpina and beyond. Chuan refers to "...warriors, hunters, butchers, bandits, carousers, criminals, grovelers in superstition, blood sacrificers...leftover animality." (p. 399) Again, one sided. Humanity can certainly transcend superstition and blood sacrifice!

The outcome is favourable from Anderson's point of view. Observation of the galactic centre has not revealed life or intelligence but has shown that the cybercosm's theory of everything was incomplete so there is more to be learned. Some people will go back into space. The Lunarians will be able to negotiate enough antimatter to fuel interstellar journeys. (The Lunarians are unpredictable but that cannot be helped.)

Monday, 27 August 2012

Visions Of Mars

"The Structure Of A Series: John Carter" on is my attempt at a succinct summary of Edgar Rice Burroughs' four interconnected interplanetary series which are mostly Martian:

eleven volumes for Mars, with excursions to a Martian moon and Jupiter;
four for Venus;
one each for the Moon and an extrasolar planet.

(ERB's three Moon stories are two volumes in paperback and one in hardback so here I count them as one volume.)

In fact, I probably make these series sound better than they are. ERB's plots and characterisation do not fulfill the promise of his colourful, imaginative, exotic settings. In any case, his Mars is literary, not scientific. It has canals and is not only inhabited but humanly habitable. In the real universe, hard work will be needed to make Mars habitable.

Several chapters of Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars describe a colonised, though not yet terraformed, Mars, like a more realistic counterpart of Frank Herbert's Dune. We see the economic, political and cultural life of the colonists and even something that is more common in an ERBian universe, military conflict.

Anderson's "Martians" perform midsummer rites around the Dreamers' Craters and three "Dreamers" are named: Wells, Weinbaum and Heinlein. (I usually say that the three main British writers about Martians are Wells, Stapledon and Lewis and the three main Americans are Burroughs, Heinlein and Bradbury but, of course, there are many others and which are the main ones is debatable.) Would Anderson's Martians have included Burroughs among their "Dreamers"? Maybe, but, judging from the names mentioned, they seem to prefer a harder sf list.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Andersonian Fantasy by Sean M. Brooks

The late Poul Anderson was best known as a writer of "hard" science fiction. But, he also wrote a smaller, but significant body of fantasy. I listed the most important of these works below.

THE BROKEN SWORD (1954, rev. ed. 1971)
THE DEMON OF SCATTERY, with Mildred D. Broxon (1979)
FANTASY (1981)
WAR OF THE GODS (1997), regretfully, I think this was a weak, for Anderson, book.

I hesitate at including THE KING OF YS in this list because this four volume novel is best thought of as a historical novel. It does contain some very slight fantasy elements. One of the longest and most argumentative of my letters to Poul Anderson was a discussion of THE KING OF YS.

Except for the regrettably weak WAR OF THE GODS, Anderson's fantasies are of such high quality that I find it difficult to name the two or three I admire most. But THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS is definitely one of them. And A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST is unusual in being written almost entirely in blank verse. TEMPEST was written as a homage to William Shakespeare and his plays.

The stories I listed below are found in the collection called, with regrettable unoriginality, FANTASY. The collection includes two non fiction articles by Poul Anderson and an "Afterword" by Sandra Miesel

"House Rule"
"The Tale of Hauk"
"Of Pigs and Men"
"A Logical Conclusion"
"The Valor of Cappen Varra"
"The Gate of the Flying Knives"
"The Barbarian"
"On Thud and Blunder"
"Fantasy in the Age of Science"
"The Visitor"
"Bullwinch's Mythology"
"Afterword: An Invitation to Elfland," by Sandra Miesel

Truthfully, the list I gave above includes stories which are at least borderline hard science fiction. Examples being "House Rule" and "Superstition." I especially admire the rigorous logic Poul Anderson uses in developing ideas most of us would call fantasies. Two examples of that being "The Tale of Hauk" and "Pact."

Before he died in 2001, Poul Anderson arranged to have several of his books and stories posthumously published. The last of his fantasy stories, "The Lady of the Winds," was published by FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION in the Oct/Nov 2001 issue.

I am convinced Poul Anderson was a master short story writer. In both fantasy and hard science fiction. By turns poetic and elegiac, and scrupulously faithful to known science or not too impossible extrapolations from what was known. He also excelled in describing his characters and the backgrounds of his stories.


Building on three previous volumes, Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars is a rich sf novel. By p. 221, we have seen:

one of three new extrasolar colonies;

the system of Alpha Centauri, now filled with flying rubble from a planetary collision but still inhabited by the asteroid-dwelling Lunarians;

interactions between Terrans and metamorphs in the Inner Solar System where Earth and Moon are free from poverty and wars and there is a plan to terraform Mars;

the vast domain of the Lunarians among the planetoids and comets of the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud;

the build-up to a confrontation between the free human beings in space and the artificial intelligence controlling the utopia-but-with-remaining-alienation-and-discontent on Earth and Luna.

Meanwhile over on, I have posted about Garth Ennis' The Boys and have been sidetracked into rereading that series. While reading well-drawn graphic fiction, we simultaneously follow a narrative with characterisation and appreciate visual art.

Anderson's descriptive passages always appeal to several of the senses while presenting colourful, vivid accounts of natural or exotic scenes. The latter include for example Lunarian habitats where energy and space are devoted not only to survival but also to comfort and ostentation. Readers with good visual imaginations should be able to visualise what is described and to project how it could be filmed. However, since my thoughts processes are entirely abstract, "auditory digital" in Neuro-Linquistic Programming terminology, I remain very conscious of a qualitative difference between the verbal fiction of a novel and the visual-verbal fiction of a graphic novel.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Lunarians On Proserpina II

The Proserpinans have revived the old title of Selenarch because they still claim the Moon, now inhabited entirely by Terrans who must give birth in higher gravity in the orbiting Habitat. Three Selenarchs greet download Guthrie newly arrived from Alpha Centauri:

Velir, Convener of the Council of Forerunners, seigneur in Phyle Aulinn, Warder of Zamok Drakon, shareholder in spaceships and industries;
Catoul of Phyle Randai, who attends the Council for the Consultancy;
Luaine of Phyle Janou, Wardress of Zamok Gora, who attends for the Captains of the Outer Comets.

The tall, thin Lunarians usually stand in their low gravity, a telling detail that I have forgotten to mention till now. Of course, download Guthrie in his robot body does not sit, eat or drink.

Most Proserpinan buildings are on the surface because it is difficult to excavate in iron. Across the entirely urbanised surface, there are cultural and commercial nodes. Parks have outsize flowers, low gravity trees and fountains of water, fire or lightning. Passages and arcades with tiers of slender arches and colourful mirages on the ceilings are filled with softly moving Proserpinans accompanied by pets - birds, a squirrel, a monkey, a ferret, greyhounds, a dwarf bear, a leopard. Slowly falling water curtaining a door before flowing into a channel containing phosphorescent snakes stops falling when Guthrie approaches the door and resumes when he has entered a meeting room with an alabaster ceiling and gold-leafed walls where gems form calligraphic patterns.

The Proserpinans, who must always be inside an artificial environment, spaceship, spacesuit, space station, enclosed lunar or asteroidal dwelling, have moved to the cold and dark of the Outer System. Despite all this, they have materials, energy, technology, social and individual dynamism and ingenuity. Thus, they create and inhabit the kind of environment described here.

Lacking the copious solar energy of the Inner System, they must use all their fusion-produced antimatter except a reserve for emergencies and "defence" although it remains to be seen why defence is necessary.

Since the Oort Cloud overlaps with the cometary clouds of nearby systems, could the Proserpinans begin the colonisation of the Alpha Centaurian system in incremental stages falling short of a direct interstellar crossing?

Human beings by now inhabit six volumes of space, the inner and outer regions of the Solar System and four other systems, but it has not been easy and Anderson shows us this by taking four volumes to move his characters to this very early stage of galactic colonisation. 

Lunarians On Proserpina

Proserpina, a ferrous spheroid two thousand kilometers across, is on an eccentric two million year orbit that takes it between the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. Cometary impacts have deposited frozen water, organics and metal.

Lunarians, adapted to live and breed in lunar gravity, have inhabited Proserpina, now prosperous and populous, for centuries, covering its surface with domes, roofs, towers, masts, roads, rails and spacefields where ships come and go like fireflies. It is surrounded by satellites, habitats, factories, entrepots, supplementary harbours, naval bases, research centres and antimatter production facilities. A majority of Proserpinans are in lesser colonies on smaller bodies or in mining bases on comets.

Related families and their retainers form phratries. Related phratries form phyles to act cooperatively. Seigneurs, holding the balance of wealth and power, have strong bonds with their subordinate "companions." "Courai," either owned by seigneurial families or drawing their members from a single phratry, conduct most major enterprises. Because population is concentrated  on Proserpina, its phratries elect a Council of Forerunners which, by electronic consultation, sets policies, enacts safety regulations and organizes public undertakings, paid for by levies on their beneficiaries. The Council chooses a Convener. The Consultancy of seigneurs leading the phyles can review and veto the Council's acts.

Here is yet another of Anderson's carefully detailed future environments and societies.

Kipling, Guthrie And Fenn

In Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars Tetralogy, Rudyard Kipling is referred to by name in Volumes I and III and quoted without being named in Volumes II and IV. I don't really rate the Just So Stories, from the little that I know about them, but "...the old grey Widow-maker..." is a powerful poem.

In Volume IV, The Fleet Of Stars (New York, 1997), Chapter 3, download Anson Guthrie who had, as a human being, read Kipling was en route to Sol but in Chapters 4-16 we have seen only characters and events in the Inner Solar System. However, in Chapter 16, Guthrie's approach is announced, as it should be, as a dramatic event impacting the lives of some of those characters:

" 'Fenn,' she said, 'a ship from Alpha Centauri is approaching Proserpina.'
" Thunders rolled through his skull." (p. 206)

At this stage, only the reader knows who is in the ship. And, thanks to all the additional information provided by Anderson in subsequent chapters, we also know Fenn and his friends on Earth and Mars for whom Anson Guthrie's arrival will be a historical turning point. Guthrie, crossing the interstellar distance switched off, wakes at the beginning of Chapter 17...

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Truly A Future History

At the beginning of Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars, there is a World Federation on Earth and an Avantist dictatorship in North America, there are adapted human beings, Lunarians, on the Moon and robots on the doomed planet Demeter in the Alpha Centaurian system. There is no artificial intelligence yet although a first step towards AI has been taken with the downloading of human personalities into artificial neural systems.

Three volumes later, AI dominates the "Synesis" that has replaced the Federation. There are colonies on Mars, in the Outer System and in four other systems although Demeter, after a thousand years of colonisation, has been destroyed by the predicted planetary collision.

Between these points, we have seen how:

the Fireball company opened up space;
the Lunarians originated, gained and lost independence on the Moon but spread to Alpha Centauri, Mars and the Kuiper Belt;
Fireball and the Lunarians overthrew the Avantists, although this strengthened the Federation which later made way for the Synesis;
the Demetrian colonists learned how to guide a newly introduced ecology by integrating a downloaded intelligence into it;
such presiding intelligences learned how re-incarnate downloaded personalities in newly grown human bodies on each newly terraformed planet;
the Demetrian plan to fill the cosmos with unpredictably diverse organic life comes into conflict with the terrestrial cybercosm's plan to understand and control the cosmos in order ultimately to survive and transcend it;
cybercosmic robotic probes in light speed ships spy on the extrasolar colonies, thus setting the scene for open conflict between organic and inorganic intelligences.

We have come a long way from the faster then light interstellar trade and imperialism of Anderson's Technic History. However, Anderson continues to address fundamental questions about the nature of life, humanity and society.

The Fleet Of Stars IV

In Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars (New York, 1997), Chapter 3, download Guthrie is en route from Beta Hydri to Sol via Alpha Centauri. He crosses interstellar distances switched off, the download equivalent of suspended animation. Chapter 17 begins:

"GUTHRIE WOKE." (p.210)

Thus, he is entering the Solar System. Meanwhile, Anderson has used Chapters 4-16 to advance the future history. He has told us neither about the Lunarians in the Outer Solar System and at Alpha Centuari nor about the Terrans at three other extrasolar colonies but about new characters in the Inner Solar System: Terrans on Earth, Luna and Mars; metamorphic seals in the Pacific; Lunarians on Mars.

Some Lunarian Martians are in armed resistance to the cybercosm on Earth. They know that the Lunarians who had colonised the asteroid Proserpina in the Kuiper Belt have spread through the Outer System. One Pacific community, inspired by reports from extrasolar colonies, wants to begin terraforming Mars. We are conscious of having moved into a later period although one that has followed by sociopolitical processes from events described in previous volumes. If only it could go on forever...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

AI, Desert Planets and Jihads

In Robert Heinlein's Red Planet, the colonised desert planet Mars rebels against Earth and, in Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land, a new religion emanates from Mars.

In Isaac Asimov's future history, artificial intelligence and interstellar empire interact and later the Empire falls. AI is resisted, because of the "Frankenstein Complex," but covertly plays a leading role.

In Frank Herbert's future history, there is an interstellar jihad against thinking machines. Later, the colonized desert planet Dune initiates a second interstellar jihad and conquers the Empire.

In Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, the colonized desert planet Aeneas rebels against the Terran Empire and, later, almost initiates an interstellar jihad. Much later, the Empire falls. In Anderson's Harvest of Stars future history, some Martian colonials rebel against the AI controlling Earth because the priorities of pure intellect differ from those of organic societies with lived and living traditions. In Anderson's Genesis, post-human galactic AI debates whether the presiding intelligence of Earth had been right to re-create humanity.

This post alludes to two novels by Heinlein, one future history each by Asimov and Herbert and three future histories by Anderson. Heinlein, Asimov and Herbert are better known but Anderson does it better.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Fenn And Dredd

Fenn, the new character who "raged" at the end of Chapter 2 in Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars has, by Chapter 6, become a police officer on Luna where he quells an anti-cybercosm riot with gun and fists. I was reminded of Judge Dredd although that is hardly a comparison intended by Anderson.

The social situations are similar. Like Dredd, Fenn polices those who, in a high tech civilisation, lack not only employment but also meaning, surviving on citizen's credit but turning to petty crime and violence for want of anything better to do. I suggest that well-resourced education and culture do give meaning but only to those who are actively engaged with them and that condition is lacking in these imagined scenarios. (Now, I would like to be able to read Vergil in the original but did not have such an interest in a Latin epic while being force-fed that "dead language" at school in the 60's.)

Dredd, published continuously in comic strips since the early 70's, has also made it to the big screen twice. Anderson's characters are less well known but worthier of screen dramatisation.

(I borrowed the Dredd collections from the Public Library. One was stolen from the public access area at my work. Incredibly, the Library said I could replace it with any book, not necessarily another copy of the stolen item. I happened to have two copies of the Everyman edition of The Time Machine which has a wealth of introductions and textual notes so the Library lost one fictitious account of future society and gained another!)

Kinds Of Future Histories

In Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars, two young "Martians," a Terran and a Lunarian, go into the desert without entering a travel plan. Regular Anderson readers remember young human and Ythrian Avalonians taking risks in his Technic History but these are two different kinds of future histories.

Ythrians are aliens; Ythri and jointly colonized Avalon are extrasolar planets reached by hyperdrive whereas Mars is nearby and Lunarians are human beings adapted to live and breed in low gravity. First, Anderson worked well with sf cliches like aliens and FTL (faster than light interstellar travel). Then he questioned such premises in less implausible later works featuring not alien intelligences with FTL but artificial intelligence and STL.

Now, we appreciate both kinds of histories while suspecting that the second kind is more likely. 


"Martians" usually means "natives of Mars." (See HG Wells, Olaf Stapledon, CS Lewis, ER Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein etc.) Poul Anderson thought of two other meanings. In his Technic History, extrasolar aliens for whom Mars is habitable colonize it and come to be called "Martians."

In The Fleet Of Stars, Terrans and Lunarians colonize Mars, and thus become "Martians," because:

both species can breed in Martian gravity which is neither too low for Terrans nor too high for Lunarians;
dwellings do not need domes or excavations as on Luna;
altered species can flourish on the surface;
mineral mining is profitable;
low gravity and proximity enable Martians to export to the asteroidal colonies.

Thus, many generations live on Mars so that some individuals and families want to remain there even when the original economic reasons no longer apply. Anderson understood that societies develop their own momentum.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Fleet Of Stars III

In Poul Anderson's "Harvest Of Stars" Tetralogy, a community of human beings and intelligent seals populates Pacific islands and floating cities. This reminded me, a little, of human beings and alien Ythrians jointly colonizing a planet in Anderson's Technic History especially when one seal tells a human being of another culture, or "Dao," that what he will say "...may be no fair wind for you..." (The Fleet Of Stars, New York, 1997, p. 48). Winged Ythrians, of course, often refer to "winds" in more than a literal sense and, like the seals, they are intelligent but remain hunters.

The issue in the Tetralogy becomes which is better: conflict or contentment? That sounds like the issue in Brave New World except that, in that novel, every member of society is conditioned to welcome and enjoy his or her contented lack of freedom. (Also, I cannot help thinking that the World Controllers have to be intelligent and informed enough that one of them might be tempted to sabotage the system just to see what results?) Human beings in Anderson's Tetralogy are educated, although sometimes misinformed, but not conditioned. Their main problem, not always perceived as such, is lack of options.

Huxley suggested in his Introduction to later editions of Brave New World that a third option, cultivation of sanity, is feasible. I am always inclined to make a similar comment about any sharp dichotomy presented in a work of fiction.

Anderson's extra-solar colonists have got it right. They are fulfilled, not content. Their lives are determined by themselves, not by computers. Their conflict is with the inorganic universe, not with each other. Their technology serves their ends and does not deprive them of ends. In fact, the cybercosm should be able to realize that this fullest expression of organic life is to be acknowledged, not controlled.    


Before rereading Poul Anderson's "Harvest Of Stars" Tetralogy, I counted the pages to be read and noticed that Volume IV, The Fleet Of Stars (New York, 1997), ends with "(Chapter) 32: FENN WOKE." (p. 403)

At that time, I had no memory of who Fenn was. Now, I have reread to Chapter 2 which introduces this character. Chapter 2 ends "Fenn raged." (p. 24) We are back in the Solar System with the cybercosm subtly limiting human freedom and ending space travel. Fenn is one of the few for whom this is intolerable.

The reader wants not to rage with Fenn but to soar with Fenn's hero, Anson Guthrie. Chapter 1 describes incarnate Guthrie on Amaterasu, a colonized planet of Beta Hydri. Chapter 3 describes download Guthrie visiting the Lunarians in their orbiting stronghold of Zamok Sabely' at Alpha Centauri. I would have welcomed one long novel in which Guthrie fared between stars and did not have to return to Sol to counteract an attempted deception by the cybercosm. Here, the cybercosm is not merely suppressing information, although that was bad enough, but is actively trying to mislead on a massive scale. Whatever the ultimate issues, the cybercosm puts itself outside the bounds of civilized, moral discourse by lying instead of engaging in dialogue.

But what I really want to see is Guthrie leading the colonization of the next planet after Amaterasu. Unfortunately, we would need downloaded or re-incarnated Anderson to write about it for us.

The Fleet Of Stars II

Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars begins with an "Epilogue," almost incomprehensible on first reading, in which two Alpha Centaurian planets, uninhabited Phaeton and humanly colonized Demeter, begin to collide. At the end of that novel and throughout Volumes II and III of the series, the Demetrian colony exists although it is mostly off-stage as the narrative follows contemporaneous events back in the Solar System. By Chapter 3 of Volume IV, The Fleet Of Stars (New York, 1997), the collision has at last occurred, a thousand years after colonization.

An Anson Guthrie download, passing through the Alpha Centaurian system en route from Beta Hydri to Sol, sees Demeter, bigger than Earth, molten, glowing red, streaked black with smoke and slag, spinning crazily, racked by mountain-sized fire-geysers, surrounded by randomly orbiting rocks, some crashing down but many forming a ring or thickening into a Luna-sized moon. It sounds as if Demeter has not been destroyed but will reform into a possibly life-bearing planet?

Lunarians, human beings adapted to live and breed in lunar gravity, must spend their entire lives in artificial environments but have the creativity, ingenuity and technology to make their environments spacious and agreeable. They are extinct on Luna but flourish in the Outer Solar System and at Alpha Centauri where one habitat, Zamok Sabely', has spokes a hundred kilometers in length. As often when describing an imagined future society, Anderson conveys social wealth and dynamism although the term "bustling" is inappropriate for the quiet Lunarians. Inside Zamok Sabely':

"Arches opened on arcades, tier above tier, of shops, workplaces, taverns, gambling dens, recreation halls, foodsteads, joyhouses, establishments more esoteric, spacious and gracious or darkling and secretive, often screened by a living curtain or an induced aurora. A fire-fountain leaped and roared in the middle of a plaza. Birds trailing rainbow tails winged down a corridor of crystal." (p. 29)

It does not seem to matter that they must always live surrounded by vacuum.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Fleet Of Stars

Poul Anderson's The Fleet Of Stars, "Harvest Of Stars" Tetralogy Vol IV, is the first real sequel to Harvest Of Stars, Vol I. Its action begins not back in the Solar System during the later events of Harvest Of Stars but in the system of Beta Hydri which, like two other planetary systems, has been colonised from Alpha Centauri considerably later.

On the one hand, the continuing characters, whether downloaded into artificial neural networks or re-incarnated in newly grown human bodies, have moved even further away from Earth. On the other hand, there are first hints of interstellar interaction. A laser message beamed from Proserpina to the Lunarians at Alpha Centauri and relayed to Beta Hydri informs the colonists that the cybercosm on Earth:

may be suppressing data from a solar gravitational lens;
may have sabotaged a Proserpinan lens;
had stopped antimatter production on Mercury as no longer needed by the stabilised Earth-Luna economy;
but has restarted production, possibly to power interstellar craft (the Proserpinans have detected signs of such craft leaving and entering the Solar System).

The incarnate Anson Guthrie of Beta Hydri IV reflects further that the cybercosm may be spying on the extra-solar colonies with mini-robots and would be able to plant cybercosms in the galaxy faster than organic life can proliferate on an interstellar scale. The scene is set for a potentially galactic conflict albeit at sublight speeds. Guthrie has been working on a shipyard project while his partner visits one of their sons, his wife and children on another continent but a download Guthrie will now travel to Sol via Alpha Centauri to investigate.

Of course, this moves the story back to the Solar System after all but, meanwhile, the action has definitely progressed beyond the end of Harvest Of Stars. We are no longer reading of events that are contemporaneous with any that were described in a previous volume. Onward.

Poul Anderson And Neil Gaiman

In Poul Anderson's "The Only Game In Town," the Time Patrol must prevent the Mongol invasion of North America. Kublai Khan and Marco Polo are mentioned. Rereading that reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Sandman story about Marco Polo.

There are other parallels. In The Sandman, Shakespeare writes A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest for Morpheus. Anderson wrote A Midsummer Tempest about a parallel Earth where Shakespeare was the Great Historian, not a great dramatist, thus his characters really existed. That novel features Anderson's inn between the worlds where characters from different universes and fictions meet, as in Gaiman's Inn of the Worlds' End.

Anderson imagines a Roman in the reign of Augustus who speculates that the Empire might either conquer the whole world or, as then current policy suggested, stay approximately as it was. Gaiman shows us Augustus formulating the latter policy and tells us why he did it.

Both quote James Elroy Flecker, including "...the Golden Road to Samarkand." Anderson refers to and quotes Kipling. Gaiman described his Sandman story, "Hob's Leviathan" as " doing Kipling..." Kipling has an Indian Prime Minister who becomes a mendicant. "Hob's Leviathan" has an Indian king who becomes a mendicant.

Harvest The Fire II

Harvest The Fire (New York, 1995) is an excellent addition to Poul Anderson's "Harvest of Stars" series which otherwise would have comprised just three long novels. By contrast, Harvest The Fire is short, a quick read, evocatively illustrated by Vincent Di Fate (so that consequently the text is even shorter than we expect), poetic and elegaic. It is about a poet, frustrated but possibly finding fulfillment. At the very end, he appropriately comments that:

Homer celebrated a bygone age;
Shakespeare dramatised Cleopatra and Macbeth;
Fitzgerald drew on Khayyam;
Kipling told of India;
he, an Earthman, might become a bard of the colony world Proserpina, inspired by stars, comets and the cosmic vastness that is indifferent to humanity although humanly inhabited.

This short novel is about a crime, or a military action, that would be possible only in a high tech future, the hijacking of a consignment of antimatter. I share Anderson's consistent value judgement that, in human affairs, unpredictable, even dangerous, diversity and self-determination are preferable to unadventurous, even if comfortable, conformity and social control. So it is a good thing that the Proserpinans appropriate the anti-matter energy source that would have been denied to them by the World Federation.

Proserpina was discovered in Volume II and colonised between Volumes. Now, in Volume III, its future prosperity and expansion are ensured. A line quoted by Anderson in Trader To The Stars is again appropriate:

"The world's great age begins anew..."

Our poet reflects:

"Contentment...peace, prosperity, but also adventure and achievement. For most people. Their doings may be old in history, but to each generation they are new, a dawn, a boat, a mountain, an ancient monument, a young sweetheart, enough.
"Not for me, with my irrational, inchoate yearnings. For me, the passions will be in wild sports and wilder carousals..." (p. 147)

Earth is peaceful but a few want danger and should be able to find it.

More on metamorphs:

On the lunar surface, someone in a spacesuit (of course) leads an expensive vacuum-adapted "...moonwolf on a leash." (p. 46) An animal naked on the Moon: it made me feel cold to read about it and still seems wrong somehow...


The third "Harvest of Stars" novel, Harvest The Fire, reveals more about "metamorphs." Here, the word means not shape changers but beings with modified genomes.

In particular, "Intellects" are human beings whose ancestors were modified for a brainpower that has subsequently been made obsolete by computers but, like other metamorphs, they continue to breed although their kind no longer has any place in society. Hence, disaffection and alienation.

One Intellect, intelligent enough, and also intellectually intrigued enough, to hack into state secrets of the cybercosm, is hired to do so by Lunarians, another group of metamorphs who are adapted to live and breed in lunar gravity and thus are also able to colonise the asteroids but are discouraged from such interplanetary expansionism by the cybercosm which wants to robotize, then phase out, space travel.

Anderson imagined conflicts of interest in future societies which, having transcended our current political and economic differences, then find new issues to fight about! The Intellects must have intellectual/mental/computational abilities comparable to those of Frank Herbert's "Mentats" who, far from being made obsolete by computers were, on the contrary, bred to replace computers that had been destroyed in a Jihad: similar beings but with an opposite origin.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Harvest The Fire

Incredibly, Poul Anderson keeps the series going. Despite the cosmic climax of Harvest of Stars and despite the comparable culmination of the succeeding volume, The Stars Are Also Fire, the future history presented in these two long novels provides sufficient background material to generate a narrative framework and what has by now become a familiar setting for two further novels. Of these two additional volumes, the first, Harvest The Fire (New York, 1995), begins:

"Once in his drifting to and fro across Earth, Jesse Nicol found a quivira left over from olden times." (p. 9)

Jesse Nicol is a new character but two features of this opening sentence are familiar: a future Earth on which there is freedom to drift and a virtual reality machine called a "quivira." Nicol generates a virtual interview with Jorge Luis Borges. The cybercosm scans databases " synthesize a personality and a setting..." (p. 16) The cybercosm is conscious but it is not made clear whether the simulated Borges has a temporary consciousness of being interviewed by Nicol. Generation of such a temporary consciousness does occur in virtual realities in other Anderson works.

Authentically, the virtual Borges gives Nicol a signed copy of one of his books. Nicol finds this "...heartbreaking.." and afterwards "...glanced down at his hand, as if it held a book." (pp. 29, 30) The cybercosm could have completed the illusion by printing a facsimile book with a forged signature.

Anderson readers are confident that, when this author extends, e.g., the "Harvest Of Stars" sequence or the earlier Technic History, the new work will be a substantial addition to the existing series whereas the appearance of the word Foundation or Dune in a new sf title signifies only the monotony of a recurring decimal.

The Stars Are Also Fire II

In Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars, the central characters spend a lot of time on the run from agents of an overtly oppressive human tyranny. In the sequel, The Stars Are Also Fire, their successors spend a lot of time on the run from agents of a subtly oppressive transhuman cybercosm exercising the same kind of global control as the positronic Brains at the end of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. Despite this conventional thriller fiction, both novels end by anticipating cosmic and even transcosmic apotheoses.

Is the conflict at the end of the second novel credible? Free human beings and downloaded human intelligences will use nanotechnology to fill the stellar universe with organic life that is expected to end when the last star does whereas inorganic intelligence will survive the universe either by utilising the energy of disintegrating black holes and particles or by experiencing an infinitiy of events and thoughts in the finite time before a cosmic singularity.

Why should both not happen? The cybercosm judges that a cosmos full of organic life will be unpredictable and thus might jeopardise intelligence's chance to survive so that the two destinies are incompatible. Are they? Can't inorganic intelligence cooperate with and take its chances with organic life? Can it not accept uncertainty while striving towards its goal? Should it not see the suppression of scientific data as an unacceptable means to an end just as it no longer uses physical coercion? This issue is the ultimate expression in Anderson's works of the basic conflict that he sees between freedom and control but I wonder if it is rather contrived in this case?


How many "low dives" do fictitious characters frequent? Quite a lot. Remember the bar scene in Star Wars and Larry Niven's Draco Tavern. I have already celebrated the "Pey d'Or" meeting place in Poul Anderson's Orion Shall Rise. One of Anderson's time traveling characters recruits a traveling companion in a stereotypical underworld haunt in "Flight To Forever" and, in three other Anderson works, there is a (more respectable) inn between the worlds, the Old Phoenix.

The Stars Are Also Fire (New York, 1994) introduces a "Downright medieval" dive, the Asilo, a bistro with a surrealistically dancing lightsign above the door (p. 169). Blue-hazed air reeks of tobacco, marijuana, opium and sniph. The Asilo is "...a hangout for metamorphs...," Titans, Tinies, Drylanders, Chemos, Aquatics, Chimpos, bulge-headed Intellects and Exotics - "...genomes modified for purposes of science, industry, war, pleasure...," continuing to procreate (pp. 170, 171).

Titans were gene-bred for strength and endurance as infantry. Chemos are hardy against radiation and pollution. Drylanders' bodies store water so that they can survive in deserts. Having projected a cosmos in which human beings do not meet any aliens, Anderson then imagined altered, and alienated, forms of humanity.

The Stars Are Also Fire

Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars promises a stellar future for organic life and a post-Solar future for inorganic intelligence. What could follow that? Well, the second volume in the series, The Stars Are Also Fire (New York, 1994), after an unnumbered opening chapter set on the colony planet Demeter, presents two alternating narratives:

"The Mother of the Moon," a series of extended flashbacks presented in even numbered Chapters 2-40, is a prequel to Harvest Of Stars;

the remainder of The Stars Are Also Fire, starting with Chapter 1 and ending with Chapter 46, is a sequel to Harvest Of Stars Chapters 1-47 that stays within the Solar System whereas Harvest Of Stars Chapters 48-63 are set in the system of Alpha Centauri.

Thus, the author constructs a future history though not on the original Heinleinian model of several independently published short stories and novels. Several chapters of Harvest Of Stars, differentiated by the recurring title "Database," are extended flashbacks, some to Anson Guthrie's life time. The chronological order of fictitious events is:

(i) Harvest Of Stars, "Database";
(ii) "The Mother of the Moon";
(iii) Harvest Of Stars Chapters 1-47 minus "Database";
(iv) The Stars Are Also Fire minus "The Mother of the Moon";
(v) Harvest Of Stars Chapters 48-63;
(vi) Harvest Of Stars, "Epilogue" (though placed at the beginning);
(vii) the third volume, Harvest The Fire;
(viii) the fourth volume, The Fleet of Stars.

Should the entire series be read in this order? In any series, and particularly in a future history, reading order can part company from publication order. On the other hand, some prequels are designed to be read later. For example, Lunarians are human beings adapted to live and breed in lunar gravity. Having met them in Harvest Of Stars, it makes sense then to read their origin story in "Mother of the Moon." Incredibly, Guthrie's granddaughter, Dagny Beynac, is the mother of the first Lunarians. We see this new human species grow up, invent its own language ("ARVEN ARDEA NIO LULLUI PEYAR" (p. 132)), construct its stronghold Zamok Vysoki, explore the outer Solar System and rebel against Earth. (Incidentally, in the midst of plausible Earth-Moon politics, Dagny solves a neat murder mystery.)

The part of The Stars Are Also Fire that is not prequel but sequel is set after the Lyudov Rebellion which (we remember) was mentioned in Harvest Of Stars. Again, this is part of how to write a future history. Different works within the history can be linked by common references to a fictitious event whether or not that event gets to be described in any of the works.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Harvest Of Stars Conclusion

I said before that Harvest Of Stars takes off as imaginative hard sf near the end but what is remarkable is that it takes off three times:

(i) the history of what happens in the Solar System with AI claiming that it can model all possible forms of life and will survive Solar extinction;

(ii) the history of what happens at Alpha Centauri, on Demeter and between planets, with population growth, military conflict and further interstellar exploration;

(iii) the vision of life spreading through the universe.

The premise of the cosmic scarcity of organic life makes it unlikely that there will be some as close as Alpha Centauri but Anderson counteracts this by dooming that life to imminent destruction in a planetary collision. Life, in either sense, is not easy for his characters.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Cosmic Life

In his History of Technic Civilization, Poul Anderson imagined abundant galactic life, including planets where human beings could breathe and walk without having to transform either themselves or the environment first. His Harvest Of Stars (New York, 1993) has the opposite premise. Life is rare and cosmically insignificant until it spreads from Earth.

When human personalities have been downloaded into artificial neural networks, then carried at near light speeds across interstellar distances, then one download directs terraforming even of an initially lifeless planet while others are incarnated in newly grown human bodies. Thus, a single personality:

"...won't ever have to end..." but "...can have life after life, on world after world...Bringing life to the universe..." (p. 528)

Life triumphs against all the odds. Despite inhospitable environments, the light speed limit and the impossibility of transporting many human organisms across long interstellar distances, the downloads will spread organic life throughout the stellar universe whereas the Solar "sophotects," self-evolving artificial intelligences incorporating human minds but not independent downloads, endlessly refine their own inorganic intelligence, contemplating pure mathematics instead of the material universe.

It follows that the sophotects were wrong to think either that life was insignificant or that their theory enabled them to model all its possible forms. The leading download, Anson Guthrie, has:

"'...a gut feeling that the universe isn't as lifeless as the sophotects on Earth claim.'" (p. 508)

But the universe, or what we see of it, was lifeless until Guthrie and his companions started to remake it, perhaps the ultimate achievement of Andersonian characters.

Olaf Stapledon had anticipated Anderson's download-sophotect dichotomy. In his future history, Last And First Men, successive human species inhabit Earth, Venus, then Neptune. Later species can direct evolution, thus create their successors. Some Third Men, valuing intellect, create, as the Fourth Men, disembodied, artificially maintained Great Brains, like conscious organic computers, which become hostile to organic life but which eventually realize that their merely cerebral understanding is frustratingly limited because they themselves lack insight into values and that they in their turn must be replaced by normally constructed though thoroughly perfected Fifth Men with brains as large as possible though no larger in a bipedal form. Unfortunately, however, Anderson's sophotects never do realize the limitation of their own merely intellectual approach. Consequently, conflict between them and free human beings continues throughout the Tetralogy, of which I have started to reread the second volume, The Stars Are Also Fire.