Sunday, 3 February 2013

Flandry And Foundation

The end pages of my copy of Poul Anderson's The Star Fox (London, 1968) include a one page ad for Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. VECTOR (The Journal of the British Science Fiction Association) is quoted as saying:

"No other book can compare with the magnificent scope that this series offers." (p. 207)

That is nonsense. Many books have far greater scope. Foundation presents some interesting ideas and arguments, although my response is usually to take issue with them, but the trilogy pales in comparison with, for example, Poul Anderson's much more colorful and substantial future history series.

Asimov's Galaxy is unaccountably filled with millions of humanly inhabitable but otherwise uninhabited planets which humanity alone has colonized with little apparent effort over many millennia whereas Anderson's future humanity, more plausibly occupying only one fraction of a single spiral arm, encounters green Merseians and winged Ythrians among many other intelligent alien species. (By "colorful", I mean vividly described. The Merseians' greenness kind of symbolizes this.)

There are structural and thematic parallels between Anderson's Flandry and Asimov's Foundation but how much better is the former!

(i) In both cases, the original series was first published in magazines before being collected in two volumes for Anderson and three for Asimov.

(ii) In both cases, later written novels both precede and succeed the original series in the chronological order of fictitious events. Apart from additions by other authors, Asimov wrote two pre-Foundation novels and two later Foundation novels. Anderson has a Young Flandry Trilogy and what I call his "Children of Empire" Trilogy.

(iii) Anderson's van Rijn series was later regarded as having happened before his Flandry series as Asimov's Robot novels were later regarded as having happened before his Foundation series.

(iv) Both Flandry and Foundation describe the decline of an interstellar empire but consider just the first three Flandry stories, which in themselves form a short trilogy:

in "Tiger By The Tail," Flandry subverts a rival interstellar empire;
in "Honorable Enemies," the Terran Empire and the Merseian Rhoidunate clash on the neutral territory of Betelgeuse;
in "The Game Of Glory," Flandry organizes subversion within the Rhoidunate and counters subversion within the Empire.

The next two Flandry stories are a diptych with the second describing an event during Flandry's return home from the first. The next two after that, which complete the original series, are a second diptych showing Flandry now in possession of both a private spaceship and a green Shalmuan servant. These two stories prepare the way for the "Children of Empire" Trilogy where Flandry is much higher in the counsels of the Empire. That Trilogy completes the Flandry series but not the future history which continues long after the Fall of the Empire.

Asimov merely projects the Roman Empire onto the Galaxy and Hari Seldon's psychohistorical predictions are too mathematically complex for us to be given any information about them whereas Anderson's character, Chunderban Desai, discusses an actually existing theory of the rise and decline of civilizations. Desai is able to warn Flandry and anyone else who might listen but is not able to perform the impossible feat of secretly manipulating social interactions in order to divert the course of events after the Fall.

One structural difference between Flandry and Foundation is that the former became a future history by being linked to van Rijn whereas the latter was already a future history, although on a different model, before being linked to Robots. Foundation is a linear sequence of political events over several centuries whereas Anderson's Technic History, incorporating van Rijn, Flandry and others, has the Heinleinian pyramidal structure of several stories describing different aspects of a future society and thus providing a base for other stories set later in the same timeline.  


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Welcome back home. Hope your mother is as well as possible.

I agree that PA's Technic Civlization stories are far better written and much more vividly "real seeming" than Asimov's Foundation series.

You mentioned Chunderban Desai, his reflections on the rise and fall of civilizations. It's plain Anderson had Desai basing his thought on the work of the historian John K. Hord. In fact A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS is dedicated to Hord.

To my frustration, I've been unable to find anything more than a few articles by Hord. The most substantial summarizing of his thought was actually by Anderson, in KNIGHT and the article he wrote for the fall 1979 issue of THE BULLETIN OF THE SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS OF AMERICA, "Concerning Future Histories." Frankly, I consider Hord/Anderson's view of history more convincing and realistic than any others, altho I might quibble here and there.

I think the Anderson article mentioned above is very important and needs to be better known and fully discussed.


Paul Shackley said...

Yes, fortunately I have a copy of that SFWA Bulletin.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I suspect we two are among the few to still have copies of that issue of the BULLETIN.