Thursday, 28 February 2013

Judgement And Doomsday

Two titles, The Day After Judgement by James Blish and After Doomsday by Poul Anderson, sound almost interchangeable. However, Blish's "Judgement" is spiritual and supernatural, a literal Armageddon, whereas Anderson's "Doomsday" is secular and scientific, the sterilisation of Earth by aliens. In other words, Blish's novel is fantasy whereas Anderson's is science fiction (sf).

CS Lewis begins Perelandra by pointing out that we imagine non-human intelligences as either supernatural or extraterrestrial, then informs us that his character, Ransom, met on Mars beings that were both. That shook me when I read it.

A few other sf writers have had similar ideas. In two of Heinlein's novels, the Martian "Old Ones" are ghosts. In Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Martian "Old Ones" are spiritually evolved Martians. In Brian Aldiss's Helliconia Trilogy, Helliconians have contact with their hereafter which contrasts strangely with the Terrestrial observation station in orbit above their planet. (When, in that station, orderly life broke down, Aldiss wrote an italicised descriptive passage including this marvelous sentence: "Everything depraved flourished.")

Starting with a reflection on two superficially similar but essentially contrasting titles, I have managed to draw a few parallels between six great names in sf: Blish; Anderson; Lewis; Heinlein; Bradbury; Aldiss. 

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