Monday, 11 February 2013

War And Different Perspectives

In Poul Anderson's Fire Time (London, 1977), Chapter XIV describes a sea battle waged with arrows, spears and a few imported firearms whereas Chapter XV describes both a space battle and an air battle, two very different experiences of war. By the very nature of conflict, there are at least two perspectives on any battle. Shakespeare's Witches could say, "...when the battle's lost and won..." but, to a participant, any battle is lost or won. (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1) Anderson scrupulously presents every perspective.

First, the sea battle is described not from the point of view of the single human being present, Jill Conway, but from that of the Ishtarian, Arnanak. Secondly, Arnanak leads the "enemy," the barbarian alliance that is attacking the friends of the human colonists. Jill, whom the reader soon recognizes, is described only as seen by Arnanak:

"What was that form which came from a deck house? Two legs, no body-barrel whatsoever, wrapped in cloths though long yellow-brown strands fluttered from beneath a head-band -

" 'We fight!' Arnanak bellowed...' Hark , they bear a human among them. Can we capture it, who knows what it might tell us...' " (p. 162)

The sea battle is between Gathering and barbarian Ishtarians with Jill, the only human being present, fighting effectively whereas the space and air battles are between Naqsans and human beings with Jill's brother, Don, among the combatants. During the Naqsan attack in space:

"...the air corpsmen had nothing to do but crouch jammed together between blank bulwarks." (p. 166)

- not the same experience as leaping onto an enemy deck at sea. Afterwards, Don remembers his human relatives and native friends on Ishtar. Down on the disputed planet, he takes out an enemy flyer, whoops his joy, but loses a young married friend and wonders whether the Naqsan pilot had been married too.

A human colonists calls the Naqsans who had killed his brother-in-law, " 'Filthy terrorists...,'" to which Don replies:

" 'You call your men in Hat'hara guerrillas.' " (p. 170)

- and is asked where his sympathies lie.

His perspective is that of a Terrestrial combat flyer, not of an (imperialistic?) Eluetherian. The Chapter ends with the democracy of death:

"KILLED IN ACTION: Lt Cmdr Jan H. Barneveldt, Ens. Donald R. Conway, Ens. James L. Kamekona...

"MOURN FOR: Keh't'hiw-a-Suq of Dzuag, Whiccor the Bold, Nowa Rachari's Son..." (p. 174)

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