Monday, 29 July 2013

Poul Anderson's Fictions

(I want to end July with 89 posts in order to form a round number with June, which accidentally ended with 101 instead of 100, because I find round numbers easier to deal with. (Addendum, 30 Nov 2015: Later, two posts were moved from 2013 to 2014. One of these posts must have been from June 2013 because that month now has 100 posts.) This might mean a few posts drafted tomorrow and Wednesday but not posted till Thursday. Meanwhile, I hope that there are enough here for anyone who is interested!)

It really is extraordinary how one reader's attention can move around between Poul Anderson's multifarious works of fiction. When I was posting about Anderson's diverse works set in the past, I did not want to return to his futuristic sf.

More recently, for over two months, I focused entirely on a single futuristic series, the Technic Civilization History, because I thought, and still think, that this series warrants that much attention and more. However, I began to wonder how long I would be able to sustain a commentary on one series - it can always be returned to later. Meanwhile, I remembered that there was one historical fiction short story that I had not yet read and had intended to return to.

Identifying this story as "Son of the Sword," in the collection Alight In The Void, I read and posted not only about it but also about the remaining four stories in this collection. Although I prefer novels to short stories and trilogies, tetralogies or series to single novels, I currently feel that the future of Poul Anderson Appreciation blogging lies in the short stories so I will be reading or rereading some other collections that have gathered on a bookshelf upstairs.

Earlier, a particular theme took me entirely outside the Anderson canon. Anderson's several works set on Jupiter include "Call Me Joe" which has strong parallels to James Blish's "Bridge." Rereading the Anderson story led to rereading the Blish story which led to rereading and blogging about several other Blish works, on James Blish Appreciation. However, Anderson's output is much bigger than Blish's so that, after about a month, I was back with Anderson. It is unpredictable where this process will lead to next.

Flight To Forever II

Poul Anderson's "Flight to Forever" (IN Anderson, Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, pp. 161-240), published in 1950, begins and ends in 1973 although its hero, Saunders, time travels around the cosmic cycle between the beginning and end of the story. Twenty two lines of text separate:

"The universe was dead!" (p. 235)


"The universe was re-forming." (p. 236)

Between cosmic death and re-formation, Saunders eats a sandwich.

At his first stop, in 2073, he reflects that "...the gerontology of 1973 made it entirely possible..." that "...he was still alive today..." (p. 166). So his 1973 was more advanced than ours.

"Flight to Forever" would make an excellent film. Imagine this dialogue on a sound track:

"Can you help me?...Can you send me back through time?
"He screamed...
"GO ON, MAN, GO ON!..." (p. 232)

And before that, these visuals: a "city" of titanic and changing structures, throbbing and pulsing forces, flashing and roaring energies, wavering and blurring light, hissing and stinging air...

Some of the phenomena that Saunders encounters are familiar adventure fiction material rather than serious futurological speculation. In 50,000 AD:

snow and ice caused by war, not by geology;
a massive, half-ruined stone fortress with one banner still flying;
a young long-haired man in helmet and kilt with a four-armed alien companion

- like a good Doctor Who episode, it would make excellent cinema.

One More Detail in "Earthman, Beware!"

I should have remembered this phrase before:

"...the solipsistic loneliness in which humans wandered from their births to the end of their brief meaningless lives."

(Poul Anderson, "Earthman, Beware!" IN Alight In The Void, New York, pp. 29-60 AT p. 56)

This is not Poul Anderson speaking. It is his stranded alien, Joel Weatherfield, momentarily disparaging humanity. In his better moments, Joel does see value, eg, in the life of his human friend, Peggy.

More importantly, we are not "solipsistic" because we genuinely communicate, and would not otherwise become self-conscious. Our lives require no external authority to bestow meaning on them. We value our existence and only conscious beings can value anything.

So our lives are brief - "brief" is a comparative term but, in comparison with many things, yes, they are brief - but they are far from meaningless and this should be affirmed because too casual a use of the term "meaningless" can only demoralize.  

Flight To Forever

Poul Anderson's "Flight to Forever" occupies eighty pages of his collection, Alight In The Void (New York, 1993, pp. 161-240). Despite its less than novelistic length, it is, in the pulp tradition, divided into six titled chapters:

I No Return
II Belgotai of Syrtis
III Trapped in the Time-Stream
IV End of Empire
V Attack of the Anvardi
VI Flight Without End

"Trapped in the Time-Stream" and "End of Empire" are particularly pulp sf titles.

Anderson's time travelers set out twenty three years into the future, in 1973, and one of the years that they visit is 2013. For me, there is a sense of following in HG Wells' footsteps. The characters travel by stages into the future so what will they find? Some of the futurians that they meet are almost as decadent as the Eloi. The Time Traveler travels to the end of life on Earth whereas Anderson's character, Saunders, travels beyond the end of the universe.

One difference is that the Time Traveler, from the seat of the Time Machine, sees the world flash past whereas Saunders and Hull, through the porthole of the time projector, see only grayness until they stop. Also, the Time Machine risks materializing inside an object and exploding whereas the time projector's mass-sensitive circuits prevent it from halting inside anything solid.

There are a few notable passages in this rather crude early story:

"The important thing was change, an unending flux out of which all could come." (p. 167)

"Men lived in their own times, a brief flash of light ringed with an enormous dark, and it was not in their nature to think beyond that little span of years. He began to realize why time travel had never been common." (p. 182)

"Man's works were so horribly impermanent; he thought with a sadness of the cities and civilizations he had seen rise and spend their little hour and sink back into the night and chaos of time." (p. 191)

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Previous Posts

I have been reading Poul Anderson's Alight In The Void which collects:

"Terminal Quest"
"Earthman, Beware!"
"The Star Beast"
"Son of the Sword"
"Flight To Forever"

I have commented on the first four in recent posts and posted a two-part Chronology of "Flight to Forever" on June 30 and July 1, 2012. "Flight to Forever" is, appropriately, the culminating story of Anderson's time travel collection, Past Times. Therefore, when Anderson's short story collections are rationalized, it need not also appear in any other volume such as Alight In The Void.

When discussing "Earthman, Beware!," (here) I referred to an earlier post on Anderson's Brain Wave. That was "The Galactic Connection," June 15, 2012.

"The Star Beast" raises the issue of the social consequences of universally distributed abundant wealth. This and similar or related issues were discussed in earlier posts:

April, 2012
"Issues In Mirkheim"
"Something Is Rotten In Technic Culture?"
"Interstellar Wealth"
"Organic And Post-Organic"
"The Commonalty"

June, 2012
"Thulean Economics"
"Serious Issues"
"Judgment Day Economics"
"Starfarers Economics"

August, 2012
"Demetrian Economics And Ecology"
"Questions And Comments"

Some Remaining Details In "Earthman, Beware!"

I list details in Poul Anderson's stories, as in the previous post, because the details are ingenious and because I would soon forget them if I did not write them down.

Four concluding comments on "Earthman, Beware!":

(i) One sentence in this story contains a phrase that became important in a later Anderson series:

"The long night wore on."

(Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, p. 45)

(ii) In the first seven pages of the story, Peggy has tracked Joel to his Alaskan cabin. So far, the story could have had a contemporary setting although with the science fictional elements of Joel's partial telepathy and his robot chef invention. Then suddenly, Joel thinks:

"Maybe he should have gone to Mars or some outer-planet satellite." (p. 36)

With this sentence, we are wrenched into a futuristic scenario where interplanetary travel is routine. We are used to such scenarios in science fiction but are usually given notice of them earlier in a story. Two pages further on, we are informed that Joel invented the ion-jet space drive so it seems that he is responsible for interplanetary travel.

(iii) A single word can trigger an entirely accidental association in one reader's mind. Joel's human foster parents were called not Kent but Weatherfield. I live on Blades St in the city of Lancaster in the county of Lancashire. Since December 1960, a British TV series has shown the denizens of Coronation St in the fictitious town of Weatherfield, Lancashire. (Apparently, Weatherfield is a hour by motorway from Lancaster. If only I knew which direction to drive in...) So maybe the foster parents' ancestors came from the North West of England...

(iv) When, in the very last sentence:

"Dr Joel Weatherfield, eminent young physicist, rose cheefully and began making ready to go home." (p. 60)

- he has been made to forget his personal cosmic connection. We are Joel. We are all connected to the cosmos and are usually unaware of it.

Ultrawaves And Telepathy

In Poul Anderson's "Earthman, Beware!" (IN Anderson, Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, pp. 29-60):

neuronic activity generates short-range brain pulses that are measurable by encephalographs but not directly related to telepathy;
telepathy, part of the ultrawave spectrum, crosses space without time lag;
spatio-temporal geometry generates gravity from matter and ultrawaves from vibrating energy;
however, an ultrawave is generated only when there is both a transmitter and a receiver;
an ultrawave's frequency is that of its generating fields but infinite velocity would generate an infinite wavelength so the wavelength should be conceived in terms of tensors;
ultra-energies are omnipresent in the cosmic structure;
the telepathy center of a super-human brain can impose vibrations on it;
other centers control ultra-energy to create, destroy or move matter, cross space, scan the past or scan future possibilities;
when the stranded alien, Joel, telepathically contacts his people, several of them immediately come physically to Earth across what might be millions of light years, from another galaxy.

When discussing Anderson's Brain Wave in an earlier post, I commented that sf can show our place in the galaxy without necessarily having human beings travel physically into the galaxy. Here is another example of that.

Maybe the ultra-energy is what the Black Nebulans and the Chereionites access in Anderson's Technic Civilization History.

The Ultrawave Series

If a series is more than one work, thus at least two works, then maybe I have found an "ultrawave series" by Poul Anderson. "Earthmen, Beware!" and "The Star Beast" depend on different applications, mental and technological, of an "ultrawave," which is very similarly described in both stories although I have found one difference:

"'The important thing is that these effects are transmitted with no measurable time lag...'"

("Earthman, Beware!" IN Anderson, Alight In The Void, 1993, pp. 29-60, AT p. 46)

"The transmitter field was generated. At the speed of light, Harol flashed around the world..."

("The Star Beast" IN Alight In The Void, pp. 61-102, AT p. 66)

However, maybe the superhuman Joel Weatherfield detected a deeper level of the ultrawave? According to his account, which mostly matches "The Star Beast":

ultrawave radiation is unrelated to electromagnetism;
vibrating energy fields produce detectable effects without time lag in similar apparatuses elsewhere (this sounds like James Blish's instantaneous Dirac transmitter);
in order to attract his people to Earth, the stranded alien Joel broadcasts pulses representing stars, with intensity standing for absolute brightness and time separation standing for distance;
however, receiving no reply, he realizes that he must instead use his telepathy which turns out to be another part of the ultrawave spectrum.

There is more but it is proving difficult to unravel at nearly midnight so further discussion of the ultrawave will have to be postponed till a later post.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Earthman, Beware!

Poul Anderson's "Earthman, Beware!," collected in his Alight In The Void (New York, 1993), is a superman story though not a Superman story. It is not about Kal-El from Krypton but is about a superior humanoid extraterrestrial found in a grain field as a baby and adopted by " elderly local couple, childless and kindly." (p. 40)

This story was published in 1951, just twelve years after the first installment of Superman. Did Anderson consciously mimic the origin of Clark Kent or did these circumstances just seem appropriate to him as they had to Jerry Siegel?

Anderson's superman, Joel Weatherfield:

like Kal-El and Jor-El, has a name meaning "God";
at age six, patented, in his foster father's name, farm machinery improvements that enabled his parents to buy any books or equipment that he wanted instead of sending him to school;
soon devised a wig to conceal his permanent baldness;
conceals other bodily differences beneath clothes;
entered Harvard at thirteen;
graduated with every honor at fifteen;
invented the ion-jet space drive, the controlled-disintegration ion process, the cure for the common cold, the crystalline-structure determination of geological age and a robot chef;
won the Nobel prize in physics for his relativistic wave mechanics;
pioneered a new branch of mathematical series theory;
in his youth, wrote brilliantly on archaeology, economics, ecology and semantics;
founded new schools in painting and poetry;
has an immeasurable IQ;
controls an errand-running cat by whistling;
developed an X-ray technique for photographing different layers of tissue just to study himself;
used a variation of his crystalline-structure method to determine that his deceased mother was at least five hundred years old;
has a heart with more functions than its human counterpart;
has a better organized brain, preventing insanity;
has, in the brain,  a "telepathy center," sensitive to neural currents in other organisms;
has developed limited telepathy by comparing human reactions and words with detected emanations;
can also emit emanations although no human being can detect them;
quickly predicts any acquaintance's reactions and verbal responses;
knows their feelings better than they do;
has a cerebral center for voluntary control of pain, endocrine regulation etc, but has not learned to use it effectively;
has not learned what some other centers are for;
became a multimillionaire in five years;
discovered a radiation unrelated to electromagnetism that will be the subject of a further post;
thus, is homo superior in many ways that were beyond the imagination of Jerry Siegel - Superman's models were the Biblical and Classical strong men, Samson and Hercules.

Terminal Quest

"Terminal Quest," the first story in Poul Anderson's collection, Alight In The Void (New York, 1993, pp. 1-28), is another that I seem not to have read before. This story takes its time about telling us where it is set and what is happening. A character called Rugo, who has been sleeping in the open, awakes and mourns for his mother who had left him, and not returned, when they lived in a cave.

Rugo is a quadruped with a big scaly head so he sounds like a Wodenite in Anderson's Technic Civilization History or like similar "xenosophonts" in other science fiction (sf) works by Anderson. Reading this story so far, we are not yet sure that it is sf although that would be a reasonable guess. Rugo's mother would have come to grief when she "...met the Strangers..." (p. 2)

We learn that the Strangers are in possession of the land, also that Rugo has hands and a tail and is old. One Stranger is referred to as "...a man..." so it is a safe bet that they are human beings. Indeed, the following paragraph refers to " from Earth itself..." (p. 4) The next revelations are that Rugo's people had been hunted with vehicles and weapons, that the Strangers had been the hunters and that Rugo is now reduced to begging from them.

It took human beings forty years to reach Tau Ceti and colonize New Terra. The natives agreed that they could stay but then opposed them. Possibly, the native counselors had thought that they were agreeing to more explorers, not to settlers. The natives were "...huge and scaled and black..." (p. 6) but the colonists had guns, bombs and a plague virus. Thus, Rugo is the last surviving native.

A good touch is that:

"None of the beasts from Earth could stand the sight and smell of him; they knew he was not of their world and a primitive terror rose in them." (p. 8)

Rugo is driven back into the wilderness by a rifle-wielding farmer and stoned by children led by the farmer's son but befriended by an educated tramp and two children. However, he drowns saving the farmer's son. Sinking, "[h]e wondered if his mother would come for him." (p. 28) This is possible because, when he was old, "...she often came back at night." (p. 2)

Since the entire story until his dying thought has been narrated from Rugo's point of view, the text could have ended with: "He wondered if his mother would come for him." (p. 28)

However, there is one more paragraph, showing New Terra at last without even one surviving Gunnur:

"A few miles further down, the river flows broad and quiet between gentle hills. Trees grow there, and the last sunlight streams through their leaves to glisten on the surface. This is down in the valley, where the homes of man are built." (p. 28)

Maybe Rugo's body goes where the river flows? Quiet river and gentle hills symbolize the end of conflict. The last sunlight symbolizes the end of Rugo's life and race. The narrative ends with "...the homes of man..." because this is now a human world. The title had told us that Rugo's quest would end in death.

Friday, 26 July 2013

What Else Is In The Star Beast?

Poul Anderson's "The Star Beast" has an unexpected hero: a decadent Earthman unexpectedly performs the typically Andersonian action-adventure-fiction feat of seizing his guard's gun, knocking the guard out, escaping disguised in the guard's uniform and saving the day.

Apart from this and, of course, more importantly, the issues discussed in previous posts, a large part of this story is a vivid description of what it would be like to be, or to become, a tiger. This is similar to man becoming wolf (were-wolf) in Anderson's Operation Chaos, although that is fantasy whereas "The Star Beast" is sf. This transformation is accomplished technologically.

The tiger lacks color and perspective but sees at night, hears insects, leaves, breeze, wings and small animals' scurryings, smells grass, fungus, decay, fur and blood, feels with hairs and whiskers, lives comfortably in a damp cave, kills rabbit, deer, wild dog and hibernating bear although, crippled by his fight with the bear, he can no longer catch game and instead attacks a human being, by now beginning to forget that he had been one.

Who is the "Star Beast" of the title: the man who becomes a tiger or the fanatic who returns from the stars to sabotage the Solar utopia?

Issues In The Star Beast III

"'...I get gloomy spells where nothing seems worthwhile anymore, life is a dreadful's boredom. When you have everything without working for it, life can become horribly flat.'"

(Poul Anderson, Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, p. 82)

"'...can become...'" I agree with that.

Looking forward into an era of horror, chaos, savagery and death (death which had been prevented or at least indefinitely postponed), another character thinks:

"Maybe it was for the best...Maybe Earth had really gone into a twilight of purposeless ease. True it was that there had been none of the old striving and hoping and gallantry that had made man what he was. No art, no science, no adventure...Maybe this shock and challenge was what Earth needed..." (p. 98)

This paragraph is worth reading in full although it is longer than I want to quote here. However, it presents a false dichotomy. Why should having everything without working for it prevent art and science? Science began when a leisured, aristocratic class was freed from the necessity of physical toil. At least some of the global population would not be "bored," God forbid, but would welcome the opportunities to learn and create full time when freed from the obligation to work for a living. Types who could not adjust would die out but a new humanity would emerge, one that was sufficiently challenged by the universe, not by the shock of horror, chaos and savagery.

In other words, this is a good story but I do not agree with it.

Issues In The Star Beast II

Poul Anderson's "The Star Beast," published in 1950, addresses an issue that recurs in several of Anderson's later novels, Harvest Of Stars, Genesis, The Boat Of A Million Years and Starfarers: might technology make humanity obsolete?

"There are no real human scientists anymore. How can there be, when the electronic brains and the great machines which are their bodies can do it all so much quicker and better - can do things we would never even have dreamed of, things of which man's highest geniuses have only the faintest glimmer of an understanding? That has paralyzed us..."

(Poul Anderson, "The Star Beast" IN Anderson, Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, pp. 61-102 AT p. 64)

As often with Anderson, I want to quote just one or two sentences but find that an entire paragraph is full of condensed meaning. This passage does not make clear whether these "electronic brains" are elaborate unconscious computers or conscious intelligent artifacts but, in any case, although I am a philosopher, not a scientist, I would be fascinated, not "paralyzed," by the situation described. I can think of life-long projects for at least three teams of human scientists/philosophers:

group I to continue building a model of the universe with the human intellect aided by telescopes, space probes and unconscious computers that merely process data as they do now;
group 2 to find ways to enhance human understanding in order to increase that "faintest glimmer of understanding" of what the electronic brains are doing - I am sure that, with advanced nutrition, education and technology, the entire planetary population will be able to surpass what had been the "genius" levels (Aristotle, Shakespeare, Einstein, Beethoven) of previous generations;
group 3 to compare the humanly conceived model with the electronic brains' theories, to discuss the differences, attempt a synthesis, redirect human efforts in directions suggested by the machines etc.

There really would be no end to it.

The passage quoted goes on to mention a second reason for "paralysis" which I will discuss in a further post.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Issues In The Star Beast

Poul Anderson's "The Star Beast" convinces me that, even if humanity builds a peaceful civilization on Earth or in the Solar System, it should retain some means of defense against interstellar invasion.

Such invasion does seem extremely unlikely:

do other civilizations even exist?;
if they do, surely a civilization with an advanced technology will either overcome any warmongering tendencies that it may have or, alternatively, will have destroyed itself long before it has got anywhere near to attacking anyone else?;
surely anyone capable of interstellar travel already possesses far more wealth then they can possibly hope to gain by crossing an interstellar distance and attacking someone else?

However, if interstellar travel is possible, then some human beings might colonize extra-solar planets and one of those colonies could be irrational enough to attack the home planet, which is what happens in this story. Even if we need not fear extraterrestrials, and we do not know that for sure, we might still need to fear each other - although I also remain convinced that the production and distribution of abundance will make theft and war obsolete.

But that leads to another issue which Anderson addresses here and in later works and to which I will return in a further post.

Technology In The Star Beast II


(xi) Useless, repetitive memories can be taken out of the record.

(xii) The apparent acceleration of time with age worsens after two centuries but then flattens out as the nervous system adapts.

(xiii) However, both that apparent acceleration and the lack of incentive cause stasis, unproductiveness and procastination.

(xiv) The creator and the transmitter enable people to live apart but stay in touch so communities are obsolete.

(xv) Most people want few children.

(xvi) Robot ships can take recordings to the extra-solar colonies. Thus, those who want a more dynamic life leave Earth.

(xvii) Human labor remains necessary for some public services: psychiatry; supervision of the stations; entertainment; handicrafts, to be duplicated by the creators.

(xviii) Some people work a few hours per week or month either to pass the time or to acquire credit with which to buy services.

(xvix) The few remaining government functions are the responsibility of one man, the Coordinator.

(xx) The Solar language has no word for "crime." There is no motive for theft or violence, whether individual or collective, because everyone has a matter creator. Independence prevents friction. Psychoses have been removed from the records.

(xxi) Sol has no defenses because it is thought that no one would invade over light years at half light speed and, even if they did, they could be given anything they wanted from the matter creators.

(xxii) A forest covers Earth now that there are neither cities nor agriculture.

Reviewing The Past

Some readers might notice that this post repeats some points that had already been made in greater detail in several much earlier posts. However, I think that these reflections on Poul Anderson's works remain so fresh that they bear repetition - and may be of interest to any readers who have either forgotten or not read the earlier posts?

In a recent post, I think that I comprehensively summarized what I called Anderson's "pre-futuristic " works into ten groups. By "pre-futuristic," I mean any narrative set in a past or a present as opposed to a future - although, by their own internal logic, some of these narratives do continue into the future as well:

time travelers visit both the past and the future;
immortals who endure through history survive into the future;
Englishmen taken into space in the historical past are found by fellow Earthmen in a spacefaring future.

It seems that there is no limit to what Anderson can imagine.

The ten "pre-futuristic" groups were:

Last Viking;
14th century;
Many Times;
Many Timelines;
Time Patrol;

Of these:

Ys (with Karen Anderson) is a tetralogy;
The Last Viking is a trilogy;
the Time Patrol is a series, most recently published as one omnibus collection and one long novel;
"Many Timelines" is four novels and two short stories connected by common characters;
"Vikings" is five novels connected by common references - and the first Viking volume refers to Ys;
"BC" and "14th century" can each be described as "three novels of different genres classified together only because of the period in which they are set."

However, the difference between a single century and everything BC stretches the word "period" to its limit! The BC "triad," so to call it, covers:

heroic fantasy set in another author's fictitious prehistoric civilization;
science fictional time travel to Atlantis;
historical fiction set during the Roman Republic.

Thus, extraordinarily comprehensive both in periods and in genres. I have not yet read or even seen copies of any of Anderson's three contemporary detective novels, although there are one or two detective short stories in one of the collections. I am currently rereading the collection, Alight In The Void, and will shortly return to the short story, "The Star Beast."

Technology In The Star Beast

(i) Spaceships can travel at only half light speed so there are extra-solar colonies but little contact with them.

(ii) The ultrawave, linked to wave mechanics, not to electromagnetism, and generated by the existence of both a receiver and a transmitter, can transmit energy without loss over many astronomical units.

(iii) The robot-controlled Power Station on Mercury dark side transmits solar energy to the entire Solar System.

(iv) Every part of the Station is recorded so that, if it goes wrong, it is dissolved and recreated in the matter bank.

(v) Any body can be scanned atom by atom, dissolved to energy, transmitted by ultrawave with the scanning signal and recreated by the receiver.

(vi) Transmitter Station in Brazil holds records of addresses and coordinates all transmitters and receivers.

(vii) Signals can be recorded and reproduced from any matter bank. Thus, everyone has a duplicator or matter creator from which he can produce any material goods.

(viii) Everyone's body is recorded in its prime. When an individual has lived for as long as he wants, his neural pattern is recorded and superimposed on the record, then his aged body is dissolved in the matter bank to produce a new body with continuity of memory.

(ix) Records are altered to eliminate disease.

(x) Perfect specimens are recorded with ego-patterns removed so that neural patterns can be superimposed on them.

(There is more but it is time for me to turn in.)

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Star Beast

The Star Beast is a juvenile science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein whereas "The Star Beast" is an adult science fiction short story by Poul Anderson, published in Super Science Stories in 1950 and republished in several Anderson collections, including Alight In The Void (New York, 1993).

"The Star Beast" occupies just forty two pages of Alight In The Void so is not a novel but nevertheless, in the pulp tradition, is divided into chapters with individual titles:

Chapter I, Therapy for Paradise
Chapter II, "Tiger, Tiger!"
Chapter III, Dark Victory

The opening sentence:

"The rebirth technician thought he had heard everything in the course of some three centuries." (p. 61)

- informs us that we are dealing with characters who live for several centuries and who practice something called "rebirth" although this seems to be more technological than spiritual. Indeed, it turns out not to be the Buddhist concept of rebirth.

The rebirth technician informs Harol, who wants to spend a couple of years as a tiger, that an animal whose ontogeny opposed its phylogeny would not be viable. I had to use a dictionary for both these words and to try to understand the distinction that was being made. Like some later, longer works by Anderson, this story shows a future in which artificial intelligence has rendered human intelligence redundant. I will continue to reread it with interest.

The Past

Could I possibly have read Poul Anderson's "Son of the Sword" just once years ago and completely forgotten about it? On the one hand, the ending did seem vaguely familiar when I got to it. On the other hand, I think it is unlikely that I would have forgotten a story to that extent.

But, in any case, having now either reread or read it, I think it would fit perfectly at the midpoint of an Anderson "Many Times" collection where it could be preceded by two works of prehistorical fiction and followed by two stories set in the Roman and Viking periods, respectively. These are all periods about which Anderson wrote at greater length elsewhere.

The five stories represent Anderson's three main genres. "The Long Remembering" is science fiction about mental time travel to prehistory. "The Tale of Hauk" is a fantasy about the unrestful dead. "The Peat Bog" and "Son of the Sword" are historical fiction. "The Forest" is prehistorical but without any fantasy or sf - so maybe this is a fourth genre?

This would be a good companion volume to Past Times (revised edition), a collection of stories entirely about physical time travel to prehistory, the Viking period or the future. Also, two novels, The Corridors Of Time and The Boat of A Million Years, cover "many times" rather than a single period. In the former, characters travel to several periods of the past and future. In the latter, a small group of immortals survives through many historical periods through the "present," the time when the novel was written, and into a remote future. Yet again, it seems that Anderson imagines and addresses every possibility.

Finally, "Son of the Sword" includes the phrase, "'...mother of kings...,'" which became the title of a later Anderson novel. (Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, p. 151)

Son Of The Sword Spoilers

Another, to me, unfamiliar word in Poul Anderson's "Son of the Sword": "...stridulent..." (Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, p. 141).

I thought that there was yet another but now can't find it. (Maybe that was it.)

Why do people talk about cities dreaming? Either Oxford or Cambridge has "dreaming towers" and:

"The city appeared over the horizon and they went past. Very white and fair was Akhetaton, dreaming between stony cliffs on the banks of father Nile." (p. 138)

The idea that cities dream is deployed to fantastic effect by both Neil Gaiman and China Mieville.

In one interpretation of philosophy, "idealists" believe that consciousness determines being whereas "materialists" believe that being determines consciousness. These are highly abstract terms, particularly "being," which here means how people physically exist and earn their living, the materialist view being that these economic questions precede and underlie "consciousness," how people think and perceive the world. Thoas, the hero of "Son of the Sword," expresses the materialist view but in a very concrete way. He thinks that "soul," collective, not individual, comes from landscape because the latter forms bones, flesh and thoughts. Thus, mountains and sea make the Cretan soul wild and light whereas deserts and river make the Egyptian soul strong but narrow:

"...marching down an endless road that ran to eternity..." (p. 150)

"Son of the Sword" climaxes with the invention of the battering ram, the derivation of the verb "to ram" from the noun "ram" and, despite the earlier condemnation of Akhnaton's pacifism, an affirmation of the loving god, Aton.

Later: I found the other unfamiliar word, "...luffed..." (p. 153)

History And Monotheism

When discussing Poul Anderson's fiction, I make no apology for alternating between his historical fiction ("Son of the Sword") and his fictitious history (Technic Civilization). It is all one.

In "Son of the Sword," as ever, action-adventure fiction, the escape from Thebes, alternates with discussion of historical issues. Akhnaton was a monotheist heretic. Monotheism can be exclusive (Semitic) or inclusive (Hindu) but his was neither. Apparently, it was unrealistically pacifistic: Akhnaton lived beautifully while losing large areas of his empire.

His was the attitude condemned by Max Abrams, mentor of Dominic Flandry - it is wrong to fight even to defend the level of civilization that our ancestors have gained:

"'Cities stood ablaze for want of the troops that he could have sent. But no, he loved everyone and Aton forbade killing.'"

(Poul Anderson, "Son of the Sword" IN Anderson, Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, p. 139)

Earlier in life, I advocated Tolstoyan-Ghandian-Huxleyan pacifism. I have learned not to accept the opinions of my elders but also not to form my own opinions too early either.

Historical Sequence

I apologize to anyone for whom this gets monotonous but I am never quite finished with rethinking how best to package and present Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization History. However, I think that I have made some progress on this issue.

First, I am convinced that eight volumes unequal in length would reflect the content of the History more effectively than the seven volumes of uniform length of Baen Books' nevertheless excellent The Technic Civilization Saga.

Secondly, the titles should as far as possible show the reader how the volumes are connected and that they express a historical sequence. Thus, longer rather than shorter titles would be appropriate so I suggest:

I Rise Of The Polesotechnic League
II Decline Of The Polesotechnic League
III Rise Of The Terran Empire
IV Young Flandry And The Terran Empire
V Outposts Of The Terran Empire
VI Captain Flandry Of The Terran Empire
VII Children Of The Terran Empire
VIII After The Terran Empire

Despite the dominance of the Empire in these proposed titles, it is of course absent from Vol VIII. Also, it shares Vol III with the League. Thus, the Empire is mentioned in six of the eight titles but features in only four and a half of the proposed volumes.

These titles convey a much more impressive historical process than any of the various Foundation or Dune volumes: two historical cycles and the beginning of a third.

Street Life

Whenever Poul Anderson's characters move, or often, as here, flee for their lives, along city streets, Anderson always shows us the busy street life going on around them:

"Thebes had wakened from its slumber and all the city was out on its various business. Merchants cried their sleazy wares from bazaars like caves in the clay-brick walls; porters hurried by, gasping under their loads; beggars and harlots plied their shrill trades; the narrow, twisting streets brawled with life, they were like rivers shouting between grimy walls..."

(Poul Anderson, "Son of the Sword" IN Anderson, Alight In The Void, New York, 1993, p. 124)

Yes, this is life, displayed by Anderson in many ages, both past and future. It is difficult to close the quotation marks but we cannot transcribe an entire story.

A reader of the pulp magazine in which this story first appeared would have read on quickly to find out how the characters evade their pursuers or whether they are apprehended without pausing to appreciate the image of a busy street as a shouting river. An ephemeral short story preserved by book publication is like a video that we can pause and rewind to notice its details.

Alight In The Void

Poul Anderson's Alight In The Void (New York, 1991, 1993) collects pulp magazine short stories originally published in Super Science Stories, 1950, 1951, or in Adventure Magazine, 1951. Thus, the collection is a nostalgic period piece.

Anderson's Introduction, "Tell Me a Story," discusses the importance of story and ends:

"Herewith a sample of my own contributions to the [pulp] era as it neared its end. Afterward I learned how to write better, but the visions are no more clear, the dreams no more bright - and maybe less so, now - than they were when all the world was young." (p. xiii)

The collection is worth possessing both for the stories that it preserves and for this evocative writing. The world seemed young when we were. One of the British comics writers wrote, "Remember the first Superman movie when the world was young and dinosaurs walked the Earth...?" My daughter was in a push chair at the time of the first Superman movie but took me to the recent Man Of Steel for Fathers' Day.

I am focusing on Alight In The Void for its single work of historical fiction, "Son of the Sword." (Adventure Magazine, 1951) This is one story that I had not read before, despite possessing the collection from time immemorial. Its first page displays yet another example of Anderson's extensive vocabulary: "...shadoof..." (p. 103). (I had to google it.)

The central character is Ankhsenamen, daughter of Akhnaton and widow of Tutankhamen. I admit to not having heard of her before. However, her Wikipedia article reveals how Anderson weaves historical data into his fictional account and also discloses that Ankhsenamen is celebrated in many works of fiction although, unfortunately, this Anderson short story is not mentioned.

Like some others among Anderson shorter works, including "Flight to Forever," which follows it in this collection, "Son of the Sword" is divided into chapters. We are on familiar territory when, in Chapter II, a hired Cypriat merchant fights his way out of the palace with Ankhsenamen who has hired foreign help because she fears assassination. Now read on...

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Past And Future

This blog is entirely about the works of Poul Anderson and, for over two months, I have narrowed the focus to discuss just one series, the Technic Civilization History, despite having posted on this series several times previously. I think that the History warrants this amount of attention and I have by no means exhausted all that there is to be said about it. Nevertheless, I am bound to reach the limit of what one reader can usefully say for the time being - if I have not passed such a limit already. I am not sure at present. But I have definitely demonstrated that many more of the descriptive and narrative details can be properly appreciated by studying the texts, reading slowly and extracting information, rather than just by skimming through them, which is the way that this sort of popular fiction is usually read.

Quite a while back, I focused on all of Anderson's "past" fiction, novels and short stories set in historical or prehistorical periods, and, while I was doing this, I did not want to return to his futuristic sf because the past was a vast space, an entire universe, in its own right. In fact, I suggest that what we might call Anderson's "pre-futuristic" fiction divides into no less than ten entire series and/or groups of works:

Last Viking;
14th century;
Many Times;
Many Timelines;
Time Patrol;

By "Many Times," I mean:

The Boat Of A Million Years;
The Corridors Of Time;
Past Times (which I would revise slightly);
a collection, that could be called Many Times, to comprise:

"The Long Remembering";
"The Forest";
"The Peat Bog";
"The Tale of Hauk";
"Son of the Sword."

I have discussed most of these stories in previous posts. However, I remembered that there was a story set in ancient Egypt that I had not yet read and had meant to get back to. I could remember neither its title nor which collection it was in so I had to check through several volumes, including Alight In The Void, whose title to me suggests futuristic sf about interstellar travel, which is a theme of several Anderson collection titles.

In this collection, I found the story that I sought, which turns out to be called "Son of the Sword," and will shortly read it in order to comment on it.

Flandry's Career

Dominic Flandry's one man mission to track down conspirators on Llynathawyr was cut short when he was kidnapped by the Scothani. After he had single-handedly subverted the Scothani Empire, he was put in charge of Intelligence in the frontier province of Spica. Thus, it was he who dispatched such men as were available to hunt for an escaped enemy agent that was known to be hiding in the province but without success.

In the following two years, Flandry:

was sent to Betelgeuse, where he learned how to lie to a telepath;
entered the Merseian Roidhunate and established an advance base for Naval Intelligence;
had an eventful leave on Terra;
was re-assigned to Spica;
led Intelligence during the conquest of Brae;
on Brae, detected a clue as to the whereabouts of the missing enemy agent;
defeated that agent on Nyanza, thus also preventing a Nyanzan rebellion against the Empire;

- my point being that a significant period of Flandry's career, covering his first three short stories, is so understated that we might miss it.

Here is another interesting detail: "The Game of Glory," about Brae and Nyanza, mentions the breakup of the Commonwealth in its original, unrevised, form, even though it was published two years before "A Plague of Masters," containing the first reference to van Rijn in a Flandry story, so maybe the idea of uniting the van Rijn and Flandry series was around earlier than was thought?

All Humanoids

Poul Anderson's character, Dominic Flandry, visits three kinds of extra-solar planet:

inhabited by humanoids;
inhabited by non-humanoids (much rarer);
colonized by human beings.

It is unlikely that there are either humanoid races or easily colonizeable extra-solar planets. However, unlike many of the extra-solar races in Star Trek, Anderson's humanoids are never interchangeable with human beings and his texts do highlight the difficulties of extra-solar colonization. Every detail of an alien environment, including local food sources, cannot be exactly right.

Sexual intercourse is sometimes possible with other races but never procreation. We see Flandry with a horned alien queen on the attached cover of Agent Of The Terran Empire but the series becomes less implausible when he deals instead with human colonists.

Much later in the series, descendants of human colonists isolated on a distant planet with high radiation levels have become unable to interbreed with mainstream humanity and thus are effectively a new species. Eventually, the human race would become many with no obvious common ancestry like the diverse animal species of Earth but Anderson did not extrapolate the Technic Civilization History to that level of species diversification.

"What of the hunting, hunter bold?"

"What of the hunting...?" is in one of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books. Check it out. It's good. (See here.)

Meanwhile, the hunting scene in Poul Anderson's "Honorable Enemies" is almost comical and could be presented as such, maybe in an animated cartoon:

the Terrans are, of course, human beings;
their hosts, the Betelgeuseans,are squat and blue but humanoid;
their fellow guests, the Merseians, are tailed and green but humanoid;
the Merseians' henchman, Aycharaych, is feathered instead of haired and golden-skinned but humanoid;
they hunt large, winged "dragons."


the existence of even one humanoid alien race is improbable;
hunting is a Terrestrial pass-time;
dragons are a Terrestrial myth.

Thus, what we have here is essentially a Terrestrial scenario despite changed skin colors, extra body parts and exotic details like red mist drifting in through an open window of the Sartaz's palace.

Hunting is the Merseians' favorite sport. Also, in the revised version of the text, Flandry and Aycharaych wonder whether the ancestral Betelgeuseans had developed the dragons for sport, then designed the ecology around them.

On a more serious note, Aycharaych's people, the Chereionites, have full citizenship in the Merseian Roidhunate in the original but not in the revision. Anderson has increased the Merseians' racist supremacism. In the "earlier" alternative history, events could have diverged: other races, gaining prominence in the Roidhunate might have diluted or diverted its single-minded treatment of diplomacy as war by other means, with a different eventual outcome for the two empires.


In the original version of Poul Anderson's "Honorable Enemies," the star Betelgeuse has forty seven planets, six of them with native intelligent races, five of them ruled by the blue humanoid Alfzarians who were the first of the six to develop interplanetary travel! In the revised version, there are still forty seven planets, six of them inhabited, but now there is a single race whose ancestors had come from a planet of another star.

This change reflects the discovery that planets of a giant star would not remain hospitable long enough for life to evolve upon them. Thus, again, there are two alternative histories of Dominic Flandry. In the "earlier" history, the laws of physics and chemistry were sufficiently different that life and intelligence were able to evolve on six Betelgeusan planets. In the "later" history, these six planetary orbits are at least in the zone where water can be liquid so that the planets can be terraformed, or the equivalent, and colonized.

The process sounds familiar from Anderson's later Harvest Of Stars tetralogy:

genetically engineered micro-organisms generate an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere within decades;
automated processes produce soil;
plants and animals are grown from cells and released.

My question, however, is this. Alfzar has a region called the Borthudian mountains which are inhabited by large, dangerous, flying beings called Borthudian dragons. Centuries earlier, Nicholas van Rijn had tangled with a planet called Borthu whose inhabitants were "Borthudians" - so is this the place of origin of the beings that colonized the Betelgeusian System?

Monday, 22 July 2013

Ancient Futures

When a work of science fiction presents a future civilization that is already ancient before the story has even begun, then we can simultaneously appreciate two contradictory temporal perspectives. We, the author and his readers, imaginatively or speculatively contemplate our remote future while the characters might either reflectively or nostalgically contemplate a remote past.

"Thirty-first millennium. Outlaws after the failure of the Exaltationists to cast off the weight of a civilization grown older than the Old Stone Age was to me."

(Poul Anderson, Time Patrol, New York, 2006, p. 279)

Anderson wrote his Time Patrol series in the second millennium. His imagined thirty-first millennium is an era of genetic engineering, interstellar travel and time travel, this third discovery having been made in the twentieth millennium. Yet the genetically superior Exaltationists feel oppressed by, and try to overthrow, a civilization that to them resembles the Stone Age in terms of antiquity.

In Anderson's Technic Civilization History, Dominic Flandry refers to Imperial Terra as ancient, an impression heightened by the revival of the Latin name for Earth. He and the queen of a conquered species watch as:

"...the first of the descending Imperial ships glittered in heaven like a falling star." (Captain Flandry, Riverdale, NY, 2010, p. 276)

Two phrases here suggest antiquity. First, the application of the adjective "Imperial" to spaceships combines the senses of a long past and of a far future. Secondly, falling stars were known, although not understood, by the earliest inhabitants of Earth and also presumably of terrestroid planets like the one in this story. What do falling stars portend? Here, this ancient sight portends a changed future for an entire planet...

Flandry's Supporting Cast II

Fancy forgetting Tachwyr! (See "Flandry's Supporting Cast," Comments.) I also agree that Josip is a major supporting character. Although he only appears once, his later influence is pervasive.

Admiral Walton appears in the first Dominic Flandry story, "Tiger by the Tail." Both he and Admiral Fenross were mentioned in the original version of the second story, "Honorable Enemies," although the reference to Walton was dropped from the revised version, and Fenross, who is for a while Flandry's immediate superior, first appears in the third written story, "Warriors from Nowhere."

Another little known supporting character is the Merseian Korvash who appears in "Honorable Enemies" and is mentioned in A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows. In the former, he is His Excellency Korvash the Farseeing, Merseian Ambassador to Alfzar, Betelgeuse, where he wears multi-colored robes, gold and jewels. In the latter, he is back on Merseia, has become Hand of the Vach Rueth and corresponds with a member of the House of the Zmayi (beings Merseian by species) on Dennitza (a human colony planet).

Aycharaych's influence extends further than his appearances. In fact, he does appear briefly in the retrospective summary of Olaf Magnusson's pro-Merseian conditioning in The Game Of Empire, which is set long after his, Aycharaych's, death or disappearance on Chereion. I think that that now completes the summary of the supporting characters in the Flandry period of Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization History.

An Alternative History Of Dominic Flandry

Right at the end of the original version of Poul Anderson's earliest written Dominic Flandry story, "Tiger by the Tail," Flandry tells the queen of a conquered species:

"'I suppose the [Terran] Empire is decadent. But there's no reason why it can't some day have a renaissance. When the vigorous new peoples such as yours are guided by the ancient wisdom of Terra, the Galaxy may see its greatest glory.'"
-Agent Of The Terran Empire (London, 1977), p. 36.

Of course, anyone who says something like this might simply be mistaken. Thus, the author, if incorporating this story into a "future history," would be under no obligation to write a "renaissance" into later episodes of the history. Nevertheless, anyone reading "Tiger by the Tail" as a one-off story is inclined to accept that, other things being equal, some kind of renaissance leading to greater galactic glory does lie in the future of these characters.

When Anderson not only wrote an entire Flandry series but also did incorporate this series into a future history, he rationalized the history with a theory that did not allow for any later renaissance and Flandry's naively optimistic speech about vigor guided by wisdom was omitted from the text of the revised version of "Tiger by the Tail." Thus, potentially, we have here two alternative future histories of Dominic Flandry.

Anderson underlines the difference between the two futures with an addition to the revised text. When the queen remarks that the Empire is not so bad if it has men like Flandry in it, Flandry, in the revised version, thinks:

"'s worse off..."
-Captain Flandry (Riverdale, NY, 2010), p. 276.

This thought, which he diplomatically keeps to himself, does in fact reflect what the Technic Civilization History tells us about subsequent events in Flandry's life time and later.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Flandry's Supporting Cast

We are back home from Lake Como, where part of one of the Star Wars films was shot, and there is still a lot to post about Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization History but right now I have time only for a quick list of the supporting characters that weave in and out of the Dominic Flandry period of the History-

Dragoika: Ensign Flandry; The Game Of Empire;
John Ridenour: Ensign Flandry; "Outpost of Empire";
Captain Chang: "Outpost of Empire"; "Tiger by the Tail";
Admiral Walton: "Tiger by the Tail"; "Hunters of the Sky Cave";
Admiral Fenross: "Hunters of the Sky Cave"; "Warriors from Nowhere";
Chunderban Desai: The Day Of Their Return; A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows;
Gerhart Molitor: A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows; A Stone In Heaven;
Miriam Abrams: A Stone In Heaven; The Game Of Empire;
Aycharaych: The Day Of Their Return; "Honorable Enemies"; "Hunters of the Sky Cave"; A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows;
Chives: "Hunters of the Sky Cave"; "Warriors from Nowhere"; A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows; A Stone In Heaven.

This list was compiled in haste after traveling for over twenty four hours. Does it contain any errors?

Friday, 12 July 2013

Uneven But Combined Development

(Signing off till 22 July.)

Leon Trotsky wrote about uneven but combined development. When a technological advance has been made, e. g., in Europe, then it spreads to other continents whose inhabitants are thereby freed from repeating all the stages of development that were necessary for the Europeans. Thus, Europeans put rifles directly into the hands of Native Americans and industrialized a few cities in the otherwise still feudal Russian Empire.

In "Tiger by the Tail," Poul Anderson shows uneven but combined development between many entire rational species on an interstellar scale:

"The gap between, say, a preindustrial Iron Age and an assembly of modern machines was enormous."
- Captain Flandry (Riverdale, NY, 2010), p. 245.

There is the unevenness. However:

"It was not uncrossable." (ibid.)

There is the combination.

A preindustrial species can buy basic equipment with the wealth of its planet's natural resources. Enough natives can be educated to become a class of engineers and scientists whose industrial base can spread across their entire planet and planetary system with automatic machines doing most of the work while peasants are kept uneducated so that they can be socially controlled. Some such societies need permanent war for plunder and glory but, with the hyperdrive, it is easy to export it...

Queen Gunli

(Signing off till 22 July.)

In Poul Anderson's "Tiger by the Tail," Dominic Flandry subverts the Schotani Empire. Incredibly, the Schotani are humanoid, very white skinned and horned and fight with swords - although, as a spacefaring race, they also have acquired blasters. In other words, they resemble demons or elves. The story is action-adventure fiction and "space opera," originally published in the pulp magazine, Planet Stories. Thus although it is science fiction with spaceships and other planets, it has much in common with the sword and sorcery fantasy that Anderson also wrote.

When Anderson revised and improved the text of the story, he was confident enough to acknowledge this parallel. In both versions, Flandry admires the beauty of Queen Gunli but, in the revision, we are additionally told that she reminds him of the elves that he knows from Terrestrial mythology.

The Schotani are also barbarians. It was they from whom the Alarri, who had invaded the Terran Empire when Flandry was a boy, had fled. This mirrors the movement of barbarian hordes into the Roman Empire.

Flandry skillfully learns Schotanian body language, a circling nod of the head for assent and, for him, a touching of the forehead to register surprise because he lacks horns. As an effective secret agent, he invests a lot of effort in befriending his captors in order to turn them against each other. The young Schotani are trying to play games that the ancient Terrans have long since perfected.


(Signing off till 22 July.)

Although I can tell by rereading it that the revised version of Poul Anderson's "Tiger by the Tail" is a richer narrative with, for example, a fuller account of the Schotani Empire, I do not propose to make a line by line comparison between the two versions. I soon abandoned this idea with "Margin of Profit." Nevertheless, I urge every sf fan to read the story, in both versions if they can get them.

Flandry becomes a slave but also a highly respected adviser in the Scothani Empire and uses his position to subvert that empire. Thus, he suggests that a tax collector should increase his income by farming out tax collecting. This, of course, leads to murder of tax gatherers, concealment of property and guerrilla resistance. Asked for further advice, he then suggests, among other measures, "...propaganda shifting the blame onto scapegoats..." (Captain Flandry, Riverdale, NY, 2010, p. 265).

Someone might read this with a knowing smile about how cleverly Flandry, who is in fact the title character of this short story, subverts the regime. In fact:

"He did not add that these methods work only when skillfully administered." (ibid.)

But how do "these"? Blame the Jews, the Blacks, the Irish, Catholics, immigrants... No thank you, Flandry, I would not like to be a Terran subject learning that such tactics had been instigated on my behalf.

Cerdic And Penda

(Signing off till 22 July.)

Cerdic was probably the first king of Anglo-Saxon Wessex, in the sixth century. Penda was a seventh century king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

In the original version of the first Dominic Flandry short story, "Tiger by the Tail," Poul Anderson used these names for two alien barbarian chiefs. Penda is king of the planet Scotha and Cerdic is his son.

When he revised the story, Anderson ingeniously rationalized the names. We must understand, in any case, that the English language story that we read is a translation from Flandry's Anglic and that names may differ in pronunciation. Certainly, the Scothans do not write their names in Roman letters.

The revised text of the story informs us that Cerdic "...was not quite the prince's name, but near enough to catch Flandry's fancy; he was a bit of a history buff." (Captain Flandry, Riverdale, NY, 2010, p. 249) And "Penda" is "...another word-play by Flandry..." (ibid.)

The Terran Empire has deteriorated by the time of the revision. When Cerdic knocks Flandry down twice, Flandry reflects, in the original, that "...slaves in the Empire could be treated similarly." (Agent Of The Terran Empire, London, 1977, p. 14) but, in the revised version, that "...a slave in the Empire is subject to worse." (p. 247) This makes us ask whether an interstellar empire could really have badly treated slaves and, if so, why does Flandry defend it?

Tiger By The Tail

(Signing off till 22 July.)

I am rereading the revised version of the first published Dominic Flandry short story, "Tiger by the Tail," as if for the first time. The opening sentences establishes that the viewpoint character is Captain (not yet Sir) Dominic Flandry and that, on regaining consciousness, he sees metal. The words "Captain" and "metal" might locate the story in a sea going ship on Earth.

The second sentence gives Flandry a clue to his whereabouts and the reference to a sound "...not to be mistaken for anything else in the universe..." suggests a science fictional setting. (Poul Anderson, Captain Flandry, Riverdale, NY, 2010, p. 241) The third sentence confirms that this is an sf story: he is in a spaceship on hyperdrive. This sf cliche informs us that Flandry lives in a future period of regular faster than light interstellar travel.

Next, he realizes that he is in a ship not built for human beings although the crew must be fairly humanoid. This informs us that he is accustomed not only to interstellar travel but also to alien contacts. His realization that he must have been drugged and his reflection on what he had been doing before that informs us that he has been doing some sort of detective or Intelligence work.

Reading the series now, of course, we already know most of these things but it is instructive to reflect on how quickly and effectively Anderson made his original readers aware of them.

The High Commander

(Signing off until 22 July.)

Yakow Harolsson, High Commander of the Companions of the Arena in Orcus on Aeneas is surprisingly scientific despite his quasi-religious status but his world view shades off into speculative philosophy. The Companions guard Ancient buildings and catacombs and Harolsson even has his office inside one.

He tells Ivar:

the Companions take no official position on whether Jaan the prophet is a returned Ancient and do not serve any religion;

the Commander points out that faith in the supernatural is not empirically verifiable;

divine intervention may have suspended natural law by working miracles but these, by definition, are not experimentally repeatable;

the truth or falsity of historical claims can be investigated but, if Christ rose, he may have been in a coma, not dead;

or, if a saint did not live, it does not follow that the creed associated with him is false;

the Companions believe that the Elders existed on Aeneas a million years ago because they daily see the radiostatically dated Relics just as they believe in their sun and moons because they see them.

However, he infers that those beings evolved and moved away and hopes that they help less evolved beings to advance. Thus, an inference and a hope.

Ivar is sceptical:

of the many known races, none have evolved further;
nothing natural evolves indefinitely;
natural selection stops when technology ensures survival.

On the other hand, who knows what exists in the rest of the universe? The answer, of course, is that we do not know. Therefore, the Commander's inference and hope are unwarranted.

Philosophy II

In Aycharaych's fiction, Elders and Others have opposite approaches to the heat death of the universe: attempted transcendence as against resigned acceptance. In the terminology that I suggested in "Philosophy," Elders back energy and consciousness whereas Others back inertia and unconsciousness. In this kind of context, first letters are often capitalized. Thus:

Energy and Consciousness;
Inertia and Unconsciousness.

Aycharaych's fiction also posits a next stage for individual consciousness. Might it be recorded, duplicated and merged so that what had been a discrete personality becomes instead just one set of memories and skills within a more comprehensive node of consciousness, so to say? In The Day Of Their Return, these questions are fictions within the fiction whereas, in Anderson's later works, the Harvest Of Stars tetralogy and Genesis, they are addressed as real issues for the characters. As I have said before, Anderson gives the impression of addressing every possibility.

Aycharaych's fiction has Elders and Others waging a cosmic conflict. I cannot help asking whether the cosmos is not vast enough to incorporate many ways, as our single planet is. His attempt to mislead and misdirect on a cosmic scale is similar to that of the Teramind in The Fleet Of Stars, although the latter would not have entailed violence.

In these posts, I try to mention every point, however minor, in Anderson's works that catches my attention, knowing that other readers would focus on different details. On Aeneas, the nord use of Anglic without articles extends to Ivar writing, "Noneless..." instead of "Nonetheless..." (Captain Flandry, Riverdale, NY, 2010, p. 211).

In a previous post, I missed one expression of Aenean religiosity. When Jao explains that Riverfolk coffins float down the river to the Sea of Orcus, she adds that a seer who is there now "'...will call back the Old Shen from the stars. Will our dead then rise from the waters?'" (p. 169)

"The sea will give up her dead..." No one else mentions resurrection in connection with the Return but Jao, like, it seems, every other Aenean, has a creative religious imagination.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Memories Of Avalon

It is possible to experience nostalgia within a future history. If we have read Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization History in chronological order of fictitious events, then The Earth Book Of Stormgate and The People Of The Wind have preceded The Day Of Their Return. In Day, Erannath of Stormgate Choth on Avalon reminisces about Avalon and we know what he is talking about:

"'As a youth I wandered the whole of Avalon...hai-ha, storm-dawns over seas and snow peaks! Hunting a spathodont with spears! Wind across the plains, that smelled of sun and eternity!...'" (Captain Flandry, Riverdale, NY, 2010, p. 195)

Later, he became a spacehand and we have also read several stories about spacemen earlier in the History. So, quite unexpectedly, a lot that we have previously read gives meaning to this brief conversation between Erannath and Ivar but it is probably quickly forgotten when their conversations are interrupted by the important local figure, "'The High Commander!'" (p. 196) whom they are waiting to meet.

As I have advised before, read everything written by Poul Anderson at least twice. The second time, before turning the page to learn what happens next, pause to appreciate all the descriptive and background details on the current page.


While rereading Poul Anderson's The Day Of Their Return, I am approaching the exposition of the false philosophy imposed by Aycharaych on the mind of Jaan but, before engaging with a falsehood, it might be helpful to present some, hopefully honest, philosophical reflections based on what has already been said.

Ivar Frederiksen had reflected that:

"It's bleak, believin' in nothin' except accident." (Captain Flandry, Riverdale, NY, 2010, p. 148).

Why bleak? What are the alternatives? "Accident" here does not mean mere randomness which, as a Danellian remarks near the end of The Shield Of Time, would be incapable of generating or sustaining a stable environment. "Accident" means the absence of conscious design. Before the first conscious being capable of designing anything existed, there must have been some unconscious development that generated such beings. Natural selection is an unconscious process although its outcomes can be misunderstood as instances of design. (I have just read some Jehovah's Witness propaganda.)

Organisms were naturally selected for sensitivity to environmental alterations. Again, mere sensitivity, e. g., a plant responding to water and sunlight, is unconscious. However, beyond a certain level of organismic complexity, sensitivity becomes conscious. Thus, organismic sensitivity to environmental alterations quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed into conscious sensation. Being became conscious. It follows from this that consciousness is indeed an accidental (unintended, unplanned) side-effect or byproduct of the unconscious process of natural selection but it does not follow from that that consciousness is meaningless in the sense of valueless. We are conscious beings and we value our existence. Indeed, only conscious beings are capable of valuing anything. No value judgement preceded or informed our genesis but none was needed.

Being can be analyzed as an interaction between change and resistance to change, or energy and inertia. The most inert level of interaction is inanimate matter. Life is more dynamic. It resists change (preserves self and propagates species) by change (transformation of inanimate into animate etc). The most dynamic level is human (or superhuman?) consciousness in which qualitatively new aspects of being are continually perceived or created. (I mean that this is what happens when human life is freest and at its most creative.) But, even at that most dynamic of levels, it remains necessary to maintain a material and cultural environment. Thus, resistance to change remains present but is most fully subordinated to novelty and creativity.

Thus, I suggest that the most basic, pre-conscious, cosmic forces are energy and inertia and that fully liberated consciousness is the peak of their spiral development.

Continuing To Reread The Day Of Their Return

Throughout The Day Of Their Return, Poul Anderson consistently maintains the diverse speech patterns of the different Aenean communities. Jao tells Ivar that a long wooden box found floating on the river "'...was one coffin...,'" not "a coffin." (Captain Flandry, Riverdale NY, 2010, p. 169) Gabriel Stewart remembers Tatiana Thane "' bold lass...,'" not "as a bold lass." (p. 171) These minute details contribute in small ways to the author's presentation of authentic characters whose multifarious social backgrounds affect their use of Anglic. Tinerans also speak Haisun and the Kuang Shi, riverfolk, speak something else - Chinese?

Anderson makes much more out of Ivar's river journey in this novel than he does of Diana Crowfeather's comparable journey in The Game Of Empire:

"Herding on the Flone was an ideal task...Exertion and alertness kept a person fully alive, while nevertheless letting him enter into that peace, beauty, majesty which was the river." (p. 168)

"'All our dead go down the Sea of Orcus.'" (p. 169)

When, after flowing through the lake of the Green Bowl, the stream narrows between cliffs and boulders:

"Water brawled, foamed, spouted off rocks, filled air with an ongoing cannonade..." (p. 177)

The river ends in:

"...its final incredible plunge off the continental rim..." (ibid.)

Two other points to note:

First, events central to an earlier novel are tangential to this one. Gabriel informs Tatiana that some Terran agent had rescued Admiral McCormac's wife and stolen the rebels' codes... Regular readers know who the Terran agent was.

Secondly, the expressions of Aenean religiousness continue to proliferate. Earlier, we saw that one Aenean had rejected heathen talk of Oneness under the Morning Star but then had wondered whether the Aeneans might be God's chosen instrument for cleansing the Empire. Next, another churchgoer combines "Ancients" eschatology with Biblical language when he, with many others, hopes "'...that Elders will come back soon, bearin' Word of God.'" (p. 107)

He asks:

"'Can so many people be entirely wrong? They are many, I'll tell you.'" (ibid.)

Yes, they can be wrong if the cause of their hope is irrational though powerful. Here, the suggestion is that the belief continues to spread because it has already been spreading.

A tineran woman attempts a simple apologetic:

"'...there's got to be High Ones. This much joy can't just have happened.'" (p. 148)

But Ivar has the answer for that:

"Non sequitur, my dear. To us this is beautiful because certain apes were adapted to same kind of weather, long ago on Terra." (ibid.)

- although even he adds: "It's bleak, believin' in nothin' except accident." (ibid.)

There is another tineran non sequitur:

"'Whatever the High Ones are, they're as near godhood as makes no difference.'" (p. 141)

Ivar thinks that that does not follow but also wonders why the belief is almost universal on Aeneas.

The Kuang Shi seek allness, unity and harmony through rites and symbols. Thus:

the River = fate;
the Sun = life;
Moons and Stars = the transhuman;
Ivar Frederiksen = the Aenean leader who will cast out the Terrans and prepare for the promised Advent.

Gabriel Stewart goes further. Ivar is the Aenean leader and Tatiana is his bride who will bear his son that the coming Builders will make more than human. Thus, according to Gabriel (a relevant name), the political and spiritual leaderships of the movement will converge. It feels as though we are in the opening chapters of Luke's Gospel, with the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.

Who The Ancients Were

Almost everything fits:

the Ancients disappeared;
every planet with Ancient ruins has slinkers;
slinkers are telepathic;
Aycharaych is telepathic;
he is also the last Chereoinite;
he confirms that the Chereionites were the Ancients;
he does not say what made them withdraw.

Well, he would not want to admit that his people had created telepathic pets that were their downfall. (See previous post.) So the questions, "Where did the Ancients go?" and "Where did the Chereoinites go?" have the same answer. And apocalyptic hopes placed in the return of the Ancients are futile. But Axor might nevertheless learn something important by studying their ruins.

What does not fit, as correspondent Sean M. Brooks has pointed out, is this. It was learned on Aeneas that, at close range, Aycharaych can read the mind of any being irrespective of species or language. (Is this even theoretically possible? We must accept it for current story purposes.) Despite this, Dominic Flandry is surprised later in the series to discover the extent of Aycharaych's mental powers. Of course, some explanation of this discrepancy could have been written into the series. Like Shakespeare's scripts, the stories and novels of the Technic Civilization History must ultimately be regarded as unfinished works in progress.