Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Hunter's Moon

(This is the 100th post for the current month. Now I will definitely take a break from blogging. I must do some other things and get more exercise.)

(Friday 30 August: From Sunday 1 September, posts will resume at the rate of one per day for a while.)

"We do not perceive reality, we conceive it. To suppose otherwise is to invite catastrophic surprises. The tragic nature of history stems in large part from this endlessly recurrent mistake."

-Oskar Haeml, Betrachtungen uber die menschliche Verlegenheit

This quotation is at the head Poul Anderson's "Hunter's Moon" (Space Folk, New York, 1989, p. 147).

What is reality? We cannot perceive and necessarily conceive the microcosm described by chemistry and physics: molecules, atoms and their constituents. Believers in a supernatural reality cannot perceive that and must conceive it in terms of "God", "spirit" etc.

I argue that we do perceive our immediate environment, which is also real, although perception involves application of concepts. I not only feel hot (sensation) but also see the sun (perception) but the latter mental act involves application of the concept "sun" which can be analyzed as "round," "bright," "yellow," "hot," "above" etc. So perception combines sensation and conception. Someone who thinks about the sun while not seeing it is, of course, conceiving it.

What are the "catastrophic surprises" and the "tragic nature of history"? Many people treat their conception of reality as if it were a common perception. Thus, our shared certainty that the sun is above us is taken to be a model for what it is thought should be an equally shared certainty that God is above us. This does indeed lead to catastrophe and tragedy. 

Horse Trader II

Terminology gets recycled among so many stories. Men are addressed as "Freeman" in Poul Anderson's "Horse Trader" (Space Folk, New York, 1989) as they are in the Polesotechnic League period of his Technic Civilization History. As the phrases "Polesotechnic" and "Horse Trader" suggest, both the individual story and the series deal with trade - although they are very different kinds of trade for different kinds of goods.

Anderson uses the name "Almerik" which I think is a planet in a fantasy series? 

I found "Horse Trader" somewhat anticlimactic - an amazing premise:

"'...something great is in embryo among the stars, a whole new thing, a...a civilization of civilizations. These technical exchanges are just the beginning.'" (p. 277)

- but all we get is a few of the technical exchanges and a detective story, albeit a reasonably neat one. We should have been able to identify the data thief from among the story's assembled cast.

I commented in an earlier post that, in "Horse Trader," Anderson mentions but does not describe the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri A III, leaving us free to imagine that they are the large humanoid warrior women of "Captive of the Centaurianess," although I could not be sure that the author had intended us to make that connection. Well, he does describe the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri A II and they are large humanoid warrior men so I think it is indeed probable that Anderson was remembering "Captive" when he wrote "Horse Trader."

A being from Epsilon Indi is referred to as an "Epsilonian" although there is a temptation to coin the term "Indian".

I just do not buy a succession of aliens that resemble, respectively, a duck, a walrus-mustached centaur, a demon (who sits on his tail like a Merseian) and a Viking. Either the ET's are not out there or they are nothing that we could imagine, which is why Arthur C Clarke kept them off-screen in 2001.

And the story leaves us with a question, although scarcely with a cosmic one: what might "amphitronics" mean?

Means And Motives For Interstellar Contact

suspended animation
acceleration to and deceleration from relativistic speeds
star drives reaching near light speed without acceleration
faster than light, including quantum hyperdrive
instantaneous jumps, requiring time-consuming journeys between jumps
teleportation devices transported in slower than light ships
psychic teleportation between planetary surfaces
a T-machine

racial survival
sharing the benefits of civilization
war and imperialism
trade in luxury items
trade in ideas and sciences
a new start on a new planet
interstellar travel as a way of life

Monday, 26 August 2013

Horse Trader

I have argued in previous posts that the genres written by Poul Anderson include "historical science fiction." This is further exemplified by the italicized opening passage of his short story, "Horse Trader." (Space Folk, New York, 1989)

The first paragraph, dated AD 250, informs us of a turbine in the temple of Alexandria and of propellers on ships on an Earth-like planet elsewhere in the universe.

In the second paragraph, dated AD 1495, Leonardo da Vinci has made an airplane model but has no way to power it while beings on a planet of another star have built internal-combustion engines but have not thought of flying.

Next, in AD 1942, the Allies need to be able to detect submarines but are unable to develop ultrasonics while the people of Sumanor on Urish know about ultrasonics but "...had never heard of submarines." (p. 262)

Thus, each of these paragraphs presents a historical period with a science fictional perspective.

The action of the story starts in AD 2275 when, thanks to the null-null drive (we have met this before), interstellar journeys can be made at near light speed so that it becomes possible for rational species from different planetary systems to meet and to trade knowledge. No one can do everything well. Those who have developed science and technology in certain directions have not developed them in other directions but now all the discoveries can be exchanged and the first species to travel between stars in this volume of space, humanity, is able to profit by arranging the exchanges.

By coincidence, I had read Anderson's much earlier and very different story, "Captive of the Centaurianess," immediately before starting to read "Horse Trader." I therefore noticed that the Centaurianess is from Alpha Centauri A III and also that the new director of the Bureau of Intercultural Exchange, Technical Division, the "horse traders," was appointed because of his experience with the native civilization of Alpha Centauri A III. In the latter story, Anderson, perhaps deliberately, does not describe this Centaurian race, leaving us free to imagine that they are the large warrior women of the earlier story although this is extremely unlikely.

Centaurianess II

According to one internet reviewer, Poul Anderson updated "Captive of the Centaurianess" for its appearance in the first issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Adventure Magazine, so it must be the updated version that we read in the collection The Gods Laughed (New York, 1982) although, as the reviewer also remarked, "...it still reads dated."

Having read to the end of "Centaurianess," I do not have much more to say about it. It contains:

the Golden Age sf idea of plants and animals on Ganymede;
yet another description of a first faster than light (FTL) interstellar journey;
the problem, occasionally encountered in sf, of re-locating the Solar System after crossing an interstellar distance;
yet another dictatorship overthrown by the end of a story.

I would guess that the update includes part of the description of the FTL flight:

"The starbow of science fiction song and story pinched out into invisibility; he flew through total blindness." (pp. 203-204)

But, if anyone has Planet Stories March 1952, they might like to comment?

I think that this story would fit better in a collection of stories from that era. It does not really belong with the later, more serious speculations collected in The Gods Laughed. Which, if any, is the superior race in this story?

Captive Of The Centaurianess

Although Poul Anderson's "Captive of the Centaurianess" (The Gods Laughed, 1982) was published in 1978, it reads like Golden Age sf and was probably written in that style to reflect the fact that it was being published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Adventure Magazine. (Later: See correction in Comments.)

There is:

an italicized introduction about heroes taken from Origins of the Galactic Era;
a World Union on Earth;
a breakaway Confederated Satellites of Jupiter resulting from a "Symmetrist Revolution" (p. 153);
an intelligent tentacled Martian race, excelling at mathematics;
slower than light travel with suspended animation between the Solar System and Alpha Centauri A III;
humanoid Centaurians resulting either from coincidence or from parallel evolution, still practicing animal sacrifice;
Martian mathematics proving the possibility of faster than light travel so that we indeed seem to be at the origin of a Galactic Era.

Since the story is 85 pages long, I will have to read the rest of it later. Meanwhile, there is one surprise, although maybe I was at fault for misreading the title - a Centaurianess is not a female centaur but a female Centaurian biped.

The Word To Space

The view point character of Poul Anderson's "The Word to Space" (The Gods Laughed, New York, 1982) is:

called Father James Moriarty SJ;
"...tall and stooped and prematurely balding..." (p. 272);
descended from the author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid;
does not care to be reminded of that ancestor.


Holmes and Watson appear in "Time Patrol";
Holmes' alter ego, Altman, is mentioned in The Shield Of Time;
a descendant of Holmes who follows his profession features in "The Queen of Air and Darkness";
a descendant of Moriarty, having inherited both his first name and his physical appearance, features in "The Word to Space."

Moriarty SJ answers a question asked by Fr Axor of the Galilean Order in The Game Of Empire:

"'The Vatican decided...that the mission of Our Lord was to Earth only, to the human race.'" (pp. 285-286)

On this basis, Axor, a Wodenite, would not have been baptized or ordained but would have been advised that "'...God will have made his own provision for [Woden].'" (p. 286) Thus also, Moriarty does not want to convert the Akronites, twenty five light years away, who have been contacted by Project Ozma but does want to free them from their oppressive theocracy.

Moriarty mentions one of the stunts used to maintain Ozma's funding:

"'...one director retired and a Negro was appointed in his place. Ergo, no one dared vote against Ozma for fear of being called prejudiced.'" (p. 284)

No one? I have criticized black colleagues without being accused of prejudice. To continue funding a project only because its director was black would be an appalling inversion. This story was published in 1960. Hopefully there is now a better understanding of race relations and equal opportunities?

Soldier From The Stars

The basic plot of Poul Anderson's "Soldier From the Stars" (The Gods Laughed, New York, 1982) is easy to remember: extra-solar but humanoid aliens sell their military services to the highest bidder among Terrestrial governments and thus come to rule Earth economically. But it is worthwhile to reread the story to appreciate the details.

The Thashtivarians have force screens for defense, invisibility and telepathy for espionage and superior weaponry for combat. Their general, Taruz of Thashtivar, negotiates not from orbit as I had thought but on a neutral Portugese island. He is asked why he seeks bids from individual governments instead of dealing with the UN but he knows exactly what he is doing and obviously had excellent military intelligence about Earth before his arrival.

It would seem to be an easy matter for the governments either to refuse to deal with him except through the UN or even to refuse to deal with him but he knows that they will accept his ultimatum - if you do not buy my services, then someone else will:

"'...Taruz is no more than the world had coming. A united world could have laughed at him. A peaceful world would never have hired him.'" (p. 266)

On the Portugese island, governments outbid each other until it seems that the winner will have to use Thashtivarian services to loot the world in order to pay the Thashtivarians. The US wins against the USSR only by bidding jointly with the British Commonwealth and other powers. Consequently, the USSR makes a nuclear strike against the US immediately, before any force screens are in place. Taruz will act only when he has been given a check for the first payment and when economic measures have been implemented to ensure that the check retains its full value.

Although Thashtivarian superiority ensures victory, the smallness of their forces and the enormity of the conflict ensure that there is considerable suffering and economic hardship.

It was thought initially that Taruz would buy portable wealth to sell at home but instead he invests in American industry. This is regarded as a good thing: the wealth is staying here. But now the US, the sole world power, is controlled economically and financially by the new Thashtivarian elite who do not impose an ideology but merely enjoy their wealth and property while, of course, funding US Presidents:

"'General Motors or General Taruz - does it matter who owns title to the machines?...It's not you or me or Joe Smith in any case.'" (pp. 257-258)

The concluding prospect is that, over several generations, the new elite will be culturally assimilated or will decay and be overthrown. Anderson's commentator character gives historical examples: Normans and Hyksos. He also quotes four words of Latin: "'Si monumentum requiris, circumspice!'" (p. 267) ("If you are looking for an example, look around you!")

Night Piece

I do not understand Poul Anderson's "Night Piece." Anderson's Introduction to the story in The Gods Laughed (New York, 1982) informs us that:

"...Night Piece is at least three concurrent stories, two of them symbolic." (p. 34)

- and that the story has:

a basic idea or assumption;
a problem consequent on the assumption;
a resolution of the problem.

The assumption, problem and resolution are handled not as narrative but with some of the techniques of Kafka or Capek because the significant action is within the viewpoint character's mind.

He converses with a woman at a bus stop, then with the bus driver, about whether the bus goes to Seventh Street. Are these conversations within his mind and is the number seven significant?

His experiments with an ESP amplifier have sensitized him to something outside human understanding. First, he seems to be directly aware of oceanic life and evolution.

Secondly, he recalls an interesting speculative conversation with his wife that seems to be relevant. In that conversation, he made two distinctions, first between the superman as envisaged by Nietzsche and Superior as the next stage of evolution, and secondly between five "...modes of behavior..." (p. 45), levels or layers of response to the environment:

tropism (I had to google this - it is how plants respond to heat, light etc);
Superior (humanly unimaginable but "...of an ESP nature..." (p. 52), retaining only a modicum of reason as we do of tropism).

Superior, evolving on Earth, not elsewhere, would have diverged long ago and would be as unperceived by men as men are by mice, but ESP amplification has sensitized the viewpoint character to conflicts between two Superiors, whom he calls Aleph and Zayin, and ever since then he has been hunted by a creature that he imagines in detail, although knowing that it is not present as imagined. The oceanic feeling and the pursuit are his mind's interpretation of what he is experiencing.

How does he resolve the problem and what are the three concurrent stories?

When Half-Gods Go

(OK. Five more posts have been written so they are being added now.)

With the word "Gods" in its title, "When Half-Gods Go" has some claim to be the title story of Poul Anderson's collection, The Gods Laughed (New York, 1982). This is yet another Galactic Federation story, although here it is called the Galactic Union.

The story asks a serious question: how to convince disillusioned populations and suspicious governments of the validity of superior technology and psychic powers when all their experience to date predisposes them to perceive any prima facie evidence, however overwhelming, as just clever fakery or a good show?

Essentially the same question is raised by Isaac Asimov's "Belief," where a scientist needs colleagues to help him to understand his sudden inexplicable power of levitation but no one accepts it because they are convinced, or at least afraid, that, as soon as they have published their acceptance of the phenomenon, they will be shown to have been taken in by a clever hoax. That story ends not with an explanation of the levitation but with the beginning of serious joint research to find an explanation.

In "When Half-Gods Go," might the alleged Galactic emissaries be terrestrial mutants?

In this short work, we recognize many elements from other stories:

very humanoid aliens because of parallel evolution on Earth-like planets;
aliens who are adepts both in telepathy and in interstellar teleportation;
a need to equalize gravitational potentials;
nervous systems controlling matter and energy by triggering cosmic-force flows;
something unique in human psychology (in this case, the suspicion);
no economic motive for interstellar imperialism, especially not in a civilization based on individual development;
many advantages and no disadvantages of Union membership;
total disarmament required of member planets (but they can do it gradually);
a clever solution to the problem - in this case, although the Galactics no longer use spaceships, they can quickly mass produce a fleet and arrive in it because that is more credible.

Another strange character is the British anthropologist, Foxxe, who speaks like this:

"Rum go...I shall never understand you Americans." (p. 58)

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Martyr II

A few times before, I have posted immediate impressions of the opening passage of a short story, then later have posted about the story's conclusion. In the case of Poul Anderson's "The Martyr," however, I prefer to leave it to others to read the conclusion. Suffice it to say that, as in Arthur C Clarke's Childhood's End, we might have here an alien race able to answer questions as to the truth or falsity of religious beliefs.

But let us consider the theoretical basis of the story: a cosmic psionic standing wave increased by each new psycho-physical organism and not decreased by their deaths, thus an advance of the universe towards spirituality. Psychic powers, including even almost instantaneous interstellar teleportation, do not deplete any individual psychic's energy because the powers are exercised by accessing the standing wave.

Maybe the wave can provide an inter-cosmic meeting place for the Black Nebulans and the Chereionites of the Technic Civilization universe and the Cibarrans of this single story universe - their version of the Old Phoenix? Nebulans and Cibarrans can teleport across interstellar distances. Chereionites seem either not to have had or to have lost this ability but their last survivor is a universal telepath.

There is scope for a further story to unify this cosmic or, conceivably hyper-cosmic, basis of psychic phenomena.

(I want to complete the month with a round number of posts like either the current 90 or maybe 100 so, if less than 10 more posts are written before the end of August 31, they will be saved and posted on or after September 1.)

The Martyr

"The Martyr" by Poul Anderson (IN Anderson, The Gods Laughed, New York, 1982) is a story that I do not seem to have read before although I have had the collection for years. Sometimes a title does not grab the attention.

On its opening page, the story addresses the same issue as Anderson's "Backwardness":

"'I've always suspected that intellect is a necessary but somewhat overrated quality.'" (p. 7)

Anderson sketches a familiar kind of background very quickly:

the story is set some time in the future;
Earth has interstellar travel and an Empire with a Space Navy;
Tau Ceti II has been colonized;
the Imperial language is Lingua Terra, not Anglic (details like this immediately tell us that the story is not part of an already existing series).

Moving to the specifics of this story, it turns out that covert operatives of the Imperial Astronaval Service, scientific corps, have kidnapped some members of the peaceful, spiritual Cibarran species who are capable of collective telepathy and interstellar teleportation but, it is felt, are unwilling to share their knowledge of psionics. Unless there is a further twist to the tale, it seems that, in this story, Earthmen are the bad guys and can be expected to experience a nemesis for their hubris.

References to psychic abilities also suggest that intelligence is not the only issue here. I am remembering a story in which a small super-intelligent population was found on an island on another planet so this does not seem to be it.

The Gods Laughed

I am switching from Space Folk to The Gods Laughed (New York, 1982) because I think that the latter includes a story that is the obverse of "Backwardness," in other words a story about first contact with an alien race that is more intelligent than humanity - but I will find out. If the story that I am thinking of is not in this collection, then it must be in another.

Meanwhile, The Gods Laughed collects nine stories on the theme of human-alien contact, including:

"Peek! I See You!" and "Details," both discussed recently because reread in other collections;

"A Little Knowledge," part of Anderson's Technic Civilization History;

"Captive of the Centaurianess," which I think connects with "A Bicycle Built for Brew";

"Soldier From the Stars" - I remember the theme of this story, how to conquer Earth without destroying any of it, but I will reread it to appreciate the details;

"The Word to Space," in which a Jesuit descended from Moriarty confuses some aliens by questioning their religious dogmatism.

That leaves three stories:

"The Martyr"
"When Half Gods Go"

- and, having glanced through the book, I am no longer sure that any of them is the one I thought, but they will be worth reading in any case.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Vulcan's Forge II

OK."...cabochons..." are shaped and polished gemstones so Poul Anderson's use of the term to describe spacecraft observed from the Mercurian surface in "Vulcan's Forge" (Space Folk, New York, 1989) is metaphorical.

This Vulcan is not a planet between Mercury and the sun but "...an asteroid sufficiently close to the sun that its metallic body is molten..." (p. 37), kind of a mini-Satan's World.

As such, it warrants close scientific observation:

"...it may yield information about solar weather and other processes over a long timespan. Details are impossible to retrieve from afar. Direct investigation is necessary." (ibid.)

Fortunately, there is already a base on Mercury. A scout ship controlled internally by a consciousness-level computer and externally by a man who will remain at the base but with a radio time lag are sent to Mercury, having previously explored the outer Solar System. Then the scout approaches Vulcan and establishes orbit around it.

So close to the sun, Vulcan is "'...precessing and nutating at high rates.'" (p. 45) Not processing or mutating, precessing and nutating: changing the orientation of its axial rotation and swaying in that direction. This generates magnetism that causes problems for the scout.

However, what makes the story is not merely the technicalities but the human dimension. When the controller's wife and partner, now dead, had remotely controlled the scout in an emergency on Titan, her personality had entered the data bank and computer program. Thus, it is possible that what remains of her suffers as the software is damaged - so he gives her peace by wiping the program at the expense of losing the data from Vulcan.

Vulcan's Forge

The page view count for today is so good so far that I feel I ought to add another post but I can't just yet. I have been doing some other reading and am just about to go out, in fact will have to rush if I delay any longer. And I must catch up with some Latin this weekend.

However, the Poul Anderson short story currently on the agenda is "Vulcan's Forge" (Space Folk, New York, 1989). There must be someone reading this post who has read that story? Please email me your summary or critique of it and that can be posted here. We ought to get more interactive.

"Vulcan's Forge" is the kind of sf story that assumes no space technology beyond what could be constructed now, except of course for what seems to be the human personality inside a spaceship computer - if I have not misread the italicized passages so far. The story was published thirty years ago this year. Anderson and other American hard sf writers would have expected there to be bases on the Moon and astronauts exploring Mars and Mercury by now but the future is never what we expect.

We were not surprised by the first Moon landing in our lifetimes but we were very surprised by the cessation of interplanetary travel shortly after that. Sorry I do not have time to post more now.

Myths Of Mercury

Until 1965, every time Mercury was observed, it was showing the same face towards Earth, so it was thought that the planet had a hot day side always facing the Sun and a cold night side always turned away. Any science fiction written before that date assumes this.Then, in 1965, radar observations disclosed that Mercury in fact rotates three times for every two revolutions.

Thus, the opening story of Larry Niven's Known Space future history became scientifically out of date between writing and publication. The hot and cold sides of Mercury are a myth of the Solar System like the canals of Mars and the oceans of Venus.

I have started to read Poul Anderson's "Vulcan's Forge" (Space Folk, New York, 1989), set on and around Mercury but published in 1983. Thus, this is a modern Mercury with a sunrise. Both title and text refer to another myth, Vulcan. Anomalies in Mercury's orbit were once explained by postulating another planet even closer to the Sun and appropriately named "Vulcan." Then the anomalies were instead explained by relativity. Inappropriately, the name "Vulcan" was later transferred to a fictitious extra-solar planet in Star Trek. In the first volume of his prose adaptations of Star Trek scripts, James Blish rightly describes this nomenclature as confusing.

Italicized passages in "Vulcan's Forge" are narrated by what seems to be a human consciousness directly controlling a spaceship approaching "Vulcan." It was known in 1983 that the postulated Solar planet Vulcan did not exist so I have yet to learn how Anderson is using the term here. Meanwhile, here is another of Anderson's unusual words: "...cabochons..." (p. 30).

Another Humanoid Extraterrestrial

Occasionally on this blog, I mention other books that I read, just to put Poul Anderson in a wider perspective. I have started to read Anderson's collection, Space Folk, but am also taking a break from it to look at something else.

I have mentioned the implausible humanoid aliens in some Anderson short stories like "Backwardness." In that short story, the United Nations Secretary-General, conversing with a Galactic emissary, thinks:

"It was not for him to judge a superman." (Kinship With The Stars, New York, 1991, p. 159)

- and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York thinks that:

"Among the Great Galactics, a silence must be as meaningful as a hundred words..." (p. 163)

Humanoid aliens used to abound in popular sf and are still to be seen in Star Trek. One Golden Age (1938) humanoid, not only regarded as a superman but also called "Superman," is now presented in considerably more sophisticated narratives such as the Smallville novel, Silence by Nancy Holder. In this Smallville series, we see Lex Luthor striving for the best that terrestrial humanity can achieve and therefore opposing the importation and imposition of an extraterrestrial superhumanity that, he thinks, renders human effort meaningless. It is for Alexander Luthor to judge a superman.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Space And Stars

Space Folk and Starfarers are two similar Poul Anderson titles. (A third evocative title was Star Ways but that had to be changed for republication to avoid apparent plagiarism of Star Wars.) However, Starfarers is a novel incorporating two of the three Kith short stories whereas Space Folk is a collection of twelve short stories, including:

the prequel to Tau Zero;
the sequel to The High Crusade;
a story set against the background of Anderson's Psychotechnic future history although not fully consistent with that series;
the, to me problematic, "Murphy's Hall," which is in other collections and which I discussed recently.

That leaves eight stories in Space Folk that I will read or reread for posting purposes.


the remaining Kith story, "The Horn of Time the Hunter," should be published as an Epilogue to future editions of Starfarers;
"Pride" should be published as a Prologue to future editions of Tau Zero;
"Quest" has rightly been published as an Epilogue in a later edition of The High Crusade.

Space Folk (New York, 1989) seems to be remarkably free of the duplication of contents that plagues Anderson collections. Glancing ahead, I have found, in the opening sentence of "Horse Trader", one of Anderson's characteristically unfamiliar terms, "...aeolipile..." (p. 261).

Regular blog readers might like to google this before I do?

Backwardness II

What might a Galactic Federation with a very low average IQ be like? Poul Anderson presents three stark examples in "Backwardness."

(i) The quartermaster of an interstellar spaceship:

feeds the gods with rabbits because there is not enough room for cattle on the ship;
asks the Cardinal Archbishop of New York the names of the top local gods because it would be a good idea to kill some cattle for them to avoid bad luck;
but otherwise is more interested in discussing what is on television.

The Galactics had not understood the Cardinal's request to meet their chaplain not because of any linguistic problem but because they need no word for "chaplain" other than "quartermaster, when he is feeding the gods." Imagine if that was the highest level of religion that was ever to be attained.

(ii) When the vibrations generated by a star drive are detected emanating from a new planetary system, a mission is sent to check whether the new interstellar travelers still wage war among themselves and, if so, to destroy every planet in their system. That is what would have happened to the entire Solar System if a star drive had been tested while wars were still waged on Earth.

Imagine if that was the highest level of morality that was ever to be attained.

(iii) The concluding sentence of the story underlines the Galactics' backwardness when a con man, having befriended the Federation emissaries, sells them the Brooklyn Bridge. This is short-sighted but, because it happens at the end of a short story, we maybe smile, then stop thinking about it. The public had been warned not to harm the powerful Galactics as they shop in New York. In fact, the Galactics are protected by an invisible force screen but not all harm is physical.

Apart from being a lousy trick to play on a bunch of guys after befriending them, what will the confidence trick, when it is inevitably discovered, do to interstellar relations? Anderson could have written a lot more about the diplomatic repercussions of the Galactics' arrival.

Human Galactics

The point of Poul Anderson's "Details" is that history is chaotic.

The point of his "Backwardness" is that a high average IQ was not necessary for human survival or technology.

The point of his "Soldier from the Stars" is that militarily superior humanoids would be able conquer Earth by destroying much of it but they would be better advised to sell their military services to the highest bidder among Terrestrial governments, thus conquering Earth economically.

In "Details," extra-solar "human beings" able to pass as Terrestrials observe and subtly intervene on Earth. In "Backwardness," human beings from Earth-like planets where evolution exactly parallels that on Earth land to negotiate with the UN. In "Soldier from the Stars," the aliens, as far as I can remember without having reread that story recently, orbit Earth and offer their services. But they are close enough to human beings to live here, buy property, invest etc.

In each of these short stories, Anderson, in order to make his particular point, makes, for story purposes,  the impossible assumption of human beings from the stars. But he speculates seriously about extraterrestrial and extra-solar life in other works. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013


Poul Anderson's "Backwardness" (Kinship With The Stars, New York, 1991) identifies itself as science fiction at the very end of its first paragraph by informing us that a con man spends his spoils not only in Florida but also in Greenland Resort or even further away in Luna City. The name "Luna City" takes the reader right back to Robert Heinlein's Future History.

What happens next? The Galactics have arrived and are negotiating with the UN. Not the same "Galactics" as in Anderson's "Details" but another fictitious humanoid race that has faster than light travel and that comes to us before we have gone to them.

In fact, this is another "Galactic Federation" story. As I said when discussing Anderson's "Peek! I See You!," the Galactic Federation is not a single sf series but a kind of premise for disparate stories: there is a Federation out there but the details like how to join are for each writer to devise. "Backwardness" exists because Anderson has, in his own words, thought of another twist to a cliche. The clue is in the title. Who is backward? Us or a million year old civilization with interstellar travel?

Some freak of mutation gave Earthmen an average IQ higher than they needed for survival. Given enough time, the Galactics, with their lower average IQ, discovered enough physics to give them military and interstellar technology but they are only a short way ahead of Earth in those respects and behind in every other way so who is going to wind up running the Federation?

Human superiority was a feature of Campbell-influenced sf but Anderson, covering every possibility, also has stories in which aliens are superior. In fact, I remember a story that was the obverse of "Backwardness," in which an alien race was more intelligent. That story is probably in the collection The Gods Laughed and I will come across it when rereading.

Critique II

"The Critique of Impure Reason" is not an appropriate title because the story is about literature, not about philosophy.

Asimov's robots have the knowledge for the jobs that they have to do built into them. It is an innovation when a robot is produced that has to learn and is to that extent like a human baby - the baby that robopsychologist Susan Calvin never had.

A humanoid robot in Anderson's story of the above title has most of his knowledge built into him but also has a period of psychological stabilization when he is very impressionable, again like a baby. The robot, designed to mine on Mercury, is impressed by casual conversation with literary criticism and remains on Earth to read novels.

The laws in Anderson's story are more humane than those in Asimov's series. As an intelligent conscious being, the robot, Izaak, has legal rights and cannot simply be destroyed or deactivated because he refuses to mine.

The solution (far fetched) is a literary hoax:

first, write rave reviews of a nonexistent novel about space exploration;
secondly, start to generate a text for the novel by plagiarizing a 1950's sf novel but rewriting it in purple prose;
thirdly, stall Izaak and anyone else who requests a copy;
finally, let Izaak read a copy when one has been generated with the result that he is inspired to go to Mercury, but wants to be kept informed of this new literary genre -

- which does come into existence because the rave reviews inspire others to request copies, which have to be mass-produced, and still others to write more in the same vein.

Like the interstellar feudalism of The High Crusade, a joke surely!

The Critique Of Impure Reason

OK. I have read half a speech by Cicero and have started to read Poul Anderson's "The Critique of Impure Reason" (IN Anderson, Kinship With The Stars, New York, 1991) before turning in.

Humorous touch: Robot IZK-99 is addressed as "'Izaak.'" (p. 132)

I am fairly sure that I have not read this story before. (When I was reading "Among Thieves," it seemed completely unfamiliar but, as I approached the conclusion, I began dimly to remember how the story would be resolved. However, I think that I have skipped past "Impure Reason" on previous occasions.)

The title is a reference to Immanuel Kant's philosophical trilogy:

The Critique Of Pure Reason;
The Critique Of Practical Reason;
The Critique Of Judgment.

Because I changed courses twice at University, I badly missed out on Kant although I really got into his successor, Hegel, which is why I mention syntheses occasionally. (If anyone is interested in my academic career, it was:

one year Law;
three years English, History and Philosophy;
two years Philosophy;
one year postgrad Philosophy;
two years postgrad Religious Studies;
later, two separate years of professional training.)

However, I think that Kant's distinction between pure and practical reason is helpful although it probably will not impact much on Anderson's "Impure Reason," which I will have to finish reading tomorrow. For practical, moral and legal purposes, we treat "reasonable beings," people, as if they could have done otherwise. Thus, someone found guilty of committing a crime could have refrained from committing it. (If not, then he is not guilty but mentally unwell and must be treated, not punished.)

To be able to act or refrain from acting is to be free so freedom is absence of constraint. However, every event, including every human action, is either caused or random. If all our choices, decisions and actions result either from earlier causes or from random events, then we could not have done otherwise. That is pure or theoretical reasoning. (I am not sure whether I am using these terms exactly in Kant's sense but this is an important distinction in any case.)

Because we want to influence the future actions of ourselves and others, we have to continue to apply practical reason, thus to continue treating people as if they could have done otherwise. It follows, I think, that on this issue, theory and practice are unsynthesizable antitheses.

This post was written in response to Anderson's title but the story following the title will probably be a different matter - and that will be another post.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Among Thieves

In Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization History, Technic Civilization is represented by the Terran Empire whose capital city, called Archopolis, is in North America and whose dominant language is Anglic.

In Anderson's "Among Thieves," Civilization is represented by the Terrestrial Federation whose capital city, called Capital City, is in Africa and whose dominant language is Tierrans.

Thus, even in this early (1957) story, Anderson made his recurrent point that different regions of Earth will become dominant in the future.

In "Among Thieves" (Strangers From Earth, London, 1965), the faster than light drive is not hyper-spatial but "...nonspatial..." (p. 185). What do the ships fly through if not through some kind of space? In later works, Anderson always made a point of rationalizing his uses of sf cliches like FTL drives.

One planetary population of extra-solar colonials has mutated into extreme xenophobes with whom no peace is possible. Thus, they are not aliens but have become alienated.

Anderson, through a character, cites a long list of historical examples in which a small border state guarded the approach to a larger civilization but then turned against that civilization, sometimes in cahoots with the barbarians whom it had been keeping at bay:

Assyria and Mesopotamia;
Rome and Greece;
Wales and England;
Tartars and Persia;
Prussia and Western Europe.

This seems to be happening here. However, this is the kind of early sf in which a clever individual can turn the tables with a secret plan so the marchmen ally with the barbarians only to attack them from within. Happy ending.

Now I really must get back to reading some Latin.

Slower Than Light And Social Change

Larry Niven wrote a few "Leshy Circuit" stories in which slower than light (STL) interstellar ramjets trade between Earth and a handful of extra-solar colonies. A very long novel could be written in which a single spaceship makes two circuits, beginning and ending on Earth and visiting Earth at mid-point. Thus, the space travelers would interact with decades or centuries of social change on several planets.

In both "The Star Beast" and "Conversation in Arcady" by Poul Anderson, an STL ship returns to a changed, by now utopian, Earth. In the latter story, a ship had left an overcrowded Earth to make a fresh start, made a long search for a Paradisal planet to colonize and, having found one, returned to Earth, expecting to excite some interest, to say the least.

MEANWHILE, back on Earth -

A fiendish idea for technological weaponry is an instrumentality that kills people but does not damage property. Thus, a population could be exterminated and their country immediately appropriated. After some such weapon has been used, a much reduced world population benefits from high-tech automation and robotics that had been designed to support much greater numbers - so this fortunate few neither works nor strives for anything. Needless to say, there is mutual incomprehension between the man with a mission from the stars and the indolent couple who visit his landed space boat out of idle curiosity. The woman wants sex with a space traveler and the man wants interesting conversation. Neither wants to colonize another planet.

As often, in other and longer works, Anderson presents a thesis and an antithesis without a synthesis. The synthesis would be a world population both benefiting from automation and exploring the universe. Some intelligences, whether organic or artificial, would have to remain alert to potential dangers like technological breakdowns, depleted resources, cometary strikes, hostile returning spacecraft, unforeseen side effects of technology, social stagnation etc. It would be possible to seek out new worlds not for survival but for knowledge. For me, this, not "Arcady," would be the real utopia.

(Having just traveled with Poul Anderson from the deepest vault of an ancient library in an alternative Jerusalem to a future high tech civilization with interstellar travel, I feel a little dizzy.)

Reasons For Reading

The narrator of Poul Anderson's "The House of Sorrows" (All One Universe, New York, 1997) lists three reasons for reading:

"The Zarathustrans study their holy writ but add nothing new" (p. 86);

"The rest of us...keep old books if they are useful or enjoyable, but otherwise, why should we care?" (pp. 86-87);

the Greeks loved learning for its own sake but he had thought that this love, like that of men for boys, had died with the Romans until he entered a library where he "...felt as though [he] stood among ghosts." (p. 87)

Knowledge of the movements of the stars helps navigation but knowledge of the nature of the stars would not be useful (he thinks).

The Zarathustrans reading their scriptures have the potential for learning more if they are exposed to other literature. Recent posts on this blog have been about the meaning of Lamentations and the nature of Zen experience. Usefulness and enjoyment are excellent reasons for keeping books. The narrator, sheltering in the barricaded library during a period of civil unrest, learns more as the librarians read to him:

"...I took happiness out of the vaults. Suddenly around me, speaking, loving, hating, striving, not dead but merely sundered from me in time, were the builders, the dwellers, the conquerors, Persians, Turks, Mongols, Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Pelishtim, Egyptians, endlessly manifold. In their sagas, I could lose myself, forget that I was trapped and waiting for whatever doom happened to be mine." (p. 97)

- and he even learns the concluding verses of Lamentations, which, in his world, are preserved only in that single library.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013


The narrator of Poul Anderson's "The House of Sorrows" (All One Universe, New York, 1997) spends the entire period of the story in a city that, he learns on the last page, used to be called Jerusalem. In the city, the deepest crypt of a library holds the oldest fragments, including a faded papyrus sheet torn from a scroll. The sheet is a fragment of an ancient lament in a dead language whose letters slightly resemble Edomite or Arabian.

A previous librarian made a partial translation by comparison with known languages. The present librarian, having studied the text, is able to decipher parts of it.

It begins:

"Jerusalem hath grievously sinned..." (p. 98)

- and ends:

"But thou hast utterly rejected us -" (ibid.)

As a matter of fact, my Revised Standard Version gives Lamentations 5.22 as:

"Or hast thou utterly rejected us? Art thou exceedingly angry with us?"

- and the Good News Bible gives:

"Or have you rejected us forever? Is there no limit to your anger?"

But the King James ends Lamentations with a statement, not a question. The Lord, who is said to remain forever, is also said to "...forsake us forever..." (ibid.)

Imagine that you are a Hebrew prophet and that that is your last revelation: God is eternal but has ended the Covenant. You are on your own. What should you do? Serve other gods? Live as a free man without gods? Consider how much of the Law applies to human beings without reference to God? It is up to you.

Uncleftish Beholding

I was not getting much out off Poul Anderson's humorous piece, "Uncleftish Beholding" (All One Universe, 1997, pp. 99-104), which translates scientific terminology into the Anglo-Saxon language of a timeline in which the Norman Conquest did not occur. However, when I put down my copy of All One Universe, Sheila, a Modern Languages graduate, picked it up and started to unravel some of the meanings -

worldken: science;
stuff: matter;
work: energy;
watching: observation;
firststuffs: elements;
waterstuff: hydrogen;
ymirstuff: uranium;
aegirstuff: neptunium;
helstuff: plutonium;
motes: particles;
unclefts: atoms;
bulkbits: molecules;
bindings: compounds;
sourstuff: oxygen;
kernel: nucleus;
forward and backward: positive and negative.

But there are two more pages and I am lost again.

What Is Truth?

The narrator of Poul Anderson's "Requiem for a Universe" (All One Universe, New York, 1997, pp. 35-46 AT p. 35) lists four kinds of truth:


I can buy poetic truth because poems are composed of words but what is musical truth? My Aesthetics Tutor at Lancaster University informed me and fellow students that people listening to music sometimes remark, "How true!" - so apparently it is a philosophical question what they might mean by this. My response was, "Do people really say that? Well, if they just didn't say it, then we wouldn't have the question of what they might mean by it!"

I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to see a film of events that I had been involved in. The nearest I came to this was a trailer for a film about Margaret Thatcher that showed political events that I had lived through. Conversations, which we cannot remember in detail anyway, would have to be fictionalized. A television "docudrama" showed a British Prime Minister speaking one sentence that he was documented as having uttered whereas the author of a historical fiction would compose fictitious, although hopefully authentic, dialogue.

Shadowlands, a stage play about CS Lewis became a TV play, then a feature film, then a novelization of the film. In the film, the number of Joy's sons was reduced from two to one. Relatives of Lewis, having seen one of these dramatic presentations, commented that the conversations were made up, the actors did not resemble the real people and the order of events was changed and simplified but, despite all this, it was true. I can buy this although perhaps philosophically the word "authentic" is more appropriate.

Monotheism And Science

Was the monotheist idea that the entire world had been designed and ordered by a single creator necessary for the development of science and thus ultimately for the industrial revolution? Poul Anderson's "Delenda Est" and "The House of Sorrows" answer yes. In a history without Judaism or Christianity, the world remains divided between warring polytheist tribes and empires with very limited technology in the twentieth century.

Of course, however, people did not accept monotheism on the basis that, "This will lead us to something beneficial called "science'"! What my modern Pagan friends call "hard", i. e., literal polytheism became hard to sustain. Monotheism appealed to philosophers, priests and imperialists. The Jewish tribal confederation's exclusive covenant with its one god became full monotheism under the prophets. Paul freed this monotheism from divisive dietary laws, ritual cleanliness and circumcision. Constantine established Christianity and insisted that it be doctrinally uniform to unite his Empire.

There is a sense of historical inevitability about all this. But monotheism is not necessary for the continuation of science. On the contrary, scientific cosmogony and Darwinism now show what could not have been known before, namely that order need not have been designed. Many people are secularists although some revive hard polytheism while others develop soft versions. Some of us practice Buddhist meditation. It is good to know that Buddhist traditions and philosophical inquiries would have continued even in the polytheist timelines imagined by Anderson.

The House Of Sorrows

I am rereading Poul Anderson's "The House of Sorrows" (All One Universe, New York, 1997), originally published in What Might Have Been, vol 1.

In some earlier posts, I drew attention to this conceptual sequence in a few of Anderson's stories:

"The House of Sorrows," an alternative history;
"Eutopia," travel between alternative histories;
"House Rule" and "Losers' Night," an inter-cosmic inn visited by travelers from various alternative histories.

I have suggested, and still think, that these four stories should be collected as The Old Phoenix And Other Universes, to be published in uniform editions with the four novels about inter-cosmic travel, one of which also features the Old Phoenix.

The two stories about Cappen Varra and a third that refers to Varra are also set in a parallel universe and one of the Varra stories even involves travel between universes. However, these works differ in tone, merely showing a universe where magic works but not specifying precisely how or when that world's history diverged from ours. So I think that these three stories should be collected elsewhere.

In our history, Mithraism lost out to Christianity because the Mystery of Mithras was open to men only. Thus, Mithraists' wives converted to Christianity and had all their children, both male and female, baptized. I have thought that Mithraists could have counteracted this by linking with a women only Goddess Mystery and this has happened in "The House of Sorrows," where a Mithraeum and a Shrine of the Mother are side by side.

The narrator is a Mithraist like the Andersons' King of Ys and is guided through a strange city by an urchin, called Herod (!), similar in this respect to the character called Pum who guides Manse Everard of the Time Patrol through ancient Tyre. We see alternative forms of religion like a Mithraeum where "...Odin and Thor flank the altars of the Tauroctony..." (p. 76). Mithras recognizes lesser gods so the Aesir could have been incorporated in an alternative history.


(Please also see the addendum to this post.)

This post has some relevance to the blog although I am not sure exactly how much. I thought that I had read a disparaging reference to astrology in one of Poul Anderson's works but now cannot find it. But I think it is a safe bet that Anderson would have doubted the efficacy of astrology? Astrology works in Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys Tetralogy because that is a historical fantasy.

But in the universe described by science, how can stars that happen to form an accidental pattern as seen from Earth have any significant connection either with each other or with people and events on Earth? Everything is connected, of course, but how can these things have this connection? I do not see how they can but suppose we find that they do?

I know some astrologers. One in particular has told me things that were true and predicted a personal crisis that happened on schedule. She was able to describe the general nature of the crisis but not the details, like predicting that someone will read a romantic novel without being able to specify either title or author. All that I can say here is that I think that astrology, like spiritualism, warrants further research.

Addendum: Writing in haste before, I forgot to add that a tarot card reader produces similar results. I shuffle and pick the cards. I think but do not utter a question. Every time, his interpretation of the cards is directly relevant to the question and he has helped me to cope with events as they unfolded. He claims a high degree of accuracy.

Literary References

An Author's Note after Poul Anderson's "Rokuro" (All One Universe, New York, 1997) informs us:

"The traditional No play is full of allusions to classic literature and quotations from it." (p. 151)

- and adds:

"You may be interested to see what was intended in this case." (ibid.)

Yes, indeed, since I missed all the references as I read the play. I will mention only some of them here.

"Triumph and tragedy..." (p. 140) is from Winston Churchill, The Second World War, vol. V. Churchill drinks in the Old Phoenix in Anderson's "Losers' Night."

"They grind worlds forth..." (p. 141) is attributed both to Johannes V Jensen and to Vergil's Aeneid. Thus, Jensen is mentioned three times in All One Universe.

"With stars at its head..." (p. 142) is a reference to Dylan Thomas, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," which, as Anderson points out, is cited in James Blish, They Shall Have Stars, the opening volume of Blish's interesting but shorter future history.

"'In Him the Way...'" (p. 144) is from Rudyard Kipling, "Buddha at Kamakura." Anderson discusses Kipling in an article in All One Universe.

"Into what wilderness..." (p. 145) is a reference to Tom o' Bedlam, which is quoted in Anderson's "Goat Song" and in the title of his A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows.

The Author's Note also mentions Archibald MacLeish, Frederic Brown, Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand Of Darkness, Buddhist figures of speech, Pascal, haikus by Kyoshi and Basho and Robert Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land.

Thus, "Rokuro" is a short but rich work.


Poul Anderson's "Rokuro" (All One Universe, New York, 1997) is a science fiction story in the form of a Japanese No play. I had skipped past it before because of its unfamiliar format and had not realized that it told a story. A technological theme familiar from other works by Anderson is placed in a Japanese Buddhist context.

The title character had copied his consciousness into a computer program in the mistaken belief that such a disembodied mind might more easily realize enlightenment, then teach him. Instead, the program remembers but does not feel and thus is not human enough to transcend humanity but to erase it would be murder since it is aware.

Years later, the preserved program asks a Buddhist priest whether it has a soul or a karma and he replies that he does not know. However, the Buddha taught that no being has a soul and that all beings act - action is karma. The program's first formulation of the question was whether he lives or whether his thinking and suffering merely happen like "...a flame in the wind." (p. 148) What is the difference? He is not biologically alive but his experience and thought do happen. The occurrence of experience is not an illusion even if its content is illusory. "I think, therefore I am..." At this point, the priest correctly replies that we are all flames in the wind. A candle flame is always moving and burning different wax and will burn out even when it seems to be solid and static. The Buddha, analyzing consciousness, found no permanent soul anywhere within it.

The program says, "If I am nothing, then to nothing I return, and shall no more know that I ever happened." (p. 149)

- to which the priest replies, "But if you are real -" (ibid.)

But, if by "real" he means a permanent consciousness retaining its memories and sense of identity indefinitely after physical death - after the candle has burned out-, then nothing is "real" in this sense.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Kipling & Co

Poul Anderson's collection, All One Universe (New York, 1997), includes articles on three individuals:

Johannes V Jensen;
Rudyard Kipling;
John W Campbell.

Unexpectedly, they "cross over." First, Anderson quotes Jensen's description of Kipling after interviewing him, although I am not sure what Jensen meant by describing Kipling's head as "...not large but singularly full..." (p. 156).

Secondly, the article on Campbell mentions the Campbell school of science fiction writers, including Robert Heinlein. Heinlein wrote detailed descriptions of fictitious futures. Anderson tells us that Kipling did this in his sf story, "As Easy as ABC," "...with the same eye for detail as would later distinguish the work of Robert Heinlein." (p. 157) I have read very little Kipling but have liked what I read although my reading has not included "As Easy as ABC."

Anderson also replies to George Orwell's criticisms of Kipling. Thus, we have now referred to three writers of technological dystopias:

in 1984, television is used to spy on the population;
in "If This Goes On -," television is used to fake miracles for a religious dictatorship;
in "As Easy as ABC," I gather, "...technology driv[es] the evolution of the managerial society..." (ibid.)

Pretty smart stuff.


"Strangers" is a short story by Poul Anderson, originally published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, January 1988, and collected in All One Universe (New York, 1997). Strangers From Earth is an earlier collection by Anderson but could equally be the title of "Strangers."

Anderson's Introduction to "Strangers" informs us that this story is hard sf. Thus, references in the opening paragraph to "...a ghost..." and to "...campfires of the dead..." describe phenomena as perceived by the first person narrator but we have been forewarned not to suppose that anything here is supernatural.

In the second paragraph, the narrator informs us that he has fur and tendrils so he is not a human being and we are probably on another planet. In the following paragraphs, we learn that he has a fin and a tail and is quadruped. He also refers to "...the Night Folk." (p. 3)

In fantasy, beings called "Night Folk" will almost certainly be supernatural. In hard sf, they are likely to be nocturnal beings rarely glimpsed by their diurnal counterparts and believed to be supernatural. In this case, they turn out to be human colonists of a planet whose solar radiation is deadly to Terrestrial organisms. When the narrator meets and describes "[h]e of the Night...," (p. 11) tall, tailless, furless, flat-faced, we think, "This sounds like a human being...," except for the "beak" but that is the narrator's only word for a nose.

Thus, Anderson reverses everything and we are bound to ask, "Who are the strangers?" 

Requiem For A Universe II

The first time I read Poul Anderson's "Requiem For A Universe" in his collection, All One Universe (New York, 1997), I simply did not understand the ending. It was too cryptic.

It makes sense in the light of the article, "Wellsprings of Dream," later in the same collection. Freeman Dyson, John Barrow and Frank Tipler reason that, either at or after the heat death of the universe, consciousness will be able to survive, thinking slowly because of reduced energy but remaining alert and accessing knowledge of the entire past, maybe even resurrecting everyone that has lived and died. There are two possibilities here and I do not fully understand either, particularly not the option that fits an infinity of experiences into a finite time.

But this is the point of the ending of "Requiem For A Universe." Someone who expected quiescence after the heat death had not allowed for the activity of conscious beings capable of finding a way to transcend the heat death. Anderson says, "I don't believe in it myself." (p. 247) But we don't know. If this can be imagined now, what might be achieved in the future?

Requiem For A Universe

Poul Anderson liked to remind us that probably other countries will become dominant in the future. Thus, there is a Swedish world order in Tau Zero and a Pacific world order in the Maurai History and Spanish is the international language in "Requiem For A Universe." (All One Universe, New York, 1997)

We gather that the narrator and viewpoint character of "Requiem For A Universe" is an African-American called John Henry. He is addressed as "Jack" (p. 37) and as "Sr. Henry." (p. 38) At first glance, I misread "Sr. Henry" as "Sir Henry," which, of course, would have been a British form of address and would have meant that "Henry" was his first name rather than his surname.

Jack, like characters in The Avatar and in a few other Anderson works, is a human-computer link, adding human creativity to electronic computation, although, in the terminology of this story, he is a "linker," not a "holothete." (p. 43) A linker can imagine the origin of a planetary system and apply the laws of physics to it whereas a holothete can change the laws creatively while running the program.

Jack, addressing the reader, says:

"The world outside our skins is real, but what we directly experience is our sensory impressions. From those we infer - we construct - sunlight, trees, lovers, everything. We do this on so deep, instinctive a level that we can properly say we experience these things themselves." (p. 43)

He goes on to say that atoms and galaxies must always be abstractions, not immediate realities, except to holothetes in linkage.

Jack contradicts himself, first denying that we directly experience the external world, then saying that we can properly say that we do experience it. My way of accounting for perception is to say that we do directly experience the real world outside our skins and do not merely infer it. Cerebrally processed sensory impressions are the means by which we perceive the world. I see you and infer, for example, the existence of your parents - but I do not see sensory impressions and infer you.

If we place an inanimate object and some increasingly sensitive and complex organisms near a hot fire, then, after a while:

the object and the organisms are hot;
organisms capable of sensation feel hot;
organisms capable of perception see and feel that the fire is hot;
some of the organisms capable of conceptualization understand heat.

Members of this fourth group infer a cause of the fire but they do not infer the fire. They see and feel it.

An Unexpected Contradiction, by Sean M. Brooks

In this essay I would like to comment on an unexpected contradiction I found in two of Poul Anderson's stories: THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN and "Honorable Enemies."  Reading and thinking about these stories caused me to discover a serious contradiction when Chapter 20 of THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN is studied alongside "Honorable Enemies."

Chapter 20 of TDOTR has Aycharaych, the Chereionite master spy working for Merseia, the great rival of the Terran Empire, talking far too freely to Erannath, an agent of the Domain of Ythri also working for the Empire, about his telepathic powers.  As Erannath says: "There is some ultimate quality of the mind which goes deeper than language.  At close range, Aycharaych can read the thoughts of ANY being--any speech, any species, he claims--without needing to know that being's symbolism.  I suspect what he does is almost instantly to analyze the pattern, identify universals of logic and conation, go on from there to reconstruct the whole mental configuration--as if his nervous system included not only sensitivity to the radiations of others, but an organic semantic computer fantastically beyond anything that Technic civilization has built."

However, the text I quoted from Chapter 20 of TDOTR contradicts what we see five years later (in the Technic timeline) in both the original and revised versions of "Honorable Enemies."  In this story both Dominic Flandry and Lady Aline Chang-Lei were shocked and dismayed to discover Aycharaych was a telepath while at Betelgeuse.

Why didn't Imperial Naval Intelligence inform Flandry and Chang-Lei of Aycharaych's telepathic powers before sending them to Betelgeuse?  After all, as we know from reading TDOTR, the Empire's Intelligence service discovered Aycharaych's telepathic abilities.  It would be logical to think its best agents would be informed about Aycharaych's powers.  The simplest explanation I can think of for this contradiction is that Poul Anderson forgot to keep in mind the new information about Aycharaych while he was revising "Honorable Enemies."  And because I believe Anderson wanted to keep the new version as close as possible to the original form of the story (although that meant contradicting what we see in TDOTR).

One point which puzzles me is why Sandra Miesel, an excellent commentator on the works of Poul Anderson, did not see how Chapter 20 of TDOTR contradicted "Honorable Enemies."  No mention is made of this contradiction in her two essays about the Flandry stories: her "Introduction" for ENSIGN FLANDRY (Gregg Press, 1979); or, "Afterword: The Price of Buying Time," for A STONE IN HEAVEN (Ace Books, 1979).

I am frankly astonished to realize I may be the first reader or commentator who saw how THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN contradicted "Honorable Enemies" on an important point of plot development.  I was reminded of what Anderson himself said: "Indeed, various eagle-eyed individuals have long since pointed out this or that contradiction to me" ("Concerning Future Histories," BULLETIN OF THE SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS OF AMERICA, Fall 1979, page 13).

Johannes V Jensen

Having read CS Lewis, we can go on to read George MacDonald, knowing that Lewis read and enjoyed MacDonald before writing Narnia or The Great Divorce. (The latter features MacDonald as a character in conversation with Lewis.)

Thanks to Poul Anderson's article, "Johannes V Jensen" (All One Universe, New York, 1997), we can try to track down English translations of Jensen's Danish novels, knowing that they influenced Anderson.

Anderson summarizes the thousand year history of Scandinavian literature:

the Eddic poems;
the writing down of the Icelandic sagas;
the Danish folk ballads;
a revival during the Reformation;
eighteenth century playwright Holberg and poet Bellman;
the Romantic movement;
Hans Christian Anderson;
Ibsen and Strindberg;
literary realism in the nineteenth century;
many well known writers from the beginning of the twentieth century until the Second World War;
Jensen, 1873-1950.

Jensen "...invented a whole new literary form for himself, the 'myth' - a sketch which in a few pages, whether of straightforward description, fiction, or fantasy conveys an intensely personal impression of something, someplace, or somebody." (pp. 193-194)

Although these "myths" were brief, "...a few pages...," Jensen also wrote The Long Journey, a six volume series of mythological-historical novels stretching from before the Ice Age until the voyage of the Beagle. The series incorporates fantasy. Some of the characters live for centuries and one chapter of Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years is a homage to Jensen. Since Jensen also has characters who may be the originals of Odin and Thor and shows the Cimbrian invasion of northern Italy, it is easy for a reader of Anderson's historical novels to recognize Jensen's influence.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

John W Campbell

Poul Anderson reminisced about Astounding/Analog editor, John W Campbell, in "John Campbell" (All One Universe, New York, 1997). Anderson differentiates three generations of writers influenced by Campbell:

"...Jack Williamson...began working well before him but then came under his influence..." (p. 49);
the Golden Age (1938-1943) writers who developed under Campbell - Asimov, de Camp, Heinlein, Sturgeon and van Vogt;
the next generation, including Anderson whose first publication was in 1947.

My purely personal perspectives on these writers are:

I have not read much Williamson, although his The Legion Of Time is incoherent as a work on time travel;

I have argued several times that Asimov should have confined his attention to Robots;

I know de Camp almost entirely though one good time travel novel, Lest Darkness Fall;

I have read almost no Sturgeon and have not read what I have been told is a major telepathy novel, More Than Human;

van Vogt wrote space opera, including even something called More Than Superhuman;

I classify Heinlein, Asimov and Blish as "the Campbell future historians" because Campbell edited and strongly influenced Heinlein's Future History, Asimov's Robots stories and Foundation series and Blish's Okie series (this last would have remained a single story, not a series, without Campbell's input);

I further classify Anderson both as Heinlein's main successor and as a later Campbell future historian (apparently, Campbell gave Anderson the idea that became the Ythrians);

the Golden Age of sf included the Golden Age of superheroes because Superman, an sf character, first published in 1938, was immediately successful and widely imitated, generating a new genre.

I showed in some earlier posts that Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest contains much blank verse, one Shakespearian sonnet and several rhyming couplets, all disguised as prose. In conversation with Anderson, Campbell:

"...observed that all good prose has metrical structure and that more than half of Heinlein's Methuselah's Children [part of the Future history] is in blank verse." (p. 54)

Really? Methuselah's Children? I am not about to reread the novel to find out but it would be interesting to check on this sometime.

Hard SF? II

It is in The Armies Of Elfland (New York, 1992) that Poul Anderson introduces "The Queen of Air and Darkness" by saying, first, that it:

"...is not fantasy but science fiction." (p. 1)

- and, secondly, that:

"...it might be considered 'hard' science fiction, for it supposes nothing that a modern scientist would say is outright impossible, such as travel faster than light. (Granted, telepathy is controversial: but if it exists, presumably it operates within the framework of known natural law.)" (ibid.)

This suggests a tripartite distinction between fantasy, hard sf and, by implication, "soft" sf. I suppose it makes sense to say that:

Ray Bradbury wrote fantasy (The October Country) and soft sf (The Martian Chronicles; Fahrenheit 451) but no hard sf;
CS Lewis wrote fantasy (Narnia) and soft sf (Ransom) but no hard sf;
Poul Anderson wrote fantasy (various) and hard sf (also various) but no soft sf?

In fact, does anyone write both kinds of sf? Apart from these two big names, Bradbury and Lewis, all the sf that I have read seems to have been hard, I think.

(Having put Bradbury and Lewis side by side, it becomes possible to discern some remote thematic parallels between their works: an inhabitable, inhabited Mars and a repressive society on Earth - Lewis' version of the latter being the rule of the National Institute for Coordinated Experiment in the third Ransom novel.)

I am still surprised at Anderson's suggestion that faster than light (FTL) travel is not hard sf. Also, telepathy always counts as sf and is certainly hard when scientifically rationalized by Anderson and, several times, by James Blish.

Hard SF?

"This story is 'hard' science fiction, meaning that it assumes nothing a present-day scientist would consider physically impossible. True, in it humans have reached a distant star, but they did not necessarily travel faster than light. Perhaps their ship got close to that speed, giving them the benefit of time dilation, or perhaps they passed a voyage of centuries in some kind of suspended animation..."

(Poul Anderson, Introduction to "Strangers," All One Universe, New York, 1997, p. 2)

And I remember recently reading an Introduction to "The Queen of Air and Darkness" where Anderson said something similar, like this can be hard sf because its interstellar travel is slower than light, but I cannot remember which collection this was in.

(Incidentally, I once attended a talk at the London Planetarium where the speaker thought that, when sf authors wrote about traveling to another star, they meant literally onto the surface of the star, not to a planet of that star.)

I always thought that Larry Niven's Known Space and Anderson's Technic History were hard sf even though they involved FTL. These authors accept that FTL through relativistic space is physically impossible which is why they postulate hyperspace which, in Anderson's case, is a series of instantaneous quantum jumps. A story in which nothing was done that had not already been done would be scientifically based fiction but not "science fiction." An sf premise can be either that people have applied existing scientific knowledge to do something that has not been done yet, like flying to Mars, or that they have made a new scientific discovery, like hyperspace, enabling them to fly FTL to Proxima Centauri.


"Dyson...feels as deeply about the natural world as anyone, seeks to learn what its troubles stem from, and has concrete proposals for mending matters while preserving liberty. None of that is true of the Green politicians and the ecofascists..."

(Poul Anderson, "Wellsprings of Dream" IN Anderson, All One Universe, New York, 1997, pp. 235-247, AT p. 240)

Ecofascists? Strong term - Anderson does show us some in Orion Shall Rise.

His description of Dyson fits the Green politicians that I know in Britain. An American woman working at Lancaster University became a Green City Councillor. Talking about religion, she said that Anglicans and British Quakers were more liberal than Episcopalians or American Quakers so maybe there are similar differences in politics?

Addendum:My son-in-law has constructed a pond in his back garden so we are going to drive into the country to collect damp logs for frogs and toads to live in near the pond.

"Another Stapledon"

"As for visions, we writers have never matched the transcendence of what some scientists have beheld. Nor do I expect we ever shall. We can only hope for another Stapledon to put it into fictional terms, as he did the cosmology of his period. That will be no minor success."

(Poul Anderson, "Wellsprings of Dream" IN Anderson, All One Universe, New York, 1997, pp. 235-247, AT p. 238)

I have read this article before but had not remembered this passage. Much earlier on this blog (here), I described Anderson as the modern Stapledon.

In Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker, telepathically linked organic intelligences originating throughout the universe form a Cosmic Mind. In Anderson's Genesis, electromagnetically linked post-organic intelligences emanating from Earth evolve towards a Cosmic Mind. Thus, Anderson effectively updates Stapledon but, of course, he does so by writing with creativity and originality, as both Wells and Stapledon had done, not by merely imitating his predecessors. (Also compare Wells' The Time Machine with Anderson's time travel series, novels and short stories.)

I know that several sf writers since Anderson have addressed cosmological themes and that I have not kept abreast of this more recent sf but my question is whether any more recent writer has yet addressed such themes with the level of literary skill, historical knowledge and sociological understanding displayed by Anderson.