Saturday, 14 September 2013


"Though he liked the neighborhood he lived in, he often wondered if it was worth the commuting. Ninety minutes a day made seven and a half hours a week, fifteen complete days a year, gone from his life with nothing to show for their passage but a stomach ulcer..."

- Poul Anderson, Time And Stars, London, 1970, p. 85.

Those were fifteen days during which he was conscious. Consciousness evolved as a means to survival but can now be an end in itself. The time seems wasted if you are thinking about something else that you could have done instead of simply attending to the present moment, practicing awareness. We are cosmic self-consciousness, in scientific knowledge, aesthetic experience and momentary awareness.

This story, "Escape from Orbit," is the kind of sf that CS Lewis called "the Engineer's Story." It presents a technical/human problem, how to get shipwrecked astronauts out of lunar orbit onto the surface where they can be rescued by Apollo Base. As ever, there is a moment when our hero suddenly realizes the solution:

"He stopped. For a very long time he stood altogether motionless." (p. 96)

- followed by successful execution of the solution. Leaving the technical details to the experts, I have instead commented on two other aspects of the short story, the opening dream and the midpoint commuting.

After all these months, can anyone remember whether I have posted about Anderson's novel, The Long Way Home? I will have to check back.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I'm not sure myself, but I don't recall you commenting on THE LONG WAY HOME. Begins with an interesting premise, with a type of star drive that it's inventors thought at first was FTL. But it was discovered that if you go 100 light years, then 100 YEARS passed by on Earth.


Paul Shackley said...

I remember rereading the book relatively recently but not commenting on it.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I really liked THE LONG WAY HOME, even if it was a bit "primitive" compared to Anderson's later works. Besides the star drive mentioned above, I was very interested by the Technon. The book shows Anderson grappling with ideas on how human freedom can exist alongside powerful computers, self aware or not, even that early in his career.