Wednesday, 4 September 2013


In the introduction to "Quest" in Going For Infinity (New York, 2002), Poul Anderson uses the phrase "...a wilderness of stars" (p. 204) for a fourth time. In the story itself, there is a variation: "...a wilderness of uncharted suns." (p. 205) These are powerful phrases so I intend no adverse criticism when I draw attention to their repeated use.

Anderson draws a solid picture of a Grand Council including many nonhuman great folk on Planet Winchester. Some nonhumans have risen high in the English Empire by accepting the True Faith, indeed Archbishop William himself is a Wersgor, but, of the former space captain Insalith, we are told that:

"He was an obstinate pagan who attributed all events to the operations of quantum mechanics." (p. 207)

Here we see our own world view observed completely from the outside.

Having read this story twice before, I remember an intriguing Grail Quest that is somehow disappointed although I do not remember precisely how.

Before the English invaded the Wersgor empire, Insalith saw:

a planet unoccupied except by what could have been a Christian monastery;
a monster or dragon that gave him and his companions no trouble as they approached;
a few beings that might have been human;
through an open door, what might have been a silver chalice on an altar -

- "...and heard ineffably sweet music." (p. 208)

This is intriguing enough. I cannot remember whether Insalith was lying for some reason or, if not, what other explanation was given as to why the Real Grail was not to be found when the planet was revisited but I will shortly find out.

I have thought that an sf novel might be written along these lines. A spaceship from Earth with a small crew reaches an inhabited extra-solar planet and establishes communication. At an early stage, an inhabitant mentions that someone else came from Earth a long time ago and is living in seclusion on the other side of the planet. Dismissing this as a mistake or misunderstanding, the Earth crew continues its dialogue with the natives and its exploration of their environment but, before they return to Earth, one of them flies around the planet to investigate this claim since it has been made again. He reports back by radio in hysterics and seems to be repeatedly swearing. When two of his colleagues have flown to the rescue, he insists that the previous visitor from Earth was Jesus Christ who had come to this planet after the Ascension. Since human exploration has now reached this far, he has departed, going straight up under his own power, saying, "I go to continue my Father's work at the end of the galaxy..."

- or something as elusive and allusive as the concluding passages of the Gospels.

No comments: