Thursday, 7 November 2013

Thermonuclear Warfare, not Twilight World

In Poul Anderson's Twilight World, a nuclear war causes so many human mutations that the government is able to gather a community of individuals whose mutations are beneficial, enhanced abilities rather than deformities. Eventually, the whole human race inherits such abilities.

Anderson's Thermonuclear Warfare (Derby, Connecticut, 1963) argues that such an outcome is impossible:

"Some romancers have suggested that increased irradiation of man will simply increase the rate of evolution and so create a race of supermen. But this, again, is nonsense...

"Mutation, a strictly random process, nearly always does the wrong thing. A few babies born with superior intelligence, eyesight, or whatever [as in Twilight World] would be of no use to a human race most of whose children were being born defective. And even these few accidental superiorities would often be nullified by deleterious genes in the same individual.

"For practical purposes, then, we can say that all mutations are bad..." (p. 39)

I began reading Thermonuclear Warfare in the hope that it would not only inform us the readers about its subject (which it does) but also provide background information for his Psychotechnic History. Instead, it refutes his Twilight World future history! But this is what happens in speculative fiction. Some speculations pan out; others don't.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Yes, that makes sense, what Anderson said about how for all practical purposes, mutations caused by massive irradiation will be always harmful, not beneficial. My thought was that by the time he wrote THERMONUCLEAR WARFARE, Anderson had learned more about the effects of radiation on the human body/genes. After all, except for the last part, TWILIGHT WORLD was written when researchers were still learning about the bad effects of that radiation.

I'm a bit surprised, tho, that you thought a non fiction work of Anderson would mention his fiction!


Paul Shackley said...

Not that the nonfiction would mention the fiction. Just that it would throw light on some of it. As it does, indirectly.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Yes, I agree that THERMONUCLEAR WARFARE can indirectly throw light on works like TWILIGHT WORLD.

Poul Anderson was no pacifist. He did not believe that it would always be wrong or immoral to use nuclear weapons. He believed they should be used only as a last resort and as minimally as possible. And only against military targets. Which reminded me of of the space battle we see in ENSIGN FLANDY or how the Imperials felt free to use low yield nukes on hostile forces once they had been driven out of territory occupied by civilians in "Outpost of Emire."