Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Star Fox: A Series?

In Poul Anderson's The Star Fox (London, 1968), I have so far read only as far as p. 30, of 204, and, after today, will be away from computers for about a week so that, although I might finish reading the novel in the next few days, I will not be discussing it for a while.

I notice that the publishing history near the front of the book informs us that "these stories" were originally published in a slightly different form in a magazine. Further, the blurb informs us that the "Star Fox" of the title is a spaceship in which a crew of volunteers wages a hit-and-run battle against alien aggressors. This sounds like the perfect subject matter for a series of stories so perhaps The Star Fox was a series before being repackaged as a novel? I will be checking to see whether the narrative is structured episodically.

"Star -" is a generic title for sf works about interstellar travel. Everyone knows about Star Trek and Star Wars. Poul Anderson fans also know that he wrote an early novel called Star Ways which later had to be republished as The Peregrine to avoid the appearance of mimicking Star Wars. I expect to encounter more substantial speculative fiction by reading about the Star Fox in The Star Fox than by watching the Enterprise in Star Trek

More From The Star Fox

In Poul Anderson's The Star Fox (London, 1968), we soon encounter three more notions common to much futuristic sf.

(i) Some degree of weather control:

" 'Weather Reg really muffed the last hurricane, don't you think?' " (p. 29)

(ii) Flying cars, in this case called "flyers," i.e., vehicles that can be driven and parked or garaged like motor cars but that can fly, thus necessitating a central traffic control both to prevent mid-air collisions and to allow automatic flight:

"Heim retrieved his flyer at the garage and fretted while Traf-Con stalled about sending him aloft. Quite a time passed before the pattern of vehicle movement released him. He went on manual for a while, to have the satisfaction of personally getting away...He set the autopilot..." (p. 30)

(iii) Some degree of gravity control:

"The gravitrons in this Moonraker were custom-built, with power to lift him far into the stratosphere." (p. 30)

So a "gravitron" is an anti-gravity device like Wells' Cavorite or James Blish's graviton polarity generators. When, in a previous post, I briefly discussed the FTL in The Star Fox, I quoted a reference to "gravitrons" but now realize that I was then confusing this word with "gravitons." The latter are the hypothetical particles of gravity, hence Blish's device for generating polarity in them. Gravitrons do not polarize gravitons but curve space. (p. 71) Both gravitrons and graviton polarizers allow FTL.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


OK. Poul Anderson's explanation of hyperspace in his Technic Civilisation future history makes sense and is easy to understand:

if a spaceship jumps from one set of spatiotemporal coordinates to a nearby set without traversing the space between them, then the jump can be instantaneous because only the traversal of space is limited by the light speed barrier so if the ship makes billions of such jumps per microsecond then it can move at a psuedo-velocity far greater than light speed.

But I am still trying to make sense of the alternative method of FTL (faster than light) travel offered in the same author's The Star Fox. Anderson's knowledge of the science of physics enabled him to devise several different verbal formulae as rationalisations of FTL but this one reached its conclusion very quickly.

The rationale:

inertia exists only in the inertial frame of reference of the entire universe;
inertial and gravitational mass are the same (Einstein);
equations of warped space describe gravity;
therefore, inertia is an inductive effect of the cosmic gravitational field on mass;
if gravitrons can bend space through a closed curve, then the ship has no resistance to acceleration;
so it has no top speed.

Does that make sense?

Getting To Grips

I am at last tackling the text as opposed to the cover, blurb or publishing history etc of Poul Anderson's The Star Fox (London, 1968). References to robots and a lunar city on the first page of the text (p. 7) quickly establish that this is a science fiction (sf) novel set in our future.

Another Andersonian theme emerges on the following page. In this future, any large city like, in this case, San Francisco has a poorly policed "Welfare section" where the "...fury and futility..." of "...those whom the machines had displaced..." and "...the subculture of the irrelevant men..." is kept "...well away from the homes of people who had skills the world needed." (p. 8)

As an economic and technological projection from 1964 (author's copyright date) or indeed from 2013 (current date), this is all too plausible but it implies a need for some reevaluation. I suggest that "...the world..." includes the permanently unemployed and that they "need" something more than segregated futility - education and resources enabling them not merely to subsist but also to learn and create, to contribute to knowledge and culture if not also to a market economy. Later works by Anderson directly address issues of vast social wealth and of human-technological interaction. Here, the Welfare section is merely one part of the background of a futuristic scenario.

The future could be expected to contain not only robots and space travel but also:

(i) the prolongation of human life and, sure enough, the viewpoint character, Heim, refers to "antisenescence," which is the term used in Anderson's Technic History (p. 15);

(ii) nuclear warfare and, sure enough, there has been a, fortunately limited, "Nuclear Exchange" (p. 20);

(iii) regular contact with aliens, which I took for granted when reading sf in the 60's but here there is some recognition that it might be somewhat difficult:

" 'Such a fantastic lot of spadework to do, information exchange, semantic and xenological and even epistemological studies to make, before the two sides can be halfway sure they're talking about the same subjects.' " (p. 18)

Appeasement And FTL

(Here we begin to feature other The Star Fox covers.)

I should have mentioned in the previous post one other datum to be gleaned from the blurb of my copy of The Star Fox (London, 1968). The hero Gunnar Heim is described as one of those "...who know that appeasement will only lead to further Alerion encroachment..,." therefore that the World Federation "...peace at any price..." policy is wrong and that a "...hit-and-run battle...," in the spacecraft the Star Fox, is desirable. Regular readers will recognize this kind of political disagreement from Anderson's History of Technic Civilisation.

I will be interested on rereading the novel after several decades to check whether the aliens' motivations simply mirror those of human aggressors or whether they differ socio-psychologically to any degree.

In this novel and its sequel, faster than light (FTL) travel is by "Mach drive": if gravitrons can bend space through a closed curve, then a spaceship has no resistance to accelerative force and can go as fast as you want. (p. 71) This differs from Technic History hyperspace in which a ship makes many minute but instantaneous quantum jumps, thus generating an FTL "psuedo-velocity."

Here is another project(s) for Andersonian scholarship:

list and summarize all of Anderson's different means of FTL;
also list the different works in which it is accepted that interstellar travel must be STL and the various ways in which this is done.

A Copy Of The Star Fox

My copy of Poul Anderson's The Star Fox is the one shown in the image, a British Panther paperback published in 1968, two years after the Gollancz hardback. The publishing details include the information that the text is copyright Poul Anderson 1964, 1965 and that "These stories..." had appeared in a different form in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1965. I had almost no access to American sf magazines back then but do remember reading the first installment in F&SF.

"These stories...," unless it is simply a mistake, suggests that this text did not originate as a single novel. I think that this was true of most sf back then: stories were published in magazines before they were collected; novels were serialized in magazines before they were published as books. Since I have almost completely non-visual thought processes, I pay little attention to book covers but, now that my attention has been drawn to it, I cannot help asking: what is that meant to be on the Panther cover?

Usually, when discussing a novel, we refer to the text as if it existed in a universally accessible ideal space and mention reference details, place and date of publication and page number, to validate our quotations and substantiate our arguments. If a book is out of print and cannot be easily accessed by readers of any references to it, then old and second hand copies gain in significance and it is interesting to reflect on some of their dated idiosyncrasies, like that cover. Googling reveals covers of several other editions that can also be used to illustrate posts.

The 1968 blurb describes Poul Anderson as a young sf writer who has already won the Hugo Award twice. I am reminded that the hero has the fine sounding name of Gunnar Heim, that there is a World Federation, an alien race called the Aleriona and a human colony planet called New Europe. Read on...


If, by a "series," we mean at least two items, then Poul Anderson has one more futuristic science fiction series, The Star Fox and Fire Time, which I will reread next, having previously read it perhaps once a very long time ago.

What can I remember?

(i) Anderson made it a rule to invent a new rationalization for FTL (faster than light) travel every time that it was needed in a new independent story or series. I remember reading one such rationalization in The Star Fox. Whatever it was, it has to have differed from the kind of multiple quantum jump hyperdrive used in his Technic History.

(ii) The alien races encountered of course differ from those in any other Anderson books.

(iii) At least in The Star Fox, Earth is still divided into familiar nation-states, including France.

(iv) The hero of the first book cameos in a TV interview in the second book which is set maybe twenty years later and deals with a different alien species.

(v) Fire Time makes this point:

if we work eight hours and sleep eight hours, then we cannot spend the remaining eight hours commuting;
if home and work are that far apart, then we move one or both so that they are nearer;
since we need time for eating and other activities, there is a top possible limit to commuting time, maybe four hours max?;
technology has changed how far we can travel in that time but cannot change the time itself;
there are few absolute limits but this is one;
a quadrupedal species able to trot or gallop comfortably would spread its work and domestic spaces over a wide geographical area.

Here Anderson both imagines an alien species and uses this to comment on taken for granted aspects of human life.

Stamford Bridge

There is an unattested story that, during the Battle of Stamford Bridge, one giant Norseman delayed the entire English army at the bridge, killing many, until a man from the other side floated down the river to underneath where he was standing and stabbed him from below. In The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), Poul Anderson makes this giant Viking a real person, Gunnar Geiroddsson, whose story had been carefully prepared, starting in the previous volume. Unaccountably, en route to England, Gunnar threw his ship's cage of chickens into the sea during a storm, explaining afterwards that this was a sacrifice to Ran.

Harald, who has been the central character throughout  the trilogy, falls at last:

"Thunder and night rolled over him." (p. 265)

- and Anderson neatly summarises what happened to the survivors afterwards. If Harald had defeated Harold, then William, - no mean feat -, then his wife would have become the first Queen Elizabeth of England.

In 1088, Elizabeth, now an Abbess back home in Kiev, hears from a visitor, Jon Ulfsson, how Norway has been changing: towns; trade; guilds; churches; chimneys; glass windows; fine clothes. She pronounces that:

" 'The old North died at Stamford Bridge.' " (p. 281)

- and, when Jon leaves, she listens:

"...till the hoofbeats faded into stillness." (p. 282)

- a haunting conclusion.

History Repeats Itself

In the second last chapter of Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), Harald Hardrada  encroaches, attacking places with familiar names, like Scarborough and York. Recalling his successful sieges as leader of the Varangian Guard in Volume I, he captures the walled Scarborough by setting fire to its thatched roofs.

This makes him remark to his English ally:

"' Your folk are as brave as any I've met; but they seem never to make ready for danger till too late.'" (p. 223)

- to which the ally replies:

" 'It's our great fault...' " (p. 223)

As I write, people in England are complaining that the government is never prepared for expected or predictable bad weather - a Motorway is closed by snow because it has not been gritted.

On p. 225, Harald's name is misspelled "Harold," potentially causing confusion with his opponent, Harold Godwinsson. Harald and his ally are about to attack York. After that, in the concluding chapter, their next stop will be Stamford Bridge.


I have discussed in previous posts how Poul Anderson wrote some works of historical fiction (The Golden Slave, Rogue Sword), some of historical fantasy (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, The War Of The Gods) and some of the former with elements of the latter (The King Of Ys, Mother Of Kings).

The Last Viking, including the volume The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), is historical fiction. This is clear throughout and particularly when a sea expedition to the North encounters neither the world serpent nor frost giants but a whale and ice bergs. In historical fiction, the hero can encounter a god or a saint or have sight of the hereafter provided that he immediately afterwards awakes from a dream.

However, I am wondering if a tiny element of fantasy has crept in. In the Pagan worldview, a bad dream is a real warning that should be taken seriously. Before sailing to claim the kingdom of England by force, Harald Hardrada dreams that St Olaf:

"...looked on him with wrath and warned him that God did not stand behind this faring." (p. 194)

A guardsman in the invasion fleet dreams that a giant troll-wife prophesies a feast for the birds on the ships, then:

"...word went from ship to ship of many men who had had such warnings." (p. 199)

It sounds as if these dreams mean something and thus that, possibly, St Olaf and the troll are real supernatural beings intervening in human affairs. But that is as far as it goes: either a very small element of fantasy or just a lot of bad dreams on the eve of a battle.


There is an entirely unexpected philosophical discussion in Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), Chapter XI, "How The Host Was Gathered." Let me try to summarize it:

Harald: The scores of longships are a brave sight.
Elizabeth: Weapons and warships are the loveliest artifacts.
Harald: Not books or icons?
Elizabeth: Books and icons are holy. However, the instruments of death, neither gilded nor covered with twined serpents but serving a purpose, are clean and strong, like God's purposive creations - men, animals, mountains, sunsets etc.

That is quite a thought. As it happens, I do not believe that men etc were created for any purpose but nevertheless I can find some common ground with Elizabeth. She mentions:

"'...not only the aim of salvation but also the common purpose of eating and walking and working, of staying alive.'" (p. 182)

That common purpose I believe we were not made for but were naturally selected for so it makes sense to find an aesthetic in common between organisms selected for survival and artifacts constructed for a purpose. And I did not expect to have that discussion when starting to read The Sign Of The Raven.

Where Do You Wander?

In Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), even Harald Hardrada can reflect on life when faced with the death of an old friend:

"Now we are the old ones, he told himself. It is our turn to stand as a wall between man and eternity, and one by one we are pulled away into we know not what. Oh Ulf my sworn brother, where do you wander tonight?" (p. 177)

Despite Harald's official and nominal Christianity, he here expresses the oldest human attitude to death, the slight contradiction between "...we know not what..." and "...where do you wander...?"

As I understand it, there have been three basic stages in beliefs about the hereafter.

(i) We were thought to leave our bodies temporarily in sleep and permanently at death. We dream about the dead, thus seem to meet them in their realm, which is a mere absence of life: Sheol; Hades; Hel. Homer has Achilles say that it is better to be a slave among the living than king among the dead.

(ii) When society divided into classes, these social divisions were projected into the hereafter. In the Viking version, warrior heroes go to Valhalla but the rest, including even the peaceful god Balder, still go to Hel (not Hell).

(iii) In Egyptian and Biblical mythology, there emerged the idea that goodness would be rewarded and suffering compensated for in the hereafter, e.g., that the roles of rich and poor would be reversed, as in a New Testament parable.

(Of course, the Indians developed the alternative idea that souls do not go anywhere else but endlessly return here until they are released from reincarnation. It is as if every possibility has been imagined, then intellectually elaborated.)

Harald is right back at stage (i). Chapter X, "How Ulf Uspaksson Fared Alone," ends with Harald's extraordinary dream, incorporating elements from several mythologies, about Ulf's journey through the hereafter. (Read it.) Even when writing not historical fantasy but historical fiction, it is always possible to include fantastic dreams. This one reminds me of a dream that was had by Anderson's character, Eodan, near the end of The Golden Slave, especially because centuries pass in both.

I agree with one aspect of (i): death is the absence of life. But, since the absence of consciousness is unconsciousness, the dead should not be aware of absence.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Wisdom III

In Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York,1980), there is still much wisdom to be found if we heed the dialogue instead of rushing ahead with the war-like plot. When Harald Hardrada comments that his life-long friend, Ulf, is not the man he was, Ulf replies:

" 'Belike not. I draw near the end of my days. It seems better to sit and think what has been done, and try to make peace with the Powers, than play at still being a youth.' " (p. 169)

We can still do some of the things of youth but these need not include offensive warfare which, of course, is the subject under discussion.

Meanwhile, my much heralded and long delayed visit from the historic city of Lancaster to the historic city of Leicester is expected to start on Tuesday 29 January and to last for about five days. It is to be hoped that blog viewers will still find older posts of interest since there will be no new ones during that period but I will be reflecting on the history of England that is brought vividly to life by Poul Anderson's novels.

Wisdom II

Incredibly, what I called "wisdom" in the previous post suddenly strikes Thora, Harald Hardrada's usually bloodthirsty leman in Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980). Sailing at sunset, she suddenly interprets:

"'...blood in the west, and night in the east, like a sign...'" (p. 163)

Reflecting on the planned conquest of England, she asks:

"'...of a sudden I wonder how wise this is. Have we not enough already?'" (p. 163)

They have but it is incredible that she of all people should ask this. When Harald replies, "'No...While I live, never enough...,'" he clearly sets out the irrationality of his own perspective while she realizes that she no longer wants him to risk falling in battle. (p. 163)

Almost immediately, they see a bright three-tailed light in the sky, clearly not "'A new star...'" (nova), as Harald calls it, but a comet, which he interprets as St Michael's newly drawn sword presaging war on Earth. (pp. 164-165) But Thora sees it as drawn "'...against us...' " (p. 165)

Somehow, the horror of all the fighting and killing has suddenly got to her. Yes, people sometimes do learn and change.


Despite all the bloodthirstiness and superstition, it is possible to find some wisdom among the characters in Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980).


" 'As for me, I believe what I see with my own eyes, and doubt any man's bare word.' " (p. 149)

King Svein of Denmark, quoted by the English outlaw, Osric:

" '...I have learned to be content, and to remain by my own holdings however small...' " (p. 154)

Thus, Svein at least does not join in the scramble to secure the kingship of England. This shows that others could have done likewise. Those in any age who take a more enlightened view than their contemporaries are the leaven for a better future. In some respects, we are now in that future and, in other ways, it still lies ahead.

Who Should Be King?

In Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), Harold asks the dying Edward who should succeed him, hears "...a voiceless whisper, and then a rattling...," then, turning to those present, says:

" 'Now I take you here to witness, that the king has given me the kingdom and all power in England.' " (p. 142)

This sounds like dishonesty on Harold's part. However, at the Witan, all the chiefs name Harold, the people shout their assent and no one speaks for either Duke William or Harald Hardrada. That should have ended the matter. Instead, two battles were fought and the will of the Witan was overturned.

Rome backs William and Harold aims to get the English bishops on his side. Again, the Church looks like a political instrument, not like an independent agent with any superior moral authority.

The Build Up

In Chapter VIII of Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven, all the pieces are falling into place:

Harald Hardrada has given up on Denmark so will try to grab England;
William of Normandy has a strong claim to the English crown;
Edward the Confessor is dying;
Harold of Wessex is becoming more prominent;
Westminster Abbey is dedicated;
I recognise the names of Edgar Atheling, Edwin and Morkar, who will be in place when the Conqueror arrives.

It will not now be long until the two decisive battles that are destined to settle the fate of England for the next thousand years. After recounting the wars of the gods in other works, Anderson here presents a turning point in the English and European history that continues to the present day. 


In Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), Harold of England, an enforced guest of William of Normandy, swears on a consecrated jewel to uphold William's claim to the English crown. "William's half brother, Bishop Odo the crafty..." has hidden saintly relics under the jewel to make the oath even more binding (p. 134).

Harold, returned home, rightly argues that:

" 'A forced oath is no oath...' " (p. 135)

- and gets Bishop Wulfstan to absolve him of the oath. I agree that Odo was dishonest but are he and Wulfstan anything more than political tools of the rulers of Normandy and England respectively? In these circumstances, how could the Church claim to be an independent agent?

Two Women And Three Hereafters

In Poul Anderson's The Sign Of the Raven, Harald Hardrada's leman, Thora, is scornful when Harald makes peace with his enemies and gleeful when he returns from strengthening his kingdom by killing its inhabitants whereas his wife, Elizabeth, hopes for peace and is on the verge of returning home and entering a convent when he comes back from burning and plundering. Amazingly, Harald retains the undeserved loyalty of both of these women.

His protestations that his actions are necessary ring hollow. Even then, it was possible to win support by ruling wisely and benevolently.

Where does Harald belong in a hypothetical hereafter? Valhalla, where he could notionally go after dying in battle at Stamford Bridge, is a glorification of violence. The Christian Hell, which Elizabeth foresees for him, would be endless, pointless torture. I propose a realm where each of us, you and I as well as Harald, would see the consequences of our Earthly actions and have the opportunity to do something about it. The even more hypothetical custodians of such a realm cannot be omnipotent because, if they were that, then they would have ordered the here and now differently. Why was Harald from an early age always restless for more that could only be gained, as he thought, by fighting for it?

We fulfill our cosmic role as the consciousness of the universe simply by existing. Beyond that, let us learn in harmony.

William And Conan

At last, in Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), we meet Duke William of Normandy, of whom it is said:

" 'When banditry becomes as vast as his, men name it conquest.' " (p. 129)

William will soon be known, of course, as William the Conqueror.

 What is surprising at least to me is that he fights a local war against a Count Conan of Brittany. I had not realised that there was a real life Conan, let alone one so historically recent. Anderson wrote Conan The Rebel about Robert E Howard's prehistoric character and Brittany is Armorica of which Poul and Karen Anderson's character Grallon became Duke after losing his Kingship when the city of Ys was inundated (non rex sed dux, not king but duke). Yet more interconnections.

The Rule of Men Or The Rule Of Law

In Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), Harald Hardrada imposes his will on his people. Some are killed. Others lose hands or feet and everything they own. Houses are burned. Women and children are driven into the snow. Kine killed are left for crows.

A sheriff is present because he is:

" '...the king's sworn man; yet I've not hidden from him that this work turns my guts.' " (p. 122)

Which is right? To keep an oath to the king or to rebel against his injustice? We no longer have this dilemma, living under the rule of law. The last man to be hanged in England was executed for the murder of an anonymous tramp, a man of no social standing with no kin to take vengeance or to claim weregild. At least according to the law, the convicted murderer would have suffered no worse fate if he had assassinated the King or the Prime Minister. I think that we have made some moral and social progress.

Looking Back

Aging, the characters in Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980) reflect on their lives and on life:


" 'In these late years, everything we have done seems one halloo, with naught to show for it and the world much the same whether we won or lost.' " (p. 83)


"It was saddening how all in life, power and friends, horses and ships and love, could become simple habit." (p. 99)


" 'I min' one Moorish maid down in Miklagardh...many years agone; ah, yes, t'be young!' " (p. 109)

And, after a battle, each dead man:

"...crept into the night from which he had come." (p. 108)

Haakon hopes to defeat Harald but, with the norn's knowledge, we know that Harald will not die at this battle in Chapter VI, "How They Fought in Sweden." Looking ahead, we can see that Harald will have domestic problems in Chapter VII, "How Ellisif Was Angry," and that the enemies whom he should fear the most gather their forces in Chapter VIII, "Of Harold Godwinsson and Tosti." Chapter VIII begins in 1064. Not long to go.

Friday, 25 January 2013

In Vino Veritas

In Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980),another short Latin phrase:

" 'In vino veritas.' " (p. 75)

 - In wine, the truth.

In Chapter II, "How They Fought at the River Niss," Harald's fleet destroys a Danish fleet twice its size. The bloody slaughter of common yeomen by skilled warriors is described in detail.

In Chapter III, "How a War Was Lost," it is learned that the Danish King Svein somehow escaped and has mustered an army too big for the Norse to engage. Yet again, Harald has failed to resolve the issue between himself and Svein.

In Chapter IV, "Of Haakon Ivarrson," through the power of "In vino veritas," it is learned that Haakon Jarl, although he had fought well on Harald's side, had also helped Svein to escape so now Haakon and his family must flee for their lives from Harald's wrath.

Chapter V, which I have yet to read, is called "How Peace Was Made," so perhaps this will at last present the resolution of the long conflict between Harald and Svein? I will read on to find out.

Meanwhile, here is something else to look out for in Anderson's works: more short but meaningful phrases in Latin.


Why did I write in the previous post that Poul Anderson wrote twenty one novels set in the past? Partly to encourage any readers of that post to think about which twenty one I meant. I have been told that Poul and Karen Anderson regarded their The King Of Ys as one novel too long to be published in a single volume. In fact, it is published as a tetralogy of which each volume is quite thick.

There are two meanings of "trilogy": (i) one work in three parts and (ii) three related works. Thus, Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings is a single narrative whereas James Blish's After Such Knowledge is three discrete novels. Ys, albeit a tetralogy, not a trilogy, is a work of type (i), not (ii).

By a novel, I mean a long prose fiction. How long? In practice, it is usually long enough to be published as a discrete volume, I would say 100+ pages minimum. A few novels can be collected in one omnibus volume although Ys would indeed be too long for that treatment. Because of their length and because of the need to publish them as separate volumes, I find it convenient to continue to think of Ys as four novels, not one.

My proposed twenty one follow classifications suggested in previous posts:

3 BC;
4 Ys;
8 Vikings;
3 14th century;
1 Time Patrol;
2 others - The Corridors Of Time and The Boat Of A Million Years.

There Will Be Time is a time travel novel whose action is equitably distributed through the past, present and future. Because of its passages set in Constantinople in particular, it could count as a twenty second novel of the past.

Towards Stamford Bridge

The last date mentioned in the Foreword of Poul Anderson's The Sign Of The Raven is 1061, only five years left: five years to be covered in fourteen chapters, which are followed by an Epilogue entitled "Of Olaf the Quiet." Chapter I establishes that Harald Hardrada has a son called Olaf who might well be described as "Quiet."

Chapter XIV is called "How They Fought at Stamford Bridge." It is because of what happens at Stamford Bridge that the Epilogue is about Olaf, not about Harald's later years. He is not going to have any.

In Chapter II, "How They Fought at the River Niss," Harald sets off to a battle that is meant to settle matters at last between him and his old enemy, Svein of Denmark. Historically, I do not know how or even whether this conflict came to be resolved so I will shortly read further to find out. Historical fiction teaches us some history, especially if it is supplemented by a reading of some historical non-fiction.

This Volume brings to a close not only Anderson's Last Viking Trilogy but also his eight volumes set in the Viking period. For me, it also brings to an end a reading or rereading of his twenty one novels and several short stories set in the past so I expect after this to return to his futuristic science fiction.  

The Beginning Of The End

At last a start on reading Poul Anderson's The Sign Of the Raven, Vol 3 of his The Last Viking Trilogy. The Volume begins with a welcome thirteen page Foreword summarising Vols 1 and 2. I would not have remembered all of those details. Presumably an omnibus edition of the trilogy would omit the lengthy Forewords to Vols 2 and 3, thus reducing the page count.

In a recent post, I referred to Vol 3 as comprising 282 pages by the conventional means of simply reading the page number of the last page. However, the text of the novel begins on p. 23 so the real length of the novel is 260 pages. I think that, as an agreed publishing convention, the text of a novel should always be paginated from p. 1 and the preceding pages from p. i. In this case, pp. 1-22, which should be i-xxii, comprise:

p. 1, three paragraphs quoted from the novel;
p. 2, a list of titles by Bram Stoker available from the same publisher;
p. 3, the title page;
p. 4, publishing information;
p. 5, dedication;
p. 6, blank;
pp. 7-19, Foreword;
pp. 20-21, maps;
p. 22, a poem attributed to Sighvat.

There is no Table of Contents.

p. 1 is unnecessary and should have been the title page, p. 2 should have been other titles by the same author and p. 6 could have been the Contents.

The Foreword reminds us that the familiar names, Macbeth, Duncan and Malcolm, had appeared in the previous Volume. It also reminds us that Catholic clergy reproached Harald because he kept Orthodox clergy for his Russian wife. Well done, Harald. He appointed bishops himself. This was the Investiture Contest which, waged between Popes and Emperors, split Western Christendom and recurred again in the Church of England. If church and state had been separate, if during feudalism bishops had not been  landholders wielding political power, then the conflict would have been unnecessary.

Thursday, 24 January 2013


OK. Today, I have read only Latin. The object is neither to communicate in Latin nor to translate from Latin into English but only to read and understand Latin texts like:

"Gaius Iulius Caesar, dux praeclarus Romanorum, in Gallia pugnans multa de Britannia cognovit."

 - meaning:

"Gaius Julius Caesar, famous leader of the Romans, while fighting in Gaul learned much about Britannia."

Word endings are crucial but word order can help. At first, I thought that Caesar was learning much about Britons who were fighting in Gaul.

My purpose is to read the Aeneid but a knowledge of Latin will also help with the background for Anderson:

there is a Latin inscription in Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys;
the phrases "Delenda est Carthago" and "Es to peregrinator temporis?" are important;
there might be other examples.

Kings And Vikings

Poul Anderson's The Last Viking, a trilogy, and his Mother Of Kings, a single long novel, are two biographical historical fictions, each culminating in its title character's death. You might expect a trilogy to be longer than a single novel and in this case you would be right but not by a very wide margin. Novels vary considerably in length. The trilogy totals 819 pages whereas the single novel, which is divided into six Books, is 619 pages. Thus, one Book of the novel is shorter than one volume of the trilogy but nevertheless is comparable in length to a short novel.

If the trilogy were to be re-issued in an omnibus edition, then the two works would match each other on a book shelf. Between them chronologically comes Anderson's The Broken Sword but the genres of the three works differ -

Mother Of Kings: historical fiction with elements of historical fantasy;
The Broken Sword: heroic fantasy;
The Last Viking: historical fiction.

As I think the French say, long live the difference.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Mother Of Kings: Conclusion

Any solid biographical novel shows us the central character as young, then aging, old and dying. Poul Anderson does this with Gunnhild, the Witch-Queen, in Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003). Surprisingly (I thought), the Afterword informs us that, although Gunnhild "...really lived...":

"There is no good evidence...that she practiced witchcraft." (p. 593)

- so what this novel presents is not the historical but the legendary Gunnhild, just as Shakespeare presents not the historical but the legendary Macbeth.

Appropriately, Anderson's historical fiction trilogy, The Last Viking, indeed refers not only to the historical Macbeth, who was contemporary with the events of the trilogy, but also to the remembered Gunnhild although again we are shown how she was remembered rather than how she would really have been.

Heroic fantasies end with heroic victories whereas this novel, historically accurate apart from the fantasy element of the heroine's clairvoyance, ends with most of Gunnhild's sons dead and the two survivors failing to regain their kingdom because that is what happened. The concluding chapters are definitely doom-laden.

My next Anderson project is to read for the first time the third volume of The Last Viking Trilogy, which also ends in heroic failure, but there are a couple of other things to be done first.

Some Of Poul Anderson's Many Characters

In Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings, I am impressed by Queen Gunnhild's ability to offer honest, unrepentant prayers to the new Powers, Christ and Mary. Despite her "sins" (Christian terminology) or "crimes" (secular terminology), she is clearly working towards an honest accounting between herself and the truth, whoever or whatever that turns out to be. Unfortunately, a single lifetime is nowhere near long enough to settle the issue - but humanity collectively now knows a lot more than it did a thousand years ago.

I had thought that there might be something in common between Gunnhild's footling, Kispin, and Pummairam, the Tyrian youth recruited to the Time Patrol in Anderson's "Ivory, And Apes, And Peacocks." Both of lowly status, both are intelligent, observant, quick-witted and able to make themselves useful to the powerful. However, the characters differ. Pum seizes every opportunity to learn and to improve his condition whereas Kisping remains petty and grasping and falls on his own deeds. But, despite his unsavouriness, Kisping remains one of the hundreds of characters brought vividly to life in Anderson's fiction.

I would have welcomed an extra element to this fiction, something like a historical novel featuring as one of its characters a Tyrian merchant called Pummairam. There would be no hint of science fiction in this novel except that readers of the Time Patrol series would know that Pum is a Patrol agent operating covertly in his home era. A historical series and a future historical series could have been subtly linked by a time travel series. Anderson does come near this when his time traveling character Jack Havig visits both the Constantinople that was sacked by Crusaders and the Maurai Federation that features in one of his several future histories.

Passing from Gunnhild to Havig via Kisping and Pum certainly demonstrates the diversity of Anderson's fictional characters.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


In Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), the English priest, Aelfgar, nags Queen Gunnhild about how many holy days of obligation she has missed and terrifies his congregation with sin, souls, the Pit and fire. I recognise this from my upbringing and am so glad that I did not pass it on to my daughter. She and her daughter are free of all that. Such indoctrination could only have harmed them. I know them and I also know those doctrines from the inside out so I think that I know what was best for my daughter's upbringing. As part of her religious education, I gave her a Bible and a Life of the Buddha.

Back to the novel: sufficiently terrified, Gunnhild's accomplice and partner in crime wants to confess his sins to the priest but she forbids him to do so just yet. She believes that the priest, while of course remaining professionally discrete about any sins confessed to him by Gunnhild's servant, would nevertheless call her in about her part in those sins and, if she remained unrepentant, refusing some suitable penance like a long pilgrimage, might write to the bishop, getting her banned by the Church, with major political implications.

I do not think so. My understanding of the Seal of Confession is that, whatever the servant divulged to Aelfagar, the latter would be obliged not to mention it to anyone else, not to Gunnhild, not to the bishop. Aelfgar's dealings with Gunnhild would have to continue as if he had not heard anything about her in her servant's confession. So I understand.

I was brought up to believe that the Seal of Confession was an absolute confidentiality that had never been broken and never could be but I do not know the history of the subject. Googling might reveal something. Has the Seal ever been broken? Were there times when it was not applied as strictly as I have always understood that it was? I need to turn in for an early start tomorrow so I leave blog viewers with those questions to ponder.

A Perpetual Banquet

Poul Anderson's hero, Dominic Flandry:

"...went to Terra on leave, was invited to the perpetual banquet of the Lyonid family, spent three epochal months..." (Flandry Of Terra, London, 1976, p. 9).

A perpetual banquet, like the Mad Tea Party in Alice? How would that work? Domestic slaves serve the family and guests who are seated at one half of a large circular table while a second team of slaves clears and resets the other half so that the banqueters can keep moving around the table? (I say "slaves" because we are talking about the Terran Empire here. Otherwise, domestic servants would play this role.)

Assuming eight hours for sleep, no one can possibly eat continuously for sixteen hours every day indefinitely. The family must take it in turns to host the meal while the guests change every three months or so. There must also be intervals, as at the theatre, when guests can attend to other business using computer consoles either set in the table or just behind where they sit or can stretch their legs by strolling around the Lyonid mansion and garden.

Tolkien's Hobbits eat seven meals a day, I think. If these were spaced out through the day, they might just provide enough instalments for a perpetual banquet.

8.00: rise, butler brings cup of tea.
9.00-10.00: breakfast.
10.00-11.00: second breakfast.
11.00-12.00: elevenses.
12.00-14.00: lunch.
14.00-16.00: buffet snacks available from tables set around the dining hall walls.
16.00-17.00: afternoon tea.
17.00-18.00: buffet snacks as above.
18.00-20.00: dinner.
20.00-22.00: buffet snacks available in the bar.
22.00-23.30: supper.
24.00: retire.

By eating and drinking sparingly while concentrating on enjoying the conversation and no doubt also entertainment provided, a guest might survive for a few months, as Flandry does.

The Seasons

Poul Anderson's historical fictions are firmly grounded in the passage of the seasons. Many chapters or sections of narrative begin by describing the weather and the length of the days before proceeding to human affairs. This is life. Earth abides. Empires pass.

When rereading the King Of Ys Tetralogy by Poul and Karen Anderson, I quoted many chapters that began by telling us, eg, that the equinox was approaching or that storms were rising - natural storms often presaging stormy events in the lives of gods and men. Descriptive passages add substance to Anderson's texts on first reading and can be savoured on rereading. I do not propose to list every such passage in Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003) but here are some.

"Wind snarled and skirled...Nightfall came fast at the end of these shortening days. Soon there would be nothing but night." (p. 3)

"Spring had come, sunshine that melted snow till streams brawled down mountainsides..." (p. 5)

"Summer waned; days shortened..." (p. 16)

"The sun swung upward, days lengthened, ice melted, land greened, ships plowed the seas again." (p. 466)

Monday, 21 January 2013


For all her faults, the title character of Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003) is a philosopher.

(i) She starts to gather knowledge merely as military intelligence but then comes to value it for its own sake:

"She drank of the knowledge - the whole wonderful world - as thirstily as heroes in Valhall drank the ale of the Aesir. It was not to gain power; it was for its own sake, her mind flying free." (p. 384)

(ii) She learns enough from witchcraft and clairvoyance to realise how little she knows:

"...to him those gods were as meaningful as she could wish hers were to her - if only she knew what hers were." (p. 444)

(Socrates, the first European analytic philosopher, was the wisest man in Greece because he was the only one who knew that he knew nothing.)

(iii) She expresses this insight:

" 'Angels or Aesir...I wonder if they don't wage their war not in the sky, but in our souls.' " (p. 444)

- to which her companion replies:

" 'It's useless for us on earth to ask, I'd say.' " (p. 444)

It is good and right to ask even if the answers are difficult.


According to the list of Dramatis Personae in Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Thorgerd Shrine-Bride is:

"A goddess or valkyrie, not told of in the Edda but one to whom Haakon Jarl had a special devotion." (p. 604)

"...goddess or valkyrie..." is vague and ambiguous. I wondered whether "...not told of in the Edda..." meant "...invented for this novel by Poul Anderson." However, googling does unearth some information, not much, about this Thorgerd. I found no image for her, which is why we behold instead a generic "flight of the valkyries" picture.

Thorgerd makes her dramatic entrance to protect her devotee from Gunnhild's sending:

"Out of the storm rode one to meet her. The stallion was black, his eyes fire-coals, his mane wild in the wind over which he galloped. The rider's cloak flapped like hawk wings. Helm and byrnie cast back the fleeting light. Blood ran from the spear she gripped. Her scream ripped the sky." (p. 440)

Seeing this, Gunnhild's spirit flees in horror and she counsels her sons to make peace. By now completely out of sympathy with the manipulative, murderous, Machiavellian Gunnhild, I am pleased that she encounters a "Chooser of the Slain" who has this effect on her (p. 440).

Sunday, 20 January 2013

145 Chapters

Does Poul Anderson try to fit too much information into Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003)? I am not sure. I am just raising the question. Unless I have miscounted, the novel is divided into 145 short chapters. You would not suspect that there are so many because they are separately numbered in the six Books. Book One has Chapters I-XIX, Book Two has Chapters I-XXII etc.

Some Chapters are unusually short:

Chapter XI of Book Three begins and ends on p. 232;
Chapter XVIII of Book Three begins a few lines down from the top of p. 264 and ends a few lines above the bottom of p. 265;
Chapter VI of Book Five fills p. 430;
Chapter VII is less than two pages in length;
the concluding Chapter XXXIII of Book Six is three paragraphs in the middle of p. 591.

In these Chapters, much information is summarised. In the conversation-less, three page Chapter XXVII of Book Four, pp. 384-386:

three paragraphs summarise the activities of Gunnhild and her sons over several years;
four paragraphs summarise conflicts in Scotland;
one paragraph summarises events in England and Ireland;
one summarises events in Normandy;
one summarises Iceland;
one describes the first king of Poland;
one summarises Sweden and Gardariki;
one summarises Kiev;
one paragraph of two sentences mentions the Holy Roman Emperor;
one mentions Spain, Castile, Cordoba, the Greeks, Crete, the Arabs, the Magyars, Bulgaria and Cyprus;
one sentence tells us that the English have bridged the Thames at London;
one paragraph mentions Alpine monks, Arab astronomers and Jewish linguists;
one sentence mentions years of peace in Norway.

It is obvious that we do not need to retain all this rich background information in order to follow the plot and that this Chapter could be skipped by anyone rereading the novel.

Other Reading And Activities

Why I Will Shortly Be Away From This Blog For A While

(i) A family visit to Leicester, recently postponed, should occur next week and might be extended.
(ii) Reading The Racketeer by John Grisham.
(iii) Practising some Latin.

Longer term, the Poul Anderson agenda is:

(a) Finish reading Mother Of Kings.
(b) Read The Last Viking, Volume III.
(c) Acquire For Love And Glory and, when published, Multiverse.
(d) Maybe hear about Multiverse from blog readers before I get a copy?
(e) Return to rereading Anderson's futuristic sf.
(f) Maybe track down his three detective novels.

The Anderson agenda recedes into an indefinite future. Which works will be republished? Will there be more contributions by other authors, like the stories in Multiverse? What has been done with Foundation and Dune is not a good model for continuing the Technic History.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Right To Worship II

I thought that King Haakon was being perfectly reasonable in his promise that I quoted from Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003) in the previous post but not according to his co-religionists at the time. For her own political reasons, Queen Gunnhild informs the bishop that Haakon:

" '...promised them they may henceforward carry on their devil worship unhindered.' " (p. 348)

The bishop agrees that:

" 'This is - a grave matter indeed.' " (p. 348)

So other people's gods are devils and they should not be allowed to worship them unhindered. Worse, the bishops order Haakon to leave his threatened kingdom to make a pilgrimage of penance and he is excommunicated for refusing.

The bishop also states that, if Haakon had been killed for refusing to share in a Pagan sacrifice, then:

" 'He could have gone straight to Heaven, a martyr.' " (p. 347)

It strikes me as arrogant to claim to know, first, that there is definitely a hereafter and, secondly, to which part of that hereafter any individual will go, especially since another branch of Christianity claims with equal certainty to know that he would go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Gunnhild's Christianity remains hypocritical:

if Haakon were her ally, then she would not have denounced him to the bishop;
she buys masses for her dead son's repose while planning vengeance against those who had killed him when he had attacked them;
she seduces a celibate priest from whom she can gain information about Haakon;
she continues to practise witchcraft.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Right To Worship

In Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), the Christian King Haakon of Norway promises:

" 'Every man in Norway shall have the right to worship as he sees fit, if he does not offer humans to the gods and does not raise his hand against Christians who have not harmed him, or against their halidoms.' " (p.341)

Superb. He says it of necessity because he needs heathens to support him against invaders but he has the sense to say it. Haakon had previously been more militantly evangelistic. I must read on to learn whether he is successful against the invaders and, if so, whether he keeps his promise.

Even this would not necessarily end the matter. His people had previously required him, their King, to honour their gods at Yule by eating sacrificed meat and by drinking with them without making the Sign of the Cross first. (One of his men fudges by calling it the Sign of the Hammer. Why not? Both Christ and Thor are worthy of honour, I suggest.)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Multiverse: An Invitation

Fellow Earthlings, I perceive an opportunity to broaden the base of this blog!

Anyone who is interested in the works of Poul Anderson must be eagerly awaiting this new anthology of articles about Anderson and of new fictions based on or derived from his. A discussion of Multiverse will not be like my usual posts about works published years or decades ago. It will be something new for all of us. We will all be reading it for the first time and some of us will have access to it before others.

In fact, it is likely that American readers of the blog will read this new Anderson-themed volume before I do. Indeed, I might experience considerable delay in acquiring a copy.

Therefore, I invite anyone and everyone to email me their comments and observations on the new book as soon as they have read it (paulshackley@gmail.com). I see no reason why such emailed remarks however brief or long should not be reproduced as posts on the blog. I know that one American correspondent in particular will be keen to share any views that he has on Multiverse but there have got to be some others out there?

In particular, and I cannot emphasize this enough, disagreements with any views that I have expressed or will express on Anderson's works, views and general outlook are welcome. Anderson's corpus of works is vast enough to appeal to many sections of the reading public and they should all be represented, if they want to be, in a celebration of "Anderson's Worlds."

I suppose that, if anyone manages to be outrageously offensive, then I could exercise an editorial option of not publishing but the only way that I can think of that anyone could do that would be to present a text full of swear words and I do not expect that from Anderson fans. There might also be some technical problems in transferring a text from email to blog but my Information Technology Adviser should be able to cope.

I look forward to hearing from the first blog reader who has managed to read Multiverse but the second and third should then follow. A character in the Aeneid said, "The first place is the gift of the gods. Men must strive for second place!" This is an invitation to you, you and especially YOU so please feel free to respond.

Multiverse, Eds Bear And Dozois

Can I write anything about a book before reading it? I can neither summarise nor evaluate its contents so not much. I can say that Multiverse is bound to be fascinating, comprising not only appreciations of Poul Anderson, man and writer, but also fictions inspired by his works, including one new Dominic Flandry story and two new Time Patrol stories.

It is probably unnecessary to add that if these stories are not written very well, then it would have been better not to have written them. I think that they need to be fully consistent with their respective existing series. The Time Patrol stories must be free from the glaring internal inconsistencies that often mar time travel fiction. Further, the stories need to be written either in good imitations of Anderson's style or in alternative styles that can be shown to be appropriate for their contents.

One of the Time Patrol stories is by Robert Silverberg, a prolific science fiction writer by whom I have not read very much. His telepathy novel, Dying Inside, is superb. He has written perhaps half a dozen novels featuring time travel although I did not highly rate those that I read. In "The Logic of Time Travel: Part II" on www.logicoftimetravel.blogspot.co.uk, I criticize his Hawksbill Station and particularly his Up The Line for their internal inconsistencies. However, Silverberg will surely accept the premises and rules of the Time Patrol series when writing about the Time Patrol so his contribution should be ok from that angle. (http://logicoftimetravel.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/logic-of-time-travel-part-ii.html)

Up The Line, which I think is irredeemably marred from a "logic of time travel" perspective, also happens to include an amusing parody of Anderson's Time Patrol.

Monday, 14 January 2013

A Diversion

For months, I have been reading, mainly rereading, Poul Anderson's novels and posting about them while reading them. This means that I read the books more slowly than usual but also that I get more out of them. It also means that I read less other stuff. However, I must occasionally read something else.

Having received the Smallville TV series First Season DVD's as a present, I have been watching the early episodes and have also started to reread a Smallville novel, Dragon by Alan Grant.

Grant's description of a small spacecraft surrounded by a meteor swarm entering the Solar System and falling towards Earth while the Luthors and Kents go about their business in Smallville, Kansas, is worthy of Anderson. Many different authors have written Superman. Isobel Allende wrote a Zorro novel - called Zorro. Poul Anderson contributed to many other authors' sf series. (In fact, "Anderson in Asimov's, Niven's and others' universes" could be a topic in itself.)

What if Anderson had written a Superman novel, scientifically rationalising all the absurdities of a humanoid alien with impossible powers and presenting the character as interacting not with even greater absurdities but with the real world of economic crisis, climate change and US military interventions - Clark Kent reporting from Iraq and investigating Lexcorp? The twentieth century myth of Superman deserves such treatment in the three related media of prose fiction, graphic fiction and film. Graphic story-telling is intermediate between prose and film. Each of the three can do what the others can't. Poul Anderson would have been able to write a memorable novel.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

In Defence Of Paganism

In Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), some characters defend Paganism with two kinds of argument:

(i) (a) the gods are good for us and
    (b) will harm us if we forsake them;
(ii) (a) Norse myths are good stories,
     (b) essential to our identity.

(i) (a) The White Christ is powerful but:

Odin is wise, uplifts us in battle and begot our first kings;
Thor sends rain and repels trolls;
Aegir gives good luck and catches at sea;
Ran welcomes drowned sailors;
Frey begets;
Freyja loves;
Frigga is the mother.

(i) (b) " 'Dreams have come to me, nightmares...I stumble lost through a land gray, cold, bare. Everywhere lie dead bones, gnawed by trolls. In an endless wind, I hear a mockery, "You have forsaken the gods. So the gods have forsaken you." ' " (p. 323)

- (b) has been disproved in practice.

(ii) (a) " '...is not the world of the gods a wonderful world? Green Yggdrasil, wherein grows and shines everything that is...Odin...Thor...' " (p. 314)

(ii) (b) " '...not something out of Romaborg or the Empire, but ours. Without them, how long can we remain ourselves?' " (p. 314)

- (b) remains valid but does not require the stories to be literally true.

Runes, Spells And Words

In Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Gunnhild, while being instructed in Christianity, is impressed by the books:

"They had laid hold of her; they drew her down into themselves like a maelstrom that was all the stronger for being so quiet..." (p. 224)

She sees illuminated manuscripts:

"...brilliant bewilderment of interlacings, pictures from a thousand tales out of two thousand years or more, and within those borders the close-ranked, tightly curved letters making words she could not read, an endlessness of words." (p. 224)

These many words contrast with the "...few and spare..." runes that she has cast for spells or cut in stone. (p. 224)

Later, she must ask her cleric (clergyman, clerk) to read a letter to her:

"If only she could read it! In the Christian letters lay a might and mystery beyond the reach of her runes. How much of its power did Christendom draw from them?" (p. 261)

Well, the Bible, both words and Word, is central to Christianity.  And later generations had not only the Bible but also the Encyclopedia.

By Christian letters, Gunnhild means what we call Roman letters but, by Gunnhild's time, Rome had been Christian for centuries. We take it for granted now but, by participating in a literate society where we regularly read printed newspapers and paperback novels, we access the "...might and mystery..." that is greater than runes.

The Best Of Times

I envisage a single collection of the very few very best works of time travel fiction, which I suggest are:

The Time Machine by HG Wells;
"A Stitch In Time" by John Wyndham;
"By His Bootstraps" by Robert Heinlein;
"The Sorrow Of Odin The Goth" by Poul Anderson.

These happen to comprise two British literary works and two American genre stories.

Wells implies but otherwise avoids the issue of causality paradoxes. The other three works are circular causality stories although the last is set in a causality violation scenario. The four works present a good balance of past, present and future -

Wells: nineteenth century to 702,601 AD, then the furthest future of Earth, and return;
Wyndham: time travel within a character's life time;
Heinlein: twentieth century to far future;
Anderson: twentieth century to the Dark Ages.

The Time Traveller interacts with Morlocks and Eloi. Anderson's Time Patrolman interacts with Goths and Huns. The Time Patrol's mass produced, streamlined, futuristic timecycles are conceptual descendants of the Time Traveller's elaborate nineteenth century contraption. The time traveller sits on, instead of being enclosed by, each of these vehicles. Both Wyndham and Heinlein instead envisage a machine that sends people through time instead of moving past- or future-wards, taking them with it.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

More On Paganism And Christianity

In Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Poul Anderson's fascinating imaginative account of early interactions between Paganism and Christianity continues. Eirik Blood Ax hears mass before going in viking. Does the priest not mention "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shalt not steal"?

Eirik lands in Morecambe Bay and attacks Cumbria. I grew up in the town of Penrith in the county of Cumberland, the latter now re-integrated with neighbouring Westmorland into a reconstituted Cumbria. I have lived since 1973 in the City of Lancaster whose  District boundaries include the town of Morecambe facing across the Bay towards the Cumbrian hills. So, although Anderson's narratives favour our rival City of York, this part of the novel focuses on events here in the North West!

Eirik and his wife, Gunnhild, receive Communion at Easter for political reasons but she withholds information from her confessor:

"She didn't believe it fooled Christ. Maybe he understood and forgave. If not, maybe she could make it up someday...
"Besides, there were other powers. Who could tell which of them had roots running deepest down into the world and most widely below the earth?" (pp. 259-260)

Christ and his saints have not answered her prayers for redes but this may be because she has not confessed fully? However, Christ is only one "power," not necessarily the greatest, and the source of power is the earth, not the heavens. The powers include the Man on the Cross, the Man on the Gallows and the Man with the Drum. Gunnhild, modelling deities on kings, thinks that it befits their greatness to reward their followers, even she holding back from her confessor. Odin, the gallows god, wants offerings and stalwartness, gives victory or death and, it is believed, hospitality in Valhalla till doomsday.

Following the shamanistic way of the drum, albeit quietly in the shadow of the Cross, Gunnhild sends forth her soul to witness Eirik fall in battle. Above the battle, the departing souls of the newly slain force hers aside and she does not know where they are going. This is the limit of the fantasy in this novel. Anderson shows us Gunnhild's clairvoyance but not a hereafter. And he tells us how she reflects on the powers but does not show us the powers themselves behind the scenes or as they intervene in Midgard.

Meanwhile, the Christian King Haakon, accompanied by his chaplain, thinks that it is alright for his men to kill, burn, plunder, enslave and rape because:

" 'They've done the same to our folk.' " (p. 291)

"They" obviously does not mean the particular individuals being killed, enslaved or raped. Christians and secularists alike have morally progressed to the idea that willful harm to non-combatants is a war-crime, a concept that did not yet exist back then.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Pro's And Con's Of Practical Religion

In the Pagan world view of Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), how is the strength or power of a god to be measured? The title character, Gunnhild, assesses Christ by these basic criteria:

(i) How many worshippers has he?
(ii) Do they prosper?
(iii) Does he afflict his enemies?

(i) "This was no small god...His worshippers filled every land southward to the Midworld Sea and the Moors, eastward to the Wendish marches. More and more of them were to be met in the North." (p. 221)

(ii) Christians fight well and assimilate Danes. Their trade and wealth attract many. They forge the best swords. Their wise man "... had lore going wider and deeper than she could fathom." (p. 222)

But Christian King Haakon in Norway expresses this concern:

" 'By God's grace, hitherto the harvests and fishing have been good, even overflowing. But should they fail, the Norse will soon believe their gods are angry with me.' " (p. 254)

(iii) Vikings do not suffer for killing Christians but nor do heathens suffer for becoming Christians so criterion (iii) cancels itself out. However, heathens do recognise Christ's power. At Easter:

"Any heathens would think it unlucky to offer to their gods while Christ went down into death and rose anew, victorious." (p. 259)

- and:

"At the Easter mass Gunnhild felt in her bones something of the power in the White Christ." (p. 259)

I agree with the Pagan view to the extent that I think that spiritual practices should be beneficial before, not after, death. However, the benefits are spiritual, like a growth in understanding, rather than material, like an increase of wealth.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Ubiquitous Ravens

In Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Gunnhild sees two ravens on the wind before a battle. Why two? They could be Odin's. I said before that the gods have not yet appeared in this historical fantasy and also that I no longer expect them to. In fact, I accept American correspondent Sean's observation that The King Of Ys and Mother Of Kings are more like historical fictions with elements of fantasy. They certainly differ from The Broken Sword which is heroic, not really historical, fantasy throughout.

It is all the more appropriate then that Anderson includes this detail of two ravens which could mean either that Odin is watching or just that ravens are gathering and that these two have arrived first. Gunnhild does not attribute them to Odin but, knowing that there will be a battle, reflects:

"Did they foreknow? More would be gathering." (p. 242)

Synchronistically, I have just watched Smallville where the High School football team is "the Crows," not ravens but close, and have also just reread Neil Gaiman's The Sandman where supernatural ravens, including even Noah's, gather in the Dreaming before an attack by the Furies - another faint echo between the works of Anderson and Gaiman.

Christianised Paganism

When, in Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (New York, 2003), Queen Gunnhild and her children are for political reasons christened by Archbishop Wulfstan of York, readers witness this event from Gunnhild's point of view. Thus, we understand that she is not changing her world view but is instead incorporating Christ as a powerful god into her existing Pagan world view.

As she sees it:

"Odin hung, wounded with a spear, offered to himself, nine nights on windy Yggdrasil, to gain the runes; and he had since raised seeresses from their graves to foretell for him." (p. 225)

It follows that the next logical question is:

"What powers had his own sufferings, his own death won for the Christ? How could they strengthen her house?" (p. 225)

- political reasons, indeed.

Both Odin and Christ are shamans:

"Not only song and drum, but pain could loose the shaman from the flesh." (p. 225)

She has cast runes and spells but must now access the accumulated wisdom gathered in a library of illuminated manuscripts. Since she cannot yet follow the Latin Mass, she uses the time to plan not forgiveness but vengeance. With her Queenship in a Christian realm secured, she again has a big home where she can discretely set aside a room to cast spells and send forth her soul in the dead of winter. Yule is not for her the birth time of Christ but the time "...when the doors between men and gods..." are open (p. 226).

Of the crucifix, she thinks that:

"...something was in it that she did not understand, and must..." (p. 225)

but also:

"...whatever she said to the likes of Wulfstan, she would not utterly disown the old gods." (p. 225)

10th Century York

Andersonian Yorks:

Poul Anderson's Operation Luna describes contemporary York albeit on a parallel Earth;

Anderson's Genesis describes an alternative York in a post-human AI emulation;

his Mother Of Kings (New York, 2033) describes 10th century York -

"A wind from the north went astray in the twisting lanes of York, milled about between walls and hissed under eaves. Most stenches scattered before its sharpness. Thatch, turf, and shakes blocked sight of the morning sun, but light spilled down from the wan blue. Wild geese were on the wing. Their honking blew faint through hoofbeat, footfall, creak, clang, mumble, all the manifold racket below." (p. 219)

- a characteristically evocative descriptive passage, ending with a list of sounds. Some Andersonian street scenes include even longer lists of smells.

Eirik Blood Ax, having lost Norway, has become King in York so the action of the novel has moved to the North East of England. As Queen Gunnhild rides forth with the King:

"It was no mean town through whose streets she passed. For all the war and woe that had gone by, it had grown strongly under the Danes. Even this late in the year ships crowded its wharfs, come up the River Ouse - on whose west side newer buildings now also clustered thick - from the Humber and the North Sea with goods to stuff the warehouses." (p. 219)

The rich description continues, becoming rather too long to quote in full except to say that it presents yet another list:

"...workmen, chapmen, sailors, fishers, farmers, herders, wives, children, hawkers, priests, thralls, beggar, now and then a whore or maybe a wandering ragged singer, surely thieves, and who could say what else?" (p. 220)

This is the birth of the Yorks described in Operation Luna and Genesis.