Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Vault Of The Ages

Yes! By reading Poul Anderson's Introduction, "The Time Capsule," to his Vault Of The Ages (New York, 1969), I have confirmed that it is indeed set on Earth five hundred years after a nuclear war. Therefore, I will reread it after Twilight World and Shield, although this will take a while especially with a family funeral scheduled for next week.

Is Vault Of The Ages classified as a juvenile novel?

"The Time Capsule," which I do not remember reading before, is an excellent synopsis of information about the time capsules in Atlanta, Georgia, and New York City. For the latter, 3650 copies of a Book of Record, printed on permanent paper with special ink, distributed to libraries, museums, monasteries, lamaseries, temples etc and containing a request that it be translated into each newly emerging language, describes how to find the securely buried capsule when it is to be opened in 6938.

The Roman poet Horace wrote, "Exegi monumentum aere perennius (I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze)."

A Shakespeare sonnet ends:

"And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
"Praising thy worth despite his cruel hand."

 James Elroy Flecker wrote a poem To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence, ending:

"To greet you. You will understand."

(Flecker's recorded voice reciting this poem is on the Internet.)
 www.youtube.com/watch?v=8l3EgFRbzG4

A Better World

This interesting dialogue in Poul Anderson's Twilight World (London, 1984) is also relevant to historical speculation in general and to the same author's Time Patrol series in particular:

"'Had it not been for that damned war and its aftermath, we might stand here [on Ganymede] amidst flowering gardens and know that our people had already reached the stars.'

"'We would not exist,' said Orna prosaically.

"Danivar laughed. 'True. The trend of events must ever seem toward the best, since it is toward the one observing the trend.'" (p. 179)

I disagree. I think that the world could (not necessarily would but could) have been better if history had taken a different course at an earlier stage even though I would in that case not exist to observe the trend:

for Biblical fundamentalists, if the First Parents had not fallen;
scientific and industrial revolutions in ancient Greece preventing the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages;
a different outcome for political conflicts in the early twentieth century preventing World Wars, Nazism, Stalinism and nuclear weapons;
my life would have been better with a different upbringing and education even though my present self would not have been here to comment on it - someone better would have been.

Twilight World As Future History?

I am beginning to suspect that Poul Anderson's Twilight World (London, 1984) is not only a series packaged as a novel but also potentially a short future history:

Prologue, 1-5 (30 pages);
"Chain of Logic," 1-5 (30 pages);
"The Children of Fortune," 1-18 (101 pages);
Epilogue (4 pages).

In the Prologue, Hugh Drummond, having just completed an exploratory flight around the world after it was devastated by the nuclear and bacteriological Final War, conducts a census of what is left of the United States, highlighting that mutants are now a permanent part of the population and will become the majority.

"Chain of Logic" 1, narrated from the viewpoint of Roderick Wayne in the small town of Southvale, reveals that, nine years earlier, the US and Canada were united and Drummond was elected President.

"Chain of Logic" 2 shows Richard Hammer leading his gang towards Southvale, intending to capture the town, hijack a plane, fly to the capitol and destroy it with one of its own stockpiled atomic bombs, thus destroying the government which otherwise would put an end to his rule in Southvale.

"Chain of Logic" 3, which is as far as I have reread, begins when Wayne's mutant son, Alaric, is woken by his equally mutant dog trying to warn him about a threat from the south - Hammer's gang.

"The Children of Fortune," set later, covers the resumption of interplanetary travel, as far as Mars, but it features Alaric Wayne, not a later generation, which is why I describe the series as only potentially a future history. However, the Epilogue is set millennia later when Homo Superior with telepathic communication and individual lifespans of centuries inhabits the rich green planet Mars and is terraforming Ganymede so the future historical perspective is definitely present.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Twilight World II

Poul Anderson's Twilight World (London, 1984) (the publication date of this science fiction novel is the title of another) starts with a quotation from Wagner's The Twilight Of The Gods. Its viewpoint character refers to the Ragnarok (p. 8) and to "Der Untergang des Abendlandes..." (p. 6), Oswald Spengler's "Fall of the West."

This recalls James Blish's Cities In Flight Tetralogy which is both Wagnerian and Spenglerian. Blish's Chronology of Cities in Flight even gives a date, albeit agreed and arbitrary, for the Fall of the West: 2100. In that case, an extended Cold War scenario, the West falls to the East because Western, ie, American, security becomes so increasingly repressive that it is eventually indistinguishable from Russian bureaucracy which therefore simply takes over the running of both systems, banning what had been the crowning Western achievement, space travel.

In Twilight World, the Fall is not bureaucratic resolution of the Cold War but World War III. This leads into a comparison of Anderson's post-apocalyptic scenarios:

The Winter Of The World is post-Ice Age;
Twilight World, Shield and the Maurai History are post-nuclear;
Vault Of The Ages is - I can't remember, but will reread it shortly. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Twilight World

My copy of Poul Anderson's Twilight World, published in London in 1984, says that the book was first published in the USA in 1983 and is copyright 1981 by Poul Anderson. However, that must have been a renewal of the copyright and this cannot be a complete publishing history because I am sure that I read (another copy of) this book while I was in my teens at secondary school in the 1960's. In fact, I am surprised that the copy in my possession is not still that earlier copy. I must have parted with it and later replaced it even though I have not subsequently reread the book.

There were at least three standard futuristic scenarios in science fiction:

interplanetary travel;
interstellar travel;
post-nuclear war Earth.

Anderson's Maurai future history and Twilight World are two examples of the third scenario. In fact, the latter is set after a mixture of atomic and bacteriological warfare:

atomic bombs;
radio-active dust bombs;
bacteria bombs;
blight bombs (p. 6).

In the five-part Prologue, the destruction has stopped because it has become impossible to continue it and the world is very slowly starting to recover with a large number of mutants in the population. The viewpoint character, Hugh Drummond, says:

"'...we can't go back to the old ways. We've got to start on a new track - a track of sanity.'" (p. 16)

In the 1960's, I was immature and uninformed enough to think that post-nuclear survival might be a great adventure, in that way similar to the space travel scenarios. It would mean the end of the society upheld by my elders and I did not regard such an ending as a bad thing. Of course, a nuclear winter would also mean the death of every blade of grass on Earth. Although that was not known then, I was certainly very superficial in thinking that there could be anything good in trying to survive after a nuclear exchange.

Anderson tried to imagine how people might survive and rebuild but not with any idea that this would be a good process to go through.

Cleopatra II

In A World Named Cleopatra (New York, 1977), more background features turn out to be familiar from other Anderson works:

there is a Cleopatran equivalent of grass, a green, moss-like growth that spreads across the surface, "...making a springy carpet underfoot...;" (p. 41)

there is mass poverty and unemployment back on Earth (although one rare colonizable Earth-like planet 398 light-years away cannot make much difference as one of the characters seems to think).

There are three characters: the female viewpoint character and two men, a Brazilian aristocrat and a North American radical. I agree with the latter in his opposition to aristocracy though not in his belief in human superiority. There are no non-human characters and the belief in racial superiority does not become problematic because the tool-using bipedal "fabers" turn out to be solitary, non-linguistic and unintelligent. This explains their otherwise mysterious lack of curiosity, unresponsiveness to communication attempts and acceptance of food but utter disregard of offered human artifacts. Neat.

As ever in Anderson's stories of planetary exploration, the characters have conflicts between themselves but, as a group, encounter and solve a problem of some sort. In another first contact story, "Wings of Victory," the problem is the exact opposite, not why do these apparently intelligent beings act as if they were unintelligent but how can they possibly be intelligent when their bodies are light enough for them to fly?

Despite the political disagreement between the two men, the aristocrat acts honorably, even ironically saying when the other man is sick, "'...we can't leave our comrade.'" (p. 52)

The blurb describes Cleopatra as a "...unique 'anthological novel.'" (back cover) This is indeed a novel classification! Finishing the introductory Anderson story and turning the page, we find a one page historical note of unspecified authorship, which informs us, first, that imported Terrestrial flora and fauna drive back native life and, secondly, that two powerful ruling nations gradually emerge among the colonists, northern Dardania and eastern Pindaria.

Dardanians modify fabers as workers, servants, dancers and musicians and for military purposes. The second chapter in the "anthological novel" is "Faber-Master" by Michael Orgill. Since this story is not by Anderson, is not a direct sequel to the Anderson story and is by an author with whom I am as yet unfamiliar, I prefer for present purposes to proceed to rereading an Anderson novel in order to continue blogging about Poul Anderson.

Cleopatra

We recognise Anderson's skills already displayed in works like the Technic History:

imagining an entire planet in metrical detail;
accounting for parallel evolution;
rationalising Earth-like features by commenting that they must be rare.

Certain details sound familiar:

Earthmen can eat some local foods but not others and need dietary supplements;
weather is hard to predict in a different environment;
global politics have changed back on Earth so that English is not the main language of the expedition.

I am still reading Anderson's introductory story for the first time.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Length And Brevity

Imagine if Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization comprised only:

a novelization of "The Saturn Game";
a novel and a collection in which the Polesotechnic League and the Terran Empire co-exist in different parts of the galaxy;
Tau Zero set during the Long Night.

This is my way of comparing the Technic History with James Blish's longest future history, the Cities In Flight Tetralogy. The point here is to contrast length with brevity, not to denigrate Blish. On the contrary, for a very long time, I rated Blish much more highly than Anderson and thought that the Technic History was just the van Rijn and Flandry series strung together with a few extras. I now think instead that it is the best of the Heinleinian future histories - although perhaps there are only three of these, Heinlein's and two by Anderson? In any case, the Technic History is superb, whether it belongs to a large or a small set of future histories.

Cities In Flight just makes it into future historical status but, having recently reread it yet again, I can confidently state that it is a great work of science fiction and that each of its four volumes has unique merits that differentiate it from the others.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Where We Are At

Thank you to all the readers of this blog, ninety six so far today. For me, another week in Leicester away from the computer approaches. Meanwhile, I continue to post more on James Blish Appreciation than on Poul Anderson Appreciation although this cannot last if only because of Blish's much smaller output.

Other time-consuming activities are physical exercise, family outings and learning Latin, currently by reading extracts from Caesar's Gallic Wars, thus also learning some history relevant to Anderson's historical fiction, the longer term aim being to read Virgil's Aeneid, beloved by Poul and Karen Anderson's Romano-British character, Gratillonius, the last King of Ys.

On the agenda for this blog are reading A World Named Cleopatra, then rereading Twilight World and several other one-off novels but, since this is a retirement activity, there is no hurry about it. I blog only about fiction that I am interested in reading, not about what I think there is an audience for. Nevertheless, it is good to know that others still value Poul Anderson.

17 April, 2013: 107 pageviews by the end of yesterday.

Monday, 15 April 2013

A World Named Cleopatra

There is a large second hand bookshop in Carnforth, near Lancaster. In its science fiction room, I found a paperback copy of a Poul Anderson work that I had not heard of before. A World Named Cleopatra contains a fourteen page Introduction and one short story by Anderson, three short stories by other authors and fictitious historical notes between the stories.

The Introduction describes the fictional planet, Cleopatra, created by Anderson, and the stories are set on Cleopatra which is both inhabited and colonised from Earth. Anderson fans know that he is capable of imagining and describing extrasolar planets in detail because he does this in several other works and many times in his long future history series, the History of Technic Civilization.

On this occasion, I will be reading anew, not rereading, before blogging. The headings in the Introduction are:

THE SUN
THE PLANET
SATELLITES
GENERAL BIOLOGY
PLANTS
ANIMALS

The Anderson story, "The Serpent In Eden," describes First Contact between colonists and natives, with the colonists cast in the role of the Serpent. The historical note between the third and fourth stories refers to Cleopatra in 3298 AD but is attributed to a Colonial Survey dated 3300 AD. Thus, the book is in miniature yet another future history series.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Revisiting The Technic History

Because the question of Flandry's age came up, I started to reread The Game Of Empire. It is always enjoyable to re-immerse our willing suspension of disbelief in this future history and, fortunately, it is long enough that we can reread parts of it at different times without exhausting it quickly.

In Ensign Flandry, when Dominic Flandry is nineteen, Miriam is the youngest of Max Abrams' three children. Abrams has not seen her for over a year and is told that she is changing out of recognition. The oldest of the three children has started to see a certain young man a lot. So how old does that make Miriam? I take her to be only a few years old.

In The Game Of Empire (IN Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012), which is set "'...forty-odd years...'" later, Miriam, approaching fifty, is married to Flandry, approaching seventy (pp. 212, 318). If we take forty years as a round number, then that would take him to sixty nine and her to her forties which is about right (Later: I miscounted here. See Comments).

There are other details to notice in The Game Of Empire. In Chapter One, Diana sees Axor approaching:

"Around the corner of a Winged Smoke House..." (p. 199)

What is that? In Chapter Two, A Cynthian innkeeper offers the Tigery Targovi "'...ryushka...'" (p. 223)

- to which he replies:

"'I thank you, but the Winged Smoke is only for when I can take my ease...'" (p. 223)

- so it is a drug that is smoked and I do not remember noticing it before.

At the Sign of the Golden Cockbeetle, another of the many hospitable inns in Anderson's works, Diana sees:

"...men, outback miners to judge by their rough appearance...," drinking with joygirls and a Tigery (p. 204).

Why do I quote this? Because I really enjoy Anderson's vivid imagining of guys leading ordinary working lives, indeed their entire lifespans, on a colonized extra-solar planet inhabited by other rational species a thousand years hence.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Flandry And Blish

Having compared Poul Anderson's character, Ensign Dominic Flandry, who was nineteen, not seventeen as I wrongly wrote earlier, with James Blish's juvenile heroes, Adolph Haertel, Jack Loftus and Chris deFord, the next comparison to be made was of the Flandry series as a whole with Blish's two "Space Secret Service Stories" (see the James Blish Appreciation blog here).

The two Blish works, although loosely linked, differ considerably from each other. The Quincunx Of Time could not, at least not very easily, have become a series. "A Style In Treason" has some parallels with the Flandry series. Simon de Kuyl represents High Earth and opposes the Green Exarchy just as Dominic Flandry represents the Terran Empire and opposes the green Merseians. "Treason" shows us the end of de Kuyl's career so that, if the story had grown into a series about that character, then the additional stories would have had to be set earlier.

I suggested to Blish that, if there was a Green Exarch, then there might also be Exarchs of different colors and he replied that this was a helpful idea. "Exarch" does mean a provincial governor. There was, of course, only one Roidhun of Merseia and Anderson, with apparent effortlessness, wrote many volumes about Flandry's long struggle against the Roidunate. Quality from Blish; quality and quantity from Anderson.

How Old Is Dominic Flandry?

In "Coming Of Age" on the James Blish Appreciation blog, I compare Poul Anderson's Ensign Dominic Flandry with James Blish's juvenile sf heroes, Adolph Haertel, Jack Loftus and Crispin deFord. We first meet deFord at age sixteen and the others at seventeen. All four come of age.

How old does Flandry get to be in his series? I said seventy but this disagrees with the most recent version of the Chronology of Technic Civilization. I have the idea that I read the age of seventy in a later Flandry novel but must reread to confirm or disconfirm.

Comparing Anderson's account of Jupiter in "Call Me Joe" with Blish's account in the "Jupiter V" chapters of They Shall Have Stars diverted me from blogging about Anderson to blogging about Blish but this question of Flandry's age might have the reverse effect.

Meanwhile, does anyone out there know for sure how old Flandry is?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Immortality

The article below is copied from the James Blish Appreciation blog. I thought that the "rechannelling" of memories in the decadent society of Blish's "A Style In Treason" contrasted interestingly with the constructive use of memory editing in Anderson's World Without Stars.

To any fan of either author, I can only say, "Read both."

A Few Fictional Kinds of "Immortality"

Robert Heinlein's Methuselah's Children: breeding for longevity and one mutant immortal;
Poul Anderson's World Without Stars: the antithanatic;
Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years: mutants, then artificial longevity;
James Blish's Cities In Flight: anti-agathics;
Blish's "A Style In Treason": "...indefinitely prolonged physical vigor..." (Anywhen, New York, 1970, p. 14).

Anderson's mutant immortals avoid insanity from endless memory accumulation by marshalling their own inner resources whereas the beneficiaries of his "antithanatic" have their memories periodically edited by artificial means. They retain recent memories and the overall structure of their lives but not the many biographical details for which they can consult written records.

The indefinitely vigorous people of Blish's "A Style In Treason" have found different uses for memory control:

"After a while, it became difficult to remember who one was supposed to be - and to remember who one was was virtually impossible. Even the Baptized, who had had their minds dipped and then rechannelled with only a century's worth of memories, betrayed to the experienced eye a vague, tortured puzzlement, as though still searching in the stilled waters for some salmon of ego they had been left no reason to suspect had ever been there. Suicide was unconcealedly common among the Baptized..." (p. 14).

So sanity is not a priority. These Blish characters are  "...tired..." and decadent by contrast with the intergalactic expansion and dynamism of Anderson's antithanatic-users so would immortality be a curse or could it be put to constructive use? Science fiction writers show us both options.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Connections

The previous post, "Cadet Loftus And Ensign Flandry," (here) connects with "Parallel Blogs" on the James Blish Appreciation blog. I mention this because there are still consistently more page views here than there. I am currently considering Anderson and Blish in parallel. Both successors of Robert Heinlein, they nevertheless have more in common with each other than with their distinguished predecessor.

For many posts, I was content to remain with Anderson's pasts: his historical novels, historical fantasies and retellings of myths and legends. Having reread this entire long series as I think of it, although really it is several different works, I returned to his futuristic hard sf, finding there a close parallel with Blish. Consequently, I started to reread the latter, then to post more frequently on the appropriate blog. This will continue for a while.

I hope that blog viewers who want to read about Anderson will continue to find previous posts here of interest and will also check out James Blish Appreciation.