Saturday, 15 February 2014

1985 AD

Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991).

Part One of The Shield Of Time is a mere six pages, as also is the first chapter, headed 1985 A.D., of Part Two. Some Poul Anderson novels contain brief, scene-setting, introductory chapters that I tend to skip on rereading although in fact all prose by Anderson does bear careful rereading.

After we have read some reminiscences by a Russian Army private lost among the Afghan hills, a Soviet captain on a solitary secret mission entrusts the private with an archaeological find unearthed by an explosion and helps him to find his base.

Some passages are recognized as significant later:

"To Yuri Alexeievitch Garshin, the captain appeared as an angel from his grandmother's Heaven. It was on the third day after the ambush." (p. 11)

Is the phrase "...on the third day..." significant? Anderson certainly evokes this symbolism in the opening sentence of The Day Of Their Return:

"On the third day, he arose and ascended again to the light."
- Anderson, Captain Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 75.

In any case, an angel from Heaven is significant. And, at the end of the chapter, the captain with folded arms watches the departing Garshin:

"When Garshin glanced rearward, a last time, he saw sunlight from behind the helmet make a kind of halo, as if on an angel who guarded some place mysterious and forbidden." (p. 16)

Why is this scholarly and kindly captain twice compared to an angel? Does he indeed guard and conceal a mystery? He is, if not supernatural, then at least super-temporal: a Time Patrolman visiting a timeline that he knows will be prevented. I am not sure whether this works but the idea is that, to trap the four remaining Exaltationists, the Patrol plants false historical evidence, then, when the trap has been sprung, removes the evidence.

Later, the Time Patrolman will remember having spoken with Garshin but will also know that, if he were to survey that mountainous Afghan territory again, then he would see what is described in the very brief concluding section of Part Two, also headed "1985 A.D.":

"Yuri Alexeievitch Garshin stumbled lost and alone." (p. 123)

So, from the point of view accepted by the Patrol, that apparent halo on an angel guarding a mysterious, forbidden place is not something that did happen but only something that would have happened if it had not been prevented from happening. And that is quite mysterious.

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