Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Man Who Came Early II

Anderson, Poul, "The Man Who Came Early" IN Knight, Damon, Ed., 100 Years of Science Fiction (London, 1972), pp. 185-212.

The protagonists of "Wildcat," "The Nest," "The Little Monster" and "The Man Who Came Early" travel to the Jurassic, the Oligocene, the Pliocene and the late tenth century AD respectively. Thus, they are true time travelers. The protagonist of "Welcome" psycho-physically exists for less than half an hour between 1997 and 2497 and the protagonist of "Time Heals" undergoes zero duration between 1952 and 2837 but neither can return so they are not time travelers.

The protagonists of "Flight To Forever" can travel into an indefinite future but would need infinite energy to travel more than about seventy years pastwards. But they can travel in that direction so they are time travelers. They can also reach the past by traveling forwards around the circle of time, which is a new angle. (Olaf Stapledon's Last Men discovered that time is a circle and that most of it is an unknown period between the end and the beginning of the universe.)

"The Man Who Came Early" perfectly complements these other stories of characters displaced in time. Its point, contra L Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall, is that a twentieth century engineer and soldier would lack the skills necessary to succeed or even to survive in tenth century Iceland. The time traveler is described entirely as perceived by the tenth century narrator. He wears what we recognize as a military uniform inscribed not with runes but with Roman letters, "...thus, MP." (p. 189) So we know that he is a military policeman.

By speaking with this stranger, the narrator has learned that the Christian priest is wrong to say that the world will end in two years but has also learned that Christ will conquer Thor - so he might as well be on the winning side. The stranger introduces himself as Gerald Robbins but, when asked, says that his father was named Sam, so he is known as Gerald Samsson. When he asks what year it is, he is told, "''s the second year after the great salmon catch...'" (p. 191), but he perseveres and learns the approximate date AD.

Thus, this is a time travel story recounted entirely from the perspective of the period that has been traveled to.

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