Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Realer World

Today, I attended a memorial for the life of local teacher and writer, Julian Holt. Julian's short story, "James Joyce at Speech Day," was read aloud and is included in a specially produced book that was distributed free.

In this story, a lover of James Joyces' Ulysses says:

"'...such language, such beauty. And out of it a world richer and realer than anything here. Can you believe I feel more alive in that book than in this place?'"

"...Dublin, home town, heart town. She had never been there, except in her mind..."

"'In my heart I feel a Dublin girl, and it's 1904, and I'm breathing the smells of Grafton Street and Tyrone Street and Killiney Strand, and taking a stout in Larry O'Rourke's pub. It's all so real...'"

We live in worlds that writers make real. Joyce made Dublin real to Milly because it was real to him. Poul Anderson made other worlds real to us because he imagines them. I have marched through Zorkagrad with Flandry and Kossara surrounded by zmayi.

How Not To Do Something

The Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film and the later Dredd film are object lessons in how to do something wrong and in how it can be done right. It is worth seeing both to appreciate the contrast.

I would not recommend that anyone read Isaac Asimov's Robots and Empire future history, incorporating his Foundation series, in its entirety. However, anyone who has done so can make a Judge Dredd-Dredd comparison by then reading in its entirety Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, incorporating his Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry series. I say this yet again because recent re-readings have reconfirmed my conviction of it.

Anderson presents:

an Empire that is interstellar but not Galactic;
many intelligent races, inhabiting fully realized planetary environments;
an auctorial grasp pf the complexities of socioeconomic interactions - and not just an elite group who, we are told, can mathematically formulate and manipulate such interactions;
a more realistic understanding of what social theoreticians can and cannot do and of what might be done to ameliorate the consequences of imminent social collapse;
vivid descriptions and concrete characterization.

Cynthians In Space

"...the Empire purchased Llynathawr from its Cynthian discoverers..."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 400.

Hence, the planet's Cynthian name.

"Vor had been discovered early in the age of exploration by Cynthians but colonized by humans..."
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), pp. 316-317.

"[Ramnu] was discovered not by humans but by Cynthians, early in the pioneering era. Intrigued, they established a scientific base on its innermost moon and bestowed names from a mythology of theirs. Politico-economic factors, which also fluctuate, soon caused them to depart. Later, humans arrived..."
-Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), p. 70.

So how many places did Cynthians go and stay? There is a Cynthian in one of van Rijn's trader teams and another in the Terran fleet that attacks Avalon and a Cynthian colony on Daedalus. Cynthians are pure carnivores with a trading culture that modernized quickly. Although the spacefaring Cynthians do not economically support any other Cynthian societies, thus causing the latter to join the Supermetals alliance of underdeveloped races, Cynthia as a whole seems like a good prospect to lead a renaissance of civilization during and after the Long Night.

After The Empire

"'[The Hermetians]'re good stock; they'll become important again in the Empire...and afterward.'"
-Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), p. 186.

So we can add Hermes to the list of Nyanza, Dennitza and Avalon, the planets that Flandry hopes will endure when the Empire is gone. Strengthen certain planets so that hopefully they will remain civilized during an interregnum of interstellar travel. That makes much more sense than founding two Foundations at opposite ends of the Galaxy, the Second shrouded in so much secrecy so that the other characters engage in endless detective work to try to find it.

Miriam/Banner says:

"'...I don't want to begin again with another Ramnuan. Our sisterhood, Yewwl's and mine, was wonderful...but it came to be when we were young, and that is gone.'" (p. 187)

Centuries previously, the members of the trader team had realized that they could return home but that it was not the same because they were no longer the same. Anderson vividly shows both beginnings and endings for individuals and societies.

Flandry's Legacy: Back Cover Blurb

-Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), back cover (blurb written by compiler, Hank Davis?).

I have thought that Long Night And Dawn could make an appropriate title for a concluding volume of the History of Technic Civilization. However, my concluding volume would collect the four works set after the Terran Empire but not also the last two novels set during Flandry's lifetime.

The blurb continues:

"Sir Dominic Flandry is now an admiral but takes little joy in his new rank. He sees the rot in the Terran Empire on every hand and knows that the Long Night will inevitably fall on the galaxy."

Not on the whole galaxy: the Empire rules just some of the terrestroid planets in a four hundred light year diameter sphere near the edge of one spiral arm and it is only one interstellar power. Other powers in known space are the Roidhunate of Merseia, the Domain of Ythri and the Dispersal of Ymir. The Dispersal, based on gas giants, not on terrestroids, overlaps the Empire, Roidhunate and Domain but may be much vaster.

"His consolation is that measures he has taken while fighting to postpone the final collapse may shorten the coming galactic dark age and hasten the rise of a new interstellar civilization."

Isaac Asimov's Hari Seldon tried to shorten a dark age and to hasten a new civilization but not also to postpone the imminent collapse. This blurb makes the Flandry series sound like an alternative Foundation Trilogy but, we must add, an incomparably better Foundation Trilogy.

Flandry says:

"'I'd like to have Nyanza well populated. When the Long Night comes for Terra, somebody will have to carry on. It might as well be you.'"
-Poul Anderson, Captain Flandry: Defender Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2010), p. 339. 

On Dennitza, he and his fiancee, Kossara, anticipate:

"Service...staff rather than field Intelligence...for the future, not the poor wayworn Empire but a world he too could believe in, the world of their own blood."
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 543.

Later, he tells Miriam Abrams:

"'The sophont races will survive. In due course, they'll build fascinating new civilizations. Cultures of mixed species look especially promising. Consider Avalon already.'"
-Flandry's Legacy, p. 75.

Yes and, in any case, despite the human element in its population, Avalon is outside the Empire, in the Domain of Ythri. We last saw Avalon immediately after the Terran War, before Flandry's birth, so I would like to have seen it again.

"'...I'm not optimistic about this period we are in: but it can be made less terrible than it'd otherwise be. And that isn't so little, is it - buying years for billions of sentient beings, that they can live in?'" (ibid.)

Here we return to the theme of postponing collapse.

When civilization is being restored after the Long Night, we are told that the planet Atheia:

"...was supposed to have retained or regained almost as many amenities as Old Earth knew in its glory..." (p. 665)

The Long Night meant no economic basis for building spaceships:

"'That meant little trade between planets. Which meant trouble on most of 'em.'" (p. 458)

But not necessarily on all of 'em, maybe not on Atheia. Roan Tom gains power on Kraken. Vixenites found New Vixen which later becomes part of the Commonalty. Thus, Flandry sees hope in Nyanza, Dennitza and Avalon and, later, there is the realization of hope on Atheia, Kraken and Vixen.

To return to the Flandry's Legacy blurb:

"In the meantime, he'll always be ready for one more battle against the Empire's enemies."

We return from Flandry's future to his present, where he is still fighting.

"A Stone In Heaven - When the daughter of Flandry's mentor asks for help, he intervenes to thwart a would-be dictator's plans to seize control of the Empire."

Flandry does indeed intervene but there is much more than that in this novel:

life on Ramnu;
the sense of Hermes as a complex society and economy within the Empire;
Flandry's exposition of the decline of the Empire;
his autumnal affair with Miriam - "They walked on into the autumn." (p. 188)

"The Game Of Empire - Flandry's daughter, Diana, and her felinelike alien friend have discovered a Merseian conspiracy against the Empire. Even with the help of her illustrious father, can they stop it in time?"

Yes. We know, unless we are reading the Technic History for the very first time and in chronological order of fictitious events, that the Empire will not be incorporated into the Roidhunate but will simply fall, bequeathing not Merseian rule but interstellar barbarism. Anderson's texts do not tell us what became of the Roidhunate but Sandra Miesel reasonably guesses in her Chronology of Technic Civilization that, in the early fourth millennium:

"The Empire and Merseia wear each other out." (p. 803)

Again, there is more in this last Flandry era novel than interstellar intrigue, mainly the fascinating planets, Imhotep and Daedalus, and some new perspectives on the earlier history.

"Plus four novellas, all in this seventh volume of the first complete edition of Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization saga."

Those four novellas are the only works set during the Long Night and its aftermath so they deserved a bit more discussion in the blurb!

While googling for Technic Civilization covers, I learned that, whereas Captain Flandry: Defender Of The Terran Empire is Volume 5 of The Technic Civilization Saga, Flandry: Defender Of The Terran Empire is a separate edition, collecting A Circus Of Hells and The Rebel Worlds.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Biosculp And Fashion

(This might be the last post for May. Round numbers and all that. There are a couple of new posts on Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments.

If Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series were to be filmed, then one actor would have to play the central role in Ensign Flandry and A Circus Of Hells but one, and only one, other actor would be needed for the rest of the series. This is because Flandry changes his face by "biosculp" but then retains the second face for the rest of his life. First, he does not get around to changing it, then, when he is older, it becomes unfashionable to do so.

His face in his sixties was a...

"...relic of a period when everybody who could afford it got biosculped into comeliness. (The present generation scorned that; in many ways, these were puritanical times.)"
-Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), p. 31.

We expect technological advances but Anderson also presents changes in fashion and morality.

In The Rebel Worlds, when Lieutenant Commander Dominic Flandry reports as ordered to Vice Admiral Sir Ilya Kheraskov, the Admiral, who has never seen Flandry before, says, "'I see you have a new face.'" -Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 383. Flandry's identity had been verified by a machine when he entered the building. This would make a good scene in a film. The cinema audience would have noticed that a new actor was playing Flandry but would not expect another character to comment on the changed face!

Death II

(The illustration shows the feminine personification of Death, a prominent character in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. "Death" is copyright Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg. Not that they invented the idea of dying or anything...)

The second time Flandry and Aycharaych discuss mortality, Aycharaych suggests that knowledge of an early death inspires human artistic creativity. All races are mortal but maybe some are longer lived? Flandry realizes of Aycharaych:

"'You must have played your game for centuries...'"
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 599.

When Flandry's life is endangered, he reminds himself:

"...that ultimate purity lies in death." (p. 594)

What does he mean by this and why has he come to think it? Later, reflecting on his murdered fiancee, Kossara, he thinks:

"For a while I wasn't [alone]; and now she is; she is down in the aloneness which is eternal." (p. 599).

Death is ultimate purity and eternal aloneness. OK. Flandry's belief differs from that of his fiancee's people, to whom she becomes St Kossara.

Later again, Flandry thinks:

"...we're holding our own against the Old Man."
-Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), p. 31.

The masculine personification does little harm, although we Gaimanites know better.

Flandry continues:

"Why not? What's his hurry? He's hauled in Kossara and young Dominic and Hans and - how many more? I can be left to wait his convenience." (ibid.)

This is another aspect of our condition. The longer we live, the more acquaintances we outlive. But we can keep going and can do it for them. An old man, asked directions to the crematorium, said, "I've been there so many times. Next time, it'll be for myself!"


Every fictional character must die some time but the author need not show us it. Van Rijn must be dead by the time of Flandry who must be dead by the time of Roan Tom etc but each of these characters is still alive the last time we see him.

Flandry could have died on Chereion at the end of A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows or in space at the end of A Stone In Heaven (on the second occasion, I thought he would) but is still alive, active and cheering on a younger generation at the end of The Game Of Empire.

Flandry and Aycharaych discuss mortality twice. The first time, Flandry, from decadent Terra, admits to thinking that death is rather ungentlemanly whereas the Chereionite calls it a completion and sets out to complete Flandry's life.

Interruption. To be continued.

This Week And Next

The lap top with the battery removed is working ok so I am delaying buying a new one.

I will be in Scotland Monday to Friday next week and will probably take not Anderson and the lap top but Latin and Greek in the hope of catching up with them.

Currently lacking new Anderson or Anderson-related material to read, I am enjoying re-rereading the Technic History and finding new facets to highlight but presumably this cannot continue literally forever.

I find the Technic History a good imaginary universe to inhabit, far more so than, for example, the higher profile Middle Earth or Star Trek Universe.

I have just wasted an evening on the latest X-Men film, involving time travel, and wished I hadn't. Read the Time Patrol and be critical even of that.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Curious Openings

"The story is of a lost treasure guarded by curious monsters, and of captivity in a wilderness, and of a chase through reefs and shoals that could wreck a ship. There is a beautiful girl in it, a magician, a spy or two, and the rivalry of empires. So of course - Flandry was later tempted to say - it begins with a coincidence."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 197.

"Every planet in the story is cold - even Terra, though Flandry came home on a warm evening of northern summer. There the chill was in the spirit."
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 342.

These paragraphs open Chapter I of A Circus Of Hells and of A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, respectively. In each, the omniscient narrator - or is it in these cases simply the author?- directly addresses the reader with information about "the story." Thus, we do not really get into the fiction, willingly suspending our disbelief, until the second paragraph. This is odd.

Those "...reefs and shoals..." are the distorted gravity around a pulsar and the "...ship..." is a spaceship so the description is somewhat misleading. The "...magician..." is a scientist who has discovered the value of psychic techniques.

The "cold" planets are:

Terra (we have been there before);
Diomedes (we have been there before);
Dennitza (now capital of the Taurian Sector, where we have been before);
Chereion (it has been discussed before).

Thus, like any good installment of a future history, A Knight... stands firmly on the solid ground of earlier installments.

Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

I was going to call this post "Yet More Latin" but let's have the Latin in the title.

"'...we live on the edge. We have got to show we aren't safe for unfriends to touch. Otherwise, what's next?'
"'Nemo me impune lacessit,' Flandry murmured.
"No matter. Ancient saying. Too damned ancient; does nothing ever change at heart?'"
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 573.

Everything changes but not at the same rate. The Latin phrase, meaning "No one attacks me with impunity," is the motto of the Scottish Order of the Thistle and of three Scottish regiments, appeared on the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Scotland and still appears on the version of the United Kingdom coat of arms used in Scotland. The saying, apparently attributed to Julius Caesar, has had wide use in military contexts, according to Wikipedia.

Gospodar Bodin plans a retaliatory attack on the Merseian Rhoidunate. Knowing that the Empire would disapprove, Flandry nevertheless participates in "Bodin's raid" and even provides it with a suitable target, Chereion. Bombarding this planet cripples Merseian Intelligence and the Empire, if it had had the will, could then have finished Merseia.

Djana's Curse


"'I guess I can't stop you from having almost any woman who comes by. But I'll wish this, that you never get the one you really want.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 365.

There are two women whom Flandry really wants. Kathryn McCormac refuses to leave her husband. Kossara Vymezal wants marriage before sex but changes her mind twice. The first time, it would be impractical -

Kossara: "'Would it be wrong? Here in these clean spaces, under heaven?'"
Flandry: "'It would not be very practical, I'm afraid. You deserve better.'"
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), pp. 522-523.

The second time:

"'But, uh, your cathedral wedding -'
"'I've come to see how little it matters, how little the universe does, next to having you while I can. Tonight, Dominic. Now.'
"He seized her to him.
"A flash went blue-white in the front windows.
"They sprang up.'" (p. 534)

Kossara's entire family has been slain. From this moment on, he and she are busy and on the run until she too is killed...

Can Djana's curse really cause all that? Of course, the text is ambiguous. But she definitely did have the psychic power to make conscious beings do what she wanted. Her Merseian mentor measured the effect. A Merseian space crew seeking Flandry's inert vessel detected it by radar but dismissed the object as an asteroid because Djana willed it.

Such control over events rivals the luck of Teela Brown in Larry Niven's Known Space future history. Whatever is lucky for Teela Brown happens, even ancient events with beneficial consequences for her remote future - although hindsight is necessary to see what was beneficial. Djana seems to have a similar effect at a distance.

In case the reader has not read or has forgotten the earlier novel, Flandry tells Kossara:

"'...I'd got a different woman angry at me. She had a peculiar psionic power, not telepathy but - beings tended to do what she desired. She wished on me that I never get the one I wanted in my heart. I'm not superstitious, I take no more stock in curses or spooks than I do in the beneficence of governments. Still - an unconscious compulsion - Bah! If there was any such thing, which I positively do not think, then you've lifted it off me, Kossara...'" (p. 524)

An unconscious compulsion on Flandry could not possibly cause a nuclear explosion to kill Kossara's family at the moment when she said, "Now." When Djana delivered the curse:

"He thought little of her remark, then." Young Flandry, p. 365.

We also think little of it. There is simply no indication that Djana's anger might have such major consequences in two later novels.

Bodin's Prayers

"In glory did Gospodar Bodin ride home.
"Maidens danced to crown him with flowers. The songs of their joy rang from the headwaters of the Lyubisha to the waves of the Black Ocean, up the highest mountains and down the fairest glens; and all the bells of Zorkagrad peeled until Lake Stoyan gave back their music.
"Springtime came, never more sweet, and blossoms well nigh buried the tomb which Gospodar Bodin had raised for St Kossara. There did he often pray, in after years of his lordship over us; and while he lived, no foeman troubled the peace she brought us through his valor. Sing, poets, of his fame and honor! Long may God give us folk like these!
"And may they hearten each one of us. For in this is our hope.
- Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (Riverdale, NY, 2012), pp. 605-606.

I have quoted this concluding passage of Poul Anderson's A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows in full first because of its beauty and secondly because it continues the line of thought of the previous two posts, Flandry's Prayer and Flandry's Prayer II. Like "Star Of The Sea" in Anderson's Time Patrol series, A Knight... ends with a prayer. Before that, we are told that Bodin prayed at St Kossara's tomb and that she brought peace through his valor. The intercession of saints is a specifically Orthodox and Catholic belief. Human Dennitzans are Orthochristians. I can agree at least that Bodin's valor was strengthened by his devotion to Kossara.

The first person to pray to St Kossara after her death had been her grieving fiancee, the agnostic Dominic Flandry. Flandry goes his way, remembering Kossara, while her people go their way, praying to St Kossara.

Flandry's Prayer II

"I didn't feel it was fitting that they mean to build you a big tomb on Founders' Hill. I wanted your ashes strewn over land and sea, into sun and wind. Then if ever I came back here I could dream every brightness was yours. But they understand what they do, your people...
"He stooped closer. You believed you would know, Kossara. If you do, would you help me believe too - believe that you still are?
"His sole answer was the priest's voice rising and falling through archaic words. Flandry nodded. He hadn't expected more. He couldn't keep himself from telling her, I'm sorry, darling."
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (Riverdale, NY, 2012), p. 577.

This is Dominic Flandry's heart-felt agnostic prayer to his dead fiancee. He stands before the ultimate mystery, asks, does not hear an answer and is unable to make the commitment of faith. He stands where people of faith have stood but cannot proceed any further with them.

He respects her people's funeral practices although these differ from what he would have wanted. "He hadn't expected more..." Expectation could, not necessarily would, have led either to disappointment or to imagination and false assurance. He even apologizes to the dead Kossara for not hearing an answer.

The asking, although not the lack of an answer, also puts him where Spiritualists have stood - but they claim regular communication. Philosophically, I am obliged to ask: even if an experience like this did lead to acceptance of monotheist belief, then why opt for any one tradition of faith and practice as against another? As a result of philosophical reasoning (with which I disagree), CS Lewis converted to "Theism" and expressed this belief publicly by starting to attend College Chapel even though he had not yet converted to Christian belief. Lewis is particularly relevant here because he wrote a unique brand of theological science fiction that commented on and responded to Wellsian secular sf.

The time before his fiancee's coffin in the Cathedral of St Clement is a moment when the immature Flandry of the introductory trilogy has been left far behind.

Flandry's Prayer

Two spiritual practices: meditation; prayer.
Two kinds of prayer: faith-based; agnostic.

A person of faith might say that he has felt God. A philosopher of religion might suggest that he felt mystery or transcendence and interpreted this experience in the light of theistic belief. Thus, the philosopher should, I think, respect experience and elucidate interpretation.

The agnostic prayer might be based on hope, aspiration or desperation:

"To an unknown god..."
"If there is anyone there..."
"To whom it may concern..."

I practice meditation and agnostic prayer. Dominic Flandry utters a heart-felt agnostic prayer to his dead fiancee. I started out to discuss this but am interrupted by family responsibilities so will return to this theme shortly.

Dennitzan Democracy

I am very impressed with Dennitzan democratic institutions. What I want to see is customs and practices whereby the population can take action not only against unelected officials but also against their own elected representatives if necessary.

Each of the two species has brought organizational forms from its home planet: human Parliament; Merseian Vachs. The Merseians, although more recent immigrants and a planetary minority, are represented in a third House of the Parliament but sometimes also a large demonstration of zmayi (citizens of Merseian descent) has marched into the Chamber, demanding to be heard.

" clash came. Despite what they told [Flandry] when the move was being planned, he'd more or less awaited behavior like that when a gaggle of demonstrators wanted to invade a legislative session on any human planet he knew - prohibition, resistance, then either a riot or one of the sides yielding. If officialdom conceded in order to avoid the riot, it would be grudgingly, after prolonged haggling; and whatever protesters were admitted would enter under strict conditions, well guarded, to meet indignant stares."
- Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 558.

I have never been in Tahrir Square but I have participated in enough sieges of local City Council or management-union meetings to know that what Anderson gives us is (as good as) an eye-witness account.

Dennitzans have also institutionalized, without fully legalizing, the ispravka, direct citizen action, without riots or lynching. Since every able adult is a reservist, they are able to move under discipline either to expel offenders or to detain them while spokesmen demand action from the authorities. Such actions can bring down governments. When Imperials arrest the Gospodar, Terrans and other servants of the Empire are rounded up into certain buildings as hostages. Although the civil authority denounces the action and sends in police, the people guard the buildings and no shots are fired (yet) while hundreds march to intervene in a joint session of Parliament.

Thus, individual Dennitzans participate in an action affecting planetary policies.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Aeneas And Barsoom

Poul Anderson's fictional planet, Aeneas, has some features in common with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom:

a breathable atmosphere, even though Barsoom is the ERBian Mars;
dead sea bottoms;
thus, a wharf now on dry land;
military traditions, defensive on Aeneas but barbaric on Barsoom;
buildings of an ancient race used by a current race;
custodians (therns, Companions) of a mystery (the Valley Dor, the Ancients);
knowledge of the next Sunward planet (Barsoomians observe Earth, Aeneans study Didonians);
a visibly moving moon;
six-legged green draft animals, although the Aenean stathas are imports.

When I seek parallels, I find more than I expect. However, the differences are greater. No one in his right mind would think that Aeneas was a copy of Barsoom - although Anderson could have written a good Barsoom novel (Sword and Science), just as he contributed to the Conan series (Sword and Sorcery), but I do not think that the Burroughs Estate commissions continuations?

Parallel Histories

How did various colonized planets fare during the Time of Troubles and how did that period affect their subsequent histories? The Aeneans developed military traditions. They rally and demonstrate beneath the memorial to Brian McCormac who cast out non-human invaders. His descendant, Admiral Hugh McCormac, rebeled against a corrupt Sector Governor and tried to become Emperor.

On Dennitza, Stefan Miyatovich cast back reavers. His descendant, Bodan Miyatovich, became Gospodar and was suspected of planning to secede from the Empire.

Gwydion, cut off by the Troubles, remained isolated for twelve hundred years during which the Empire rose and fell and the Gwydiona ceased to be human.

There are probably other examples but these three provide interesting parallels and contrasts.

Dennitzan Heroes

Dennitzan Heroes
Yovan Matavuly, the Founder
Toman Obilich, who slew wild Vladimir on the crown of the Glacier
Gwyth, who dared the storms of the Black Ocean
Stefan Miyatovich, who cast back reavers during the Night Years (the Troubles)
Gospodar Bodin Miyatovich, who raided Chereion

Andrei Simich, the poet, celebrated the older, pre-Bodin, heroes, including the zmay (Merseian) Gwyth, but we must make do with Poul Anderson's prose to read of Bodin's raid!

(I apologize for illustrating this note with an image of a Chereionite but I have used the other A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows covers recently.)

Ys Or Not?

Where would you prefer to live?

(i) Ys (under which King?);
(ii) in the Time Patrol timeline (which period?);
(iii) in Technic Civilization (which period? which planet?);
(iv) some other Andersonian universe (which one?).

The three that I have mentioned have certain common central features:

a strong historical basis;
a central character striving to hold everything together;

Grallon is tragic because he is the last King of Ys;
Flandry is tragic because he defends an Empire that will fall;
Everard is tragic because he guards a timeline that includes much suffering.

The Technic History is long enough to include central characters before Flandry. Ys informs us briefly about the founder and other early Kings. In an ideal universe, that entire history would be told.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

More Latin

A while ago, we mentioned Latin in Poul Anderson's works, e.g.: Delenda est; Roma Mater; Tene, Mithra... Here is some more.

"'Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes,' remarked Sarlish surprisingly."
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 332.

Since Sarlish is from "'...Jagranath, which lies beyond the Empire...'" (p. 331), this is indeed surprising. He is also an Imperial Duke's chief Intelligence officer. This explains his knowledge of Anglic, though not of a Latin quotation. I was pleased to come across this famous line, "I fear Greeks bringing gifts," because our Latin class recently read that passage, about the Trojan horse, in the Aeneid.

Aycharaych, another extra-Imperial alien but also a student of humanity, tells Flandry:

"'I already had business in these parts - negotium perambulans in tenebris, if you like -...'" (p. 461).

I do not know how Flandry feels but I am in the dark about this phrase and have asked our Latin tutor for enlightenment. It is something to do with "a task walking around in darkness."

Addendum, 26 May 2014: "Doing the job in the dark."

One Fictional Planet

For many of his fictional planets, Poul Anderson seriously considers:

the astrophysical conditions of the condensation of this planetary system from the primordial gas and dust;
the current planetary environment and climate;
every facet of the social life of the inhabitants;
their galacto-political relations to other planets during a changing history.

In the case of Dennitza, there was no astrophysical accident - no nearby supernova or passing neutron star etc. However, there was a more recent collision with "...a shower of giant meteoroids..." -Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 498. Results: craters, extinctions, tsunamis, clouds, an Ice Age and, at the time of human colonization six hundred years ago, a Great Spring, now submerging coastal towns. The Kazan or Cauldron is a huge astrobleme containing woods, farms, rivers and the capital city.

Four hundred years ago, immigrants fleeing the modernization of Merseia, and better adapted to cold environments, provided labor during industrialization and now do most of the fishing and pelagriculture. They retain Vach organization and are represented in a third House of the Parliament. Anderson demonstrates that both species have developed new legends and traditions during their centuries on Dennitza.

Troubled Times

Poul Anderson writes well about troubled times in Mirkheim, The People Of The Wind, The Rebel Worlds, The Day Of Their Return, A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows and The Game Of Empire.

Governments and populations mobilize for war. The powerful meet in secret. Emergency measures are taken and announcements made. Events move quickly, also rumors and ideas about social change. In A Knight..., human agents of Merseia turn out to have infiltrated Terran and Dennitzan Intelligence to an extent that makes paranoia the only safe response. On Dennitza, an armed force is ready to intervene in Parliament as soon as disinformation and provocation are seen to have failed. Flandry and his fiancee are smuggled into the Chamber in a zmayi (Merseian) demonstration.

That degree of infiltration is unusual, I hope, although on one famous occasion British Intelligence had a Russian agent running its Russian section. Years ago, a social campaigner interviewed on British television claimed that "the Communists" had infiltrated every aspect of British society. What she meant, of course, was that ideas, values and attitudes had changed in ways of which she disapproved. No amount of "infiltration" could explain that. In fact, the cause was the dynamic economy that she probably supported.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Masks Within Masks

(This cover depicts a specific scene in the novel, on p. 475 of the edition quoted here.)

"'Aycharaych...Who else? Masks within masks, shadows that cast shadows...Merseian operatives posing as Esperancians posing as Dennitzans whose comrades had formerly posed as Avalonians, while other Merseian creatures are in fact the Terran personnel they claim to be...'"
-Poul Anderson, A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows IN Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), pp. 338-606 AT p. 503.

At this point (but only at this point), I suddenly feared that A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows was itself rather insubstantial. And it would have been very insubstantial if it had consisted only of "...Merseian operatives posing as Esperancians posing a Dennitzans..." etc - a corridor receding to nowhere. However, this paragraph is both a summary and a sign. In the multiple deceptions, Flandry recognizes the signature of Aycharaych and that being's tragedy, as revealed in the novel's culmination, is substantial indeed.

Five planets are named here: Merseia; Esperance; Dennitza; Avalon; Terra. Three more are implied:

Chereion, home world of Aycharaych;
Ythri, from which Avalon is partly colonized;
Diomedes, where this multi-layered deception is perpetrated.

All eight have substantial stories in the series. Only two are told in the current novel. But Chereion has been prepared for in earlier installments. And a lot of details are given about Dennitza. Further, this planet is connected to the previous episode because it replaces Vor as capital of the Taurian Sector.

Two Cosmic Accidents And Some Other Details

I discussed the freak planet Diomedes before but did not mention one detail - two cosmic accidents caused the planet's unusual features.

(i) The electromagnetic activity of a passing neutron star chemically fractionated a cloud of gas and dust which therefore condensed into a metal-poor system. Consequently, Diomedes, compared with Terra, has 4.75 mass and 2.00 diameter but only 1.10 gravity. Such a large planet generates a dense atmosphere supporting many large flying organisms, including one intelligent species with a sophisticated Stone Age technology, trading their organic substances for off-world metals.  

(ii) Some other unspecified accident placed the poles at the equator. Therefore, each hemisphere has an annual sunless season and most organisms either hibernate or migrate.

I am rereading A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, a novel rich in details, many of which I have already discussed. Because this novel falls so late in the Technic History series, it incorporates many already established background details, including Diomedes. While Dominic Flandry is on that planet, he recalls a meeting with two opponents on Talwin where he claimed to be dressed in a style from Ramanujan. All these entities and planets have appeared or been mentioned earlier in the series.

Four works are set during the Molitor dynasty and all four could be collected under the title "Children of Empire" since they feature:

for Molitor - two sons and one granddaughter plus mention of a grandson;
for Flandry - one son and one daughter plus mention of a few other children;
for Max Abrams - one daughter;
for the Starkadian Dragoika  - one son.

James Bond-like, Flandry really does combine sex with espionage. He gathers intelligence by sleeping with the Diomedean resident's wife. Currently, each British town has a Mayor and some also have a Duke. In Flandry's time, Britain has a Mayor Palatine and Mars has a Duke!

Warriors And A Knight

(Since one or two correspondents have sometimes contacted me by email, I should mention that my gmail facility is currently having trouble connecting to Google.)

(On the other hand, at least some emails are arriving.)

"The Ambassadors of Flesh" by Poul Anderson was the cover story of Planet Stories, Summer 1954 (see image). It was re-entitled "Warriors from Nowhere" when collected in Agent Of The Terran Empire, companion volume of Flandry Of Terra, and "The Warriors from Nowhere" when collected in Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra, Volume 6 of The Technic Civilization Saga.

Retroactively, the 1954 story, hereinafter "Warriors...," became a prelude to A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows when the latter was published in 1974. The story informs us only that "'...her Highness, Lady Megan of Luna [is] the favorite granddaughter of the Emperor himself!'"
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 308.

A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, hereinafter A Knight..., additionally informs us that this Emperor, Hans, had "'...assumed, which means grabbed, the crown less than two years earlier. Everything was still in upheaval. Three avowed rivals were out to replace him by force of arms...'" (p. 350).

"Warriors..." (1954) refers only to "'...the Emperor himself!'" It gives no hint that he is a recent usurper waging civil war on three fronts. A Knight... makes clear that Megan is "...the new Emperor's favorite granddaughter..." (p. 346) although Sandra Miesel, in her Afterword to A Stone In Heaven, describes her as "...the favorite granddaughter of one elderly interim Emperor..." - Sandra Miesel, "Afterword: The Price of Buying Time" IN Poul Anderson, A Stone In Heaven (New York, 1979), pp. 237-251 AT p. 247.

Hans, as described in A Knight..., does not sound like the kind of man who would indulge a favorite granddaughter, especially when his urgent priority was to win a civil war. An "elderly" Emperor, as suggested by Miesel, is probably closer to Anderson's original intent when writing "Warriors..." Miesel was probably making sense of the retcon of "Warriors..." into a civil war period. If four claimants were fighting simultaneously, then could there also have been an elderly interim incumbent at around the same time?

"Warriors..." is rewritten for the later edition. Both versions state that Megan "'...has the Emperor around her little finger.'"(p. 312) But the later version adds:

"I suppose even the hardest old bastard must have a sentimental streak...Also, his newly and forcibly acceded Majesty has so much else to worry about..." (ibid.)

So here is an explicit attempt to rationalize this hard guy's indulgence of his granddaughter.

A Knight... refers back to:

Nicholas van Rijn's shipwreck on Diomedes;
the degeneration of the Polesotechnic League into a set of cartels;
Avalon's fight to remain in the Domain of Ythri;
Flandry's affair with Persis d'Io on Starkad;
the planet Talwin;
Flandry's former superiors, Fenross and Kheraskov;
slavery on Shalmu;
the McCormac rebellion;
Chunderban Desai and the potential jihad on Aeneas;
Flandry's defeat of the Scothans;
his rescue of Megan;
the Taurian Sector, its capital now moved from Vor to Dennitza;
the pacifistic planet, Esperance;
Flandry's adversaries, Tachwyr the Dark and Aycharaych -

- and presents for the first and last time Aycharaych's home planet, Chereion, place of mystery and subject of speculation.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Computer Problem II (And Flandry)

Provisional schedule: acquire new computer on Friday 30 May; then spend time learning to use it, interrupted by a week in Scotland. (Although this blog is an appreciation of Poul Anderson, not a personal journal, I also try convey something of life going on at the same time, with enjoyment of fiction very much a part of life.) I am currently still using the damaged computer albeit with some difficulty.

In The Rebel Worlds,Terran Imperial Naval Intelligence sends to the troubled Sector Alpha Crucis several undercover agents and some inspectors and Dominic Flandry commanding a warship with special authorization.

Flandry alone:

rescues the rebel leader's wife, Kathryn McCormac, from the abusive Sector Governor;
gets shot down on the planet Dido;
leads his surviving crew across Dido to the vicinity of a rebel-held base while learning a Didonian language;
flies ahead, on spacesuit gravity impeller, to the base, where he persuades the personnel to send their single interstellar craft with a crew of two plus himself to rescue his men, not mentioning that they are loyalists;
hijacks the ship;
shoots out the base radio;
delivers the rebel code to the Imperial fleet;
remains on the ship with, as crew, a single tripartite Didonian who knows nothing of human affairs; 
entices the Governor onto the ship, where Kathryn kills him;
returns Kathryn to her husband with the warning that, since their code has been captured, the rebels cannot win a space battle and must flee known space, never to return;
reports that, while returning to Terra with Kathryn, he was detected and captured by the enemy who disabled his craft, thus wiping its computer.

I had to write down that list of deceptions to keep it straight in my head.

Computer Problem

After years of wear and tear, my lap top needs to be repaired or replaced so I will probably be incommunicado online for a while. Meanwhile, I want to thank the 100+ daily page viewers who share my enthusiasm for every detail of Poul Anderson's many imaginary universes, including, recently and not for the first time, his long and absorbing History of Technic Civilization.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


Let's try to get a better grasp of what Didonians look like. Flandry sees what initially resemble rhinoceroses but, on closer examination:

each of these "nogas" does have the size, general build and horned nose of a rhino;
but their skin is nearly hairless, slate-blue and smooth;
they have no tails;
their ears are big and fan-like;
the shoulders extend sideways as small platforms;
when a goose-like "krippo" and an ape-like "ruka" sit on the platforms and join their "tongues" to the noga's extensible "tentacles," then and only then is a rational Didonian present.

As with other complicated situations described by Anderson, I had remembered in a general way how tripartite Didonian consciousness works. However, the details have become clearer through writing an account of them. Each complete Didonian has partial memories of experiences of other such entities that its members have temporarily participated in. Thus, their concept of self cannot possibly be anything like ours and they say things like:

"Make oneness.
"I/we: Feet belonging to Guardian of North Gate and others who can be, to Raft Farer and Woe who will no longer be..."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 369.

The novel begins like that without any explanation but it all makes sense if we persevere.


"'They think [Dido] started out to be a Venus type, but a giant asteroid collided with it. Shock waves blew most of the atmosphere off, leavin' the rest thin enough that chemical evolution could go on, not too unlike the Terran - photosynthesis and so forth, though the amino acids that developed happened to be mainly dextro- 'stead of levorotatory. Same collision must've produced the extreme axial tilt, and maybe the high rotation. 'Cause of those factors, the oceans aren't as inert as you might 'spect on a moonless world, and storms are fierce. Lot of tectonic activity: no s'prise is it? That's believed to be the reason we don't find traces of past ice ages, but do find eras of abnormal heat and drought.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 448.

In this passage, Poul Anderson gives us a flavor of how an Aenean speaks Anglic and also outlines yet another unusual planet, although with features that are becoming familiar:

an early collision;
an atmosphere (mostly) blown off;
an extreme axial tilt;
high rotation (eight hour days!);
fierce storms;
unusual natives.

What does Anderson mean by "...Venus type..." here? The Rebel Worlds was published in 1969, one year before Russian Venera probe 7 first transmitted data from the Venerian surface but two years after Venera 4 had measured the Venerian atmosphere. We do not see the Venus of the Technic History but are told that it has been colonized and partially terraformed. I had assumed that it was a jungle type Venus, similar to the way Dido is described.

Flandry lands in a jungle of brown, red, purple, gold, but not green, trees, vines, multi-shaped foliage and spongy, springy ground cover. To film a Flandry novel, it would be necessary to reproduce the planetary environment as described in Anderson's text, not merely to shoot such scenes in a South American or African jungle.


Fans of Poul Anderson's History Of Technic Civilization know somewhat of the major planets such as Terra, Hermes, Merseia and Avalon but what do we know of Llynathawr apart from its name (which we do not know how to spell)? Yet another entire planet sketched briefly by Anderson, Llynathawr was discovered by Cynthians and bought by the Terran Empire, has good climate and scenery and rich natural resources, is close to Sector Naval HQ on Ifri and has trade opportunities with both Imperial and barbarian planets.

Llynathawr's single (?) city, Catawrayannis (population: two million), on the Luana River, houses the hill top palace of the Governor of Sector Alpha Crucis. This frontier Sector also contains the Virgilian System, with inhabited Dido and colonized Aeneas, and the industrial rogue planet Satan which, at the time of the McCormac Rebellion, was an ancient possession of the Duke of Hermes, a colony planet in Sector Antares.

In the previous volume, the planet Irumclaw, with its empty suburban mansions, was described as:

" a piece of wreckage at the edge of the receding tide of empire."
 -Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 204.

Llynthawr has seen not a receding tide but a false dawn. The planet was bought in order to "...strengthen this frontier by attracting settlers." (p. 400) However, few people any longer leave comfortable environments for new beginnings in remote places and those few prefer town to country. Also, nearer colonials like Aeneans are already settled and unwilling to move. Thus, Catawrayannis is surrounded by sparsely lit wilderness.

The new Governor's audience chamber has a gold and black " carpet..." (p. 402). A living surface, like grass underfoot? It also has many moving lights and dynasculps, incense, low music, an animated Imperial court masquerade covering one wall and an enormous inscribed portrait of the Emperor behind the chair of state. Subtle bad taste, reflecting Governor Snelund's personality.

An interesting place: we see too little of Llynathawr - although we are learning to spell it.

Tharks, Treens, Martians, Merseians, Vulcanians, Chereionites And Ferrans

I said three posts back (here) that hostile green aliens were a Golden Age sf cliche and, in fact, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Green Martians of the Thark, Warhoon and lesser hordes are both green-skinned and warlike. (The one good thing about the John Carter film is its accurate depiction of ERBian Green Martians. Computer-aided graphics get that much right.) Further, Dan Dare's Venus-based Treens were also green and warlike. Thus, Poul Anderson's green, warlike, extra-solar Merseians are part of a grand tradition.

Anderson's The Rebel Worlds parallels other sf works. When Dominic Flandry commands the escort destroyer, HMS Asieneuve, his executive officer is a Ferran who does not share human morality just as, when James T Kirk commands the starship, USS Enterprise, his exec is a Vulcan who does not share human emotions. However, Rovian of Ferra is fanged, has four arms of which the lower pair can double as legs and goes naked except for weapons and insignia. In all of this, he resembles the ERBian Greens although his black fur and tail differentiate him from them. Tharks etc are bald.

Kirk's friend, a Vulcan, has pointed ears and can telepathically "mind-meld." Flandry's opponent, a Chereionite, has pointed ears and is a universal telepath. But lastly, of course, Poul Anderson's sf is of a far higher imaginative and literary quality than that of ERB, Dan Dare or Star Trek.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Plays Within The Play

I have found two potential "plays within the play" in Poul Anderson's A Circus Of Hells.

(i) The Domrath:

"...not only slept at night, but spent two-thirds of [their] life among the ghostly half-dreams of hibernation -"
- Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 291.

So they are awake for less than one third of their lives! And "...half-dreams..." suggests half realities? So one interesting story would by an epic journey or conflict experienced during the controlled dreams of a Dom shaman.

(ii) "She closed her eyes and saw a man who bore Nicky Flandry's face (descendant, maybe) striding in the van of an army which followed the Merseian Christ. He carried no exterior burden of venal superiors and bloodless colleagues, no interior load of guilts and doubts and mockeries; in his hand was the gigantic simplicity of a war knife, and he laughed as he strode. Beside him, she herself walked. Wind tossed her hair and roared in green boughs. They would never leave each other." (p. 331)

No fears or restraints! A Siegfried indeed! How simple and simplistic. So a story within the story could be set in that future when Flandry's descendant resembling him follows the Merseian Christ and the Old Way revives Djana's memories in that later Flandry's companion.

Ingenious Deceptions

Throughout the course of his introductory trilogy, Dominic Flandry survives and succeeds by a series of ingenious deceptions. In the second volume, A Circus Of Hells -

(i) Conducting some private business while on a routine surveillance flight, Lieutenant Flandry is captured by Mersians and taken to their base on Talwin which has a dual purpose: Intelligence and scientific study of the Talwinians, both hibernating Domrath and estivating Ruadrath.

(ii) Flandry escapes from the Merseians but cannot survive indefinitely in the Talwinian environment.

(iii) He persuades the Ruadrath leader to lie to the Merseians. RRinn claims to have found a frozen corpse, neither Talwinian nor Merseian, and wants to know what else the Merseians have not disclosed about other extraplanetarians.

(iv) The xenologist, Ydwyr, travels by airbus to the Ruadrath village.

(v) Flandry captures the airbus, uses its radio equipment to simulate Ydwyr's voice and lies to the personnel at the base: Flandry is alive but barely; please fly the captured Terran scoutship, which must contain medical equipment, to the village.

(vi) Flandry captures the scout and escapes from the planet, taking Ydwyr, a VIP, as his hostage.

(vii) Merseian craft pursue but he evades them by orbiting close to a pulsar while launching strapped-together courier torpedoes into hyperspace so that they will mistaken for his ship.

(viii) Flandry and Ydwyr concoct a deception that not only accounts for the time when the former was missing in action but also transforms Talwin into a joint Terran-Merseian scientific base and a venue for discrete negotiations.

Anyone else would have died on Talwin whereas Flandry, through ingenuity and luck, not only survives but smells of roses.

Two Science Fiction Scenarios

Two Scenarios

(i) A civilization with regular faster than light interstellar travel, many inhabited and colonized planets and rising and falling interstellar empires.

(ii) Artificial intelligence spreading through and beyond a mainly lifeless galaxy.

(i) and (ii) differ considerably. Poul Anderson presents both well. A friend prefers (i) but I think that (ii) is less implausible. Anderson makes his Technic Civilization a credible setting for novels and short stories but, of course, we willingly suspend disbelief in hyperspace, telepathy, hostile green aliens and other cliched premises inherited from the Golden Age of pulp magazine science fiction.

Maybe some "sf" is closer to fantasy than to speculative fiction? Gods need no rationale for their powers whereas a universal telepath needs an attempted explanation, however far-fetched. Anderson spans this spectrum.

"Glory to the Emperor!"
But remember
"...the vacant interstellar spaces..."

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces,
-copied from here. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014


I have occasionally mentioned Latin classes in these posts. Our Latin tutor has just introduced us to Greek. However, although we are Latin improvers, we are all Greek beginners, starting with alpha, beta, gamma.

Several Greek words can be transliterated directly into English, e.g., iota, delta, epsilon and alpha spell "idea." Another example is "Midas." Chi, Rho, Iota, Omicron, Tau, Omicron, Sigma is "Christos" which became "Christus" in Latin, then "Christ" in English.

Our tutor knows a Greek Orthodox priest so will ask him my question: do contemporary Greek Orthodox congregations hear and understand the New Testament read in the original or do they need it translated into modern Greek just as we have it translated into English?

Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series informs us that the Phoenicians invented the alphabet. Google also informs me that the Greek alphabet is derived from the Phoenician one. English uses Roman letters. Thus, in moving from Latin to Greek, we have moved one stage further back towards the origin.

I envy Anderson's Time Patrolmen and Terran Intelligence Officers their ability to learn languages electronically. Flandry learns Eriau, which is not an earlier human language but an entirely unrelated one. He also learns how to translate Eriau duodecimal numbers into Arabic decimal numbers. By engaging with ancient human languages, I gain some degree of insight into Flandry's ability to think in both Anglic and Eriau, although one major difference is that, in that case, the languages and their alphabets are completely unconnected.

Converging Strands

Although A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows is not the last novel to feature Dominic Flandry, it nevertheless ties together several narrative threads and thus is a culmination -

first contact with Ythri occurs in "Wings of Victory";

Nicholas van Rijn first appears in "Margin of Profit" and visits the planet Diomedes in The Man Who Counts;

Aycharaych is first mentioned in A Circus Of Hells and first appears in The Day Of Their Return;

human beings and Ythrians jointly colonize some Avalonian islands in "Wingless" and the main, Coronan, continent in "Rescue on Avalon";

Avalon successfully resists Terran annexation in The People Of The Wind;

Dominic Flandry:
first appears, and also meets Tachwyr the Dark, in Ensign Flandry;
visits the planet Talwin, where he hears of Aycharaych, in A Circus Of Hells;
meets Aycharaych in "Honorable Enemies";
refers to van Rijn in "A Plague of Masters";
visits the Taurian Sector of the Terran Empire in "The Warriors from Nowhere."

In A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, Flandry:
investigates allegedly Avalonian subversion, actually Aycharaych-instigated, on Diomedes;
re-meets both Tachwyr and Aycharaych on Talwin;
revisits the Taurian Sector;
learns Aycharaych's secret and bombards his home planet.

As ever with Anderson's works, the list became longer and more complicated while being written. When tracing interconnecting threads, it is difficult to stop short of summarizing the entire History. I have previously listed the narrative strands that converge in the very last story, "Starfog."

Monday, 19 May 2014



are green, bald, tailed, oxygen-breathing bipeds;
sit on their tails;
ride the horned gwydh;
eat gwydh-milk cheese;
drink Terran-descended tea and a beer called telloch;
do not chatter but celebrate noisily;
touch tails as an amicable gesture;
separate "civilian" and "military" differently and less clearly than Terrans;
have a shorter history of industrialization and planetary unification;
thus, retain several unintegrated local cultures and languages;
are austere and traditionalist;
instinctively enjoy combat;
are dynamic when Terra is decadent;
value the Race above individuals or organizational forms;
recognize a rank of aristocrats who lead enterprises to expand the Race's frontier in any direction - scientific, economic, territorial etc;
placated elemental forces, then developed an intolerant monotheism.

Abandonment Of Reason?

Ydwyr (Merseian) to Djana (human):

"'...the Old Way is not for you to tread to its end - nor me, I confess. We have the real world to cope with, and we will not do so by abandonment of reason.'"
- Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 302.

What is the "Old Way" and why does it abandon reason? The speaker is Merseian, not human, and refers to members of other species, including a four-armed, six-legged witch. However, Djana, who speaks of "'The Old Way to the One...'" (p. 303), is human and we can seek understanding among Terrestrial "old ways" which, after all, implicitly inform Anderson's text:

the Indian tripod of asceticism, yoga and meditation;
the Chinese equivalent, Taoism (Tao means "Way");
the ubiquitous shamanism - including Voodoo?

This is a mixed bag. Extreme asceticism is potentially self-destructive, indeed sometimes aims to destroy the body in order to free the soul. (One very extreme tradition died out because of this practice.)

Since I practice the Buddhist-Taoist synthesis, Zen, I have a personal stake and a more than academic interest. One Upanishad says, "I have found the small path known of old that leads far away..." but does this path lead to abandonment of reason ("The sleep of reason brings forth monsters...") or beyond reason? Sub-rational consciousness and supra-rational contemplation are opposites but might be misidentified.

Life Details

In Poul Anderson's works, close attention even to the seemingly minor details always yields interesting results. Thus, merely listing Merseian names disclosed:

(i) the Wilwidh system of a personal name followed by a nickname;
(ii) the fact that the nickname can change;
(iii) the still surviving Lafdiguan system with the syllable "hu" between first and second names;
(iv) yet another alternative system that seems to be simply a personal name followed by a surname;
(v) a man with two names, Anglic and Eriau, possibly because he was born in the Roidhunate.

I would have completely forgotten (v) if I had not scoured the texts for Merseian names. There are other examples of inter-species interaction, e.g.:

(a) Terran-derived tea is grown throughout the Roidhunate (the British might comment that, in that case, Terra has half conquered them already!);
(b) "Before [Djana] flashed the image of a Merseian Christ, armed and shining, neither compassionate nor cruel but the Messiah of a new day...She hadn't heard of any such belief among them. Maybe they had no need of redemption; maybe they were God's chosen..."
- Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 298.

There is no such belief among them. Their deity, "the God," is neither immanent nor incarnate but wholly transcendent. Thus, "...the image of a Merseian Christ..." is a synthesis between Djana's Christianity and Ydwyr's Merseianity. What might some of the human beings living within the Roidhunate believe? Djana does on an emotional level what Fr Axor, a Wodenite, does on an academic level, conceives of the idea of a non-human incarnation - and Axor may have made some progress in his researches by the end of The Game Of Empire.

Morruchan Long-Ax, Hand of the Vach Dathyr, receives David Falkayn, representing the Polesotechnic League, in the audience chamber of Castle Afon. Centuries later, Brechdan Ironrede, Hand of the Vach Ynvory and Protector of the Roidhun's Grand Council, receives Mark Hauksberg and Max Abrams, representing the Terran Empire, in the audience chamber of Castle Afon. The castle is now the primary residence of the Roidhun who, by law, is always of the Vach Urdiolch. Thus, the castle has changed hands - as well as Hands. The League has fallen; Merseia has been unified; Terra and Merseia have become empires. This is one occasion when we know for certain that characters living in different periods have stood in the same place.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Flandry And Merseia

At the age of nineteen, Naval Cadet Dominic Flandry was shot down by Merseians on the planet Starkad. Despite this inauspicious beginning and possible end, he not only survived but also transferred to Intelligence and became well informed about Merseians. How did this happen?

The Imperial representative Hauksberg travels from Terra to Starkad, then to Mersia;
Commander Abrams, in charge of Intelligence on Starkad, accompanies Hauksberg to Merseia as a consultant;
Flandry, having come to Abrams' attention, goes as Abrams' aide because it is impossible to spare anyone already trained in Intelligence;
en route to Merseia, Flandry is electrocrammed with Eriau and Merseology;
with his superiors, he meets Brechdan Ironrede, Protector of the Roidhun's Grand Council;
in order to sabotage Abrams' Intelligence-gathering, their hosts invite Flandry to tour the planet with some young Merseians;
because they are already stalled and Flandry might learn something, Abrams agrees;
thus, Flandry sees the planet, not just its capital, and meets Tachwyr the Dark, a future successor of Brechdan;
later, Flandry is posted to Irumclaw, where he is needed as an interpreter when the Merseian cruiser Byrthioch makes a "goodwill visit;"
next, he is captured by Merseians and held at their base on Talwin, where he meets the Roidhun's nephew, Ydwyr;
in fact, he captures Ydwyr during his escape.

Thus, Flandry has learned Eriau, toured Merseia, spent time in a Merseian base, met (and thwarted) the current Protector, become friendly with a future Protector and had close contact with the Merseian ruler's nephew. And all this has happened because of the accident of his survival after being shot down on Starkad - unless, as Ydwyr suggests, there is a destiny/fate/mana in him?

More Merseian Names

When the trader team visits Merseia:

Morruchan Long-Ax is Hand of the Vach Dathyr;
Wedhi is a servant;
Dagla Quick-to-Anger is Hand of the Vach Hallen;
Olgor hu Freylin is Warmaster in the Republic of Lafdigu;
the red-robed Gryf is the chief of the Star Believers;
Tryntaf Fangryf-Tamer, Captain of space cruiser Yonuar of the United Fleet of the Great Vachs, keeps an eye on the warcraft of Lafdigu, Wolder, the Nersan Alliance etc;
the black-skinned, heavily scaled Haguan Eluatz is head of The Gethfennu, organized crime.

Is the list complete yet? I will be out this afternoon but will take some Technic History volumes with me.


Wedhi (see above) is a servant of Morruchan but a spy for Dagla;
Dwyr is a servant of Dagla but a spy for the Gethfennu;
Blyndwyr of the Vach Ruethen works for the Baburites when they seize Mirkheim and Hermes;
Lannawar Belgis is another Mersian whose first language is not Eriau;
Wythan Scarcheek is a scientist on Talwin;
another Chwioch, of Vach Hallen, is a Mei on Talwin;
Ulfan-gryf and Avalrik are two more Merseians on Talwin;
Korvash the Farseeing is Ambassador to Betelgeuse and later becomes Hand of the Vach Rueth (if this is the same Korvash);
Tachwyr's sons are Chydhwan and Gelch;
Glydh Far-Farer of the Vach Rueth, an afal in the Merseian Naval Intelligence Corps, addresses his human assistant, Muhammad Snell, as Kluwych, possibly because the latter's parents gave him this Eriau name when he was born in the Roidhunate;
Trohdwyr, Ywodh, Hand of the Vach Anochrin, and Kyriwedhin, Hand of the Vach Mannoch, are "ychani," Dennitzan Merseians - the latter corresponds with Hand Korvash;
Khwent, Yffal and Qythwy were Trodhwyr's brothers;
 Gwyth was a Dennitzan hero who dared the storms of the Black Ocean - three hundred years ago, a Council House table was made from the timber of his ship;
Qow of Novi Aferoch is a light cruiser pilot on "Bodin's raid."

Merseian Names

Runei the Wanderer was an interstellar explorer.

Brechdan Ironrede has essentially the same nickname as Harald Hardrada, a historical figure and the central character of Poul Anderson's Last Viking Trilogy. When Brechdan's bailiff, Chwioch the Dandy, becomes Ambassador to Terra, he could  appropriately be renamed "the Shrewd" but prefers that the Terrans underestimate him. An earlier Ambassador was called Ruethven of the Long Hand. (I think. I will confirm this name when I can access books in a room where my granddaughter is currently exercising.) (Later: Ruethen.) Brechdan's successor, Tachwyr the Dark, has skin of a slightly deeper green than is usual around the Wilwidh Ocean.

Brechdan's cyborg spy, Dwyr the Hook, had been Dwyr the Merry. He has also been Dwyr of Tanis and there is a Gwyanafon of Brightwater so personal names can include place names.

Brechdan's fellow Councillors include Shwylt Shipsbane, Lifrith, Priadwyr and Eidhafor. We may guess at the origin of Shwylt's nickname and are not told those of the others. However, later, there is a Fodaich Eidafor the Bold of Vach Dathyr in the Merseian Navy. Tachwyr's fellow Councillors include, apart from Gwyanafon (see above), Odhar the Curt and Alwis Longtail. (All Merseians have substantial tails on which they sit.)

Dominic Flandry is captured by a Merseian crew whose broch (Second Mate) is Tryntaf the Tall, another self-explanatory nickname. Datholch Ydwyr the Seeker is a scientist whereas Qanryf Morioch Sun-in-Eye is a Naval Commandant. Ydwyr is also the Roidun's nephew. Flandry meets Brechdan and Ydwr and is a friend of Tachwyr. Ydwyr has a more exalted way of expressing his family connection:

"'As for my standing, I belong to the Vach Urdiolch, and' - he stood up and touched his brow while he finished - ' it is my high honor that a brother of my late noble father is, in the glory of the God, Almighty Roidhun of Merseia, the Race, and all holdings, dominions, and subordinates of the Race.'"
- Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), pp. 281-282.

On hearing this, Flandry urges his human companion to join him in leaping up and saluting appropriately.

Cnif hu Vanden, a xenophysiologist, descended from Merseians of the pre-unification Republic of Lafdigu in the southern hemisphere, was born on a colony planet that retains Lafdiguan language and laws. Thus, his skin is yellow, Eriau is not his first language and he belongs to no Vach.

Chunderban Desai negotiates with a Merseian whose name I will confirm. (Later: Uldwyr of Vach Hallen.) Meanwhile, down with the Roidhun and "Glory to the Emperor!"

(My real world views are not imperialistic so this engagement with Anderson's texts must be understood as part of a dramatic performance.)

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Young Flandry Trilogy As Future History

A future history presents society on, and usually also off, Earth in successive periods. Thus, for example, the central character of an earlier story is referred to as a historical or even a legendary figure in later stories. The history should also present different aspects of future society in any single period.

Young Flandry describes life on Terra, Starkad, Merseia, Irumclaw, Wayland, Talwin, Dido, Llanathawr, Shalmu and Aeneas. (That is a longer list than I expected.) In particular, when, in the second volume, A Circus Of Hells, Flandry walks between empty mansions in Irumclagian suburbs that:

"...lay like a piece of wreckage at the edge of the declining tide of empire..."
- Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 204,

- and is then closeted with aspiring vice boss, Leon Ammon, we really feel that we are being given a substantial picture of the late Terran Empire.

Friday, 16 May 2014


"Ardaig was sizeable, must hold two or three million souls. This quarter was ancient, with buildings of gray stone fantastically turreted and battlemented."
- Poul Anderson, "Day of Burning" IN Anderson, David Falkayn: Star Trader (New York, 2010), pp. 208-272 AT p. 223.

Ardaig is a city on the planet Merseia. Anderson must make it different from a Terrestrial city but not very different because Merseia is terrestroid and Merseians are oxygen-breathing bipeds. When Merseia is unified, Ardaig becomes the planetary capital. Later, it is joined in this role by modern antipodal Tridaig, where most of the government's business is conducted, although Ardaig remains the cultural and artistic center, the location both of the Roidhun's primary residence and of his Grand Council's annual meetings, and also becomes the location of the new Space Navy offices.

Ardaig and Tridaig embody tradition and technology, respectively. Ardaig differs from a Terrestrial city because:

it is neither bright nor busy at night;
ground vehicles are confined to tubeways or a few avenues;
streets are for pedestrians or gwydh riders;
recreation is at home or in ancient theaters and sports fields;
shops are small and have been run by the same family in the same house for generations - although there are also mercantile centers with communicator and delivery systems;
pavements are luminous;
street signs are not words but colorful heraldic emblems.

Those last details in particular are different and imaginative.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Old Wilwidh

A while ago, I suggested a possible screen adaptation of the opening section of Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry story, "The Game of Glory." A shorter passage in the novel, Ensign Flandry, has also made an impression. I imagine this single paragraph read aloud as part of an audio or audiovisual presentation of extracts from Anderson's works.

Castle Afon in the old Merseian capital, Ardaig, is the Roidhun's official primary residence. Brechdan Ironrede, Protector of the Roidhun's Grand Council, i.e., Prime Minister of a unified Merseia, receives representatives of the Terran Empire in the audience chamber of Castle Afon:

"Entering the audience chamber, a human was at first dazed, as if he had walked into a dream. He needed a moment to make sense of what he saw. The proportions of long, flagged floor, high walls, narrow windows arched at both top and bottom, sawtoothed vaulting overhead, were wrong by every Terran canon and nonetheless had a rightness of their own. The mask helmets on suits of armor grinned like demons. The patterns of faded tapestries and rustling battle banners held no human symbology. For this was Old Wilwidh, before the machine came to impose universal sameness. It was the wellspring of Merseia. You had to see a place like this if you would understand, in your bones, that Merseians would never be kin to you."
- Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 141.

The omniscient narrator concludes this paragraph with a forceful assertion of the kind that would normally be expressed as an opinion by one of the characters: "...Merseians would never be kin to you." No? Human colonists and Merseian immigrants are well integrated on the planet Dennitza, a human mother even singing a Merseian lullaby.

The green-skinned Brechdan, who is also the Hand of the Vach Invory, stands in a black robe "...beneath a dragon carved in black wood..." (ibid.) (Try to picture the scene.)

Each Merseian, at least in the dominant Wilwidh culture, is identified by a personal name, by Vach membership, by military or civil rank and also by a nickname, like "Ironrede." Brechdan's bailiff, Chwioch, in his red tunic, green trousers and high-collared cape, is "...called the Dandy..." (p. 23). A dying cyborg spy says:

"'Will you remember my name? I was Dwyr of Tanis, once called the Merry. They made me into this...Remember Dwyr...Now let me die. If you open the main plate you can turn off my heart.'" (p. 132)

There is something irreconcilable in the Wilwidh culture. Brechdan says to a human Intelligence officer:

"'Commander...your young man makes me proud to be a sentient creature. What might our united races not accomplish? Hunt well.'" (p. 145)

- but Brechdan and his ilk can conceive of only one kind of inter-racial union. Speaking to a fellow Merseian, he acknowledges that he likes the Terrans, adding:

"'They were magnificent once. They could be again. I would love to see them our willing subjects...Unlikely, of course. They're not that kind of species. We may be forced to exterminate.'" (p. 92)

Be forced to! (Like Doctor Who's opponents, the Daleks, who say "Exter-minate!" as often as Nazis said "Seig Heil!")

Later, approaching the "farce" of a welcoming festival for a Terran delegation, Brechdan, even more callously, thinks:

"If we must exterminate the Terrans, we will at least have rid the universe of much empty chatter." (p. 93)

Chatter is preferable to war and enslavement, Hand.