Monday, 29 September 2014

Some Fictitious Histories

Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization presents a detailed history of the future. We can contrast it with:

a fictitious past history (see here);
the same author's earlier future history (see here);
an alternative future timeline (see here and here);
a timeline for all time (see here).

Finally, relationships between future histories are discussed here.

The Bigger Picture

Several recent posts have focused on minute details of Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization.

However, some earlier posts addressed the History as a whole. See here and here.

One post focused on the Flandry series within the Technic History. See here.

Another considered eight works or bodies of work that might count as future histories. See here.

A major history within the Technic History, The Earth Book Of Stormgate, is considered here.

Sandra Miesel's Chronology of the Technic History is discussed by Sean M Brooks here and here.

Is This Possible?

Dominic Flandry, one of many Intelligence agents sent to investigate the crisis in Sector Alpha Crucis, captains a spaceship that is shot down and crashlands on the planet Dido. Despite this contretemps, Flandry manages to:

lead his surviving crew and their single prisoner on a long trek through an inhospitable environment with native help;
learn to communicate with a Didonian;
hijack a rebel spaceship, thus acquiring the enemy's secret code;
fly the ship to the sector capital, thus ensuring that loyalist forces, possessing the enemy's code, will be able to win any space battle and to destroy the rebel fleet;
murder the Sector Governor, whose injustices had provoked the rebellion;
return his prisoner to her husband, the rebel leader, warning the latter to flee and stay away;
conceal all this malpractice, including murder and treason, from his superiors, some of whom realize that they need men as capable and successful as Flandry.

But can one man really do all this? (If enemy codes are that easy to steal, then I am surprised that it has not been done before.)

On Talwin, Flandry, surviving with limited supplies in another hostile environment, had managed to:

persuade the native Ruadrath to radio the Merseian explorers, alleging that they were puzzled because they had found a frozen alien non-Merseian corpse;
hijack the airbus in which the chief Merseian scientist, Ydwyr, travels to parley with the Ruadrath;
fake a call from Ydwyr to base saying that Flandry was barely alive and that his captured ship should be flown to the Ruadrath so that Terrestrial medical supplies could be accessed;
recapture his ship;
escape from Talwin, taking Ydwyr as hostage;
evade Merseian pursuit by flying through a Talwinian storm, then orbiting around a neutron star;
conspire with Ydwyr to smooth over everything, including his own misdemeanors that had led to his capture by the Merseians.

Snelund's Understanding Of The Civil Service

Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), pp. 468-469.

The foundation of any government is an army of bureaucrats and functionaries who, every day:

operate spaceports and traffic lanes;
deliver mail;
maintain electronic communication channels;
collect and supply data;
oversee public health;
curtail crime;
arbitrate disputes;
allocate scarce resources.

Why "scarce," in the Terran Empire where it is said elsewhere that technology could make every being rich?

Snelund does not mention education. An advanced society needs a literate, numerate, healthy population. Hence, the public health which Snelund does mention. Even when crime is part of the economy, its curtailment is necessary, as crime bosses agree. Organized crime can operate only within an ordered society.

Fleet Admiral Hugh McCormac, self-proclaimed Terran Emperor, has seized control of several planets in Sector Alpha Crucis. Sector Governor Aaron Snelund plans to:

avoid direct space naval combat with the tactically superior McCormac;
but reject his Admiral's advice to wait for Terran support;
hit-and-run and harass commerce and industry in the rebel-held volume of space;
plant agents throughout McCormac's realm before it is strongly guarded;
persuade functionaries not to serve the rebellion enthusiastically;
exploit their timidity and conservatism;
bribe, threaten, assassinate or terrorize;
slow down McCormac's civil service, thus starving his navy.

It works. Flandry, spying, learns that:

"Manufacture, logistics, and communications were falling apart beneath Hugh McCormac. He had given up trying to govern any substantial volume of space. Instead, he had assigned forces to defend individually the worlds which had declared for him. They were minimal, those forces. They hampered but could not prevent badgering attacks by Snelund's squadrons. Any proper flotilla could annihilate them in detail." (pp. 492-493)

Snelund, able to outwork twenty demons, has deliberately provoked the revolt, seeking only his own glory and enrichment. How would a rational society be able to get such a man to work not against but with and for others?

Dido And Aeneas

Dido and Aeneas, the third and fourth planets in the Virgilian system, are like a (barely) habitable Venus and a habitable Mars with no Earth between them. See here and here.

Dido has no moon but its eccentric orbit with average radius of one a.u., extreme axial tilt of 38 degrees and rapid rotation period of 8 hours, 47 minutes, cause turbulent seas and weather. Approaching the planet, Flandry sees dazzling, stormy white clouds on the dayside and aurora and lightning on the night side.

The oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere is unacceptably hot and dense, although breathable, but the tropics are lethal to unprotected human beings. Tectonic activity is intense. Vegetation is brown, red, purple and gold. The ground cover, "carpet weed," resembles small red-brown sponges.

Yet again, Poul Anderson imagines a planetary environment differing in fundamental details from the terrestrial: different colors and ground cover and a much shorter day - also, very dissimilar inhabitants. See here and here

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gold And Cold

Poul Anderson again appeals to three senses in order to describe a natural scene:

gold sunset;
cold, whittering wind;
the sounds of horses being ridden -

- in Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 421.

The Imperial pretender, Hugh McCormac, rides out with his three sons by his first wife. The oldest, Colin, is to inherit the Firstmanship of Ilion and therefore, following family custom, has not joined the Navy. (Hugh is an Admiral but succeeded only because his older brother died childless.) Continuing to read, we learn that Hugh will be obliged to lead his family into exile. He will be succeeded as Firstman not by his first wife's oldest son but by his second wife's brother, whose heir and successor will be his son, Ivar Frederiksen.

Colin saw ordinary people lynch and beat to death political policemen. I understand that this does happen. When people overthrow a dictatorship, they kill the agents of the regime. I would want to be involved in ending a dictatorship but not in beating anyone to death. In practice, that means that I would give a lead in some situations but would not be in the forefront while a secret policeman was being chased down the street. But others would do this.

(This is probably the last post for this month, the 115th. Over the next few days, I have a few other activities planned. Also, the lap top now works only when I am sitting on the floor beside the router!)

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Other Reading

Occasionally, I mention other current reading in order to locate Poul Anderson in a wider literary and fictive context. Page viewers may reflect on their own other reading, although sometimes we will overlap.

I read Steig Larsson's trilogy, then a book about the trilogy which made a comparison with Modesty Blaise, a character of whom I had heard but never read. Googling Modesty reveals that Peter O'Donnell wrote:

a Modesty Blaise comic strip;
a screenplay based on the comic strip;
a novel based on the screen play;
ten further novels;
two short story collections, basing some stories on comic strips and vice versa.

The unsuccessful 1966 film, rewritten by others and released after O'Donnell's more successful novelization of his original screenplay, was promoted as a female James Bond, although clearly Modesty Blaise has a life of her own, with a fascinating interplay between three media, the prose fiction coming not first but last.

A Man In A Cell

From his cell in a prison satellite, Fleet Admiral Hugh McCormac sees the planet Llynathawr but would have preferred to see "...rusty, tawny Aeneas..." (Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 371).

We have met an Aenean, Peter Berg, on Gray/Avalon. We will see something of Aeneas later in The Rebel Worlds and an entire subsequent novel will be set on it. Anderson obviously knows a lot about this colony planet long before we do.

McCormac remembers a conversation with a Wodenite and is rescued by a group that includes a Donarrian - two intelligent quadruped species. Wodenites seem to have an affinity with mankind. McCormac's acquaintance made an insightful comment on our "'...kittle breed...'" (p. 375) and we know of two others who convert to Terrestrial religions. One is FX Axor.

It is when McCormac is rescued that he makes the mistake, as Flandry sees it, of transforming a mutiny into a revolt with himself as the Imperial claimant. In this case, I am persuaded to agree with Flandry.

Because of Flandry's intervention, McCormac, exiled, leads his people to Kirkasant in the Cloud Universe.

More On Shalmu

First, a few more obscure planets. Flandry visits the human colonies on Starport and New Indra before Shalmu. His ship, Asieneuve, is named after a land mass on Ardeche, a human colony planet of which he had never heard. Many other ships may have the same name. Computers number millions of spacecraft.

Poul Anderson never refers to "grass" on another planet. He always describes the local equivalent. On Shalmu, there is silver psuedograss that whispers when it moves.

The Clan Towns of Att were ordered to enslave the Yanduvar folk since the former have rifles whereas the latter have only poisoned arrows, although also a promising culture now being destroyed. The Council of Att debated long before it was forced to comply. The unwilling slavers are paid, which helps them to pay the increased taxes.

Flandry, noting the illegality and injustice but also proceeding warily while gathering intelligence, lectures his men on the biological and cultural diversity within the Empire:

a planet where high radiation, high mutation rate and food shortage make murder and cannibalism necessary for survival;
intelligent hermaphrodites;
sophonts with more than two sexes;
some that regularly change sex.

Flandry is glossing over the wrongness that they have seen on Shalmu but does say that he will report it and, of course, we know that he will take extreme and irregular measures when he can.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Faking It

I mentioned Dominic Flandry claiming that he had been working with Commander Abrams before he did in fact work with him. See here. A similar situation occurs, although with a superior's approval, later. When Admiral Kheraskov gives Flandry his first command, he concludes:

"'Your ship is in Mars orbit. Departure will be immediate. I hope you can fake the knowledge of her you don't have, until you've gathered it...'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 389.

Kheraskov has already said that the ship has an able executive officer and that this should free Flandry's attention for his real job, which is Intelligence, not Captaincy. "Faking it" it is part of the job but it is coping and learning rather than fakery.

When I was a newly qualified Careers Adviser, the receptionist took a call from a woman asking about a career of which I had no knowledge as yet. My first responsibility was to my internal client, the receptionist. I had to say, "Put her through," not "I don't know about that!" Meanwhile, I was starting to find the named career in the index of my Occupations reference book. When speaking to the enquirer, I made written notes of exactly what she needed to know. First step: identify client needs; do not worry at this stage about whether you know the answers. Then I could maybe tell her something over the phone but could also note her name and address and promise to post her printed careers information. Second stage: address needs. Third stage: positive outcome.

Flandry's job is much more difficult than careers guidance but his abilities to cope and to improvise are also immeasurably greater.

Merseian Understanding Of Humanity

Chunderban Desai explains the periodic decline of human civilizations to Dominic Flandry. See here. Both suspect that the Merseians and their agent, Aycharaych, know of this historical analysis. In fact, the datholch Ydwyr the Seeker echoes Desai:

"'The breakdown of legitimate authority into weakness or oppression - which are two aspects of the same thing, the change of Hands into Heads - is a late stage of the fatal disease.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 331.

Desai does not use the metaphor of a disease but does speak of a process with stages and implies that the loss of legitimacy is a later stage. What Ydwyr calls Hands becoming Heads, I call accountable leaders becoming despotic rulers. This occurs when a revolution goes wrong or when a revolution happens, depending on your view of revolution - and I am not going to discuss that here! I see that I have quoted Ydwyr on this before.

Desai wants to come to a comparable understanding of the Merseians. Might they also already be decadent? But what would that mean for them? We, the readers, know, with the benefit of historical hindsight, that their Roidhunate does not succeed in replacing the Empire after the latter has fallen and we have speculated on two possible causes of the Merseians' decline:

resentment of their racial supremacism among their subject races/junior partners;
demoralization caused by the failure of the Starkad scheme and of Magnusson's rebellion.

Shalmu II

See Shalmu.

Shalmu is an inhabited planet in Sector Alpha Crucis.

"Shalmu" is its name in one of the languages of its most technologically advanced civilization.

That civilization was in a bronze age when discovered.

Sporadic trade progressed it to iron.

In Flandry's time, a combustion-powered technology spreads the advanced civilization across Shalmu.

This process is slower than on Terra because Shalmuans are less inclined to exterminate or exploit each other.

The Terran Empire protects Shalmu from barbarians.

The Terran Naval base is on a barren planet elsewhere in the system.

However, the small marine garrison on Shalmu and spacemen visiting the planet on leave bring traders who do business with both service personnel and natives.

Some Shalmuans work for extraplanetarians or gain scholarships for outsystem education.

Shalmuan taxes are metals, fuels, food or art.

The Imperial resident does not interfere with native cultures and suppresses wars and bandits with his marines.

Terran law curbs the arrogance of young Imperials.

Sector Governor Snelund increases taxes and militarily enforces payment. Then he instructs armed Shalmuans to catch others for the barbarian slave trade. This decree is enforced by mass crucifixions.

Some Very Obscure Planets

For the sake of completeness, let us consider some of the planets that are mentioned only tangentially in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization.

(i) When Dominic Flandry is based on Irumclaw, his pilot's data lists several nearby habitable planets, including a few with intelligent natives, although none of these worlds has ever been revisited. Imagine that: so much life on so many planets that several intelligent species can be ignored.

(ii) The fourth planet in the system of Irumclaw has an unbreathable atmosphere with dust clouds in a purple sky but is mined and therefore has a small human colony with a floating population and a shabby spaceport " the middle of an immense rusty desert..." (Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 356), where a tube stretches from airdome to airlock, but that is all that we see as Flandry's single human passenger disembarks.

(iii) Irumclaw is not on any liner routes but a Cynthian tramp freighter transports two human passengers to Ysabeau which has cities and is a transfer point to the rest of the Empire although, again, we learn nothing further of Ysabeau.

(iv) All that we know about Therayn is that it is on the opposite side of the Roidhunate from the Empire and that it is conquered by the Merseians.

How many such tangential planets are there in the History?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Poul Anderson casually, or so it seems, creates yet another rational species for just three of the twenty chapters of A Circus Of Hells. The dominant species of the Talwinian winter is called the Ruadrath, approximately "Elf-folk," by Merseian explorers.

Ancestors of the Ruadrath:

inhabited the continental shelf;
developed both lungs and gills to cope with annual floods and droughts;
sheltered from summer heat in the sea;
however, being better walkers than swimmers (spending more time on land), came to estivate at sea.

A Ruad is unconscious all summer and a mere swimming animal until the seasonal return to land triggers memories and intelligence. Then Rrinn remembers that he leads Wirda's pack and is married to Cuwarra, that supplies and equipment have been left in a building a safe distance from shore etc.

Different packs protect themselves from predators in different ways during estivation, e.g.:

boulders rolled across crevices;
finsnake guards;

When Rrinn awakes, he is too deep for sunlight but sees other swimmers " blurs of blackness." (Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 317) I wondered whether Rrinn had rediscovered John Milton's " light, but rather darkness visible..." However, it is explained that illumination comes from organisms planted at the sides of the cage.

Most of Chapter Sixteen has the awakening, swimming, remembering, then land-traversing, Rrinn as its viewpoint character but, before that, the omniscient narrator explains:

"When first they woke, the People had no names. He who was Rrinn ashore was an animal at the bottom of the sea." (p. 317)

Anderson's vocabulary again: "...hyaline clarity..." We might remember the Splendor Hyaline from Narnia. (My computer does not recognize this adjective.)

How To Survive On Talwin

How to hibernate without being exterminated by winter carnivores:

poisonous tissues;
tunneling deep;
tunneling under rocks;
lying under glaciers;
the Domrath, large and armed, go berserk if roused;
constructing shelters;
sleeping in gated caves.

Flandry explores with civilian Merseian scientists who have learned precision from military service. He is unarmed but they can protect him, e.g., from Domrath berserkergang, if necessary.

In fact, thanks to Flandry and Ydwyr, a joint Merseian-Terran scientific base comes into existence on Talwin but it is mainly useful as a location for secret meetings between the rival Intelligence services since Siekh is in the Wilderness between Empire and Roidhunate and is a more discrete venue than the neutral power, Betelgeuse.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

An Argument About Flandry

Where Terrans say "hand in hand," Merseians say, "'...tail-entwined...'" (Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 280), even when speaking of tailless Terrans.

Morioch Sun-in-eye thinks that the prisoner Flandry should be interrogated first because he worked tail-entwined with the troublemaker Max Abrams against Brechdan Ironrede in the Starkad affair and secondly because it seems too big a coincidence that, of every possible pilot, Flandry was the one who went to the lost planet.

The datholch Ydwyr the Seeker replies that:

Flandry cannot have any information not already known to the Merseians;
"interrogation" would leave him of no use for anything else;
there is no connection between his previous association with Abrams and his adventure on Wayland:

"'He is precisely the type to whom such things occur. If one exposes oneself to life, qanryf, life will come to one.'" (p. 280)

When we can see past his (subtle) racism, Ydwyr is wise. A Wiccan high priest recently taught me that, if we go out to meet life, then life comes to meet us. The gods respond if we approach them.

The Merseain authorities agree with Ydwyr. Rather surprisingly, I thought, no order comes to interrogate Flandry although Ydwyr pretends that such an order has come in order to manipulate Djana. Here again we lose sympathy with Ydwyr.

How Djana Sees The Merseians

Djana thinks:

"...they did not dream of conquering the galaxy, that was absurd on the face of it, they simply wanted freedom to range and rule without bound, and 'rule' did not mean tyranny over others, it meant just that others should not stand in the way of the full outfolding of that spirit which lay in the Race..."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 296.

Then why say "rule"? Where is the line between truth and propaganda? The Merseians will not attempt to impose a single galactic government, which "'...'d collapse under its own weight...'" (p. 83), as Hauksberg says, but they do want the galaxy to become "'...a set of autonomous Merseian-ruled regions. The race, not the nation, counts with them...'" (ibid.), as Abrams says. In fact, we know that they conquered and enslaved another race in the previous volume so their "rule" is "tyranny over others."

Djana sees a Merseian Christ leading an army including human beings as junior partners but this is because Ydwyr's reconditioning builds on her childhood Catholicism. Ydwyr says that their ultimate endeavor is "' impose Will on blind Nature and Chance.'" (p. 331)

- an endeavor in which all intelligent beings could join but, again, he emphasizes that he means specifically Merseian Will.

Flandry And Merseians

Dominic Flandry's education about the Merseians continues while he is their prisoner on Talwin. He explains to his aristocratic master, Ydwyr the Seeker, that:

he was electrocrammed with Eriau in haste;
his stay on Mersiea was brief;
his Academy training dealt mainly with the Merseians as military opponents.

I suspect that, in accordance with his own earlier reflections, Flandry downplays the extent of his existing knowledge first to make Ydwyr underestimate him and secondly to gain the opportunity of learning as much as he can in this new situation. He had been unfamiliar with Ydwyr's rank of datholch because it is civilian, not military, although Mersians separate these roles differently and less clearly than Terrans.

A datholch is an aristocratic leader of an enterprise to expand the race's frontiers and it probably does not matter whether the frontiers are scientific, commercial, territorial etc. So a philosopher and an entrepreneur might be accorded the same status? Ydwyr is the Roidhun's nephew and a xenologist, currently studying the Domrath and Ruadrath, two intelligent species on Talwin. He learns from other races, and has even studied under Aycharaych in his castle at Raal on Chereion, but unfortunately he does still regard all other races as inferior and manipulable. Djana thinks that he has befriended her but he says that he has reconditioned her and he is prepared to see Flandry die in order to clinch his hold over Djana, who can be made useful to the Roidhunate.

Ydwyr sounded good but he remains an implacable adversary.

Settings II

Some other places of interest in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization are:

The Sky Cave
Unan Besar
The Scothani Empire
The Cloud Universe
a planet in the Cloud Universe

To Be Previous

(Poul Anderson fans, please bear with me. This post is about Neil Gaiman, Paul Shackley and Dominic Flandry in that order - although why I belong in a list that starts with a successful writer and ends with a fictitious character remains to be demonstrated.)

Neil Gaiman...
...when first applying to work as a journalist, untruthfully claimed already to have worked for several well known magazines. He reasoned, first, that his prospective employer was unlikely to check and, secondly, that he would prove himself, or not, during his first few months of work. In fact, he then did work for all the named magazines within twelve months so was he lying or merely anticipating?

When I was preparing to work as Master in Charge of Religious Education at Bentham Grammar School, my predecessor, a Church of England vicar, said that he had ordered a set of Good News Bibles for First Year classes, adding "...with which, of course, you're familiar?" What could I possibly reply but "Yes"? I was committing myself to become familiar with the Good News Bible as soon as possible. Twelve months later, having been made redundant from the school, I started to train as an RE Teacher. (Sometimes, England is Looking Glass Land.) A fellow student had heard that, although the Good News was not a good translation, it was good to use if you just wanted the story. After a year of working with that text, I knowledgeably responded, "Yes, the Good News is very readable." I had fulfilled the commitment that I had made to that vicar.

Dominic Flandry...
...says, "'I've been too busy working with Commander Abrams.' In point of fact he had done the detail chores of data correlation on a considerably lower level."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 44.

Because the nineteen year old Ensign Flandry has brought new data, well organized, and a live prisoner, he has been temporarily assigned to Commander Abrams' Intelligence section and he describes this temporary assignment as "'...working with Commander Abrams...'" when talking to the beautiful Persis d'Io. But he very soon is busy working with Commander Abrams, first as his aide on a trip to Merseia, then on a crucial and dangerous Intelligence mission. Flandry, confident, competent and creative, both makes claims and delivers the goods.


An sf novel can be set entirely on one other planet or can involve travel between several planets.

Poul Anderson's The Man Who Counts is set entirely on Diomedes and his The Day Of Their Return is set entirely on Aeneas. However, his Ensign Flandry is set on Terra and Starkad and in Ardaig on Merseia, his A Circus Of Hells is set on Irumclaw, Wayland and Talwin and his The Rebel Worlds is set on Terra, Shalmu, Llynathawr, Aeneas and Dido.

A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows introduces Dennitza and Chereion. A Stone In Heaven reuses Hermes and Terra and introduces Ramnu. The Game Of Empire introduces Imhotep and Daedalus.


Monday, 22 September 2014


I have remarked before on how strange it would be to live in a civilization where intelligent beings met in the course of everyday work or business could have any size or shape of body. People who got used to such a situation really would inhabit a world different from ours. In Poul Anderson's A Circus Of Hells, Djana, a prostitute, goes, as she thinks, to meet a client.

Instead, she faces Rax, the sole member of his species on Irumclaw: a lumpy, gray body on four thin legs, the head at its middle level with her waist, one tentacle holding a vocalizer converting buzzes and whistles from the lower beak into Anglic. Djana thinks that inter-species sex is wrong although Rax suspects that she could be bought. However, as it happens, sex between his species and human beings is impossible and he wants to conduct a different kind of business - although an extremely dangerous one, nevertheless.

Imagine going anywhere to meet a new business contact or make a new acquaintance and being faced with something like Rax. But this can happen all the time in the Terran Empire:

"...many autochthons were present and space travelers of numerous different breeds circulated among them."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 205.

Irumclaw II

In the pioneer days on Irumclaw, beehive-shaped native adobes were remodeled for other lifeforms but are now crumbling. As Flandry enters Old Town at night, Poul Anderson as ever addresses three senses. There are glowsigns, noises and smells. The last of these are unpleasant: body odors, garbage and smoke, although there also incense and dope, but why not some cooking smells?

An Irumclagian chanting with a vocalizer advertises games, stakes, food, drink, stimulants, narcotics, hallucinogens, emphasizers and sex with seventeen intelligent species. Thankfully, he does not mention unintelligent species although presumably anything goes.

Flandry seeks to enrich himself and a local vice boss but everything that he does has a purpose. That the Empire will abandon Irumclaw and let the Merseians move nearer has become a self-fulfilling prophecy:

an increasingly incompetent garrison;
able citizens withdrawing themselves and their capital;
defensibility and economic value spiraling downward.

But an enriched local boss with a stake to protect and a reason to stay will lobby and bribe to keep the Empire on Irumclaw.

An Alien Point Of View

See here.

In Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry, Lord Hauksberg, Max Abrams, Brechdan Ironrede and the title character have all been viewpoint characters. Surprisingly, when all four meet, the pov is that of Brechdan, the Merseian.

In Ardaig, the original capital, Merseia's eternal city, the Terran Embassy is on Qgoth Heights, where it had originally been a mere legation outside the limits of the since-grown city. Now, Lord Oliveira of Ganymede, Imperial Ambassador to his Supremacy the Roidhun, speaking Eriau, introduces his Majesty's envoy, Lord Markus Hauksberg, Viscount of Ny Kalmar. Brechdan notices:

lanquid manner but good physical condition;
eyes watching closely;
good grasp of Eriau.

Next to be presented is Commander Max Abrams who intones:

"'The Hand of the Vach Ynvory is my shield.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 94.

To Abrams, the Hand is precisely the opposite of a shield but he knows the right thing to say! Brechdan notices:

dense accent but fluent Eriau;
both words and gestures exactly correct;
a dignified greeting from one near in rank to his master who is your equal (how status-conscious can these Merseians be?);
"Handle with care." (ibid.)

Abrams' aide, Flandry, is alert but young and junior. The ones to watch are Hauksberg and Abrams...

Brechdan hopes that he will not have to visit Starkad because it is easier to use a planet if you have not seen its people... So even the Protector of the Roidhun's Grand Council can have qualms of conscience. The Merseians are not a moral lost cause but we know this from Dennitza. Also, Dwyr is conscious of enslaving another race.

Oliveira, courteous to Merseian custom, has excluded females from the reception which means that Hauksberg's concubine, Persis d'Io, having traveled from Terra via Starkad, cannot be present. The Empire is indeed preferable to the Roidhunate.


In Ensign Flandry, there are Irumclagians and, at the beginning of the following volume, A Circus Of Hells, Flandry is on Irumclaw.

Any sf writer can tell us that an interstellar empire is declining and withdrawing from its periphery but Poul Anderson is also able to present imperial decline in social terms with a hint of the pathetic fallacy to back it up.

First, the pathetic fallacy - Flandry leaves the naval compound:

"Soon after the red-orange sun had set..."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 203.

Anderson gets his readers to imagine sunset colors - not only has the sun just set but it was red-colored to begin with - immediately before he discusses declining empire. I have used the accompanying color illustration, although we have had it recently, because of its appropriate background coloring.

Next, as Flandry walks between the homes and private parks of the wealthy, he reflects that "...they epitomized man's trajectory." (p. 204) When the settlement had been large, prosperous and well inside the Imperial boundaries, it had attracted both mercantile commerce and aristocratic culture but now the mansions are either empty or owned only by those who prey on the declining numbers of spacemen and Navy personnel while, outside the treaty port boundaries, the natives revert to barbarism.

"Tonight Irumclaw lay like a piece of wreckage at the edge of the receding tide of empire." (ibid.)

Here again is the pathetic fallacy. Irumclaw is not in decline only at night! However, it is appropriate that Flandry's somber reflections occur just after night fall. They prefigure the Long Night of Empire that haunts Flandry's life.

Battle On Golden Bay

See here.

In Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry, Flandry is in the principal Kursovikian seaport, Ujanka, on Golden Bay, when a small Merseian submarine surfaces and starts to shell the town with incendiary chemicals. Taken by surprise, the Sisterhood centrum has to be reminded by radio to ring Quarters so that crews will take their ships out on the bay. Even despite the Merseian sub, they will be safer scattered than docked.

Lieutenant Kaiser in the Navy Engineers' dome above the bay informs Flandry that, because the greenskin airfleet is hovering directly above, Terran fliers are scrambled to cover Highport, nowhere else, while Admiral Enriques tries to contact the Merseian Fodaich. Transports able to spray firefighting chemicals will arrive in half and hour if they are not shot down by the gatortails. Meanwhile, fish-drawn Siravo catapult boats approach Ujanka.

Flandry and armed Tigeries crowd into his flier, depart and return with the sun behind them. He lands on the sub where there are three helmeted Merseians at either gun and three or four with blasters and machine pistols in the opened conning tower. The Tigeries disembark firing at the Merseians in the conning tower who return fire while other Merseians run from behind the tower. Flandry, flying above the tower, turns sideways and fires down, clearing the tower of Merseians. His flier, hit, crashes onto the tower, blocking its hatch. Tigeries have taken the forward gun and used it against the Merseians below Flandry but reinforcements approach from the after hatch. Flandry uses his blaster set on wide beam until there is silence. While the Tigeries go astern to shoot anyone who emerges, Flandry calls the Navy to come and get them.

Abrams had advance notice of the attack but could not compromise his source and goes down on his knees before God when Flandry saves Ujanka.

History And Fiction

When Ensign Flandry, the hero, is a guest at a party hosted by Lord Hauksberg, the latter's concubine, Persis d'Io, wants to hear Flandry's account of his adventures among the Tigeries.

"He made the tale somewhat better than true: sufficient to drive Abrams into a coughing fit."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 44.

Abrams is Chief of Intelligence on Starkad. Flandry adds that he has been:

"'...busy working with Commander Abrams.' In point of fact he had done the detail chores of data correlation on a considerably lower level." (ibid.)

So the Adventures of Dominic Flandry begin here already with Flandry's exaggerated account to Persis. Having just read what Flandry did for the Tigeries, we do not think that he needed to exaggerate - or was that Flandry's account that we read? Where does fiction end and fiction within the fiction begin?

According to Hloch's Introduction in The Earth Book Of Stormgate, The Man Who Counts is one of several historical novels featuring Nicholas van Rijn, apparently reasonably accurate although of uncertain origin. Van Rijn  lives in folk memory as hero or rogue on many planets. Flandry tells a story of van Rijn when posing as a storyteller on Unan Besar. Our only account of the Founder of the Terran Empire may be historical fiction.

We need to read Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization carefully in order to discern how much of the narrative comes to us from an omniscient narrator and how much from sources internal to the History. The latter could legitimately be contradicted by any later additions to the series.

Battle At Sea

In Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry, a Merseian flying submersible has shot down Ensign Dominic Flandry's flitter. The Ensign has escaped by gravity impeller, losing his blaster while exiting the sinking vehicle but keeping his regulation knife, and has landed on the Archer, a merchant ship of the Sisterhood of Kursoviki. Because the Archer's Terran-provided radio has been damaged and no longer works, the Kursovikian Tigery captain, Dragoika, agrees to return to Kursoviki Island where Flandry will be able to rejoin his fellow vaz-Terran in their base, Highport, on Mount Narpa. Meanwhile, however, for several days, Flandry, unable to breathe sea-level Starkadian air, must wear a helmet, must push unappetizing Starkadian food and vitamin supplements through his chowlock and must conserve the power in his impeller's capacitors to operate the helmet's pump and reduction valve.

The vaz-Siravo attack the Archer. A submarine of leather stretched across wood, pulled by four large fish, surfaces. On its deck, dolphin-like Seatrolls in airsuits with artificial limbs aim a large catapult. Their first missile misses the ship but spreads flames across the water: Greek fire from undersea oil wells. The second hits and most of the crew must fight the fire with a water pump and buckets. Flandry, manning the Terran-provided deck gun, kills the draught fish with a chemical shell. Swimming Seatrolls climb the undersea net used as a warning device. Ten are on board with spears, axes and two machine pistols. The defenders have five Terran rifles, also swords, pikes, crossbows and knives, but most must fight the fire. Flandry fires another shell into the sea to kill any more approaching Seatrolls. Dragoika's fish spear kills one pistoleer and the other takes shelter.

Leaping Tigeries, armed with swords and pikes, fight lumbering Seatrolls, armed with spears and axes. Dragoika drums firefighters away from their weapons back to their firefighting. The armed Tigeries defend the firefighters against the Seatrolls. The Seatroll pistoleer pins down the Tigery riflers. Flandry, flying with his impeller and wielding Dragoika's sword, disarms the pistoleer and calls the Tigery riflers to come out. The remaining Seatrolls, except the pistoleer, are killed and Flandry, still using the impeller, helps to spread a wet sail over the fire. He can now adapt the Siravo powerpacks for his helmet and has taken a prisoner. He is a hero to Tigeries and Terrans and has begun his career as a nemesis of the Merseians.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Merseian Customs

In Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry, when Brechdan Ironrede, Hand of the Vach Ynvory, walks on a terrace of his ancestral castle, Dhangodhan, we see several Merseian customs:

a sentry not only displays his blaster but also slaps his boots with his tail;
 a gardener folds arms and bends;
Brechdan touches his forehead to both clients, as he would not do to slaves;
he salutes the sun, as is his hereditary right (Terrans can do that whenever they want);
his bailiff is an Ynvory so they exchange kin-salutes, right hand to left shoulder;
Brechdan will hear his client folk at his morning audience;
wives (plural) should be thrifty, trustworthy and cultivated;
the gardener goes beyond required ceremonial by kneeling and embracing the approaching Heir's tail;
Hand and Heir set the guard an example by first discussing matters affecting the race (pompous asses, if you ask me);
an Ynvory does not send personnel into danger but stay behind without higher duty.

Plenty of respect but mainly for fellow Merseians and, even then, not as equals. The race divides into kin, females, clients and slaves.

Battle In Space II

Ensign Flandry, Chapter Seventeen.

Continuing the exciting narrative from the previous post:

"'Our two destroyers took care of the enemy's without suffering much damage.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 176.

OK. That tells us what happened with New Brazil and Murdoch's Land. The Merseian commander of the six craft approaching from Saxo sends one of his destroyers against each Imperial destroyer. He still has one cruiser and two destroyers against the badly damaged Sabik and Umbriel.

The Merseian destroyers scatter as Captain Einarsen empties his magazines of hyperdrive missiles and destroys one of the enemy.  Murdoch's Land and Antarctica close in on one destroyer. Another Merseian moves to assist it. New Brazil and a third Merseian approach each other. Umbriel moves to intercept the cruiser and her accompanying destroyer, both of which dive towards Sabik, although the destroyer then turns towards Umbriel. Sabik, taking a direct nuclear hit, loses lights, air, gravs and hyperdrive.

Communicating by radio, Commander Ranjit Singh assumes command and orders the spacesuited Ensign Flandry, who had been on board only as an alien liaison officer, to man a gun. Flandry and Dragoika alternate at a gun's hydraulic aiming system and its batteries-recharging handwheel. Murdoch's Land, now wrecked, and Antarctica, now out of action, have accounted for two destroyers. New Brazil still fights a third. The fourth, suffering from a damaged hyperdrive alternator, can only crawl at superlight and has fired all its missiles but returns to clean out Sabik with guns.

Dragoika spins the handwheel. Flandry fires, penetrating the enemy's hull, together with four other Sabik gunners. He shoots to disable the quantum-field generator. Sabik spins. When Flandry again sees the enemy, it has destroyed one section of Sabik but is retreating under gravitics, maybe unable to go hyper. A gun turns toward them but Flandry melts it shut. New Brazil arrives and destroys the Merseian. Umbriel, Antarctica and New Brazil reach the rogue planet after the scoutships have departed.

Battle In Space

Ensign Flandry, Chapter Seventeen.

An Imperial squadron:

Star-class (pocket battleship): Sabik, old, obsolete, due to be scrapped, not expected to see action again;

light cruiser: Umbriel, also old etc;

destroyers: Antarctica, New Brazil, Murdoch's Land;

scoutships: Encke, Ikeya-Seki, one energy gun each, quick and maneuverable but too small to count as fighting units - their mission, while protected by the other ships, to verify a rogue planet a few light-days away on a collision course with the star, Saxo.

Merseian forces:

in Saxo orbit: six warships;

guarding the rogue: one ship equal to Sabik, but newer and better armed, and one heavy destroyer.

Balance of Forces:

Thus, five Imperials against eight Merseians.

The course of events:

The Imperial squadron leaves the Saxonian system on gravitics to avoid detection by hyper wakes. After twenty four hours, the New Brazil proceeds at superlight but, in accordance with orders, returns to the squadron when it detects, and is followed by, the two craft at the rogue. The six Merseian ships at Saxo move to join the two pursuing New Brazil. Ships in hyperspace communicate not by electromagnetic radio but by modulating their instantaneous hyper wakes, an effect detectable up to a distance of a light year.

A Merseian Fodaich tells Captain Einarsen that he is entering an interdicted region but Einarsen, not recognizing interdictions in unclaimed space, proceeds under Merseian protest. However, because other Merseian craft are approaching, Einarsen requires the Merseians to withdraw at full speed. When they do not, combat is inevitable.

When the ships approaching from the rogue sheer off:

Sabik and Umbriel accelerate towards the larger ship;
New Brazil, supported by the approaching Murdoch's Land, turns on the smaller ship;
Antarctica continues to escort the scoutships.

Missiles and anti-missiles are launched. Sabik and Umbriel are damaged but destroy their antagonist. The squadron reunites but what had happened with New Brazil and Murdoch's Land? I am getting confused by the battle and am also about to be interrupted here so will continue "Battle In Space" in another post.

Three Parts

I currently have restricted computer access, which may be a good thing. I have started to draft an analysis of a Terran-Merseian space battle.

Poul Anderson's "Goat Song" is a science fictional retelling of the Orpheus myth. I have just started to read Virgil on Orpheus in Latin - not easy, tightly constructed verse as opposed to straightforward prose. An easier text is the Vulgate Bible, where "...Paulum hunc..." (this Paul) says, "non sunt dei, qui manibus fiunt" (they are not gods, which are made by hand).

To paraphrase another Latin author, Julius Caesar, humorously (I hope): all of Gaul is quartered into three halves. Similarly, all of Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization is divided into three main parts:

an extended Earth Book Of Stormgate;
the Flandry period;
the Post-Imperial Age.

(That third "Age" subdivides into three shorter sections but we are dealing in broad strokes here.)

Although The Earth Book Of Stormgate concludes at the midpoint of Baen Books' The Technic Civilization Saga, Volume III, the Earth Book was compiled in the aftermath of the Terran War on Avalon and therefore refers to events, and also to one character, in The People Of The Wind, which concludes Vol III. For this reason, I think of Vols I-III as an extended Earth Book, although I would re-entitle Vols I and II, thus:

I The Rise Of The Polesotechnic League
II The Decline Of The Polesotechnic League
III The Rise Of The Terran Empire

That would leave five Volumes, in my way of reorganizing it, for the remaining two main parts:

IV Young Flandry And The Terran Empire
V Outposts Of The Terran Empire
VI Captain Flandry Of The Terran Empire
VII Children Of The Terran Empire or The Molitor Dynasty
VIII After The Terran Empire or The Post-Imperial Age

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Importance Of Military Intelligence

Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry demonstrates the necessity of accurate, realistic military intelligence.

Lord Hauksberg:

"'[The Merseians]'re rational bein's too, y'know.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 8.

"...rational..." is fatally ambiguous. Of course the Merseians have the ability to reason - they are a linguistic species - but it does not follow from this that they are "rational," in any other sense implied by Hauksberg, wanting to avoid conflict etc. Later, he tells Abrams:

"'If we can discover who the reasonable elements are in their government, we can cooperate with those - most discreetly - to freeze the warhawks out.'" (p. 84)

Hauksberg's first responsibility is to find out what the Merseian government is really like, not to make in advance the anthropomorphic assumption that it divides into reasonable elements and warhawks. Abrams replies that all the Merseians are reasonable but "'...they don't reason on the same basis as us.'" (ibid.)

This is almost certainly true to some extent since they are in fact alien. Hauksberg then calls Abrams unreasonable and paranoid. Real life Abrams-types can be unreasonable and even paranoid but it remains necessary to heed and respond to what they say, not just to dismiss it in advance, especially if they can back it up with any relevant experience or evidence.

On p. 8 (see above), Hauksberg continues, "'S'pose many of 'em're lookin' for some way out...'"

Many? Why suppose this? There are three possibilities: many are looking for a way out; some are; none are.

Speaking to Runei the Wanderer, the greenskin cinc, Hauksberg privately assumes that the latter is honest and wants to wind up the affair before it gets out of hand because the only alternative is to prepare for war. But what are the facts? Maybe Runei is dishonest? Maybe he and his superiors want to escalate the conflict? In which case, to assume the opposite is disastrously irresponsible.

Flandry discovers that the Merseians had carefully engineered the conflict on Starkad so that the Terran fleet would mass in the Saxonian system and would then be destroyed when Saxo was hit by a rogue planet, thus leaving Terra defenseless. Hauksberg convinces himself that the Merseians would have warned the Terrans of the approaching rogue "'[i]f we'd shown a genuine desire to cooperate...'" (p. 188). But not otherwise? Does he think that the Merseians were sincere in their support for the sea people? But, in that case, the Merseains would have started to evacuate Starkadians as soon as they had learned of the rogue. It is difficult to understand how Hauksberg rationalizes this position. The man seems to be incapable of learning anything.

Flandry asks Hauksberg whether he has read any history, listened to any Merseian speeches, read any Merseian books, seen the Terran dead and wounded. Human history is relevant although allowances must be made for differences among aliens. Merseian speeches and books are directly relevant. The wounded and the dead are an emotive argument because they exist on both sides in any conflict and do not in themselves account for the causes of the conflict.

Rank, Class And Species

Rank becomes complicated in an aristocratic society. In the Terran mission on Starkad, Admiral Enriques commands five thousand men, including Commander Max Abrams of Intelligence and Ensign Dominic Flandry. Then Lord Hauksberg arrives on a fact-finding mission from which he will report back to the Emperor. However, Hauksberg first proceeds to Merseia with plenipotentiary authority to negotiate the protocol of an agreement. Abrams accompanies Hauksberg as an expert on Starkad. Flandry accompanies Abrams as his aide. As a nobleman, Hauksberg holds a reserve commission equivalent to captain which was automatically activated when Abrams was posted to him. Thus, Hauksberg is Flandry's senior commanding officer as long as the latter is Abrams' aide.

Flandry flees back to Starkad accused by Hauksberg of capital charges:

high treason;
threat and menace;
assault and battery;

On his return to Starkad, Flandry adds:

not surrendering himself;
creating dissension between the Empire and an associated country;
imperiling his Majesty's forces;
resisting arrest.

Enriques ranks Hauksberg formally and in certain procedural matters. However, the latter holds a direct Imperial mandate which empowers him to negotiate temporary agreements with Merseia that become policy determinants. Thus, Enriques is ordered to allow the Merseians to search Imperial ships for Flandry.

The issue is complicated by inter-species interactions. The Terran mission to Starkad is to help the land-dwellers. However, the Tigeries recognize personal, not collective, loyalties. Loyal to Flandry because he had defended them from attack, they protect him from his fellow vaz-Terran. Enriques must come to Flandry in a house surrounded by armed Tigeries. Flandry introduces Vice-Admiral Juan Enriques of the Imperial Terrestrial Navy to Dragoika, captain-director of the Janjevar va-Radovik. Enriques bows as if to the Empress.

When Enriques sends a squadron to check Flandry's allegation against the Merseians, Flandry in good faith travels on the squadron, temporarily re-attached to Enrique's command, the charges against him held in abeyance. Dragoika, not sharing Flandry's good faith, insists on accompanying him on behalf of the Sisterhood. Flandry is appointed liaison officer and told to keep his pet savage out of the way. He pretends that she has astronautical knowledge and should be kept informed, thus gaining for both himself and her communication with the bridge.

Finally, when the Merseian plot has been exposed, everything must be covered up. Therefore, all the charges against Flandry must be dropped.

Friday, 19 September 2014


Although this cover illustration shows our hero and his Starkadian ally prepared for physical combat, Poul Anderson's characters are also masters of diplomatic language and conflict. To paraphrase -

Hauksberg: If Flandry is caught, treat him like a pirate.

Abrams: He is entitled to a court martial and has diplomatic immunity.

Hauksberg: He and you were accredited by me, not by the government.

Abrams (to Brechdan): Merseia accepted Terran rules of war and diplomacy because they work. You may deport us but any other action, whatever our accreditation, would be ground for breaking off relations or declaring war.

Brechdan: Diplomats have no right to spy.

Abrams: Nor has the government to which they are sent. Dwyr was planted on me as a spy but his sympathies were with Terra.

Brechdan: My compliments on turning him.

Abrams: His Majesty's government will deny that.

Hauksberg: How dare you speak for the Empire?

Abrams: How dare you? Will the Hand agree that my mere prediction is probably correct?

Brechdan: What do you expect of the Empire?

Abrams: If Merseia is reasonable, Terra will probably respond in kind.

Brechdan: "Reasonable" includes dropping charges against you?

Abrams: Yes. Dwyr and Flandry acted without my knowledge.

Brechdan: I would stand by a subordinate.

Abrams: What happens to him is outside our control. Without pomposity, I want to save myself for further service to the Empire.

Hauksberg (with venom): We'll see.

Brechdan: On Merseia, that is not pompous. "'I salute you. Lord Hauksberg will oblige me by considering you innocent.'" -Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 144.

Reading Young Flandry II

Brechdan Ironrede tells Max Abrams:

"'Commander...your young man makes me proud to be a sentient creature. What might our united races not accomplish? Hunt well.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 145.

Merseians, like the Ardazirho or the kzinti, regard themselves primarily as hunters, not as, e.g., builders or thinkers. We can agree with Brechdan'a sentiment while not accepting his concept of "united." However, a genuine union of the two species as equals develops on Dennitza.

A Merseian captain about to fire on Flandry's ship tells him and his companion:

"'...prepare your minds for the God.'" (ibid.)

A civilized being realizing that another faces death must treat him with respect. Here, at least, we are equals.

In the Young Flandry trilogy, our hero goes through some fundamental stages of development - rites of passage?:

"Something had changed in his face. He was almost a stranger...she had identified the change in him, the thing which had gone and would never quite come back. Youth." (pp. 151-152)

"'...I'll wish this, that you never get the [woman] you really want.'" (p. 365)

These interactions with two young women define the Flandry of the later series.


In the background of a single panel of a Dan Dare comic strip, a bald, green-skinned Treen wearing a business suit and a bowler hat sits in a London bus, reading a newspaper - a Venerian immigrant to Earth, exactly paralleling the Merseian immigrants to the human colony planet, Dennitza, in Poul Anderson's A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows. We hope that this Treen is not a covert Mekon loyalist - and also that none of his fellow passengers are anti-green racists.

We escape from reality into fiction but fiction reflects reality. There are two acts of the imagination here:

first, imagining hostile green extraterrestrials;
secondly, imagining plausible relationships with such extraterrestrials in peace as well as in war.

Anderson's Dominic Flandry series began as space opera, requiring only a standardized collective villain, then became part of an extended reflection on social change, requiring a more sophisticated treatment of several civilized races. Needless to say, Anderson did this second job more effectively than Dan Dare's script writers.

Sf writers have had to move out of the Solar System. CS Lewis' sinless, green-skinned human beings are, like the Treens, Venerians whereas James Blish's sinless, giant reptiles are, like the Merseians, extrasolar.

Reading Young Flandry

"Foreseer" is indeed a regular form of Merseian address. See Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), pp. 123, 138.

Even in the midst of a dramatic action scene, Anderson pauses to describe natural beauty:

"Korych flamed over the edge of the world. That sunrise was gold and amethyst, beneath a million stars." (p. 137)

No scientific advance has ever been exactly as imagined by sf writers. Armstrong and Aldrin were not Cavor and Bedford. The same will be true of faster than light travel if that is ever to be achieved. Sf writers have made us very familiar with a particular imaginary scenario: spaceships traversing hyperspace or warp space journey between stars many times faster than light but nevertheless may require weeks or months to cross "known space" because of the distances involved, although how long it is supposed to take can be forgotten for the sake of advancing the story.

The stars are visible from the hyperspace in Anderson's Technic History but other versions of hyperspace are featureless voids or, in Larry Niven's Known Space future history, mere absence, not darkness but what you see behind your head.

Dominic Flandry makes at least five long hyperspace journeys, each in the company of a different woman. I am just about to reread the first of these in Ensign Flandry. Please note: one woman each time, not four. These are occasions for conversation and closer acquaintance, opportunities for the author to develop the characters and to have them explain themselves and their mission to each other.

Interstellar travel is a symbol of freedom in American sf but there is a contrast between this freedom and enclosure in a metal vessel. Maybe more imaginative work needs to be done on other means of interstellar travel?

Know Your Enemy

How well does Dominic Flandry know the Merseians?

He fights them on Starkad;

en route to Merseia, he is electrocrammed with Eriau and Merseiology;

he is introduced to Brechdan Ironrede, Protector of the Roidhunate's Grand Council;

he helps Abrams with intelligence work on Merseia;

he is shown around the planet by Tachwyr the Dark and Lannawar Belgis (see here);

he is captured by Merseians and spends time with them exploring Talwin;

he captures and negotiates with Ydwyr the Seeker, the Roidhun's nephew;

he is part of the Terran delegation that opposes the Merseians at Betelgeuse;

throughout his career, he periodically meets Tachwyr the Dark, until Flandry becomes an Admiral and Tachwyr becomes the Protector (see here).

I would say that Flandry is an expert on the Merseians.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Merseian Scenery

Mei Tachwyr the Dark and Yqan Lannawar Belgis take Ensign Dominic Flandry to a hillside restaurant which is a shrine of an ancient faith. They sit, Flandry on a bench, the Merseians on their tails, in an arabesqued marble pergola where they consume local food and ale. Looking down on the community of Dalgorad, they see flowers, foliage, buildings, hollowed-out trees used as dwellings for many generations, an airport, a red beach, a dark blue ocean, the sun Korych and two ghost-like moons, Wythna and Lythyr.

The Eriau-speaking Wilwidh culture dominates Merseia but has not yet imposed as much planetary uniformity as has the Anglic-speaking Technic culture on Terra. Hence, the different naming system of the provincial Lannawar Belgis. In Wilwidh style, he might have been called, e.g., Lannawar the Able.

Terran Naval ranks are mutually aloof whereas the Merseians alternate between formality and ease. A polite form of address in Eriau - or maybe just in Belgis' region? - is "foreseer." We are not told why.

Back To Starkad III

The vaz-Siravo are relatively near-sighted but have very delicate tactile, thermal, kinesthetic, olfactory and other perceptions. They do not look forward but scent future perfumes.

Their cities differ. Reefcastle houses are stone and coraloid in the skerries off an island. The inhabitants have more conflict with the land-dwellers. Outlier is built above an abyss where fish and forests are luminous, rocks are time-worn and livid, the water tastes of volcano and the silence is absolute.

Understanding neither Eriau nor the Siravo language, Flandry and his companions are guided by Isinglass who knows some Kursovikian, a language of the land-dwellers, and can use a portable vocalizer. However, Flandry's visit is cut short. The leading xenologist, John Ridenour, who will be a viewpoint character in a later story, curtly tells him:

"'You may be out of the matter anyhow, Flandry...You report to Commander Abrams at Highport...Special duty. I don't know what.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 79.

Flandry will accompany Abrams to Merseia and become fluent in Eriau.

Back To Starkad II

Terrans in spacesuit-like armor, approaching the undersea Starkadian city, Shellgleam, see:

"...tended fields, fish penned in wicker domes, cylindrical woven houses anchored by rocks."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 71.

A Siravo (Starkadian sea-dweller) carrying a bladder full of phosphorescent organisms leads an elephantine fish pulling a skin-covered, torpedo-shaped wagon with stabilizer fins. A shaft connects an ocean-surface tide motor to a mill drive wheel. On buildings with higher levels broader than lower, walls of multi-colored fabrics move with the currents. Streets are unnecessary but gravel gardens separate buildings. At the town center, a roofless building has a tower with "...a thick glass top just below the surface." (ibid.)

A team of fish pulls a submarine escorted by vaz-Siravo armed with Merseian guns.

Back To Starkad

Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry is dedicated to Frank and Beverly Herbert. Thus, it invites a certain comparison. Anderson's Technic History set on many planets is better written, better realized and more imaginative than Herbert's Dune series focused on a single planet, even though the latter has been adapted to both the large and the small screen. Anderson's planets and politics are more diverse and complicated.

Young Flandry refers to "', fun and females.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 69.

Twenty seven years later, his son refers to:

"'Feasting, fighting and -'"
-Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 343.

As ever, the younger generation are coarser than their parents.

Even that part of the History of Technic Civilization that is also the Dominic Flandry series does not focus exclusively on its title character. In one passage, Hauksberg and d'Io discuss Abrams and Ridenour. They also mention some "[h]andsome young officers...'" (Young Flandry, p. 67) but do not refer explicitly to the future savior of civilization.

I am rereading Ensign Flandry to find more information on Starkad. See here.


See here.

Large flying animals evolved in the dense Diomedean atmosphere. Flocks of intelligent Diomedeans winter in the tropics. The exertion of a long flight causes hormonal changes so that, upon arrival, there is a mating orgy. Females are pregnant when they return home in spring and give birth before the next migration when parents carry infants who can fly independently the following year.

Towns, vacated every autumn but reoccupied every spring, are centers of stone working, ceramics, carpentry and limited agriculture although the main economic activities are hunting and herding. The Great Flock of Lannach is indolent, artistic, ceremonious and matrilineal whereas Diomedeans of the Fleet of Drak'ho have abandoned annual migration in favor of fishing and seaweed harvesting from large, oceangoing rafts where the exertion of navigational activities exercises the body, maintaining year-round sexuality and reproduction and patriarchal monogamy. The Fleet, able to accumulate stores, machines and books, is richer but authoritarian.

On Starkad (see here), land-dwelling and sea-dwelling intelligent species were natural enemies. On Diomedes, Flock and Fleet are the same species but initially regard each other with mutual horror although extra-planetary traders encourage tolerance and cooperation. In the Imperial period, Drak'ho can adapt to living on land and to engaging in new economic activities whereas the migratory Lannachska culture, used to summer time indolence, cannot survive the introduction of high-energy technology but, without it, must remain poor and powerless.

Glaciation And Great Spring

Dennitza's sun, Zoria, is brighter than Sol and Dennitza is smaller than Earth. Ultraviolet cracking reduced the oceans to covering half the surface. The day is 18.8 hours.

Less than a million years ago, Dennitza was struck either by giant meteoroids or by a shattered asteroid:

on land, impact, concussion, radiation, fire and craters;
at sea, tsunamis destroying the coasts;
in the sky, dust blocking the sun for years and clouds lasting for millennia;
at the poles, growing ice caps;
from the poles, glaciers halfway to the equator;
in the biosphere, mass extinctions, including of a tool-making species, then new forms, hardy or contentious;
later, clearing skies and melting glaciers;
then, storms, floods, more extinctions, migrations, ecological changes and rising sea levels;
meanwhile, human colonists building coastal towns destroyed by rising seas and a capital city in the middle of a large astrobleme.

Note: many interesting and dramatic events occurred before humanity arrived.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Kazan

"...the Kazan, Cauldron, huge astrobleme on the continent Rodna, a bowl filled with woods, farmlands, rivers, at its middle Lake Stoyan and the capital Zorkagrad. Her father was voivode of Dubina Dolyina province, named for the gorge that the Lyubisha River had cut through the ringwall on its way south from the dying snows."
-Poul Anderson, Sir Domininc Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 499.

The snows are dying because, although human beings had colonized Dennitza six hundred years ago during an Ice Age, there is currently a Great Spring, causing storms, floods, extinctions, ecological changes, migrations and rising sea levels. The Kazan is not far inland but sheltered by its walls from the northerly winds. Gospodar Bodin Miyatovich keeps a hunting lodge on the tundra far north of the Kazan.

In Zorkagrad, the executive center is the Zamok, a creeper-covered ancestral stone castle with turrets, battlements and banners above steep tile roofs in Old Town, twisting lanes, broad boulevards and the docks on the Lake which stretches west over the horizon. The surrounding country has both Terran and native foliage. From the Zamok, both the Lyubisha River flowing from the north and the Elena flowing to the east are visible. The latter enters the ocean on the Obala, the east coast of Rodna.

Building On Earlier Installments

In Chapter I of Poul Anderson's A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, Dominic Hazeltine, son of Dominic Flandry and Persis d'Io, tells Flandry that human beings from Dennitza in the Taurian Sector may be planning to go over to the Merseians and meanwhile are inciting revolution on Diomedes where insurrectionists also hope to receive help from the Domain of Ythri.

Regular readers are already familiar with Flandry, d'Io, the Taurian Sector, Merseians, Diomedes and Ythri. Thus, here is a good example of an installment of a future history building on earlier installments while also advancing the story line. The two new elements, Hazeltine and Dennitza, are specific to this volume.

A Stone In Heaven introduces Ramnu but re-uses Hermes. The Game Of Empire introduces Imhotep, Daedalus and the Zacharians but reuses the Starkadians, who have been settled on Imhotep, Cynthians, who have a town on Daedalus, and Foredweller ruins, in this case explored by a Wodenite, another race already familiar to us.

Each volume combines the new with the familiar, thus unraveling a history both coherent and dynamic.