Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Margin Of Profit: Conclusion

Definitely the last post for 2014, folks! Poul Anderson's texts keep amazing us, or at least me, with how much can be drawn out of them but it will be good to take a break. I never know whether I have reached the end of reflections on the History of Technic Civilization. The attached image, a cover for Trader To The Stars, seems to show van Rijn's Mercury capturing the Borthudian Gantok in "Margin of Profit"?

"...the Borthudian frigate...was a darkling shark-form, only half the tonnage of the dumpy merchantman but with gun turrets etched against remote star-clouds."
-Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009), p. 163.

Although I think that Rise Of The Polesotechnic League would be a more appropriate title for Volume I of Baen Books' The Technic Civilization Saga, I increasingly appreciate the pertinence of The Van Rijn Method.

Van Rin tells Torres to "'...pull us up quick...'" (p. 167) but, as we read on, the immediately following "...reversion to normal state..." (ibid.) is described as the Borthudian's "...last, desperate move, killing his oscillations, dropping solidly back into the ordinary condition of things..." (p. 168), out of hyperspace. Pulling apart so quickly would have caused stresses in the linking force-beams that, in turn, would have destroyed both ships. However, the Terran ship has "...a detector coupled to an automatic cutoff, for just this possibility." (ibid.) In that case, why does van Rijn say "'...pull us up quick...'"? Readers without technical backgrounds must struggle with the technicalities, especially when these include technologies like, e.g., hyperspace and tractor and pressor beams, that do not yet exist, although Anderson writes as if he is familiar with them.

In normal space, Mercury's beams hold Gantok so close that the latter's weapons cannot be brought to bear. If the Borthudians try to board, a small pressor can flick them into space. I did not think of these possibilities but Anderson and van Rijn address them in any case. While going out onto the hull to make a repair, van Rijn:

"...was surrounded by a darkness-whitening star-blaze." (p. 166)

Long may we travel through space with van Rijn, Falkayn and Flandry.

"A Glory Of Suns"

"Heaven was darkness filled with a glory of suns. Viewscreens framed the spilling silver of the Milky Way, ruby spark of Antares, curling edge of a nebula limned by the glare of an enmeshed star. Brightest in vision stood Borthu's, yellow as minted gold."
-Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009), p. 160.

Recent posts have summarized:

the problem in "Margin of Profit";
suggested solutions;
van Rijn's solution.

However, this does not exhaust the story as the above quotation demonstrates. Anderson often describes space and stars as seen from a spaceship, mentioning familiar details like nebulae and the Milky Way. However, the descriptions are always fresh. In this passage, the phrase, "...a glory of suns...," replaces "...a wilderness of stars..." which we have encountered several times before. See here and here.

I will continue rereading "Margin of Profit" and will then revisit "Hiding Place" which also has Nick van Rijn in action in space instead of receiving reports from subordinates in the Winged Cross.

Margin Of Profit: The Solution

See here and here.

Each completed round trip to Antares makes an average thirty per cent profit, although the Borthudians currently capture fifteen percent of the ships that travel that route. Nicholas van Rijn reinforces his ship, the Mercury, and gives it a super-powerful engine with pressor and tractor beams able to deflect, then capture, the Borthudian ship that attacks it. This refitting of the ship costs three times as much as the ship can expect to earn. However, van Rijn will redesign only every fourth ship.

Thus, he will still lose three of every four ships attacked. However, the Borthudians will gain twelve slaves from three out of four encounters whereas van Rijn's company will capture twenty Borthudians from each fourth encounter so that the Borthudian press gangs, never knowing which League ship will be able to fight back, will soon be whittled down.

The Spacefarers had voted not to take ships through the Kossaluth of Borthu but will now volunteer because, when the Kossaluth loses so many press gangs that it has to negotiate, the indemnities exacted will be large enough to enable each freed slave to retire for life whereas, if the Kossaluth negotiates immediately, then it will be able to "'...send students to our academies for not much more than the usual fees.'" (The Van Rijn Method, p. 172, my emphasis)

If the Borthudians simply stop attacking, then their precarious empire will not last long, especially since the League will import subversionists and guns. Van Rijn, of course, has covered every angle.

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Antarean System

See here and here.

Antares, expanding, has engulfed its inner planets. Thus, its remaining planets are uninhabitable but contain mineral wealth. Also, the system is a convenient location for a trade center in the Antarean Sector. Therefore, there is "...a human population equal to that of Luna." (The Van Rijn Method, p. 169) (How many is that?)

A single League cruiser protects this colony from "...bandits, political agitators and other imaginable nuisances." (ibid.) I cannot imagine what the other nuisances are? If the agitators protest against some of the injustices that we have seen perpetrated by League companies, then I would support them. Working conditions in the mines are bad and criminals are assigned to them. Penal reform sounds like a legitimate political demand.

Nicholas van Rijn, Master Merchant Polesotechnic League, visiting the Antarean colony with a cargo of cinnamon, ginger, pepper, cloves, tea, whisky and gin, feels entitled to:

stay at the governor's mansion in Redsun City;
make free use of its wine cellar and concubines;
consume banquets for three days;
check prices and add a millicredit per gram to pepper;
lounge on the governor's throne, served by three girls, to interview a prisoner.

The business with the pepper is pure van Rijn. The colonists can afford an extra millicredit and, in any case, their alternatives are to do without condiments or to synthesize them at twice the cost. Van Rijn feels entitled to his "...honest profit..." (ibid.) but helps himself to it only when he has calculated that it is socially and economically feasible for him to do so.

Possible Solutions, Part II

See here.

Suggested by Mjambo, owner of Jo-Boy Technical Services:
bomb the Borthudian home planet.
Objections by van Rijn:
repeats what he said to Torres;
plus - to kill billions is both wrong and wasteful.
Suggested by Firmage of North American Engineering:
limited action against the Borthudian navy.
"'...we cannot afford it.'" (The Van Rijn Method, p. 149)
Suggested by Firmage:
we will but it takes too long;
competitors beyond the Kossaluth are taking over the Sagittarian frontier now.
Suggested by Firmage:
improve evasive action.
eighty five percent do evade but the fifteen per cent loss is unacceptable;
cutting engines and lying low does not work very well.
Suggested by Firmage:
convoy the ships.
it would mean running at a loss.
Suggested by Firmage:
arm our ships.
an unarmed ship needs four men whereas an armed ship needs twenty - again, too expensive.
Suggested by Mjambo:
give our ships pressor beams to hold the enemy away.
Objection by Kraaknach of the Martian Transport Company:
beams are powered by the engines and naval engines are more powerful than merchants'.
Suggested by Mjambo:
give League crews small arms.
Objection by van Rijn:
four men cannot hold off twenty.
Suggested by Gornas-Kiew of the Centaurian conglomerate:
reduce profit just enough to invest in military equipment for the duration of the emergency.
Objection by van Rijn:
repeats earlier arguments against military action;
find a way to make continued attacks unprofitable for Borthu...;
ten percent of everyone's Antarean profits for ten years to anyone who solves the problem at his own risk and expense...

The Problem In Margin Of Profit

Nicholas van Rijn's Solar Spice & Liquors Company supplies cinnamon and London dry gin to Sector Antares. Other companies of the Polesotechnic League also have markets there:

"'...if Jo-Boy Technical Services bring in no more engineers and scientists, the colonies will train up their own.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009), p. 140.

Surely that is what the colonies should do in the long term? Maybe Jo-Boy should open a training center in a colony?

However, there is a more immediate problem:

"'...certain irresponsible elements of [Technic] civilization...'" (p. 150) have for high pay helped to modernize the backward terrestroid planet Borthu which has been forcibly united by a paranoid culture and has built an interstellar empire that includes the route to Antares. Borthudians detect the wake of a League ship, intercept, phase in, hit with a tractor beam, haul alongside and burn through the hull. They want not the cargo but the trained crew whom they condition to work for them, to maintain their forty light-year diameter empire, the Kossaluth of Borthu. Fifteen percent of shipping is lost. The Federated Brotherhood of Spacefarers votes and refuses to take ships through the Kossaluth.

Possible Solutions, Part I
Suggested by Lodgemaster of the Brotherhood Captain Torres:
Detour, either through astronomically more hazardous regions or by a safer albeit further route.
Objections from van Rijn:
Double or quadruple voyage length! Halve or quarter deliveries! Boost salaries and other costs! Losses would be greater traveling through the Gamma Mist or the Stonefields {Interjection: I would like to know what those are. PS.}. Crews would be dead, not prisoners whom we can try to get released. The safe route would mean an absolute loss.
Torres: "'We'll face meteoroid swarms, infrasuns, rogue planets, black holes, radiation bursts, hostile natives -'" (p. 142) but not Borthudian impressment. (It is good to see rogue planets mentioned again.)
Suggested by Torres: A punitive expedition would be guaranteed full crews.
Van Rijn: the League lacks a large combat fleet. Force can be used against a planetary ruler but not against an enemy capable of interstellar war, which would in any case bankrupt many companies. The government of the Solar Commonwealth would accuse the League of imperialism or piracy and might even help Borthu.
Torres: League measures short of war?
Van Rijn: Threats, trade offers, sanctions and attempted assassinations have not worked. We have nothing to bribe them with. Avoiding their territory will suit their cultural isolationism.

A Few Details In Margin Of Profit

(i) "The office was big, an entire side transparent, overlooking a precipitous vista of Djakarta's towers, green landscape hot with tropical gardens, and the molten glitter of the Java Sea."
-Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009), p. 139.

This is the kind of colorful detail that makes it worthwhile to reread Anderson's works. The office belongs to Nicholas van Rijn. Although the story focuses on the activities of a few key individuals, we imagine the population living and working in the Djakarta towers, cultivating and enjoying tropical gardens and sailing on the Java Sea.

(ii) Early extrasolar colonization is called the Breakup in Sandra Miesel's Chronology of Technic Civilization (pp. 611-619) but I wondered whether this term was used in the texts. See here. It is, in this van Rijn story and in at least one Dominic Flandry story.

(iii) Janie (p. 148), native to Avalon, grows in van Rijn's Kilimanjaro mansion just as livewell, also native to Avalon, grows in the floating city of Delfinburg.

(iv) Van Rijn wears a "...cloak of phosphorescent onthar skin..." (p. 147). I thought that this was an animal from Ramnu. However, Ramnuans ride "...onsars..."
-Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), p. 5. 

Treacherous Behavior?

On Cain, the dominant species, the Yildivans, has no social group larger than a family. Cubs leave their parents as soon as they are old enough. A young male, accompanied by his Lugals, claims a territory where he is later joined by one or more young female Yildivans. Each household is a patriarchal forest settlement in a hut or cave. There is occasional barter, joint hunting or conflict between individuals but that is all.

Lugals are like: if, instead of domesticating and breeding wolves, early homo sapiens had domesticated and bred another hominid species; thus, bipedal, talking dogs, so many that each Yildivan, even each child, has several.

Yildivans are hunters, artists, magicians etc whereas Lugals are laborers and messengers but, if intelligent, boss other Lugals and teach the Yildivan young.

"'The Yildivans are the creators and innovators, the Lugals the communicators and preservers.'"
-Poul Anderson, David Falkayn: Star Trader (New York, 2010), p. 287.

And both species are biologically adapted to these roles, thus incapable of questioning or defying them. Essentially hunters, the Yildivans practice primitive cultivation and metallurgy and farm for fabric. The Yildivan Shivaru chases a large horned animal, jumps on its back and kills it with an ax. Then his Lugals cut and carry the meat, edible by human beings but lacking some vitamins.

Having been friendly, the Yildivans suddenly buy modern weapons, leaving Lugals as security, then attack with the weapons, aided by the Lugals. This would be treacherous behavior, by their standards as well as by ours, except that they have come to believe that the human traders are the equivalent of wild dogs. See here.

On Cain

Copied from Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments, 28 Dec 2014.

On Cain, why did the dominant species, the Yildivans, suddenly attack van Rijn's traders, then back off?

Per's and Yuschenkoff's Theory
The Yildivans feared that the traders were the spearhead of an invasion. However, when the traders treated prisoners decently and used stunners instead of blasters, they realized that they had been mistaken.

Manuel's Theory
Because the Yildivans must struggle to survive, they value courage and combat skills above anything else. Therefore, they despised human beings who used machines and weapons that killed at a distance. However, they changed their minds when they had experienced how terrible human beings are in warfare.

Van Rijn's Explanation
The Yildivans are intelligent wild animals with no idea of a tribe or an army, therefore no fear of invasion. They accepted human beings as their equals until they saw other traders taking orders from Per Stenvik, then concluded that all but Per were equivalents of their Lugals, intelligent domesticated animals. Then Per introduced the idea of God, a master above Per, making Per also a Lugal. Finally, he denied that he took orders from God or from anyone else, making him a wild Lugal, the equivalent of a wild dog.

They changed their minds because they saw Per's men disobey an order, which no Lugal would have been able to do, and also act with restraint, which no wild Lugal would be able to do.

Corollary About Religion
Yildivans have no gods because, as wild animals, they acknowledge no masters.

Margin Of Profit

"Margin of Profit":

was an early sf short story by Poul Anderson (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1956);

introduced Nicholas van Rijn;

had to be rewritten to be incorporated into Anderson's major future history series, the History of Technic Civilization;

was quoted but not included in the first van Rijn collection, Trader To The Stars;

thus, for some readers, acquired the special status of a defining van Rijn story that we had not read yet;

was included in The Earth Book Of Stormgate and, of course, in the definitive The Technic Civilization Saga.

What's not to like?

Personal flashback to September 1956:

I was seven and living in (a different part of) the North West of England;
in that very month, September, I started to attend a boarding school near Glasgow in Scotland;
I read comic strip science fiction and superheroes;
Dan Dare fought bald, green, imperialistic Treens just as Dominic Flandry, whom I did not know yet, fought bald, green, tailed, imperialistic, green Merseians;
that first term in Scotland was when I realized that years were numbered and that we would very soon be in 1957;
I did not suspect that, in late December 2014, I would be discussing the works of an American prose science fiction writer on a planetary computer network.

Sunday, 28 December 2014


(Please also check Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments, here.)

"The picture showed a bit of a compartment aboard [a Baburite's] ship...The fittings and furnishings were too alien for her fully to see."
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 150.

"He gazed about him, and the very intensity of his desire to take in the new world at a glance defeated itself. He saw nothing but colours - colours that refused to form themselves into things. Moreover, he knew nothing yet well enough to see it: you cannot see things until you know roughly what they are. His first impression was of a bright, pale world - a watercolour world out of a child's paint-box; a moment later he recognized the flat belt of light blue as a sheet of water, or of something like water, which came nearly to his feet. They were on the shore of a lake or river."
-CS Lewis, Out Of The Silent Planet (London, 1963), p. 46.

- in fact, a Martian "canal."

HG Wells imagined a further strange sensory experience in space. Bedford, returning to Earth in the Cavorite sphere, is enclosed in a uniform unchanging environment with no alteration of day and night. Further, he is weightless and alone. Becoming psychologically detached from his physical body and former identity, he conceives himself as an eternal consciousness peering into space-time through the aperture of Bedford.

We might in space experience what some have recounted on Earth.

Labyrinthine Links

The human colony planet Ansa has been forcibly annexed by the Terran Empire in "Sargasso of Lost Starships," Planet Stories, 1952;
 Nicholas van Rijn likes Ansan onion soup;
Per Stenvik drinks Ansan vermouth;
Tabitha Falkayn hopes to visit Imperial planets, including Ansa;
Ensign Helen Kittredge may have had leave "...on Ansa, which is like an idyll of Terra." (Flandry's Legacy, p. 278);
Sandra Miesel's Chronology of Technic Civilization lists "Sargasso of Lost Starships" but did not mention that this story involves the forcible annexation of Ansa until it was revised for Baen Books' The Technic Civilization Saga, Vol I, 2009;
"Sargasso..." is collected for the first time in Vol III, 2011.

This summary of references to Ansa was prompted by rereading "The Master Key," in which Per drinks his vermouth and recounts his experiences on the planet Cain. The recent post, "Bargaining On This Basement," gives a link to "Cain" and the link displays the results of a search for "Cain." The results include two very recent posts, including "Bargaining..." itself - and now probably also this one -, but also the two that I was looking for from 2012 and 2013. However, these posts do not disclose as much as I had expected about the Cainites so I will continue to reread the story. See here.

In "Hiding Place" and "Territory," van Rijn himself is out in space. In "Margin of Profit," he is on Earth but receives a report from one of his captains and, after conferring with colleagues, accompanies the captain into space. In "Esau," he is on Earth and receives a report from a factor. The narrative conventionally switches from conversation to the factor's adventures on Suleiman, then back to conversation. "The Master Key" remains a conversation with five speakers while Per and his ensign recount their adventures on Cain. Thus, the van Rijn stories differ considerably in structure.

Aliens And God

Would it be advisable to introduce Terrestrial religious ideas to extraterrestrials who did not already entertain similar ideas? In science fiction, the answer to this question depends on the religious beliefs of the author.

CS Lewis' Elwin Ransom, stranded on another planet, wonders whether he should begin the "religious instruction" of the natives. When they say that Oyarsa must decide his case, he hypothesizes that Oyarsa is either a ruler in a palace or a god represented by a priest in a temple. To test the latter idea, he asks whether Oyarsa made the world and receives a shocked response. Do the people of Thulcandra (Earth) not know that Maleldil made and still rules the world? Where is Maledil? He is with the Old One. Where is the Old One? It is not his nature to be in any place... They are telling Ransom what he had been going to tell them.

In a short story by Harry Harrison, literal-minded extrasolar beings are puzzled because a newly arrived missionary preaches the omnipresence of God whereas the established trader, when asked, denies the existence of God. How to resolve this contradiction? Crucify the missionary to see whether he is raised up... And thus learn guilt.

In Poul Anderson's "The Master Key," the Cainites treat another intelligent species as domesticated animals. In their world-view, every intelligent being is either a master or a slave and escaped slave would be dangerous. One of van Rijn's men explains the idea of God but, when asked, denies that God or anyone else ordered the traders to come to Cain. The traders had a master but no longer obey him. They are escaped slaves and must be attacked without warning. (Addendum: I have expressed that slightly wrongly and will return to it in a later post.)

In Anderson's Technic History, two Wodenites convert to Terrestrial religions. See also here.

"Bargaining On This Basement"

Where most people would see monsters, Nicholas van Rijn sees intelligent beings that it is possible to deal with although he does not make the mistake of thinking that their intelligence is like ours or, even worse, that it is some Platonic Idea of "Reason." Instead, he finds out how they evolved and thus what they value. He showed this on T'Kela and when responding to his employees' reports from Cain.

Now he negotiates with four-eyed, eight-legged, hydrogen-breathing, collectivist Baburites who have waged war against Technic civilization. The Baburites, realizing that they have been misled, want to make peace although the Solar Commonwealth government, serving the interests of the Home Companies, might continue to wage war demanding unconditional surrender. Van Rijn, the leading independent, suggests to the Duchess of Hermes that Hermes and the independents:

stop fighting;
exert their influence against continued conflict;
even hint that they will join with Babur to resist it;
thus, influence Commonwealth public opinion against its government.

The Duchess finds it difficult to side with "'...these...creatures. After what they've done.'" (Rise Of The Terran Empire, p. 278)

- but van Rijn points out that the alternative is worse. Next he proposes:

Hermes takes over Mirkheim under a treaty stating that they will license any legitimate companies;
they tax just enough to repair damage caused by the war and to buy industrial equipment;
Babur disarms, especially since its ships would have needed continual maintenance from its supposed allies;
the Commonwealth should then make peace;
Hermes guarantees Babur's safety and a fair share in Mirkheim;
thus, Babur becomes a protectorate of Hermes.

The Duchess is dumbstruck but agrees to "'...start bargaining on this basement...'" (p. 279)

- and van Rijn swings his chair back to start doing business with the alien monster/Baburite waiting patiently on the screen.

Details And Waste

Athena Falkayn wears "...a necklace of fallaron amber." (Rise Of The Terran Empire, p. 216) "...and fallaron trees bloomed golden..." (p. 273) beside the Palomino River. It is possible that Poul Anderson, remembering that he had used the word "fallaron" once, decided to use it again but it is more likely that he had created an entire ecology for Hermes, that many details of that ecology did not make it into the text and that this is a detail that did appear twice. A similar detail for the planet Avalon is "livewell," a plant that is introduced to Earth and that has a street named after it in an Avalonian city.

War is wasteful not only of the lives of intelligent beings but also of all that they have built. The following dialogue drives this point home:

"'The enemy are concentrated in that stout stone building,' Adzel said. 'Our first move will be to neutralize it.'
"'Destroy, you mean?' John Falkayn said. 'oh, merciful Christ, no. The records, the mementos - half our past is in there.'
"'Your whole stinking future is here,' Chee snapped.
"Positioned, the artillery cut loose." (p. 274)

Of course Colonel Falkayn must choose his whole future over half his past but I hope that, by the twenty fifth century, such choices will have ceased to be necessary. Thus, although I enjoy reading the Technic History and admire its political realism as well as its creative imagination, I hope that we will build a better future than it on Earth and in space.


Copied from Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments, 28 Dec 2014:

Benoni Strang's workers on Babur have a secret base on a Baburite moon. The Baburites' oxygen-breathing mercenary army get a whole planet which they know as Pharaoh.

About a million human, Gorzuni, Merseian and Donarrian mercenaries occupy Hermes with a comparable number held in reserve. Recruited in many places on dozens of planets, either they did not register on anyone's statistics or, if some League company did notice, it did not inform anyone else.

"Space is too big, and we too divided."
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 220.

Isolated for years of training and preparation on Pharaoh, the soldiers have accumulating pay, beer halls, brothels, a multi-sensory library and a hot, wet, barely terrestroid, permanently clouded, planetary environment to explore. The clouds prevent them from learning where Pharaoh is. Falkayn thinks that it is more likely to be inside known space. Outside, it could be discovered by explorers, who continually expand known space. Inside, it might already have been explored once but dismissed as of no interest.

Learning that they are working for Babur against the Solar Commonwealth does not demoralize highly disciplined mercs who were recruited precisely because they were already alienated from Technic civilization.


Copied from Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments, 26 Dec 2014:

Ayisha, a Luna-sized Baburite moon, has a dimly lit, airless, cratered, stone surface and a black sky showing unwinking stars and the amber planet with its bands of white, ocher and cinnabar clouds.

On Ayisha's surface, the domes of a secret project hold:

Terrestrial gravity;
breathable air;
a ball court;
a swimming pool;
good food and wine;
a handicraft shop;
an amateur theater;
a vice section.

Staff spend a significant part of their lives in the system, have no leaves and receive no visitors and their mail is censored although good pay accumulates at home. Anyone who resigns has their memory wiped. What this shows is that people with technology can master hostile environments while retaining discreditable motives. The motto of Lancaster University is patet veritas omnibus, "truth lies open to all." However, in the future of the Technic History, scientific accomplishment is still accompanied by commercial and political secrecy.

The Mystery Of Mirkheim

Copied from Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments, 26 Dec 2014.

The following propositions are facts within Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization:

planetary systems do not condense around giant stars;

Beta Centauri is a giant star with planets because, while it was condensing, its nebula retarded, then captured, a group of rogue planets;

van Rijn says in "Lodestar" that scientists are still trying to figure out how the red giant Betelgeuse has planets;

Mirkheim was a planet of fifteen hundred Terrestrial masses orbiting a star as bright as a hundred Sols.

So how did Mirkheim exist? We are told how it was found:

"From the known distribution of former supernovae, together with data on other star types, dust, gas, radiation, magnetism, present location and concentrations, the time derivatives of these quantities: using well-established theories of galactic development, it is possible to compute with reasonable probability the distribution of undiscovered dark giants within a radius of a few hundred parsecs....The most you can learn is the likelihood (not the certainty) of a given type of object existing within such-and-such a distance of yourself, and the likeliest (not the indubitable) direction."
-Poul Anderson, David Falkayn: Star Trader (New York, 2010), p. 653.

But the "...given type of object..." has to be possible, however improbable, in the first place. Surely Astrocenter would not have been able to compute the probability of a condensing giant star capturing several rogue planets? So how was Mirkheim's probability computed?

New Year, New Directions

Curiously, even when there is a link from a post on Poul Anderson Appreciation to Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments, the latter blog receives far fewer page views. For this reason, I will shortly copy the last three posts from that blog onto this one.

I will have more domestic responsibilities, therefore possibly less time for blogging, some time in the New Year. I have stayed inside Anderson's History of Technic Civilization for as long as possible. However, I have now reread all the installments of this future history series so recently that I may have come to an end, temporarily, of what I can post about them.

I have yet to finish reading the Poul Anderson's Planet Stories ebook and there has been some delay in following up the NESFA collections after Volume 1. Meanwhile, with the Technic History, it has become easier to view this series as a whole. As discussed previously, it has three main sections:

the Extended Earth Book of Stormgate (see also here);
the Flandry period;
the post-Imperial Age.

The Extended Earth Book
Two interweaving strands, human-Ythrian interaction and the Polesotechnic League;
Master Merchant Nicholas van Rijn is prominent in the League but his protege, David Falkayn, is prominent both in the League and in human-Ythrian interaction.

Planets Introduced In The League Period That Remain Important Later

The Flandry Period
Young Flandry
Outposts of Empire
Captain Flandry
Children of Empire

The Post-Imperial Age
the Long Night
the Allied Planets
civilizations in several spiral arms, including one served by the Commonalty and another, I deduce, with a "Second Empire"
the era of the Galactic Archaeological Society

Mirkheim, Prologue

Poul Anderson's Mirkheim has an unusual thirty-page, nine-part Prologue with dated headings.

Y minus 500,000.

A giant star goes supernova and one planet is so large that its core survives, covered in supermetals.

Y minus 28.

Benoni Strang lands on Babur and begins to cooperate with the Baburites.

Y minus 24.

This passage gives us our first sight of David Falkayn's home planet, Hermes, and informs us that Sandra Tamarin, who had been with Nicholas van Rijn on Diomedes, has had a son, Eric, by van Rijn.

Y minus 18.

Falkayn finds Mirkheim and founds Supermetals.

Y minus 12.

The Imperial Band has united Babur and Strang begins to arm them.

Y minus 9.

Coya Conyon has married Falkayn and will join his trade pioneer crew. The Polesotechnic League has become cartelized.

Y minus 7.

Eric Tamarin witnesses League injustice on Valya.

Y minus 5.

Strang's group has a base on a Baburite moon. Strang is fanatically opposed to injustices on his home planet, Hermes. I accept Anderson's characterization of Strang but hope that it can be recognized that other Hermetians may be equally opposed to the same injustices without becoming fanatics.

Y minus 1.

Mirkheim is discovered independently...

Thus, of the nine parts:

three are about Mirkheim;
three about Strang;
two about Tamarins;
one about van Rijn and co.

However, there are other interconnected themes. Van Rijn, speaking to David and Coya, complains about the degeneration of the League, Eric experiences it and Strang, we are yet to learn, is a major part of it.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Windy Rim

(This is definitely the last post of 2014. I want to end with a round number and am unlikely to do another ten before New Year. I do not know what 2015 will bring but we will find out.
(Thank you all for many page views and various communications during this past year.)

(Addendum: However, a companion blog has acquired a new post.) (Also here.)

Windy Rim, the ancestral mansion of the Tamarins on Hermes, is enclosed by forest above the Palomino River opposite the Arcadian Hills. Twenty four years before the Babur War, Sandra Tamarin and Peter Asmundsen step out onto a terrace above the river. Shortly after that war, Sandra and Nicholas van Rijn, the father of her son Eric, step out onto what must be the same terrace.

On the first occasion, Sandra and Peter manage to propose to each other:

"'...Pete, I'll admit to you, I wish Eric were legitimate. That his father were a man who could bide with us.'
"'Something of the kind might be arranged,' he blurted."
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 7.

And what happens?

"The breeze lulled, the tilirra chanted, the river laughed on its way to the sea." (ibid.)

The reader notices that laughter after a mutual proposal is appropriate even if s/he does not recognize the literary device called the pathetic fallacy.

On the second occasion, when Sandra has been widowed for several years, van Rijn comes as close as he ever will to a proposal when he invites her to "'...take the Long Trail with [him]...'" (p. 287), on an expedition right outside of known space.

Inside the mansion, Eric and David Falkayn drink and talk in a wood-paneled study with leather books, family portraits, a gun rack and a window open to the sound of the river. Falkayn says:

"'You're going to Lorna and marry her. I'm going to Coya and our kids...Here's to the lot of them...They're what life is all about, right?'" (pp. 282-283)

And that is the last that we see of van Rijn, Falkayn, Sandra or Eric.

Lists Of Planets

To recapitulate, because the Seven in Space cartel allied itself with the imperial rulers of the subjovian planet Babur, the Navy of Hermes and some independent League companies attacked installations of the Seven on or near the planets:

St Jacques (uninhabited but in the same system as Esperance);

Of these eight planets, including Babur and Hermes, only St Jacques was previously unknown to us.

Later, Avalon is colonized from Ythri and Hermes. The Avalonian Tabitha Falkayn hopes to visit:


Terra, its fleet led by an Admiral from Nuevo Mexico, attacks the Domain of Ythri, including Avalon, from Esperance. Again, ten planets, all previously known to us. For example, Esperance had a mission on T'Kela and van Rijn had a Ramanujan captain when he confronted Borthu. St Jacques, T'Kela and Borthu are rare examples of planets mentioned only once.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

After Mirkheim

Happy Christmas. I might not post tomorrow.

The concluding, twenty first, chapter of Mirkheim recounts three conversations:

Eric with Falkayn;
van Rijn with Sandra;
Adzel with Chee Lan.

After Mirkheim, there is a period, with no stories set in it, when David Falkayn runs Solar Spice & Liquors and Nicholas van Rijn travels around in Muddlin' Through, a total role reversal except that:

van Rijn is not trade pioneering but repairing the damage caused to the Polesotechnic Leagueby its recent civil war;

he is not accompanied by Adzel or Chee Lan - they have returned to their home planets to prepare against the times to come, for which they will often confer with each other.

During this period, van Rijn and Falkayn transfer records from Earth to Hermes, thus providing material for the later Earth Book Of Stormgate (see also here).

Next there is a period when:

David and Coya lead the colonization of Avalon;
van Rijn (we think) leads an expedition outside known space, possibly accompanied by Sandra who would by then have been succeeded on Hermes by Eric.

"Wingless," (see also here) in which Nat Falkayn remembers Ythrians visiting his grandfather David in Chartertown, is set towards the end of this further period but presents the perspective of a young human Avalonian visiting an Ythrian choth. We do not see David or Coya on Avalon.

A Little Goes A Long Way

Athena Falkayn appears in only a single passage, in conversation with her son, David.

Colonel John Falkayn also appears in only a single passage, in combat alongside Adzel and Chee Lan.

Admiral Michael Falkayn does not appear but dies in combat in space.

Vicky Falkayn also does not appear but is mentioned once by Athena as the single sister of David, John and Michael.

We had known that David was a younger son in an aristocratic Hermetian family but not who his older brother was or anything else about the Falkayns back on Hermes. By contrast, Mirkheim discloses so much that it might surprise some readers to realize just how brief are the information-giving passages. But not a word is wasted.

After such long familiarity with David, it is good to see two other Falkayns in action:

David commends his mother for conveying intelligence about occupied Hermes;
John is unkempt, grimy, gaunt and roughly clothed, his uniform a blue band with a colonel's insigne cut out of metal.

John leads the liberation of Starfall but not every character can get their own series.

The War Against The Seven In Space

See previous post.

On Hopewell, miners, builders and industrialists have transformed a rich land into dumps, slag heaps, pavements, waste outlets and a poisoned river. Few colonists protest because they have room to live elsewhere and because Abdallah Enterprises controls the planetary government, at least until the Free Hermetian Navy destroys the company's centrum.

Although the Baburites cannot immediately restart production on Mirkheim, they do let Stellar Metals have already stockpiled ingots on a profit-sharing basis and Stellar contracts with Interstar Transport for transportation. Free Hermetians board the freighters, dispatch their crews in lifeboats and confiscate the ships with their cargoes. Stellar, Interstar and Timebinders Insurance make massive losses.

Free Hermetian commandos land on Ramanujan, rendezvous in Maharajah, overcome the guards at XT Systems and set explosives to wreck equipment and destroy data stores. Consequent unemployment, bankruptcies, dislocations and civic upheaval generate demands for politicians loyal to the planet, not to XT, and Parliament dissolves.

Union bosses are bribed to call a technicians' strike in the Sanchez Engineering project on St Jacques on the ground that the war makes work too hazardous.

Two independent companies, Sindbad Prospecting and the Society of Venturers, raid and loot Galactic Developments' entrepot on a Germanian moon, thus enriching themselves while punishing the Seven for their alliance with Babur. Germanian police do not intervene and the government, claiming to have been taken by surprise, appropriates Galactic Developments' remaining local assets.

The Seven, helped by Babur, attack the bases of hostile companies which, however, have been evacuated. Independents want a share in Mirkheim, reduced competition from the Seven and meanwhile plunder so they regard their losses as an investment. Hermetians and privateers, unlike Baburites, can resupply, attack and hide anywhere. The Commonwealth, seeing the Baburites driven back, begins to attack and intensifies its attacks when they are not resisted. When Timebinders Insurance stops payments, the Seven must negotiate.


In haste en route to Christmas Eve party. Will extend this post later. Poul Anderson fans, please correct me when I get something wrong. I have spotted one definite error...


See here.

The error is that Hopewell was mentioned in "A Sun Invisible" and in Mirkheim. It must be difficult to appreciate all of the interconnections in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization on a single reading. I notice many of the internal cross-references because I continually reread and blog about the series.

For example, Vixenite colonists, like Donarrians and Ymirites, feature in the Imperial period of the History and therefore are appropriately referenced in Mirkheim which was written later although set earlier.

The Seven In Space (see here)
Galactic Developments
XT Systems
Interstar Transport
Sanchez Engineering
Stellar Metals
Timebinders Insurance
Abdallah Enterprises

Abdallah Enterprises guards its centrum on Hopewell with a single orbiting corvette which is unexpectedly attacked by the Hermetian destroyer, North Atlantis. Because the approaching destroyer beams a warning, the corvette replies with missiles and an energy beam. The Hermetian dodges, disintegrates the pursuing torpedoes, then counterattacks, with an energy weapon and pursues the fleeing corvette while destroying or diverting missiles and absorbing cannon shots, until the survivors surrender.

Meanwhile, Muddlin' Through enters atmosphere with Falkayn broadcasting that the Free Hermetian Navy is about to destroy the installations of a company that has conspired with the Baburites. With Falkayn steering and van Rijn manning the weapons control turret, Muddlin' Through destroys a swarm of defense aircraft, lets staff evacuate the centrum, then destroys it with a fifty kiloton torpedo. Centrum becomes crater.

Again the theme of the novel: looking down at the centrum's "...splendid towers..." before destroying them, Falkayn thinks:

"This was a grand era in its way. I too will miss it."
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 266.

FSF British Edition Vol 1, No 1

I have received as a present a copy of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: British Edition, Vol 1, No 1, December 1959, featuring "The Sky People" by Poul Anderson, although I cannot find its cover on the Internet. "The Sky People" belongs in a collection of the three Maurai short stories to be followed by Orion Shall Rise and There Will Be Time. In FSF, "The Sky People" fills 38 double-columned pages so it is quite substantial. I rarely read all the stories in a magazine or anthology. This one also has Bradbury, Bester, Howard Fast (!) and Asimov on science, specifically on vacuum, but not yet knowing about Dark Matter.

The first Dominic Flandry story that I read, not yet knowing that it was part of a series, was "The Game of Glory," in a British edition of Venture Science Fiction in the 1960's, which I should still have on a shelf in the cellar. These are interesting artifacts to have even though the stories by Anderson have rightly been republished in more durable form.


Sandra, Eric, van Rijn and Falkayn meet in the wardroom of the Hermetian space fleet flagship which has stonebark wainscoting, cyanops leather and pictures of:

Cloudhelm seen from an Arcadian hill;
the Rainbow Desert;
nighttime phosphorescence in the Corybantic Ocean.

None of these names has had to be specially invented for this scene. We have seen Falkayn in a forest of stonebark and rainroof and Sandra hunting a cyanops in the Arcadian Hills. Falkayn has flown over the Arcadian Hills beyond which lie Starfall and the Auroral Ocean. The single Hermetian continent, Greatland, separates the two Oceans.

Anderson has made Hermes seem to be such a real place that he is able to evoke its quiddity again by a few brief phrases describing the room in which the Grand Duchess, her son, her son's father and the father's protege hold their fateful meeting about the future of Hermes.

JRR Tolkien is rightly commended for his detailed creation of Middle Earth. How many fictitious planets are realized in the History of Technic Civilization as well as in Anderson's many other works of hard sf?

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

"Martin Schuster"

In Mirkheim, the Grand Duchess of Hermes' "...entrykeeper..." informs her:

"'Madame...Martin Schuster is waiting to see you.'"
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), 234.

Although I have reread Mirkheim as often as the next Poul Anderson fan, this name surprised me and momentarily made me think that I had missed yet another of this novel's references back to earlier installments of Anderson's History of Technic Civilization. Martin Schuster was a Master Polesotechnician on Ivanhoe way back in "The Three-Cornered Wheel" so what is he doing visiting Lady Sandra Tamarin in Starfall?

I had temporarily forgotten that Schuster had had an apprentice called David Falkayn and that that same Falkayn has now made a clandestine return to occupied Hermes. He must be seeking an audience with the Duchess under this assumed name and this proves to be the case. However, this (mis)use of Schuster's name does serve a literary purpose. "The Three-Cornered Wheel" and Mirkheim are respectively the first and last works in which Falkayn appears. Thus, the name of his former Master bookends the Falkayn sub-series and reminds us of how far he has come.

Falkayn's presence and influence continue throughout the Rise... omnibus collection which opens with Mirkheim. In "Wingless":

"...Nat Falkayn rarely saw winged folk in the early part of his life. When an Ythrian did, now and then, have business in Chartertown, it was apt to be with his grandfather David or, presently, his father Nicholas..." (pp. 295-296)

And, in The People Of The Wind, which closes the volume, David Falkayn is remembered as the Founder.

Donarrians And Ymirites

When Poul Anderson's Mirkheim was published in 1977, it not only tied together multiple strands from earlier installments of Anderson's Technic Civilization future history series (see here) but also made anticipatory references to two alien races that had already appeared but in installments set later in the fictitious history.

"...oxygen-breathing mercenaries, human, Merseian, Gorzuni, Donarrian - adventurers, the scourings of space..."
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 181.

(I am reminded of a Doctor Who episode that contained the memorable dialogue: "You should have seen them, the scum of the galaxy!")

As already noted, Merseians and Gorzuni had been introduced in earlier installments. A Donarrian had appeared in "Sargasso of Lost Starships," published in 1952 but set centuries later. This post about intelligent quadrupeds lists three Donarrians and also three Wodenites although it misses the Wodenite Nadi who appears in "Lodestar" and Mirkheim. The travelers in A Game Of Empire would have visited a Donarrian settlement on Daedalus but, unfortunately, their itinerary changed.

The other race anticipated in Mirkeim is the Ymirites. I think that otherwise they are mentioned only in "Hunters of the Sky Cave"/We Claim These Stars!, which is where they appear. Since the Baburites are hydrogen-breathers, Anderson's characters naturally wonder whether the hydrogen-breathing Ymirites are also involved if only in conflict with Babur. However, the Wodenite Adzel points out that Ymirites, inhabiting Jovian planets, are as unlike Baburites, inhabiting a subjovian planet, as they are from oxygen-breathers inhabiting terrestroid planets.

This does not prevent the organizers of a secret army from hinting to their mercs that the Ymirites have an interest... Disinformation: the Ymirites, also suspected in "Hunters of the Sky Cave," genuinely have no interest in the activities of inhabitants of small planets.

Monday, 22 December 2014

A Few More Details About Hermes

(This may be the last post for December although I am not sure yet. We have just returned from a solstice ritual.)

Hermetian trees include stonebark and rainroof.
Ornithoids and buzzbugs fly between them.
One flying predator is called a steelwing.
Athena Falkayn wears "...a necklace of fallaron amber." (Rise Of The Terran Empire, p. 216)
The Falkayn manor house derives its name from the nearby Hornbeck brook.
Wyvernflies fly above the brook.
Terrestrial food and drink taste odd to Hermetians so no doubt the reverse would be true.

Sandra Tamarin flies near the Palomino River as it crosses an agrarian property of the Runeberg domain. She sees red-tiled houses of Follower families and the Runeberg mansion which, she knows, contains ancestral portraits and long tradition.

The Insignia Room, its walls decorated only by the colorful devices of the thousand Kindred, is on a high floor with a view of sky and distant ocean. Grand Duchess Sandra sits at her desk before a three dimensional communication screen occupying half a wall and displaying the image of a hydrogen-breathing Baburite conqueror in his ship in synchronous orbit above Starfall.

The theme of Mirkheim is that times change. They can hardly change more than this.

Old And New In Mirkheim

Mirkheim is the first of six works collected in Volume III of Baen Books' seven-volume The Technic Civilization Saga and is also the turning point novel of Poul Anderson's forty three installment future history series called the History of Technic Civilization. Because it is a turning point, Mirkheim gathers together many characters and plot elements that had already appeared in the eighteen earlier installments collected in Volumes I and II but also introduces new background information that is so seamlessly welded into the History that readers may not recognize its novelty.

I have summarized the contents of the early Technic History previously but this time the purpose is to identify how many important data are pre-Mirkheim.

Of the eleven works collected in Volume I:

"Wings of Victory" mentions the planets Cynthia, Woden and Hermes;
"How To Be Ethnic In One Easy Lesson" introduces the Wodenite Adzel and the Polesotechnic League;
"Margin of Profit" introduces Nicholas van Rijn, Master Merchant, Polesotechnic League;
"The Three-Cornered Wheel" introduces the aristocratic Hermetian David Falkayn as a League apprentice on the planet Ivanhoe;
"A Sun Invisible" discloses that Falkayn is now employed by van Rijn and introduces the planet Vanessa;
"The Season of Forgiveness" describes later events on Ivanhoe;
The Man Who Counts shows van Rijn with Sandra Tamarin, future Grand Duchess of Hermes, on Diomedes, a planet that Dominic Flandry will visit in Volume VI;
"Esau" features van Rijn and introduces the Baburites.

Of the seven works collected in Volume II:

Falkayn, Adzel and the Cynthian Chee Lan work for van Rijn in four;
van Rijn cameos in the first of these four and shares the spotlight with Falkayn etc in the third and fourth;
the first, "The Trouble Twisters," introduces the planet Ikrananka;
the second, "Day of Burning," introduces the planet Merseia;
the third, Satan's World, introduces much but for present purposes we should note the planet Gorzun;
the fourth, "Lodestar," introduces van Rijn's granddaughter, Coya Conyon, the planet Mirkheim discovered by Falkayn, then independently by van Rijn, the Supermetals Company secretly founded by Falkayn, the Wodenite Nadi and an unnamed Ikranankan working for Supermetals, and discloses that this company represents many poorer planets.

In Mirkheim:

Falkayn has married Coya;
Sandra has become Grand Duchess of Hermes and will be succeeded by Eric, her son by van Rijn;
we learn that Supermetals also represents Ivanhoe, Vanessa and Gorzun;
the League has split into two rival cartels and many independents;
the Baburites, employing disaffected human beings and Merseians and secretly armed by a League cartel, seizes Mirkheim and invades Hermes;
van Rijn reassembles Falkayn, Adzel and Chee Lan to investigate Babur;
Supermetals, through Nadi, asks Hermes, through Sandra, to take possession of Mirkheim;
we are now told for the first time many details about Hermes and about the Falkayn domain.

South Pacific Sunset

"Burnt orange shading to molten gold and far-flung coral, sunset lay extravagant over the ocean. Light bridged the waters from horizon to surf. High in the west stood Venus."
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 202.

I often commend Anderson's descriptions of natural beauty but this passage is particularly striking. Chee Lan rides Adzel along a beach. A lesser writer would have proceeded directly to their conversation. And that conversation is of the imminent coming to an end of their way of life. Thus, the sunset is yet another pathetic fallacy.


"'Oh, I regret nothing. The years have been good. I will but wish my children have the same fortune I did, to fare among miracles.'" (p. 204)


"'I likewise...though I'm afraid - I'm afraid we've had the best of what there was. The time that is coming -.' Her voice trailed off." (ibid.)


"'You are not compelled to endure the future today...Let us savor this final adventure of ours for what it is.'" (ibid.)

Anderson sustains this feeling of finality from, in this edition, p. 1 to p. 291. The reader knows that the History continues but accepts that the Polesotechnic League has had its day - and also savors the characters' responses to the end of their era.

The Corporate State

Hanny Lennart:

is a vice president of Global Cybernetics;
is also "...the guiding genius..." (Rise Of The Terran Empire, p. 64) of the five Home Companies;
and serves the Solar Commonwealth "...at a credit a year as Special Assistant Minister of Extrasolar Relations" (p. 195).

Now I know exactly what Poul Anderson's omniscient narrator means when he refers to "...the corporate state" (p. 142) and adds:

"For that is what the Solar Commonwealth became. No longer distinct from politicians or bureaucrats, the magnates of the Home Companies gained a powerful say in decisions about matters far removed from finance or engineering." (ibid.)

No doubt Commonwealth citizens have elected Members of Parliament and the leader of the majority party has become Prime Minister and has appointed a fellow MP as Minister of Extrasolar Relations but who has elected this Special Assistant Minister? Already powerful in Global Cybernetics and the Home Companies, she now gains more power by "serving" the Commonwealth, supposedly at no gain to herself since she is paid only "...a credit a year..."

Lennart tells Story and van Rijn:

"'As for the Commonwealth, we've now had fifty years of progressive reforms to strengthen democracy.'" (p. 68)

- to which van Rijn replies:

"'By damn...maybe you really believe that.'" (ibid.)

The rival cartel within the Polesotechnic League is the Seven in Space and now we are told that the "guiding genius" of the Home Companies cartel is a Special Assistant Minister of Extrasolar Relations! Who, furthermore, expects that the Cabinet will approve her proposal of support for the exiled Hermetian Eric Tamarin and who also has "'...the authority and duty to rule on [Eric's] temporary status'"! I cannot join van Rijn in invoking St Dismas but I see his point nevertheless.

Sunday, 21 December 2014


On Luna, Bayard Story tells Hanny Lennart and Nicholas van Rijn:

"'...I happen to be a former xenologist, who specialized in subjovians. I've studied all records the Seven have of their dealings with [Babur]. I've been there myself...'"
-Poul Anderson, Mirkheim (New York, 2011), p. 72.

On Hermes, Benoni Strang tells Sandra Tamarin:

"'I've been a xenologist, specializing in subjovian planets and Babur in particular.'" (p. 192)

Thus, these two men have the same initials, the same former profession, the same specialism within that profession and close knowledge of the same planet, Babur. We also know that Strang has armed the Baburites and that Story is high in the "Seven in Space" cartel which, alone among human organizations, does not object to the Baburites seizing Mirkheim. Yet I did not draw any conclusions from all these clues on my first reading of Mirkheim.

For more information on Story/Strang, see here and here.

Chaos And Order

Reflecting on the Solar Minister of Security's hostility to the Solar Spice & Liquors Company, David Falkayn thinks:

"He loathes us because we've never either joined or toadied to the coalition of cartels, politicians, and bureaucrats. To him, we represent Chaos."
-Poul Anderson, The Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), pp. 167-168.

How many works by Anderson present this basic conflict between freedom, "Chaos," and control, "Security"? For once, I will not try to write a complete list. In Anderson's first future history, the Psychotechnic Institute opposes not freedom miscalled chaos but real chaos: insanity; nationalism; war; totalitarianism. Totalitarian plots to impose order merely compound chaos. The Institute, if it had succeeded, would have (genuinely) reeducated, not (merely) indoctrinated.

In other works, those who value security try to eliminate those who prefer unpredictability. The earlier form of this conflict is between bureaucrats on the one side and entrepreneurs or explorers on the other. The later form is between superhuman artificial intelligences on the one side and the whole of humanity on the other. The transition occurs in Harvest Of Stars. Humanity is extinct in, ironically, Genesis.

Military Intelligence

Poul Anderson presents detailed descriptions of battles in space in Ensign Flandry, The People Of The Wind and The Game Of Empire, e.g., see here, here, here and here. Mirkheim gives us a tangential perspective on a similar battle.

The space navies of Babur and of the Solar Commonwealth clash at Mirkheim but our heroes are not in the battle. The consciousness-level computer-spaceship, Muddlin' Through, arrives just after hostilities have begun. Only one of her three crew members is human and none has Solar citizenship. Their job is to spy for a private company, Solar Spice & Liquors.

They destroy a missile launched towards them by a Solar craft and watch the battle without intervening. When a Baburite craft has been destroyed, they board it to gather information and evidence. How did the Baburites arm so quickly? Where did their space technology come from? The incompetent Solar Navy will probably not gather intelligence but the SSL crew, by reporting back to their employer, Nicholas van Rijn, might help to end the war.

Time Past And The Threshold Of The Future

In Poul Anderson's Mirkheim, Lady Sandra Tamarin asks herself:

"Is our time past? Is the whole wild, happy age of the pioneers? Are we today crossing the threshold of the future?"
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 116.

- thus summarizing the theme of the novel. In one sense, we are always at the threshold between past and future. No one ever lives in anything but their own present. Nevertheless, times are changing yet again in Lady Sandra's period. It is fitting that Mirkheim opens an omnibus collection entitled Rise Of The Terran Empire even though the Empire itself is not proclaimed until much later in this volume. A lot more has to happen before that but it all leads in the same direction. Van Rijn, Adzel and Chee Lan also make telling statements about changing times but I have quoted them earlier on this blog. See here.

However, in a vast three dimensional spatial universe, the age of the pioneers need never be over. During the Breakup, human beings left the Solar System. When times change, they can leave known space. Van Rijn, who had looked old but "...refused to be pitiable..." (p. 254), tells Sandra:

"'...maybe we will lead a little expedition quite outside of known space, for whatever we may find... You take the Long Trail with me!... A universe where all roads lead to roaming. Life never fails us. We fail it, unless we reach out.'" (p. 287)

"...roaming..." is perhaps van Rijn's most appropriate malapropism although I also like "...daring exploitation..." (p. 36) as a portmanteau combination of "exploration" and "expedition."

Never The End.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

On The Bridge

We have become familiar with the bridges of large, faster than light, interstellar spaceships through watching Star Trek, even though I strongly doubt that any such craft will ever exist. The Apollo Missions were dissimilar in every way to The First Men In The Moon. Interstellar travel, if it ever happens will not be as it has been imagined. (A good British TV adaptation of The First Men... ingeniously fitted Cavor and Armstrong into a single timeline. See here.)

Poul Anderson, of course, gives us bridges of ships in hyperspace, e.g.:

"On the bridge, optical compensators projected an exact simulacrum of whichever half of the sky they were set to show."
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2011), p. 78.

David Falkayn sees:

"...a wilderness of stars..." (ibid.);
the Milky Way;
the Magellanic Clouds;
the Andromeda galaxy.

A simulacrum is necessary because stellar images would be Dopplered and distorted at near light speeds and I do not know what would happen to them in hyperspace. We read what Falkayn sees in the projected simulacrum but not what his bridge looks like. The omniscient narrator is more forthcoming in another ship later:

"Save where viewscreens showed heaven, the admiral's bridge was a narrow and cheerless cave. It throbbed slightly with engine beat; the air blew warm, smelling faintly of oils and chemicals." (p. 111)

Descriptions of bridges have become another kind of detail to look out for.

Falkayn Remembers...II

See here.

Here is the full list of what David Falkayn remembers:

wingsailing with Coya at Lunograd;
a red sun permanently above an Ikranankan desert;
his father stern about noblesse oblige (see here);
holding his newborn daughter;
The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie (see here);
his first night with Coya;
his last youthful drinking arguments;
Rodin's Burghers of Calais (see here);
the light of two moons on the Auroral Ocean;
a firefall between two stars;
with Coya, seeing crooked towers in a city of a new planet;
his mother demonstrating the rainbow with a prism;
a snowball fight with Coya at an Antarctic resort;
an Ythrian in flight;
with Coya in Muddlin' Through when she had joined the trader team.

Having read of his previous exploits, we know that he could also remember Ivanhoe, Garstang's, Vanessa, Schloss Graustein, Merseia or the Shenna. Those "...crooked towers..." are another tantalizing glimpse of Coya's five year mission as a member of the trade pioneer crew.

Planets In Mirkheim

Poul Anderson's sf novel, Mirkheim, features or refers to the following planets:

Hermes (see also here, here and here)
Diomedes (see also here)
Vanessa (see also here)
Merseia (see also here and here)
Cynthia (see also here)
Gorzun (see also here and here)


Tidal action has forced one hemisphere of the small, eccentrically orbiting, librating planet Ikrananka to face its red dwarf sun but such slow rotation generates a weak magnetic field so that the planet retains an atmosphere although most of its water has frozen on the cold side making the warm side a slowly deteriorating desert whose inhabitants, struggling for survival in their season-less, rhythm-less environment, regard nature as hostile, believing in demons but not in gods, whereas dwellers on the edge of the Twilight Zone, with rain, snow, day, night and constellations, more conventionally believe in an annually dying and rising god and a single devil whose power can be neutralized. The latter are easier to trade with.


In the Cerulian system, resonance with the jovoid planet Ogre has multiplied perturbation and brought the eccentricity of the terrestroid Vixen's orbit close to one-half so that, with a 24 degree axial tilt and midsummer nearly at periastron, once every eighteen month year the northern hemisphere is scorched with four times the radiation that Terra receives from Sol - snow melts, rivers overflow, lakes bake dry, storms rage, fires break out, erosion prevents mountain formation, hot wind blows dust and ash across dry plains.

- Ikrananka and Vixen copied from here.

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Divided League

Hermes is a human colony planet.
Babur is a subjovian planet.
Mirkheim is a source of industrially valuable supermetals.

The Polesotechnic League comprises the Home Companies, the Seven in Space and the independents.
The Supermetals Company is non-League.

The Seven have armed Babur.
The Supermetals Company, helped by an independent, has not artificially generated the supermetals that it sells but mined them on Mirkheim.

Now that the second secret is out:

Babur claims Mirkheim;
the Home Companies say that the Solar Commonwealth should control Mirkheim;
the leading independents argues that Mirkheim, a stateless planet, should be protected by the League, which Supermetals would join;
Supermetals asks Hermes to take possession of Mirkheim;
the Seven say that the League should deal with whichever power gains Mirkheim.

How many sf novels present a four-sided conflict?

Van Rijn, the leading independent, meets Lennart of the Home Companies and Story of the Seven. They cannot agree but some things are learned from the meeting. Story knows that van Rijn helped Supermetals. Lennart lets slip that the Commonwealth has sent a task force to Mirkheim...

In Mirkheim, as in The People Of The Wind, Poul Anderson shows various groups of people gradually moving towards and preparing for war on an interstellar scale. Let us hope that this never happens in reality.

There is also humor. Van Rijn's waist is described as "...his Jovian equator." (Rise Of The Terran Empire, p. 66) His churchwarden pipe "...had seen years of service and grown fouler for each day of them." (p. 67) If only life could remain on that level.

See also here and here.

The Lunar Surface In Science Fiction

We are used to reading descriptions of the lunar surface in science fiction:

Verne's characters look down on it;
Wells' land on it;
Heinlein's live there.

However, from his suite in the Hotel Universe, Poul Anderson's Nicholas van Rijn sees an altered landscape. Forcefields hold air, an ozone layer, soaring trees and fountains, great blossoms and lamps on vine-like posts although beyond them are a crater floor, a ringwall, jewel-like stars, the silver Milky Way and the blue and white Earth, all making van Rijn's opulent suite look tawdry.

David Falkayn visits Elfland in Lunograd, a park with grass, arbors, flowers, tall trees and fountains, towers, colonnades, birds, elevated streets, small suns on bronze vines and an Avenue of the Sphinxes although again beyond them are a crater floor, a ringwall, stars in a black sky and Earth with the lights of megalopolises visible on its night side. Although technology makes the Moon inhabitable and even comfortable, the stellar universe remains beyond the works of men.

Going one stage further, Poul Anderson also wrote a short story about a project to terraform the Moon.


A Supermetals spokesman speaking in Starfall on Hermes says that technology:

eases labor;
preserves health;
prevents famine;
gives mastery of nature.

However, planets like Woden, Ikrananka, Ivanhoe and Vanessa, able to market only spice, fur, art, oils or minerals, cannot afford spaceships, power plants, automatons, laboratories or schools.

Although the technology to help them exists:

David Falkayn, discoverer of Mirkheim, must break his oath of fealty to van Rijn by giving this source of valuable supermetals to the poorer planets instead of to his own employer;

the poorer planets, organized as the Supermetals Company, must lie about the source of the supermetals that they sell to Technic society;

when the source is revealed, Supermetals' property rights in Mirkheim are denied and war is waged for possession of the planet.

This is all very unfortunate but also all too plausible.