Friday, 31 January 2014

Hard Fantasy

I stated earlier that there is a clear line between fantasy and sf and quoted Poul Anderson even though he goes on to deny that there is a borderline! But I partly disagree with him. A very occasional story can of course sit right on the borderline but it does not follow from this either that there is no borderline or that the vast majority of works of imaginative fiction are not clearly to one or the other side of it.

Anderson cites "Wireless" by Rudyard Kipling, which I have not read so I am dependent on Anderson's summary. Is a departed spirit supernatural or electromagnetic in nature? if this question is both asked and unequivocally answered, then the question is either fantasy or sf accordingly. However, if the question is asked but not answered, then the story inhabits the borderline. (I met a guy who paid rent to one county and rates to another. One local authority owned the land whereas the other administered it.)

In "Fantasy in the Age of Science" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), Anderson suggests that the age of science requires at least some fantasies that are as rigorous as hard sf, stating their premise (magic works, gods and/or demons exist), then logically deducing unexpected and entertaining but fully consistent conclusions from those premises. Apparently, John W Campbell, having nurtured hard sf in Astounding/Analog, then published what I am calling "hard fantasy" in a newly founded "...companion magazine, Unknown Worlds." (p. 278)

Classic hard fantasies include:

Magic Inc by Robert Heinlein;
Operation Chaos by Poul Anderson;
Operation Luna by Poul Anderson;
Black Easter by James Blish;
The Day After Judgment by James Blish.

These five are all written by hard sf writers. Readers might not notice or care that here is a different genre. The Operation... novels are related to Magic Inc as Anderson's Psychotechnic History is to Heinlein's Future History.

The Operation... diptych and Blish's diptych are each part of a greater body of work.

Fantasy In The Age Of Science

In "Fantasy in the Age of Science" IN Poul Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), Anderson describes astrology as a "...superstition..." and a "...fraud..." (p. 280), but an astrologer friend has told me things that were true, as have a Tarot card reader and a spiritualist medium. I think that these phenomena require further research either to find out how they can tell the truth or at least to find out how they can seem to do so.

"Emotions seem to be functions of chemistry, the brain seems closely analogous to a computer, one entire school of psychology even denies that the word 'consciousness' has any meaning." (p. 282)

Emotions, even if functions of chemistry, are conscious events that it is helpful to understand. If the word 'consciousness' had no meaning, then we would not be conscious of the fact. I have been persuaded by John Searle's argument that brains are not analogous to computers. Computers, whether mechanically or electronically, manipulate symbols without knowledge of their meanings whereas brains generate consciousness which understands symbols and knows their meanings.

"Many [sensible people] will tell you, for instance, in considerable detail, that the Resurrection of Christ is better attested than most events we take to be historical." (p. 270)

Some of those people are doing what I used to do, rationalizing their indoctrination. My attempt to understand the origin of the Resurrection story is in "Evidence for the Resurrection" on my Religion and Philosophy blog.

I fully endorse Anderson's warning in this article that the causes of Naziism are unfortunately still with us.

Fantasy And SF

There is a clear line between fantasy and sf. Poul Anderson delineates the distinction in "Fantasy in the Age of Science" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981). Sf is "...a literary form which tried to deal with these enormous changes..." (p. 271), of the industrial and scientific revolutions, whereas fantasy is "...free to bring in the completely supernatural, that which is beyond nature and forever unamenable to the scientific method." (ibid.)

Sf writers address science but also acknowledge myth. The full title of the first modern science fiction novel is Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. This simultaneously initiates a new recurring character (there is a new Frankenstein film as I write) and invokes a pre-Olympian god.

James Joyce, addressing life in general if not science in particular, referred to Homer in Ulysses.

A Science Myth

Science has myths as well as fiction. A myth is a meaningful story that recurs in fiction but is independent of any text. Thus, we all know of the Flood whether or not we have read the Biblical account of it. In that myth, the universe was created by separating the waters. The Flood undid the creation and thus was an interval between the Adamic and Noachian universes. A third universe is created in the last Biblical book.

A cyclical universe is a feature of ancient Oriental and modern scientific cosmologies. In the scientific myth, cosmic expansion is slowed, then reversed, by gravity; there is a collapse to a point from which re-expansion begins.

This myth is in at least three of Poul Anderson's works:

in Tau Zero (hard sf), a continuously accelerating relativistic spaceship carries its crew, like Noah's Ark, into the next cosmic cycle;

in "Flight to Forever" (hard sf), a time machine carries its occupant into the next cosmic cycle;

in "Pact" (humorous fantasy, not Anderson's best), a demon compelled by a compact carries an astronomer's soul into the next cosmic cycle.

By "myth," I do not, in this case, mean a falsehood. Thus, the cyclical universe, in Stapledon's, Anderson's and other sf, could remain both a meaningful story and a current scientific theory. However, the cosmic expansion is not slowing but accelerating due to the as yet not understood "dark energy" which has the potential to generate new myths.

"Beam Me Up"

"...another creature flashed into sight on a metal plate and stalked toward the room beyond."

- Poul Anderson, "Interloper" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), pp. 178-210 AT p. 195.

"Interloper" was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1959, when I was ten. Children of a later generation can hardly read the half sentence quoted above without thinking, "Star Trek! Transporter!" - although the original sf term would have been either "teleporter" or "matter transmitter." (The Justice League of America even came up with "transmatter.")

We might also think, "Beam me up, Scotty!" That phrase was used ironically at the end of a realistic British TV drama about redundancy and unemployment. There was no way that the character saying it was going to disappear. But, if he had disappeared from Liverpool Docks to reappear in the transporter room of the Starship Enterprise, that would have been a crossover.

In "Interloper," the viewpoint character, Beoric, surprised to see the creature flashing into sight, immediately deduces that his hosts have "'...somehow managed to apply the interstellar drive principle to short distances.'" (ibid.) He is told that, "'The true minimum distance is about a hundred miles...'" (p. 196) So this "transporter" or "teleporter" is an application of the faster than light (FTL) drive. Teleportation is far less common in sf than FTL and, when it does occur, it is not usually an application of the latter.

Beoric is also surprised to learn that his hosts can communicate telepathically across interplanetary distances. They are powerful indeed.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

City And Field

Poul Anderson's "Interloper" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981) contrasts city with countryside as perceived not by a human being but by an Elf. Because it is night, the city, New York, is said to sleep:

"...only the dull yellow lamps and an occasional furtive movement in the shadows and alleys had life. It was near the ebb time of the great city's life; it slept like a sated beast under the sinking moon." (p. 192)

By contrast:

"The fields and woods, hills and waters and sky, never slept. There was always life, a rustle of wings, a pattering of feet, a gleam of eyes out of the night, there was always the flowing tide of nervous energy, wakeful, alert. Life lay like a sea beyond the city..." (ibid.)

Because he senses life, Beoric the Alf, or Elf, has never been really alone until he enters the sleeping city where "...there was nothing wild to run in the fields and leap in the moonlit waters." (ibid.)

He does sense a few rats, a couple of cats, some insects, an occasional wakeful human thought and the sleeping human life force "...with all their pain and sorrow and longing turned loose to wander in their minds." (ibid.) The occasional waking thought seems "...to echo in the vast hollow silence of the city...alone." (ibid.)

I try to paraphrase but it is difficult to stop quoting Anderson's succinct words. These reflective passages are part of a story about the Elves defeating extraterrestrial invaders of Earth. Anderson gives us far more than we might expect to find in a story with such a theme.

Alfheim

In Poul Anderson's "Interloper" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981):

long ago, maybe in the Archaeozoic, there was a common origin for "ordinary" life and another kind thriving in darkness and seeing by infra-red but unable to bear actinic light;

the difference is metabolic, not chemical;

the two kinds are mutually digestible but cannot interbreed;

nocturnal life evolved a telepathic humanoid species, the Alfar (Anderson uses "...to telepath..." as a verb (p. 191));

the nocturnal metabolism involves high rates of both anabolism and catabolism, entailing centuries of life but also rapid decay after death, leaving few or no fossils;

the nocturnals cannot compete with ordinary life which endures both day and night and reproduces faster;

the Alfar are declining and nearly all other nocturnal animals are extinct;

silver, iron and other metals catalyze rapid proteolysis and oxidation of Alfar tissues;

neolithic and Iron Age humanity drove out the Alfar and destroyed their cities;

the Alfar now hide in wastelands;

the last Alfar-human encounter was three hundred years ago;

the Alfar king is Oberon - was that last encounter with William Shakespeare (who died a little more than three hundred years before the publication of "Interloper")? 

Do We Benefit From Being Exploited?

In Poul Anderson's "Interloper" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), representatives of several extrasolar species have told the viewpoint character, Beoric, how in different ways they exploit humanity yet an Arcturian adds:

"'...such civilization can be very beneficial to the subjects.'" (p. 200)

In humanity's name, how? Well, there is an answer.

"'About two hundred years ago, we started an industrial revolution here and made its progress as rapid as the Denebians permitted. We controlled the booming industry...We led the native researchers to take the lines leading to success...'" (pp. 200-201)

The Arcturian lists the results:

population doubling every century;
standards of living steadily rising;
planetary resources put to use.

Beoric reflects on the reverse side of the coin: wars, pollution, waste, poverty, misery, lack of self-determination. These fictitious non-human characters discuss real issues of human history. They also have two sides of the truth, I think.

It would have been better for humanity to have been left to its own devices - or to have received some benign intervention if such were feasible. However, interaction is how life works and, if there are diverse rational species with faster than light drives, then some will interact. An industrial revolution with the consequences listed by the Arcturian is preferable to a continuation of ancient despotisms, especially since industrialization creates at least the possibility of human beings learning the truth and acting upon it. The Arcturian hypocritically rationalizes his own species' manipulation of humanity. Clearly, he will not help any human beings towards understanding or self-determination but unintentionally he has made those outcomes more possible.

Society progresses, and can regress, through contradictions and conflicts with or without extraterrestrial intervention.

Interloper II

The earlier post about Poul Anderson's short story, "Interloper" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), pp. 178-210, was written from memory whereas this current post is being written after rereading the story. That first post gave away all the surprises. The viewpoint character, Beoric, is an Elf but initially poses as an ET.

In the story, real ET's have been on Earth for about four thousand years, humanly perceived as evil supernatural beings - trolls, goblins, demons, dragons - but more recently, for the most part, their presence has been clandestine:

the insectoid Procyonites suck sleeping Terrestrials' blood and
consume waking Terrestrials' radiated nervous energy, thus lowering their victims' energy and intelligence and generating vampire legends;

the octopoid Altairians study historical processes;

the reptilian Sirians maintain a military base and refueling station and eat human beings;

the vulpine Arcturians secretly direct industry and remove some of its products for their own use;

the quasi-humanoid Denebians control the secret multi-species interstellar empire and telepathically draw mental energy from "...the directed minds of whole planets..." (my emphasis) (p. 202).

In order to direct minds, the Vaettir (the Denebians) direct history towards regimented thinking. Such thought is "...the most useful.." (p. 202). And this is all because these Denebians cannot think of anything positive to do, like appreciate truth and beauty or help others. A Denebian is, at least in his own estimation, intolerably weary with "...the despair of the ultimately evolved being who has nothing left to achieve..." (p. 203)

- nothing except empathy, compassion and contemplation.

Thus, mankind, observed dispassionately by the Altairians, is exploited biologically by the Procyonites and Sirians, economically by the Arcturians and mentally by the Vaettir. The single human being to appear in the entire story is a depersonlized janitor in the building, a disguised spaceship, where "...the grand control council for Sol..." meets (p. 194).

In Anderson's "Details," benign aliens secretly, albeit ineffectually, direct human history. By contrast, the five extrasolar species in "Interloper" are as malign as can be, using humanity and hating each other, the science fictional equivalent of demons.

However, one other rational species is involved, neither human nor extraterrestrial. Mankind is unaware both of its exploiters and of its allies.

Hard HF

Poul Anderson suggests (see "Thud and Blunder" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), pp. 159-177) that heroic fantasy (hf) should be more firmly grounded in:

knowledge of military hardware;
the difficulties of pre-technological travel;
the inadequacies of ancient or medieval medicine;
the complexities of urban civilizations;
etc.

I agree. It sounds as though hf of this sort would need to be called "hard hf" to differentiate it from mere "sword and sorcery" just as "hard sf" has to be differentiated from "space opera." In hard hf, the realism might overshadow the supernaturalism?

I got into reading Poul Anderson because of his sf, then read anything else by him, but this does not make me a fan of hf as such. I have read Anderson and some of Tolkien and Moorcock and that is about it - although see below. I dislike Tolkien's anti-Darwinism. The various kinds of beings, Elves, Dwarves etc, merely "awoke." How? What was their physical origin?

A while back, a guy called Art told me that he was helping a local fantasy writer to draw maps of a fictitious world. A while after that, a bunch of guys in a Lancaster pub, including a Larry and a Colin, were arguing about the Spanish Civil War. After the argument, Larry told me that I should ask Colin about his books, adding that he wrote the "Farlander" series. As a matter of fact, Farlander is Volume I of the Heart Of The World series.

Colin (Col Buchanan) took from his rucksack hardback copies of Volumes I and II, all that had been published so far, signed them and gave me them. Of course, I read both. I think that this series might count as "hard hf." Its fantasy element is indeed subordinate to its social and military realism. Col writes about warfare as if he had been in the thick of it. And these volumes read not like their author's first and second novels but more like the works of an already established writer.

Col left Lancaster for the West of Ireland to work on Volume III. (And I still do not understand what went down in the Spanish Civil War.)

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Crime and Punishment in the Terran Empire, by Sean M. Brooks

Much of the text below was copied by me from a letter I wrote to Poul Anderson on Thursday, November 9, 1988.  With some slight revisions to make them read more like an essay rather than a letter.

I would like to discuss the use Poul Anderson made of the institution of slavery in his Terran Empire stories.  In the Empire's third century, Philippe Rochefort reflected: "Well, we're reviving it in the Empire... For terms under conditions limited by law, as a punishment, in order to get some utility out of the criminal.... (THE PEOPLE OF THE WIND, Ch. IV).  Over two centuries later, Dominic Flandry said in "Warriors From Nowhere" (AGENT OF THE TERRAN EMPIRE): "If you shoot your neighbor in order to steal his property, you are a murderer and a thief, subject to enslavement."  That same story also mentioned the existence of voluntary debt slavery (at least in remote regions of the Empire).  Anderson wrote that "That kind of sacrifice was not in accordance with law and custom on Terra, but Terra was a long way off and its tributaries necessarily had a great deal of local autonomy."  Chapter II of A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS mentions various criminal convicts as being "...sentenced to limited terms of enslavement for crimes such as repeated theft or dangerous negligence."

One convict was sentenced to life enslavement after committing murder. As she said to another character (also in Chapter II of A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS): "What else would you do with the wicked?  Kill them, even for tiny things?  Give them costly psychocorrection?  Lock them away at public expense, useless to themselves and everybody else?  No, let them work.  Let the Imperium get some money from selling them the first time, if it can." Treason is also mentioned as carrying the penalty of life enslavement (death was also used to punish treason).

In Chapter IV of ENSIGN FLANDRY, some infractions of military discipline are punished with a device called the "nerve lash."  Forty-two years later, in Chapter XIV of A STONE IN HEAVEN, some rebels who voluntarily surrendered to the Imperial authorities are chastised with nothing worse than a "...bit of nerve lash."  This means that the Empire's criminal code (both civil and military) ruled that some categories of offenses were most appropriately corrected with corporal punishment.

To sum up, for its human subjects, the Empire used both varying terms of enslavement and corporal punishment to control crime.  Obviously, such a system would have to be adjusted to fit the wildly divergent natures and laws of thousands of non-human races in the Empire.  Crimes committed by a member of one race against another might be punished by the penalties set by the victim's species.  Or limited enslavement and corporal punishment could be used when appropriate.  Imperial law also laid down guiding principles, precedents and uniform penalties for such crimes as murder binding on the Empire as a whole.  This would be to prevent, say, a Cynthian court from judging, perhaps, a Wodenite too capriciously.

Although many in our Western society would condemn the Empire's penal system (for using slavery and corporal punishment), I cannot when considering the failures of the U.S.'s own criminal justice system.  Our reliance on prisons, fines, and "rehabilitation" has not worked.  They do not work because many criminals are bad people who like committing crimes. A good argument can be made that all you can do with such felons is punish them and get some recompensational use out of them or remove them from society.  Many of our jurists and penologists are infected with the Pelagian delusion of man willing himself to sinless perfection.

So the slave girl we see at the Crystal Moon described in WE CLAIM THESE STARS need not, strictly, be thought to have endured an unusually harsh fate by the standards of her time and society.  Most likely, she was convicted of a crime carrying only a limited term of enslavement and the Merseians, being bound to obey the laws of the Empire in such cases, would release her at the end of her term.  Unless, of course, she had been convicted of a crime punished by either life enslavement or the death penalty.

I now offer some of Poul Anderson's thoughts on what I wrote above. As he said in his reply letter dated November 19, 1988, "Actually, although the idea of enslavement as punishment for crime was originally something I threw in mention of to add some "local color," its fuller development in later stories about the Terran Empire resulted, paradoxically, from exploring certain possible consequences of libertarianism."

Anderson went on to say libertarians hate the idea of compulsion and would prefer to make contract the basis of all social interaction.  Next, he declared that this was only an ideal which could be at best approximated.  A libertarian society would minimize or abolish prisons, including attempts at "rehabilitation."  Instead, it would focus on restitution.  A man convicted of theft, for example, would have to return the stolen property or its equal value, plus paying damages, etc.

To again quote Anderson: "But, to take a single, perhaps melodramatic example--though, alas, not unrealistic--suppose a man has raped a woman. Probably he can't pay adequate money damages, not that there's likely to be that much money in the world anyway.  Should he then work for her, unpaid? It seems unlikely he'd would have skills she could use, e.g., gardening, and still more unlikely that she would want him around.  So, there is this contract he's signed, to work for her.  She can sell the contract to somebody else who does have a use for this character--or who is a broker.  Thus libertarianism could result in a revival of chattel slavery!"

Anderson ended by saying this was merely a reductio ad absurdum. But admitted that slavery as a punishment for crime has occasionally occurred in real history.  Finally, he stated he was against such an idea but that many things had come to pass he would oppose.

In conclusion, the irony was that the slavery we see in the Terran Empire most likely had its origins during the libertarian era of the Solar Commonwealth and the Polesotechnic League!

Interloper

(My aim has now become to end January with 40 posts - thus, there will have been 1550 posts since the blog began. I will then catch up with other reading for what is left of this month.)

After the (loosely interpreted) "Historical" and "A-Historical" sections of Poul Anderson's Fantasy (New York, 1981), the third and last section is called "It Could Happen To You" - although I am not sure that it could.

The first story in the third section is "Interloper." I read this story many years ago, I think in an anthology. My next Anderson reading will be to finish "Of Thud and Blunder," then to reread "Interloper."

I remember a certain amount. The story addresses the question, "Why build an interstellar empire?" Sf readers are familiar with interstellar empires but not with that precise question. The story involves extrasolar aliens. That alone would be enough to make this work science fiction (sf). However, it also involves fairies. That on its own would change the story's category to fantasy. However, the fairies are scientifically rationalized so we are back with sf.

It is aliens versus fairies. The fate of Earth is at stake, unbeknownst to human beings - although, in reality, it is we who imagine those other kinds of beings. In this case, "aliens versus fairies" does not mean "science versus the supernatural" because, as already stated, these fairies, intelligent beings secretly coexisting with human beings, are scientifically rationalized.

Thus, this story's "King Oberon" (p. 210) is neither the Shakespearean Oberon of Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest nor the Shakespearean Auberon of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman (see image). However, I do remember that this Anderson short story contains many interesting details, which I will appreciate on rereading.

How To Write HF

Sword and Sorcery is heroic fantasy (hf). Swords are wielded by heroes and sorcery is fantasy.

Poul Anderson's "On Thud and Blunder" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), pp. 159-177, presents advice on how to write hf.

(i) Hf can be set:

in a historical period;
in a preglacial civilization;
in an altered timeline;
on another planet;
in a remote future;
in an invented universe.

(ii) In some of these cases, the author is free to invent geography, history, theology and natural laws. However, if this freedom is interpreted as license to ignore details, then the fiction becomes unconvincing.

(iii) Most, though not all, hf cultures are a combination of Roman Empire with Dark and Middle Ages plus fragments of Egypt, Asia etc. Oriental, Near Eastern, North and Black African, Amerindian and Polynesian milieus can also inspire.

(iv) Peasants, laborers, artisans and merchants are necessary to support nobles and heroes and it matters how these productive classes live, which in turn depends on social and technological conditions. Even a hf author should convey an idea of society as a whole.

(v) Hf should acknowledge afflictions like famines and pestilences.

(vi) Medieval city streets were open sewers, pitch black at night.

(vii) Fear of arsonists, spies and new skills could restrict movement into cities.

(viii) Hf politics should be more complicated than absolute monarchism.

The advice continues and becomes increasingly difficult to summarize in a list. I advise any aspiring hf writer to read the article.

Having abbreviated heroic fantasy as hf (clear enough), Anderson then abbreviates historical fantasy as h'f (very unclear). And how should we abbreviate historical fiction? This abbreviation system needs some basic revision. I am surprised by Anderson's next abbreviation: Wf for "Western fantasy." Westerns can be fantastic but they are not fantasies.

The Barbarian

Poul Anderson's "The Barbarian" IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), pp. 148-158, is an insightful satire.

Conan stories and novels are decipherments, by Howard, de Camp and their successors, of pre-Pleistocene inscriptions. One preglacial people were horse nomads or maybe Centaurs. Serpens was ruled by snake worshipers or possibly by snakes.

A wandering barbarian adventurer would lack civilized values and virtues. His wars would be merely destructive, not also diplomatic. Tireless himself, he would march his troops so fast that they outran their supplies and were too exhausted to fight. He would lack finesse in both social and sexual intercourse. (Some) women would run towards him but even faster away from him. He would alienate allies and depress the economy by destroying wealth. The most prudent course for any civilization is to ensure that he supports their enemies, not them!

This satire is followed by an essay on heroic fantasy which I will reread next.

A Logical Conclusion II

Well, Poul Anderson's short story, "A Logical Conclusion", IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), which I definitely have not read before, does have a logical conclusion which I suppose I ought to leave for others to find for themselves if they have not already done so.

However, there is a related point that can be mentioned here. In some works of fantasy or science fiction, we are asked to imagine a two-way mind transference in which each of the characters finds that his own individual memories, personality and sense of identity are able to remain entirely intact and unchanged even though they have somehow been transferred into the other character's body, which therefore is merely an otherwise unconscious vehicle for whichever of the personalities happens to occupy it at any given time.

Instead, Anderson's character, Greenough, makes the point that:

"'...the mind...ego...whatever you call it...isn't separate from the nerves and flesh. It's a function of them.'" (p. 57)

So what is transferred?

"'What the Goddess replaced was something very subtle. Each of us had full command of the other's language, reflexes, habits, skills. Actual memories of the other's past were blurred and incomplete, but as time went on they improved. Even initially, we could pass muster, claiming a blow on the head had addled our wits a trifle.'" (p. 57)

Yet Greenough in Kendrith's body retains memories of military technologies that he can adapt to Kendrith's world and also memories of the wife and career that await him in New York when he has won the Goddess' war, assuming that he survives it. It is amusing to see Greenough, described as "...a little man..." (p. 55) when he is in his own body, fearlessly and competently leading an attack, killing his enemies and capturing the citadel.

The first person narrator of the opening and closing bar conversations says that he is "'...not interested in half-baked philosophy...'" (p. 82) but I think that Greenough's observations are closer to fully baked:

"'It makes me wonder what the self is...What's the basic thing we call 'I'? Not a bundle of personality traits. You're nothing like the person you were twenty years ago; yet both have been you. Isn't your ego, your inmost identity, isn't it precisely the continuity of experience? The evolution itself from phase to phase of life?'" (ibid.)

Well, we are something like the person we were twenty years ago and some personality traits last a long time. But we also begin, change and cease. The Buddha taught anatta, "no soul," meaning that consciousness is a succession of transient, causally related psycho-physical states, not a permanent, enduring, immaterial, immortal entity. This question is not abstract but practical, faced in meditation. Greenough's "'...continuity of experience...'" is a good description.

Monday, 27 January 2014

A Logical Conclusion

I am checking back through the Poul Anderson collections in my possession for any as yet unread short stories. The fourth story in Fantasy (New York, 1981) is "A Logical Conclusion," originally published in Fantastic Universe, 1960. I recognize that title but have no memory of having read the story. In this collection, it is the first of five works grouped together under the heading, "A-Historical."

The second and third "A-Historical" works are two Cappen Varra stories, "The Valor of Cappen Varra" and "The Gate of the Flying Knives." I have posted on these previously.

The fourth, "The Barbarian," is a fictitious letter written in the Howard-de Camp period of 175,000 BC and I do not seem to have read that either. The fifth is an article, "On Thud and Blunder." I have read this but it makes sense to reread it and to make some comments here.

I have yet to learn the significance of the title, "A Logical Conclusion." The story is told to the first person narrator by a publisher called Greenough in a New York bar - not, unfortunately, in the Old Phoenix. Thus, it is conceivable that Greenough is lying or deluded. However, after four pages of bar conversation, the narration shifts to a third person account from Greenough's point of view in his alternative world where the constellations are the same but unicorns and gods exist and magic works.

A Goddess has moved Greenough's mind into the body of the pirate, Kendrith of Narr, because she wants Greenough's other worldly knowledge to fight a war. For example, Greenough innovates with gliders launched by catapults but, unfortunately, a Warlock on the other side raises a storm that destroys the gliders. Meanwhile, Kendrith must cope as a publisher and lives with Greenough's wife... Or is this what is really happening? I must read on to find out.

Monarchy And Freedom

Well, here is a new way to free a people: become their king, then take an indefinite leave of absence, thus obliging them to develop democracy. Georges I and II were in England but did not speak English. In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Star Prince Charlie (New York, 1976), Charlie Stuart speaks Talyinian but does not stay in Talyina (on the planet New Lemuria). (George I, meaning to say, "I have come for the good of you all," instead said, "I have come for all your goods.")

In both cases, the king's first minister must conduct governmental business on his behalf. Nowadays, the Georges' current successor is the hereditary Head of State whereas the leader of the largest group in the elected Commons is the appointed Head of Government. Thus, Charlie has a precedent and a model for Talinya. He stays there just long enough to establish a bicameral Parliament with financial power in the lower House.

This is a happy ending for the novel but is it also a happy new beginning for Talinya? Only a sequel would tell. Constitutional monarchy is at least preferable to the previous absolute monarchy.

Despite its title and its central character's name, Star Prince Charlie does not present a science fictional version of the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The conclusion:

"Better lo'ed ye canna be.
"Will ye no come back again?" (p. 189)

- is ironic because in our world that song addresses not a distant eternal king but a Pretender who failed and fled.

Alliteration And Humanity

"How grossly ungrateful, no glory goes ever
"To us who do also face anger-swung edges,
"That tales of the deeds may be talked of in towns,
"We careful recorders, we war correspondents..."

- Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Star Prince Charlie (New York, 1976), p. 154.

Awesome, amazing and astonishing alliteration, even involving internal letters and sounds.

Line 1: 4 g's and 4 r's, including 2 gr's, and 2 s sounds.
Line 2: 5 s sounds and 1 rhyme.
Line 3: 4 t's and 3 s's.
Line 4: 3 w's, including 2 we's, 3 c's, 6 r sounds and 2 s's.

Again, the text transcends humor when Charlie realizes that, "...regardless of biology..." (p. 150),  the comical New Lemurians are intelligent, sensitive, brave and basically decent, therefore are men and women with human rights. As it happens, his interstellar civilization, the Interbeing League, already recognizes this, which is precisely why there is a rule of non-interference that Charlie has been drawn into transgressing - although, as someone asked about Star Trek, if they do not interfere, then how can there be a story?

"In spite of his growing distrust of Dzenko, Charlie had to admire the noble. Calm and self-possessed, he went about his work as if it were routine, not a clash which would decide the fate of the kingdom and his own life or death." (p. 149)

We know that Dzenko's motives are far from disinterested. Thus, some of what I am about to write is not applicable. Nevertheless, in his conduct of the battle, Dzenko sounds like a karma yogi (one who controls thought though action) as described to Arjuna by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita:

do your duty;
attend fully to each task, undistracted either by desire for success and praise or by fear of failure and blame;
if you are a theist, then offer each act to God (laborare est orare, to work is to pray), although Buddhists may also practice "working meditation."

One hero of the Roman Republic, summoned by the Senate to lead an army, left his farm, led the army to victory, reported back to the Senate, then returned to his farm. He did not make the mistake of Marius who went disastrously into politics on the strength of having been successful as a general. That Republican hero, whose name I forget, sounds like a Pagan karma yogi.

Meanwhile, back to Star Prince Charlie's predicament, we expect some treachery from Dzenko before the end of the novel. When he has become king, he will no longer need the Prince of the Prophecy.

A Fascinating Artefact

The Crystal Moon, a large, transparent artificial satellite constructed a hundred years previously for Lord Tsung-Tse, then sold by his son for gambling debts, was bought by the then Merseian ambassador who moved it into the Jovian system which belongs to the Dispersal of Ymir, not to the Terran Empire. Massive artificial rubies, emeralds, diamonds and topazes are held in orbit around the Moon by planar gravity fields. Spaceship passengers enter the Moon through transparent tubes.

On the Moon's surface, a domed zero gee conservatory holds a single large sphere of water surrounded by a jungle of mutant ferns and orchids. Tropical fish and visitors to the Moon swim in the water. (In an Arthur C Clarke story, a satellite hotel has a similar zero gee spherical swimming pool but Clarke's version additionally encloses a bubble of air large enough to contain a bar serving drinks to swimmers.) Aycharaych of Chereion, descended from birds, glides gracefully through the zero gee air.

When Dominic Flandry walks through the central part of the Moon with its artificial gravity field, Orion is beneath him.

The current Merseian ambassador buys human slaves to serve in the Moon. The Terran Empire is so decadent that it has not only revived slavery but also allows the sale of human slaves to a Merseian. Would such a slave retain any loyalty to the Empire if her owner involved her in his race's plans to overthrow that Empire?

Alliteration And Air Power

(OK. I wanted to end the month on a round number but it goes against the grain to write new posts and save them for days on end so there will be a few more posts before the end of January.)

"Fearlessly faring and frightful to foes,
"The Prophecy's Prince will prong them on bladepoint.
"Happily goes he to hack them to hash.
"No sweep of his sword but will slay at least five..."

- Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Star Prince Charlie (New York, 1976), p. 148.

I quote this passage because it is alliterative verse which I had neither read nor heard until I received JRR Tolkien's The Fall Of Arthur (London, 2013) as a Christmas present:

"...the West waning,  a wind rising
"in the waxing East.  The world falters." (p. 32)

(Alliteration: West, waning, wind, waxing, world.)

Can we improve on Anderson's and Dickson's alliterations?

"No sweep of his sword but will slay at least six..."?

or:

"No sweep of his sword but will slay six or sev'n..."?

Immediately after the short verse, a lighter than air air fleet attacks a sea fleet. First, the bombers are so high that they often miss their targets with, in any case, inadequate explosives. Next, they come so low that they are "...in easy range of catapults..." (pp. 148-149). Thus, the easily repulsed "...onslaught was a pleasant diversion..." (p. 149). Yet the dictator who sent the fleet has a slogan, 'Victory through air power'!" (ibid.)

Before that, Charlie had discovered that, on New Lemuria, very easy riddles have been kept religiously and ritualistically secret with the result that the Priests expect him to be stumped by, e. g., "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Thus, he easily passes one of the prophesied tests without needing any extra help or outright fakery. And he is moved by the simple sincerity of the New Lemurians in a passage temporarily transcending humor.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

If Ever I Forget Thee...

This may be the last post of this month. I like to work in round numbers and 30 is a respectable number for a 31 day month. Page views increase when posts increase but I can't increase them all the time!

I have just attended an Inter-Faith Holocaust Memorial Day Service at Lancaster Priory Church, where the choir sang from Psalm 137, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem..."

As always happens, I cannot put my hand on Poul Anderson's After Doomsday when I want to refer to it. However, in that novel, all life on Earth has recently been destroyed, the only human survivors being the crews of two exploratory interstellar spaceships. The leader of the American crew is not Jewish or specifically religious but, when the memory of what has been lost hits him, he expresses that loss with the heartfelt cry, "If ever I forget thee, O Jerusalem..."

And that seems an appropriate place to finish for this month.

Flandry's Office

When Dominic Flandry is a Captain of Naval Intelligence serving under Vice Admiral Fenross, he has an office! - although we see him in it only once. While in his office, he dictates into a recorder although a confidential secretary will make a formal report from his dictation. Through a clear wall, he sees the softly colored "...slim faerie spires..." of Admiralty Center (Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry (New York, 2012), p. 189).

Flandry reflects that the Terran Space Navy, guarding a 400 light year diametered sphere of space, has millions of ships requiring millions of policy makers, scientists, engineers, strategists, tacticians, coordinators and clerks whose families need food, clothing, houses, schools and amusements so that Admiralty Center has become a city and even a "...company town..." (p. 190).

Later in the series, we are told that the Terrestrial globe has become a single city. Thus, both the capital, Archopolis, and Admiralty Center, the latter in the Rocky Mountains, are two regions of this one city.

We do speak of spaceships so maybe future terminology will speak of space warships as organized into a Navy with Admirals and an Admiralty? However, it is to be hoped that such armed conflicts will have become a thing of the past long before any rational species come to be equipped with fleets of faster than light spacecraft.

Associations And Parallels

Contemplating Virgil's celebration of the founding of the Roman Empire reminded me of Poul Anderson's account of the founding of the Terran Empire - although these are not exact parallels. The Roman Empire grew from a Republic that had replaced a monarchy whereas the Terran Empire was built in the ruins of a collapsed Commonwealth.

The founding of the Terran Empire recalled its Fall and our last sight of its capital, Archopolis. However, we last see Archopolis not in ruins, like Asimov's Trantor or Anderson's Sol City, but in its heyday during the lifetime of the Empire's last great defender, Dominic Flandry.

This, in turn, led to a search for whatever accounts there are of Archopolis, and also of the Coral Palace, during that period. The texts present a certain amount of information although it is necessary to reread carefully to identify the details.

One other part of the global Terran conurbation that is described is Admiralty Center in the Rocky Mountains:

"A metropolis in its own right..." - Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 379;
multicolored walls so high that their lower levels must always be lit;
tangled elevated ways;
"...pinnacles crowned with clouds and sunlight" (pp. 379-380);
noiseless ground and air vehicles;
dense, electronically controlled air traffic among the towers;
tunnels and chambers beneath the foundations;
an endless beehive hum and underground growl;
junior technicians, admirals and scientists, not all of them human;
entry flanges on the Naval Intelligence tower;
"...the nexus of Imperial strength..."  (p. 380).

There are similar scenes in a couple of the Star Trek films.

Star Prince Charlie III

This was unexpected. I was persevering with Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Star Prince Charlie (New York, 1976) but it was not holding my attention. I even preferred to return to my struggle with Virgil's Aeneid. No easy task: I thought that the Greeks were offering virgins to the goddess when they were really making offerings to the virgin goddess. Then an old friend arrived unexpectedly for an overnight stay so that I did not get very far with Virgil either.

"Sark" (see earlier post) is a Scottish word for a shirt or similar garment.

Despite its humor, Star Prince Charlie does make serious points about society. Charlie as Prince of the Prophecy is a stooge for an ambitious local ruler but, of course, does not see eye to eye with him. The local, Dzenko, defends the social role and rights of the nobles who:

led against sea rovers and savages;
keep the peace;
manage productive estates;
try cases;
"...conduct olden usage and ceremony which hold society together..." (p. 117);
"...support learning and religion..." (ibid.);
"...deal with foreigners..." (ibid.);
maintain order and progress;
work hard to do all this.

Charlie replies that perhaps the nobility was necessary and can still supply leaders but:

"...we're ready for the common people to have a chance at leadership, too, and freedom in their private lives, and a better break all around." (pp. 117-118)

Weighty matters for a lightweight work.

The Coral Palace II

In a recent post, I tried hard to summarize every detail about the Coral Palace but missed this:

"...the centuried treasures of static and fluid art which the palace housed..."

- Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry (New York, 2012), p. 384.

I thought that "fluid" meant moving pictures but maybe, as suggested in a comment, it means carvings and sculptures? Flandry decides to linger at the palace long enough to admire the art and enjoy the party because, about to embark on a dangerous mission:

"He might never get the chance again." (ibid.)

When I listed details about the palace extracted from two novels, page viewers might have spotted some changes between the earlier and the later novel. In Ensign Flandry, Flandry is an ensign and nowhere near the Coral Palace whereas Crown Prince Josip receives guests at the palace. In A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, Captain Sir Dominic Flandry is a guest at the palace; meanwhile, Josip has become Emperor and has then been succeeded by Hans whose reign is more austere. Hans has more guardsmen at the palace because he is a usurper. The Empire has moved from rule by legitimate succession to rule by force.

The two celebrations at the Coral Palace provide a good yardstick of how things have changed.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Archopolis And Earth In Flandry's Time II

We want to know more about Earth in Dominic Flandry's time but our information is limited to certain passages in Poul Anderson's texts. (I think that I speak for more Poul Anderson fans than just myself?) A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows begins with an unusually up front statement from the omniscient narrator:

"Every planet in the story is cold - even Terra, though Flandry came home on a warm evening of northern summer. There the chill was in the spirit."

- Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 342.

The two opening words immediately establish for anyone who did not already know that this is a science fiction novel. And here is a first datum about Terra, that it is cold in spirit. When we have read the novel, we should pause to remember the other planets in the story:

Diomedes, previously visited by Nicholas van Rijn;
Dennitza, newly created for A Knight...;
Chereion, its environment postulated in earlier installments but here visited for the first and last time.

Regarding Earth, A Stone In Heaven clarifies that, although nothing has occurred to reduce the extent of the oceans, the land masses have become a single city although it is one that preserves many open green spaces. The urbanized areas consist of towers stretching around the planet. The urban nexus is the capital, Archopolis, where Sir Dominic, now a Vice Admiral, lives and works. He eats breakfast looking out onto a roof garden of Terrestrial and extraterrestrial flowers, beyond them two-century old towers and, above the towers, blue sky, white clouds and sparkling aircars.

Then, unfortunately, the text must return to the plot of the novel...

The Coral Palace

In Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry, Emperor Georgios' birthday is celebrated across space, across Earth and at a ball in the Coral Palace:

the many-towered Palace is built on and encompasses an atoll;
aircars like fireflies, responding to radioed instructions, leave their passengers on flanges, then depart for parking rafts;
guests pass slaves, guards and tall waterspouts into an ultraviolet-lit transparent domed ballroom with views of the sea, lunar city lights and a sky illumination forming a gigantic banner with the Sunburst of Empire in royal blue;
black-clad Crown Prince Josip, receiving, resembles disembodied green hands and head with red eyes;
gravshafts descend to a lower floor where Policy Board members meet in a sealed office.

In Anderson's A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, the Emperor Hans throws a bon voyage party in the Coral Palace before heading an armada against the barbarians:

the Palace, in Oceania, has towers and domes;
the antechamber of fountains remains but with more guardsmen;
unlike Emperor Josip, Hans does not use psychogenic vapors but there is champagne in an indoor arbor;
Hans meets Captain Flandry at the top of a tower;
Flandry takes a young woman to a jasmine vine-screened pergola;
Flandry and Desai talk in a small garden cantilevered from a wall above an illuminated fountain in a courtyard, with a view of the dawn sky and the glowing ocean.

We miss or soon forget most such details as we follow the characters' conversations and intrigues.

Star Prince Charlie II

The chapter titles in Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Star Prince Charlie (New York, 1976) are mostly (or all?) familiar:

1. The Innocent Voyage.
2. Stranger In a Strange Land.
3. A Night at an Inn.
4. Kidnapped.
5. The Redheaded League.
6. Songs of Experience: The Tiger.
7. Man and Superman.
8. Soldiers Three.
9. A Midsummer Night's Dream.
10. Wind, Sand, and Stars.
11. The Social Contract.
12. The Return of the Native.
13. Fahrenheit 451.
14. Beat to Quarters.
15. The Prince.
16. The Deep Range.
17. Earthman's Burden.

"The Redheaded League" is title of a Sherlock Holmes short story although I am not sure of its relevance here. The titles Star Prince Charlie and "The Prince" present very different connotations of the word "Prince."

I must consult a dictionary for the meaning of the word "..sark..." as used on p. 111.

Archopolis And Earth In Flandry's Time

"...[the towers] went on beyond sight, multiplied over and over around the curve of the planet. Archopolis was merely a nexus; no matter if the globe had blue oceans and green open spaces - some huge, being property of nobility - it was a single city."

- Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), p. 44.

In Isaac Asimov's Galactic Empire, the capital, Trantor, is both a city covering a planet and a planet covered by a city. Both city and planet are named "Trantor." As far as I can remember, the only green growth is in the (large) garden of the Imperial Palace and there are no oceans or at least none left after the total urbanization of the planet.

In Poul Anderson's Terran Empire, the capital, Archopolis, is "...a nexus..." in a city covering the land areas of the planet Terra. Large open spaces do not prevent the Terran continents from being a single city any more than Central Park negates New York's status as a city. However, Terra is not completely urbanized like Trantor and there is a forest in the High Sierra.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Star Prince Charlie

An Interim Report

I am reading this book for the first time. However, unusually for a work by Anderson, I cannot think of much to write about it yet. I would have preferred a historical novel by Anderson about the Jacobite Rebellion rather than yet another Hoka historical reenactment!

Before our young Charlie Stuart can be accepted as a military leader on the planet of New Lemuria, he must pass five tests prescribed by local legend and it remains to be seen how he will pass even the first although, since the novel is a comedy and since there might be a powerful vested interest on his side, we should not be surprised to read about a series of implausible events.

I will read this work to its conclusion although not with a great deal of enthusiasm as yet.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Archopolis

Reflecting on the founding of the Terran Empire has made me think again about its Fall. As I said in some earlier posts, I think that it would be more appropriate if the Technic Civilization History were to be collected not in seven volumes of uniform length but in eight volumes that would more accurately reflect the stages of the series even though two would of necessity be considerably shorter.

The concluding two would be:

Children Of Empire, the last three novels featuring Dominic Flandry;

After the Empire, the four shorter works set after the Fall.

The Imperial capital, Archopolis, merely one region of an almost entirely urbanized Earth, is beautifully described in (what I call) the Children novels and I quoted these descriptions earlier. By contrast, the post-Empire works are set not only much later in time but also far away in space. Although Asimov describes the ruined Galactic Imperial capital, Trantor, in his future history and Anderson shows us the ruined First Empire capital, Sol City, in his earlier future history, we never see the ruined Archopolis.

What I do value, however, is the glimpses of the still powerful and vibrant Archopolis that we are given in the concluding Flandry novels and I might reread these passages to appreciate the details when I have completed current reading.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Dynastic Loyalty And Legitimacy?

If the current Terran Emperor is as capable as the Founder (is believed to have been), then all well and good. If not, then it is the responsibility of others to cope as well as possible.

Any given planetary government may be anything but imperialistic. However, every such government can pay a modest tribute for Imperial protection on an interstellar scale.

I like to think that the Founder, Manuel Argos, would:

distribute in a popular edition Virgil's Aeneid translated into Anglic;
encourage scholars to study both contemporary physics and the Classics;
display before his palaces statues of Aeneas, Romulus, Julius, Augustus and himself.

Imperial power is based on universally applicable technology whereas Imperial values are derived from Terrestrial history. Manuel I's Jerusalem Catholic subjects might also revere Constantine who Chritianized the Roman Empire while his Buddhist subjects might instead revere the Indian Emperor Asoka who waged a war but then, after witnessing the mass deaths caused by the war, converted to Buddhism and became a philanthropical ruler. Confucians, if they still exist, might prefer the Chinese mythical Yellow Emperor, credited with originating civilized arts. (These are all Terrestrial Emperors.)

Some scholars might aspire towards a synthesis of human and other value systems. However, even some monotheisms, human, Ythrian and Merseian, are irreconcilably antithetical.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Timeo Danaos

I will describe what happened today, then place it in an Andersonian context. First, because of an illness, we did not go to Preston (see previous post). Secondly, because we did not go to Preston, I was able to attend a Latin class in the afternoon and therefore spent the morning preparing for it.

After St Columba's encounter with the Loch Ness Monster and two short extracts from the Latin New Testament, we started Virgil! We even read, "...timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." (II, 49) ("I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts.")

Virgil celebrated the Roman Empire which, in diverse timelines, is:

served by the King of Ys;
guarded by the Time Patrol;
the inspiration for the Terran Empire.

Virgil described the Greeks at Troy as "...fracti bello fatisque repulsi..." (II, 13) ("...shattered by war, rejected by the fates...") and this reflected his own experience of living through the Roman Civil Wars. It may also remind us of Poul Anderson's many descriptions of past and future wars. Virgil thanked Augustus for establishing an Imperial pax/peace. We can imagine Terrans reading Virgil while thanking Manuel Argos.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Next

Hello, Poul Anderson fans.

Tomorrow, because of a birthday, I will drive some members of my family to the nearby city of Preston (see image) for the day. Usually, while they shop, I meditate in a church, maybe walk in the park and visit a temple, then read some carefully chosen book in a couple of coffee places.

After recent detours into Ian M Banks (see the Science Fiction blog), Alan Moore (see the Comics Appreciation blog), JRR Tolkien and the Higgs boson (see the previous post), I expect to return to Anderson with his and Gordon R Dickson's Star Prince Charlie, which I have yet to read for the first time. After that, I must scour Anderson collections for any short stories not yet read or not reread recently.

I might also reread some earlier posts on this blog. I remember, for example, finding fascinating details in The Game Of Empire, which I had previously considered a light weight work - and I noticed many of these ingenious details in Anderson's fictitious worlds because I was pausing to post while rereading, not merely rereading at a normal pace.

I do not know what comes next. It is difficult to predict, especially about the future.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Other Reading

Since finishing Poul Anderson's Murder Bound, I have been catching up with other reading, of books received as Christmas or birthday presents, before returning to Anderson.

Christopher Tolkien published his father's unfinished poem, The Fall Of Arthur, with a commentary. The Arthurian legend is set in post-Roman Britain. Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys Tetralogy is a parallel narrative set in Roman and post-Roman Brittany.

An immortal in Poul Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years tells Cardinal Richelieu that, in post-Roman Britain, he visited the court of a warlord, Artorius, who resisted English invaders. Anderson could, of course, have written an Arthurian historical fantasy novel but instead wrote many other imaginative works. Richelieu asks the immortal whether he is the Wandering Jew as, in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, an immortal Englishman is mistaken for - the Wandering Jew.

The Particle At The End Of The Universe by Sean Carroll, who sounds as though he should be related to Lewis Carroll, describes in accessible language the discovery of the Higgs boson. How can data recorded on macroscopic instruments disclose the nature of subatomic particles, especially one that travels less than a billionth of an inch in the less than 1000,000,000,000,000,000,000th of a second between its creation and its decay? I now have a very slight and partial layman's knowledge as opposed to none before.

In Anderson's sf novels, like Mirkheim, human stories are generated from scientific premises for example about what happens to particles in extreme conditions like the surface of a super-Jovian planet when its primary goes supernova. The Higgs boson is the sort of cosmological discovery that could have been incorporated into such Andersonian hard sf.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Denouement Of A Detective Novel (Spoilers)

Science fiction is both the major part of Poul Anderson's output and the reason why I started to read his works. Of course, I then went on to read with equal interest his fantasy, historical fiction and, more recently, detective fiction.

(In the case of CS Lewis, I began with his popular theology but then found that he had also written literary criticism, adult science fiction and juvenile fantasy. Much later, I came across a collection of his poetry. Finding all these different kinds of writing equally entertaining, I first read the Chronicles of Narnia in my teens, whereas my daughter, more appropriately, had them read to her in childhood, then (re)read them with greater understanding in her teens.)

I read any novel through from beginning to end, enjoying the narrative along the way and interested to find out how it ends. But are detective novels meant to be read differently? Are we supposed to play detective, trying to spot all the clues and to deduce the identity of the culprit as the fictional detective does? If so, I cannot do it. I could not possibly have deduced how, in Poul Anderson's Murder Bound (New York, 1962), the man exposed as a Nazi collaborator had faked his death and later had a motive for attempted murder.

The private detective, Trygve Yamamura, does a good Poirot-like job of assembling the suspects on board ship, explaining all the anomalous events of the novel, including some that had been so trivial that we had not even realized that they were significant, and then identifying the murderer who, he believes, has fled but will be apprehended. There are two further twists: the murderer has not fled but has hidden himself on board; it seems that he will go overboard after all but then does not because Yamamura pulls him back.

So there is a satisfactory ending but I had to read the story all the way to its end in order to find out what would happen, as with any other kind of novel. Any regular readers of this blog might have noticed that, when discussing Murder Bound, I have focused not on clues or suspects but on what might be regarded as secondary features of the narrative. What I basically enjoy is Poul Anderson's fiction writing with its many allusions to both science and mythology.

The Hadal Abysses

Poul Anderson's vocabulary continues to surpass mine. On p. 175 of Murder Bound (New York, 1962), we find "...the hadal abysses." I had never come across "hadal" before and had to google it although the context had enabled me to guess its derivation from "Hades." Thus, I expect that it is pronounced something like "haydle" rather than "had-al" ?

When the private detective, Trygve Yamamura, goes to sea, Anderson is not content to describe the view from the deck or through a porthole: the sky, the weather and the surface of the sea. Instead, Yamamura's "...primitive awe..." (ibid.) inspires him to contemplate the (to coin a slightly less obscure adjective) Hadean abysses. (Other Anderson characters venture bodily into those deeps in his historical fantasy novel, The Merman's Children.)

Yamamura imagines:

"...sunless cold silence" (ibid.);
pressure that would crush the steel ship;
"...beings that were little more than glowing heads..." (ibid.);
thousand year old squids that have continued to grow all their lives;
closer to the surface, the sea serpent, a hypothetical "...great plesiosaur-like mammal..." (p. 176);
porpoises possibly as intelligent as human beings;
ocean currents potentially shifting to bring an ice age;
plankton either feeding future mankind or surviving all land life after a nuclear war.

Again, Anderson summarizes potential material for several more novels. When Poe, Wells and Doyle wrote science fiction, parts of the sea and the upper atmosphere remained unexplored and were possibly inhabited by beings as exotic as extraterrestrials. Anderson recaptures the feeling of that earlier speculation about the Terrestrial environment.

Yamamura's Religion

In Poul Anderson's Murder Bound (New York, 1962):

"Yamamura smiled, 'I'm a lousy Buddhist.'" (p. 100)

So he is at least nominally a Buddhist.

"...he felt evil like a physical radiation. And that shook him, for his religion did not admit the existence of absolute malignancy." (p. 158)

So he does take his religion seriously.

This gives me some empathy with the character. I am not an ordained lay Buddhist but Buddhism is the religious tradition with which I have least disagreements. Insofar as a religion is a practice, my religion is Zen because I practice zazen as taught in a local Buddhist group. I do not accept the rebirth teaching but that is a philosophical disagreement between me and the Buddha. Possibly influenced by ancient Indian materialist philosophers, he taught anatta, "no soul," and therefore amended reincarnation of souls to "rebirth" of karmic effects but I go further in disagreeing with rebirth as well. However, karma (action) and its consequences are undeniable features of life and history.

The Buddha was a man, not a god, and, mythologically, was a teacher of gods and men. His dharma is neither an academic philosophy nor a theistic religion but a practical philosophy and a contemplative religion. Here, I am on the same wavelength as Trygve Yamamura.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Voluspa

Copied from the Personal And Literary Reflections blog:

The Elder Edda begins with Voluspa, a short poem that starts with an equivalent of Genesis, includes a death and resurrection story and ends with an equivalent of Armageddon. Thus, a Norse mini-Bible. Ymir and Bur's sons inhabited a yawning gap with no sea, sand, earth, heaven or grass and Bur's sons lifted the land although Voluspa does not tell us how these beings originated or that Bur's sons made the land from Ymir's body. These details are in other Eddic poems. The beginning presents a more sophisticated view of a pre-cosmic void than Genesis. Voluspa envisages nothingness, not chaos. And the other Eddic poems account for change and the emergence of life through dialectical interactions, not through divine creation. 
 
After Ragnarok, the returning or surviving gods are Baldr, Hoth, Honir, Odin's nephews and a mighty lord who comes on high, all power to hold, all lands to rule. The author of Voluspa can, like Virgil, be seen as a pagan prophet but post-Christians can simply appreciate the connections between mythologies.



SF And Fantasy In A Detective Novel

In Poul Anderson's detective novel Murder Bound (New York, 1962), another sfnal (science fictional) passage:

"He had a weird sense of distortion, as if he had come back from another universe, where suns were black and cold pulsed from them and time ran uphill toward the past." (p. 163)

That could be the setting of another novel. By entering the black sun universe, somehow surviving there for a year, then returning to the home universe, a character might emerge a year in the past?

Also, two more fantasy passages. First:

"He...thought about Grettir the Strong, who had destroyed a draug in single combat. That was eight or nine hundred years ago..." (p. 168)

Grettir sounds like yet another legendary hero whom Anderson could have adapted as the hero a fantasy novel.

Secondly:

"Wednesday...Odin's day. The old one-eyed chief of the Norse gods. But he was a sinister figure, with his wolves and ravens. He made the first witchcraft in the world. Human sacrifices were given to him. At night he rode through the sky with all the dead galloping after him. He's the Wild Huntsman, you see." (p. 173)

This passage is in the past tense, except for the last sentence. Myths are simultaneously long ago and always now. The authentic Odin as described here is, of course, an active participant in several of Anderson's fantasy novels.In my teens, I read what was effectively a Christianized retelling of the Norse myths. Human sacrifice was not mentioned. Odin and Thor were presented as benign protectors of humanity from the personified hostile elements. After I have published this post, I will copy a post on Voluspa from another blog.

Murder Bound also characterizes Thor:

"Thursday comes next. Red-bearded Thor, the thunder god. He was a much pleasanter sort. The common people liked him best. That's why so many Norse names begin with 'Tor.' He gave rain to the fields. And he fought the giants and trolls. Thursday is a good day." (ibid.)

In the North of England, we live in the former "Danelaw" and still have place names incorporating "Thor."

Friday, 10 January 2014

Environmentalism?

In Poul Anderson's Murder Bound (New York, 1962), how does the private detective, Trygve Yamamura, deduce that the Norwegian sailor, Arne Torvald, is a Communist? There are several clues. One is Torvald's "'...environmentalism...'" (p. 103) Concern for the environment? No, his belief that mental illness is caused by the environment, not by heredity (p. 79).

Interesting use of the word "environmentalism." Was it used widely in that sense before it gained its more familiar meaning of concern about ecology, pollution etc?

Yamamura, on the track of a possible murderer, has to be concerned about where Torvald sneaks off to on his shore leave. He lies, presents a cover story, changes buses, goes into a bar and out the back to shake any tails etc. If not murder, then he could be engaged in espionage or sabotage. By a process of elimination, Yamamura deduces an innocent explanation and, in the process, gives us yet another Andersonian moment of realization (when our hero has solved the problem but does not yet tell us the solution):

"The time he blew up and attacked me was -
"Yamamura slumped bonelessly. 'Good Lord!' he said aloud." (p. 144)

Then, consulting maps and memory, he works out where to look for Torvald.

Murder Bound, Continued

A Norwegian draug resembles a zombie because it is a walking corpse but also resembles a ghost because it haunts the living by night. Maybe a draug is a zombie possessed by its ghost, a concept to be found among James Bond's Voodooist adversaries in Ian Fleming's Live And Let Die?

One draug walks in Poul Anderson's historical fantasy short story, "The Tale of Hauk." Another seems to walk in his San Francisco-based detective novel, Murder Bound (New York, 1962). In the latter work, a Norwegian sailor imagines a drowned body clinging to the keel of a ship in the harbor and coming ashore by night... Thus, this detective novel refers both to the astronomical universe, which is the setting of much of Anderson's sf, and to Norse mythology, which is the background of several of his works of fantasy.

I was right about one of the sailors being a Communist but that was an easy deduction because his politics were obvious from his dialogue. However, this man's secret activities do not include spying. Instead, he clandestinely visits his mentally retarded daughter who, despite his atheism, he has placed in the care of a convent, concealing her very existence from his colleagues, his comrades and even his second wife. (In this respect, he fortuitously resembles "Karla," the Russian adversary of John Le Carre's Smiley.) So far, this makes him a good man, although misguided, but I do not yet know whether he will turn out to be guilty of murder or attempted murder.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Detective Novels

A detective novel is a work of fiction or of literature but also something like a crossword puzzle and I cannot solve those either. Having read Chapters I-VI of the XXI in Poul Anderson's San Francisco-based Murder Bound (New York, 1962), all that I can deduce so far is:

that the gangster who has tried to intimidate Yamamura had been supplying homosexual prostitution to the disappeared man;

that the reticent, Russian-learning, anti-Nazi suspect will turn out to be a Communist.

But why did the disappeared man give himself away as a Nazi collaborationist just before the fracas that led to his disappearance? And why has one of the witnesses been "haunted" by an axe-wielding figure in his hotel room? I confidently expect never to answer these questions before Yamamura elucidates them in the final chapter.

Anderson conveys the sense of a mystery at sea and also something of the ethos of the sailors' country, Norway.

Cosmic And Historical Perspectives

In Poul Anderson's detective novel, Murder Bound (New York, 1962), the cosmic perspective, already noted, continues:

"So thin is the air that our unaided eyes can see a wisp at night which is a sister galaxy, two million light years remote." (p. 48)

That is the Andromeda Nebula already mentioned by name on p. 28. This time, however, Anderson, through his viewpoint character, Yamamura, goes on to present two other scientific perspectives:

"But the sea tides are ponderous enough to slow the spinning of the planet. The sea depths are eternal enough to shelter species that were ancient before the dinosaurs walked." (ibid.)

- knowledge of tidal friction and of dinosaurs. Yamamura concludes:

"...however queer a cosmos this was, you must live in it minute by minute." (ibid.)

How many fictional private detectives reflect on their place in the cosmos? This recalls Anderson's time traveling character, Manson Everard, reflecting that he does not understand the universe; he just works here.

In addition to such cosmological reflections, there is also a historical dimension. Published in 1962, the novel is set long enough ago for its characters still to have vivid memories of their World War II experiences. Pp. 38-40 present an unexpected flashback to interrogation by the Gestapo.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Murder Bound, Chapters I-III

In Poul Anderson's first Trygve Yamamura novel, the central character looks up at the stars, as real people and literary characters have ever done, but also thinks about the planets of those stars, thus applying a modern scientific knowledge of the universe. Anderson displays the scientific knowledge and cosmic perspective of a physics graduate and hard sf writer even more overtly twice in the opening chapters of the third Yamamura novel, Murder Bound (New York, 1962).

In another night time scene:

"His cigarette end made a tiny red Cepheid star, waxing and waning..." (p. 2)

Some readers might have to google "Cepheid star"?

Secondly:

"A stunning photograph of the Andromeda Nebula dominated the room." (p. 28)

Many years later, artificial intelligences traveling at sub-light speeds approach the Andromeda in Anderson's late hard sf novel, Genesis, whose title expresses a new beginning long after the extinction of humanity.

In Chapter II, there is a fascinating summary of a tramp ship's round the world voyage:

from Oslo with electrical machinery and matches to Ceylon;
from Ceylon with rubber to Rangoon;
from Rangoon with rice and teak to Hong Kong;
from Hong Kong with cement to Yokohama;
from Yokohama with textiles and ceramics to San Francisco;
from San Francisco with lumbering equipment to Oslo.

Not every cargo mentioned is delivered to every destination mentioned but this is as much as I could glean from the captain's brief account to Yamamura, who is investigating a death or disappearance on the ship. Since the disappeared man, a suspected Nazi collaborator, fought three others while wielding an axe before falling overboard, it is disconcerting for one of the three when, later, he is attacked by an axe-wielding figure in his hotel room. Without going to look it up at this late hour, I remember a similar night attack scene with the missing Samurai sword in the first novel?

Onward!

OK, folks. I have:

read two Iain M Banks Culture novels and posted on the Science Fiction blog;
watched a Smallville episode and posted on the Comics Appreciation blog;
reread a volume of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and posted on Comics Appreciation.

Now it is time to tackle Poul Anderson's Murder Bound (New York, 1962), a Cock Robin Mystery from MacMillan. My copy is a first printing so it is exactly fifty two years old. The text starts on page 1 and ends on p. 198. There are no blank pages between any of the XXI chapters, each chapter begins on the page where the previous chapter had ended, not on the following page, and there are no illustrations. Thus, there really are 198 pages of text to be read.

Glancing through the book, I spotted one reference to a character called van Rijn.

The blurb inside the dust jacket refers to "...natural and seemingly supernatural forces..." This is the third Trygve Yamamura novel. I have read the first Yamamura novel and can read a description of the second on the back of this dust jacket. Thus, I gather that all three novels are united not only by their central character and by their San Francisco setting but also by references to the "...seemingly supernatural..." - whereas the single Yamamura short story goes further because it involves an actual ghost telephone call.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Schedule

Provisional schedule

Finish reading Iain Banks' second Culture novel;

before starting the third Culture novel, start reading Poul Anderson's Star Prince Charlie or Murder Bound - having read neither before;

scan through the Poul Anderson collections in my possession for any remaining stories that I have not read or not reread recently;

hopefully get a copy of Multiverse, the anthology about Poul Anderson;

decide whether to attend the World SF Con in London this August - possible contact with other Anderson, Blish, Gaiman etc fans versus practical problems to do with staying in London for a long weekend?

As ever, any comments or suggestions would be welcome...