Sunday, 31 May 2015

Clifford Simak

Since this blog is about Poul Anderson, I here quote Poul Anderson's opinion about another science fiction writer:

"the late great Clifford D Simak was an inspiration to us all. He still is."
-Poul Anderson, Going For Infinity (New York, 2002), p. 81.

I would have been interested to read Anderson's comments on some of Simak's works. I know from private conversation that James Blish did not care for them and that he particularly disliked talking dogs which, as I remember, occurred no less than three times in Simak's sf. Simak must be classified with Ray Bradbury and CS Lewis as not a hard, therefore a "soft," sf writer.

In my teens, I set out to read every word written by certain American sf writers. Simak was on this list. However, I caught up with him, read his then newly published novel, felt that he had become repetitive and self-parodying, and stopped reading although Simak continued to publish a novel a year (or thereabouts).

A lot of what he wrote about time and time travel did not make sense. His Time And Again did present a logically consistent circular causality paradox but I was disappointed when I reread it more recently - too many sf cliches - although one interesting feature was an appearance by Old Cliff himself at the age of ninety.

Anderson, Blish and Simak each wrote a story about exploring the Jovian environment. Anderson's and Simak's characters, though not Blish's, wound up living happily there.


I usually complain about overlap between the contents of collections and have done so on this blog. However, a retrospective volume, like Poul Anderson's Going For Infinity (New York, 2002), with stories, auctorial comments and autobiographical notes spanning a career, makes sense. Anderson even remarks that:

"This book would be incomplete without a van Rijn yarn." (p. 153)

Of course we have already read all the van Rin yarns but we also reread them and might feel like rereading "The Master Key" while looking though ...Infinity.

Earlier in the volume, Anderson wrote:

"'Gypsy' is the earliest that seems worth including here. I could do it better nowadays." (p. 66)

He did rewrite several early stories to good effect but it was neither necessary nor possible to do this with all of them. In any case:

"...this little tale is a landmark for me, my first attempt to celebrate the wonders of our universe." (ibid.)

And that is exactly what this story does. Space travelers who have lost their way and wandered between planetary systems before settling on a terrestroid planet remember the wandering and decide to regain it, thus becoming the first of the Nomads. We read of some of their earlier adventures only as reminiscences:

"We had ridden centauroids who conversed with us as they went to the aerial city of their winged enemies -" (p. 77)

- an appropriate story to include in a retrospective volume.

Poul Anderson, Scientist

We would have read more about Poul Anderson's Japanese-American detective, Trygve Yamamura, if Anderson had earned more by writing about Yamamura and we would also have read more about Diana Crowfeather if Anderson had not wanted to write other sf like Harvest Of Stars and Genesis. Further, however, we would have read none of this if Anderson's original career plan had been realized:

"Science fiction writers tend to start out young. I began making professional sales while in college. My aim was to become a scientist, but after graduating, with no money left to continue, I supported myself by writing while I looked for honest employment. Jobs were scarce just then; the search grew more and more half-hearted; gradually I realized that what I was doing was what nature had cut me out for. Meanwhile I was learning the craft the hard way, at least as much through the rejections as the acceptances."
-Poul Anderson, Going For Infinity (New York, 2002), p. 66.

We must thank the Muses that jobs were scarce. And story-telling is one of the oldest forms of "honest employment." Poets recited epics about solar and stellar deities long before scientists understood solar or stellar processes.

So here are at least four alternative realities:

Poul Anderson, scientist;
Poul Anderson as primarily a mystery writer;
Poul Anderson continuing his major future history series at the expense of other kinds of hard sf;
the Poul Anderson we know.

I think we got the best option.

Yamamura, Crowfeather And Van Rijn

It is almost impossible to glance inside a book by Poul Anderson without finding something for a blogger to post about. For example:

"I would have liked to continue with [Trygve Yamamura], but was earning so much more by science fiction that it became impractical."
-Poul Anderson, Going For Infinity (New York, 2002), p. 296.

We already knew that we would have read more about Dominic Flandry's daughter, Diana Crowfeather, if Anderson had not wanted to write other kinds of sf. Now we also know that we would have read more about Yamamura if he had paid better. But, in a sense, the readers decided.

However, we got three novels and one short story about Yamamura - and I have yet to read one of those novels - whereas we got only one novel about Diana.

Anderson wrote nonstop for over fifty years, producing a monumental canon, but we still want to read more about all of these characters - in particular maybe to accompany Nicholas van Rijn on his last exploratory voyage outside known space.

A Double Surprise

Throughout "Genius" by Poul Anderson, the psychologist Heym and the soldier Goram speak as though genocide were morally acceptable, although - surprise ending - Goram turns out to have been playing a role. Shortly before the end of the story, Heym has learned, first, that Goram is secretly a member of the genius population of the experimental planet that they are inspecting and, secondly, that agents from that planet are infiltrating and taking over the Solarian Empire.

Knowing this, Heym, who is loyal to the Empire, cannot be allowed to return to it. Just six sentences before the end of the story, Goram, who until now has spoken of nothing but killing, remarks with a smile:

"'I'll just have to report you as accidentally killed on the planet.'" (Call Me Joe, p. 222)

A death sentence for Heym? No. The geniuses are too ingenious to resort to violence. Goram continues:

"'I don't think you'll find life exile on this world, out of sight of the observers, uncongenial.'" (ibid.)

Indeed, it has already been established that this entire planet is a hassle-free zone with considerate inhabitants and no conflict. I like to imagine a sequel, set decades later, in which Heym, still happily living on the planet, has no desire to escape or warn the Empire. In fact, the geniuses will solve the social problems of which he was only too aware - the only difference being that homo intelligens pursues goals that transcend those of homo sapiens. 


Poul Anderson's "Genius" contains a lot of exposition but it works because the exposition is well presented, interesting and about very basic issues. For example, the psychologist character argues that the grammatical distinction between nouns and verbs blinds us to the fact that the world consists of processes, not of objects. Thus, even an early pulp story by Poul Anderson repays closer analysis.

"'The ordinary man is just plain stupid. Perhaps proper mind training could lift him above himself, but it's never been tried.'" (Call Me Joe, p. 217)

I do not agree that the ordinary man is stupid but I appreciate being made to think about this question. Proper mind training is deployed in Anderson's Psychotechnic History.

We are convincingly shown that social conditioning and social pressure account for most behavior. An individually pacifist scientist will usually engage in war research if asked, and paid, to do so. But this can work the other way. Individually aggressive people will not act aggressively if conditioned and pressured by a peaceful society. The population of geniuses sees no reason to settle their differences by warfare and sees every reason to devise an international language as soon as speakers of diverse local languages come into contact: Babel in reverse.

We can learn a lot by considering the behavior of more intelligent human beings.

Subdimensional Quasivelocity?

Poul Anderson made a point of imagining a different means of faster than light travel every time he wrote a new story requiring this premise. (He had the scientific background to enable him to do this.) Thus:

he did not always invoke the sf cliche, "hyperspace;"

when he did use this phrase, he devised his own meaning for it.

His "hyperdrive" does not make a spaceship disappear into another kind of space where there is no light speed limit but makes many quantum jumps through ordinary space and thus has a psuedovelocity.

In earlier stories, means of FTL had not yet been worked out. In "Genius" (1948), "...quasivelocity..." (Call Me Joe, p. 197) sounds like hyperspatial psuedovelocity but it qualified as "subdimensional." What can that mean? The ship temporarily has zero dimensions in relation to the rest of the universe and thus is not limited to the light speed barrier because the latter applies only to objects that have a finite length and that therefore shrink in that length, although never reaching zero length, while they accelerate? Other dimensions are loosely thought of as other and higher realms, therefore "subdimensional" implies the lowest possible realm at which normal physical laws do not apply?

"Subdimensional" is probably an early piece of psuedo-scientific jargon without any rational thought behind it.


There is:

an oppressive Solarian Empire in "Genius;"
an oppressive Star Empire in the first Kith History;
a comparatively benign Terran Empire in the History of Technic Civilization;
an all-encompassing Galactic Empire in Isaac Asimov's future history;
an Empire of the Known Universe in the Dune History;

But surely the entire idea of an interstellar empire is hopeless to begin with - especially one that either rules the entire galaxy or has an individual Emperor?

Poul Anderson makes three significant contributions:

he describes the Fall of the real historical Roman Empire in more than one work;
his Terran Empire is the least implausible of the interstellar empires, becoming increasingly credible and substantial as the series proceeds;
he shows us several interstellar scenarios in which there is no question of a multi-system imperialism ever arising.

Thus, as ever, he covers all the bases.

The Universal State

The psychologist in Poul Anderson's "Genius" presents a simplified version of Chunderban Desai's theory of the decline of civilizations. See here. In "Genius":

cultures clash;
wars intensify, leading to fears, resentments and economic breakdown;
one nation founds a "universal state," whose peace is merely that of exhaustion;
the state decays and either collapses or falls to foreign invaders.

Pre-Imperial scientists based their semi-mathematical theory of history on:

thousands of years of records and archaeology;
extrapolations from individual and group psychology.

On the basis of this theory, the Empire has been able to:

conquer humanly inhabited planets;
make truces with non-human empires;
tell whether a proposed policy might provoke revolt;
know how to phrase proclamations;
divide the barbarians with psychological and economic pressures.

However, they can at best maintain the status quo until an eventual collapse:

if they allowed free invention, then there would be regular industrial revolutions with consequent social upheavals;
if they allowed new religions, the there might be jihads;
if they allowed population growth, then there would be a land problem;
if they stopped subjugating or even exterminating non-human races, then they would have to cope with many alien psychologies.

It is hoped that the planetary experiments will make their science properly quantitative. Although the psychologist character defends this oppressive regime, I do not think that the author approves of it.

More On "Genius"

(i) For an experiment, the Psychotechnic Foundation of the Solarian Empire breeds human beings for intelligence. Fred Hoyle argued that genius results not from heredity but from luck. See here.

(ii) As the second stage of the experiment, groups of memory-wiped geniuses are placed in different locations on an isolated terrestroid planet. Thus, this planet now resembles Earth after the intelligence revolution of Anderson's Brain Wave.

(iv) In Brain Wave, some factory workers quit while others need earphones with intellectually stimulating input until their jobs can be automated. On the experimental planet in "Genius," the entire population shares intellectually undemanding jobs until these can be automated. I think that, in future, jobs that cannot be automated and are universally unwanted but socially indispensible will have to be shared until they can be reduced to zero.

(v) In Brain Wave, after the intelligence increase, a second inner change is intelligent control of emotions and instincts. In "Genius," when, on the experimental planet, the social norm has become genius, those who are even more intelligent are called "transcendents." Do they also have control of emotions?

(vi) they will rule the galaxy as Asimov's Second Foundation plans to.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

What Is To Come

SM Stirling's In The Courts Of The Crimson Kings is in the post and I will get the British paperback edition of Old Mars in September. The latter, which includes a Stirling "Lords of Creation" story is an anthology based on the same theme as the "Lords of Creation" series.

Meanwhile, back in Poul Anderson's "Genius," the Solarian Empire is threatened by:

human barbarians beyond the Imperial borders;
nonhuman border barbarians;
rival empires;
the Magellanics attacking every century with unimaginable weapons.

Given these external threats, the marshal thinks that any internal disruption could be fatal. Internal order is kept by:

toleration of local gods;
a state church with the Emperor as the material incarnation of the divine Spirit;
local garrisons;
political indoctrination;
state control of commerce and travel;
psychotechnic preparation and supervision of popular entertainment;
rigid birth control;
complete sexual freedom as an outlet;
early selection and training of the ablest children for government work;
unlimited opportunities for promotion.

Incorporation of the ablest is always an astute move. "New men" are loyal to the regime that has promoted them, not to any vested interests within it. How effective is psychotechnic control of entertainment? Might the psychotechnicians learn anything from our advertisers or vice versa? Is such control compatible with the creation of valid art? The psychologist states, plausibly, that it generates "'...mediocrity.'" (Call me Joe, p. 201) Even a story with crude pulp premises yields interesting discussion when analyzed.

Social order and stability would indeed be precarious given certain familiar premises:

faster than light travel;
nuclear weapons;
expanding imperialisms;
barbarians with access to spaceships and modern weapons -

- which is why Manuel Argos founds the Terran Empire in Anderson's History of Technic Civilization. But Manuel grants citizenship to worthy non-humans, unlike the Solarian Empire which exterminates aborigines.

Psychotechnic Foundation

In the previous post, I mentioned Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History. Over the page in Anderson's "Genius," which I am rereading, there is a reference to a "...Psychotechnic Foundation..." (Call Me Joe, p. 199). As Anderson remarked in Going For Infinity, sf writers used to refer to, and reply to, each other's ideas - a tradition that goes back to Greek drama.

In "Genius," we are also told that the Solarian Empire colonizes planets by exterminating aborigines. Even if we agreed with the marshal's idea of governing society by suppressing most of its members, we would have to disagree with this.They not only exterminate but even eradicate all traces. This recalls a novel although I remember neither title nor author.

Three established sf authors, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and David Brin, wrote a Second Foundation Trilogy. Asimov had introduced:

(i) a humans only galaxy;
(ii) robots programmed to protect human beings and also used to colonize extrasolar planets.

Logical conclusion: robots exterminated aborigines and protected human beings from knowledge of their genocide. Maybe a blog reader knows which of the three authors deduced this logical conclusion from Asimov's premises?

Crude though it is, "Genius" presents interesting ideas and arguments. I will return to it probably this evening.

Genius Revisited

It is nearly time for me to go up the apples and pears to Bedfordshire but there may be enough time for one last post. The object of the exercise is to reread "Genius" in order to ascertain whether its leading characters express moral opinions that Poul Anderson disagreed with. See here.

However, that objective will not be achieved tonight. Preliminary remarks... This short story was published in the month before I was born. Think about it. I did not know anything about the story at the time. (And I expect to know as little about anything in the month after I have died.) As I became able to read, I noticed displayed for sale paperbacks with titles like I, Robot and wondered about them.

"Genius" begins with a conversation, almost a confrontation, between a soldier and a psychologist. The soldier claims that, in order to preserve their interstellar Empire, it is necessary to suppress rebels, barbarians, pirates, serfs, slaves, criminals and the insane. That is quite a list! The insane need care and, if possible, cure. Pirates and criminals need to be arrested and charged. Barbarians need to be civilized. Serfs and slaves do not need to exist in a high tech society. And, if the Empire is ruled well, why should anyone want to rebel?

The psychologist remarks that military power is a tool but that the Empire is based on "'...applied psychological science...'" (Call Me Joe, p. 197) Further down that page, he uses the term "...psychotechnician." Can psychology become a technology as in Asimov's Foundation and Anderson's Psychotechnic History? A big question but no answer tonight.

Two Volumes? II

See previous post.

But then, thinking this through again - and please tell me if I get anything wrong -, that tax-hungry Dominancy is presented in Chapter 21 of Starfarers which is the altered form of "Ghetto." It becomes necessary to compare the texts of "Ghetto," collected in Maurai And Kith, and of Starfarers, Chapter 21. We find several textual alterations including this one: the regime that is called "the Dominancy" in Starfarers had been called "the Star Empire" in the original version. That explains why members of its highest caste are called the Star-Free.

Thus, in the original version of the History, it was to be understood that the increased taxation introduced in "Ghetto" had preceded the physical suppression that was later referred back to in "The Horn of Time the Hunter." Did that suppression occur during the long period when Envoy was away from Earth in Starfarers?

Poul Anderson wrote:

"...I made "Ghetto," much revised, a part of my novel Starfarers. I was going to incorporate "The Horn of Time the Hunter" as well, but Karen convinced me that it was too dark."
-Poul Anderson, Going For Infinity (New York, 2002), p. 137.

I think that:

the several stories that Anderson revised for later republication should be preserved in both versions;

the way to do this with the Kith stories is to publish both a three-story collection and the later novel;

thus, in the original History, the Star Empire oppressively taxes and later physically suppresses the Kith, whereas, in the Starfarers future history, the Dominancy oppressively taxes the Kith but is later superseded by the Governance and other regimes.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Two Volumes?

Of Poul Anderson's three Kith short stories, two were incorporated in different forms into his novel, Starfarers. Should there therefore be two Kith volumes? -

a collection of all three stories in their original forms;
the novel.

These two volumes would constitute alternative versions of the Kith History. Both versions culminate with a ship returning from an unusually long exploratory voyage, either ten or eleven thousand years/light years. But they are different ships with different missions.

In the short story, "The Horn of Time the Hunter," the exiled Kith ship, the Golden Flyer, has explored the fringes of the galactic nucleus. We are not told what her crew found there except that it was neither wisdom nor the Elder Race. The story ends before they reach the Solar System but, en route, they have found, on an extrasolar planet, human colonists who have adapted to living in water. As in Anderson's Technic History, enough time has elapsed for human beings to adapt to different planetary environments.

This story also summarizes some future history that diverges in detail from the course of events presented in Starfarers. In the novel, a political regime called the Dominancy persecutes the Kith with exorbitant taxes whereas in "The Horn of Time...," a regime called the Star Empire physically attacks the Kith so that those who are not captured flee from the Solar System and meet in council at Tau Ceti, a rendezvous point in both versions of the History.

This mention of the Star Empire reads like a reference to an earlier installment of the series and, of course, even if such an installment did not exist at the time when "The Horn..." was written, Anderson could have added such a "prequel" later.

The viewpoint character of "The Horn..." is Jong Errifans of the Golden Flyer and in "Ghetto," incorporated into Starfarers, Kenri Shaun recalls his friend, Jong Errifans of the Golden Flyer.

Literary Lineages

This blog locates Poul Anderson within certain literary lineages:

The Bible
The Eddas
The Sagas
William Shakespeare
Mary Shelley
Mark Twain
Rudyard Kipling
HG Wells
Olaf Stapledon
Arthur Conan Doyle
L Sprague de Camp
John W Campbell
Robert Heinlein

This is not the long list of every writer with whom Anderson can be compared but the shorter list of those whom he clearly quotes, refers to or comes after. Anderson is more than a Campbellian sf writer. His roots are in the far past. The second part of the lineage is his successors:

Larry Niven
Jerry Pournelle
SM Stirling

I apologize for my ignorance of current sf. Contributions on other post-Anderson sf writers would be welcome. Since this blog has recognized SM Stirling as a worthy successor, there have been posts on his two works set in the Angrezi Raj and on the first of the three works in the Lords of Creation series. I hope soon to acquire the remaining two installments of this series. Meanwhile, there is another Anderson work to reread.

(I said that I might end May with the round number of 100 posts and have now carried on to 110 with two days still to go. I might end this month here.)

Starfarers And The Time Patrol

In the Time Patrol series:

macroscopic time travel is possible - people can go;
past events can be changed;
a post-human Danellian confirms that the purpose of the Patrol is to prevent random changes, which would preclude life or consciousness.

In Starfarers:

subatomic time travel is possible - information can be sent;
past events cannot be changed;
a message from the future confirms that the interstellar drive stabilizes the universe.

Thus, in Starfarers, interstellar travelers fulfill a cosmic role similar to that of Time Patrollers. Among its many other qualities, Starfarers is a contribution to the theory of time travel. 

Captain Ricardo Iriarte Nansen Aguilar

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

Captain Nansen is one lucky guy. Of the four women in the Envoy crew, he is with one, Kilbirnie, until she unfortunately dies during the voyage and is married to another, Dayan, by the end of the novel.

In Chapter 5, Nansen and Dayan ride on his family estate in Paraguay.
In Chapter 49, he has a similar estate on the planet Harbor.
In Chapter 52, Nansen and Dayan, married, ride on the estate on Harbor.

Such an estate traditionally employs servants. Such are unnecessary on Harbor but Anderson reproduces that ambiance. The household staff are really apprentices spending time with the starfarers.

Nansen addresses parliament. Chapter 52 is a beginning:

the Envoy crew and the surviving Kith are coming together;
better starships are being built with new knowledge;
new terrestroid planets will be colonized;
planetary engineering systems will make settlement possible or easier than before;
anyone who wants to will be able to star travel;
other races will be contacted;
millions of starships flying will make the cosmic substrate more stable (this was explained earlier);
now that they know that it is possible, human beings will discover how to build transtemporal communicators.

Most of this is still to happen. It does not necessarily involve recontacting the quantum intelligences as I had thought. But it was those intelligences that had received messages from the future about the cosmic role of interstellar travel.

Inside And Outside

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

"'You - you are from outside?'" (p. 489)

The Kith crew of Fleetwing have been enclosed within their large, now immobile, interstellar spaceship for years. Those who were children have grown up but the crew has stopped having children and has practiced euthanasia to conserve resources. Each of them looks at the stars once a year.

It is easy to imagine a situation in which:

resources are recycled indefinitely;
new generations continue to be born;
the crew forgets how to look out at the stars;
it seems to them that their ship is the entire universe.

I was fascinated when I read about such an enclosed artificial universe in Robert Heinlein's Orphans Of The Sky. Brian Aldiss presented a more elaborate version in Non-Stop and James White creatively adapted the idea to a marine setting in The Watch Below. The Fleetwing crew do retain their knowledge of the outside universe but nevertheless it is a considerable shock when some of them meet unfamiliar spacesuited figures and one exclaims:

"'You - you are from outside?'" (p. 489)

The Shauns Of Fleetwing

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

The crew of the Kith ship, Fleetwing, includes Shauns:

in Chapter 1, Ricardo Nansen rescues his friend, Mike Shaughnessy, on an extrasolar planet;
in Chapter 10, Michael Shaughnessy meets his older great-grandson, Ramil Shauny;
in Chapter 12, old Michael Shaughnessy goes to the planet Feng Huang to die;
in Chapter 17, Ormer Shaun is second mate of Fleetwing;
in Chapter 21, when Fleetwing visits Earth, its crew include Wolden Shaun and his son, Kenri Shaun;
in Chapter 46, when Fleetwing is at the planet Brent its crew includes Vodra Shaun;
in Chapter 51, Ricardo Nansen rescues the surviving crew of the wrecked Fleetwing, including Evar Shaun.

I realized the Shaughnessy-Shauny-Shaun line of descent and Nansen's opening and concluding rescue missions only while listing Shauns. There is always more to be found in Anderson's texts when we look more deeply into them.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Emprises And A Dominancy

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

The Venture League is:

" organization that aimed to launch fresh emprises among the stars." (p. 471)

"Emprise" evokes both "empire" and "enterprise." Envoy has returned with enough information to launch, on Harbor, if not on Earth, an industrial revolution, a scientific revolution and religious and philosophical transformations. Al Brent, if he had survived, would probably have argued for conquering the unenterprising Earth to which they returned.

We learn the name of yet another political regime. There has been not only a Dominancy and a Governance but also a Mandatory that left warhead craters on Harbor during its dying days.

Nansen and Dayan, with a much younger crew, take Envoy to rescue the last Kith ship. Like Captain Kirk, Nansen boards the stranded Fleetwing but, unlike Kirk, he is able to argue that his experience makes him the most suitable candidate for this role. He of course knows the doctrine that "'The commander should stay with the ship.'" (p. 479)

We approach the conclusion of Starfarers. How many entirely different situations have we encountered in its fifty two chapters? Several of the characters appear in only a single chapter. Others survive for many chapters and millennia thanks to time dilation. The Envoy crew sitting "...under a vine-draped trellis..." (p. 472) are like the immortals conferring around a picnic table in The Boat Of A Million Years yet how different are their stories.

A Secular Prophet

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

Chandor Barak, director of the Venture Society academy, tells Captain Nansen:

"' are the hero. I could well say you're the prophet. We need your imagination.'
"Nansen felt uncomfortable about that. But no matter. The zeal before him lighted his own fire afresh. This was not about gain or glory, it was about the nature of humankind, and humankind's place in the universe." (p. 466)

That does sound prophetic. But is it mankind's place in the universe that motivates people to travel long distances into unknown regions? I think that Europeans invaded other continents for gain and glory and sometimes rationalized their own enrichment with fine sounding phrases. Anderson imagines a situation in which the returned Envoy crew members have no economic motive for space exploration but instead really do believe that this is the way forward for mankind.

That is my hope for the future. Freed by technology from material want, some human beings may relapse into passivity but others will be freed to pursue worthy goals like the exploration of the universe. Knowledge is primarily an end, not a means.

The Venture League

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

(The present Queen of England, occasionally mentioned on this blog, will visit her Duchy of Lancaster tomorrow after a week of exhaustive security preparations. This means that, if we look out at the right time, we will see the Royal Train passing behind our house early in the morning.)

In the previous post, does the autumnal sunlight pervading a summer day on Harbor presage that the Envoy crew will be unable to reverse the inexorable decline of interstellar travel? As it turns out, they do reverse it. Although Anderson wrote two short dystopias, all of his longer works end optimistically. The Night Face ends somberly - but is not very long.

Captain Nansen's Venture League encounters political opposition already discussed here. Reverting for a moment to what Nansen found on Earth before traveling to Harbor:

Kith Town is empty except for robot caretakers;
the newest homes were last occupied centuries ago;
few visit physically because everyone on Earth can access virtuals;
but there is a visitors' center with overnight accommodation;
ships come rarely and stay briefly;
crews stay in a hostel or aboard;
constellations and the North Star have changed;
the Town is surrounded by ruins because -

"From time to time, a city had engulfed the starfarers' dwelling place." (p. 462)

It was the realization that more than one city had enclosed Kith Town that brought home to me the passage of time in this future history. With nothing to be done on Earth, Nansen and his crew travel to Harbor to found their Venture League there. What happens next?

The Pathetic Fallacy On Earth And Harbor

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

In a Seladorian ritual, the leader chants, "'...oneness.'" (p. 461) Then:

"The voice grew shrill. '...bring down the falsehoods of the Biosophists...'
"A carnivore screamed, somewhere off in the dark. Zeyd wondered how serene Earth really was and how long its peace could endure." (ibid.)

A carnivore screaming in darkness is a perfect counterpoint to, and comment on, someone chanting "oneness," then denouncing falsehoods. Are the the carnivore and the darkness within the Seladorian?

Nansen the starfarer visits an empty Kith Town. History, indeed. We saw this place bustling with life millennia earlier and, even then, were given a brief history of how a city had grown up around the Town, then the surrounding City district had economically declined. Five years after visiting Earth and its empty Kith Town, Nansen leads the new Venture League on Harbor at Tau Ceti:

"Though it was summer in this hemisphere, to Earthside eyes the sunshine spilling from the blue would have had a mellow, autumnal quality." (p. 464)

Nansen has returned from far space to the autumn of interstellar travel but hopes that it will have a new spring and summer. Another perfect pathetic fallacy. Mirkheim ends with a sunrise (a beginning) that is red (the color associated with sunsets, an end). Anderson's prose affects his readers whether or not they analyze it.

Three Thousand Years Of Peace

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

Nansen's Terrestrial hostess says that the planet has had "'Three thousand years of peace.'" (p. 459)

Nansen replies, "'Thanks to...Selador.'" (ibid.)

- and thinks: Who seems to have done better than the Christ they seem to have forgotten. (ibid.)

Selador has not done better than Christ. Nanotechnology has abolished want and therefore also conflict for material resources. Result: peace. Selador happens to be the religious founder whose name is still quoted.

Zeyd witnesses a ritual in a clearing in a rain forest:

"'In the name of Selador...oneness.'" (pp. 460-461)

Oneness, yes. "In the name of..." is a formula in which any name could have filled in the blank. I hardly need list some of the obvious alternatives. The voices grow shrill as the congregation chants, "'...bring down the falsehoods of the Biosophists...'" (p. 461) I think that that is unlikely. A philosophy that has been global for three millennia will not still chant the names of its defeated opponents. The Anglican Communion does not ritually denounce the falsehoods of the Mithraists or the Manichaeans.

On the other hand, if such conflicts really are still so close to the surface, then Zeyd was right when he "...wondered how serene Earth really was and how long its peace could endure." (ibid.)

Today, I have done other reading and this evening have attended our small sf group. Nevertheless, when I return home and read a few pages of Anderson, I find plenty to post about so it seems that there will a few more posts this month. Anderson always addresses key questions like:

What do people believe?
How does it affect their behavior?
How is society held together?
How long can stability - or apparent stability - last?
How do people respond to change, especially if it has long been delayed?
What should the minority who value change do in any situation? (The situations change with history.)

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Cautious Communication

Poul  Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

(I might stop at 100 posts for May, an average of 104 per month so far this year, but thinking about Poul Anderson's works never ceases.)

How can half a dozen individuals assess an entire society that is new to them? Some well-meaning visitors were completely misled by Stalinist Russia. The Envoy crew are cautious with the future Earth. Only two of them descend to the surface and they refuse "'...a mnemonic in a modern language-'" (p. 456). They do not want to risk mental alteration along with linguistic knowledge.

"The mansion stood on the far edge of town, not very big though ornamented with pilasters, changing iridescences, and a winged cupola." (pp. 457-458)

Inside the mansion, a translating device is required which, Nansen concedes, "...didn't make for intimate conversation, but it served well enough here." (p. 458)

I have attended meetings where an interpreter was needed both for the talk and for the questions and answers. This slowed down everyone's thought processes. Responses that were usually immediate were delayed and thus perhaps more considered.

Now, speaking of other languages, I have some Virgil to prepare for next Tuesday...

Causes Of Conflict

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

A returned Envoy crew member asks his Terrestrial guide:

"'I gather that religions, customs, even laws vary from group to group, and each develops as it chooses, or splits off to start something new. Doesn't that lead to conflict?'" (p. 454)

Why should it? I think that social conflicts are caused only by contradictory material interests. Northern Irish Catholics demonstrated and rioted because of their social and political disadvantages, not because of their doctrinal disagreements with Presbyterians.

The guide replies:

"'All are Seladorian...Different deity or none, different usage, yes, but all accept the oneness of life. That means, too, the oneness of humans.'" (pp. 454-455)

I agree. There are at least three ways in which people of different faiths can live harmoniously, by accepting:

social customs and the secular laws of the land;
scientific procedures;
the rules of philosophical debate and civilized discourse.

We need and can have: difference without division; unity without uniformity. I don't know whether I heard or read that somewhere or invented it but I think it makes sense.

The Envoy man remains skeptical:

"Zeyd knew of no faith that had ever brought universal harmony. He wondered how meaningful these cultural uniquenesses were, and what measures were now and then necessary to maintain the global peace." (p. 455)

Why should any measures be necessary? Previous faiths existed in and reflected periods of economic and military conflict. Zeyd applies out-moded assumptions.

The Two Kith Future Histories

The Original History
The Kith trade between stars at sub-light speeds.
They maintain Kith Town on Earth, where they are increasingly oppressed.
One banished Kith ship, returning from an exploratory mission to the galactic center, finds descendants of human colonists who have become aquatic.

The Starfarers History
The zero-zero drive makes relativistic interstellar travel possible.
Envoy embarks on a long exploratory mission.
The Kith trade between stars at sub-light speeds.
They maintain Kith Town on Earth, where they are increasingly oppressed.
Selador, the son of a Kithman, founds a Terrestrial religion that opposes space travel.
The Seladorians become a persecuted but growing minority.
Kith trade declines.
Kith visiting Earth find Seladorians everywhere.
Envoy returns to an Earth that has been united by Seladorianism for three thousand years.
The Envoy crew and the Kith remnant begin to build an interstellar civilization in cooperation with quantum intelligences encountered during Envoy's exploratory mission. 

Eleven Millennia Later

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

Earth when Envoy returns after an absence of eleven millennia:

"Down from tundra and taiga swept wind-bellowing steppes; boreal forest yielded to broadleaf woods and these to jungle..." (p. 445)

"The groundside scene was of graceful columns and ogive windows open on a garden." (p. 446)

Of course, there is more going on than this but I found these five words worth googling on just two pages. I previously discussed this future Earth in "Starfarers And Seladorians."

Addendum: And, a few pages later, "' matter how much internal variegation it enjoys, it is now the only civilization on Earth.'" (p. 451)

The speaker means "variation." "Variegation," apparently, is a botanical term.

Places of business include "...ateliers..." (p. 453)


Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

All existence is one;
the Ultimate realizes itself through life;
life, the meaning of existence, evolves toward identity with the Ultimate;
however, humanity has taken a wrong turn;
having technology is part of being intelligent but human beings have taken technology too far and in wrong directions;
they have adapted to technology instead of it to the Meaning and have cut themselves off from their living environment;
they must restore destroyed forests and prairies and stop using bioengineering to adapt individuals for specialized, e.g. military, purposes;
they have learned from space travel but must now withdraw to Earth;
if they continue in the wrong direction, then they will become extinct.

The Seladorians cultivate oases, are acquiring new land at the expense of the former occupants and want " abolish the machines on whose productivity depended the subsidies that kept poor folk alive." (p. 418) We might agree with some Seladorian tenets but not others. In this novel, there is a strong tendency among technological races for spacefaring to decline and Seladorianism is part of this tendency on Earth. That alone shows us that Anderson regards this religion as a mostly negative force.

A Rich Text

I am able to post frequently and the subject matters of the posts vary because Poul Anderson's texts are rich, the current text addressing physics, cosmogony, alien biology, hypothetical nonchemical life, technology, society, history and religions both real and projected. Starfarers belongs both to the sub-genre of future history and to the class of works that deal with the concept and implications of time travel.

Still to come in Starfarers are:

Chapter 46, the last Kith installment;
Chapters 47-52, the immediate and ultimate outcomes of Envoy's return to Earth.

After finishing Starfarers, there will be other Poul Anderson works to return to.

What Endures?

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

As Envoy returns to Earth, its crew detect that interstellar travel from Earth is sharply declining. Captain Nansen, "...nominally a Reform Catholic..." (p. 58), remarks:

"'...the Church taught that someday time also will have a stop.'" (p. 428)

By speaking in the past tense, he seems to assume that, after so many millennia, the Church will no longer exist. This assumption turns out to be correct. The six surviving Envoy crew members include the last Jew, Christian and Muslim.

I was taught that the Catholic Church would last until the end of time. This was contradicted by sf stories in which mankind survives into the remote future when, although there are diverse sects, none of them are descended from any religions known to us. St Paul's teaching was not that the Church would survive through all those millennia but that Christ would return when he, Paul, had completed his mission to the Gentiles. When some converts had died and others then asked Paul why the return had been delayed, he replied that Christ would indeed return soon at which point dead believers would be raised and those who were still alive, possibly including himself and his correspondents, would meet with them in the air, thus writing the passage that generated the Rapture idea.

The idea that the Church as an institution would endure through many future millennia must have arisen after the first generation of Christians had died - although some then expected Christ's return at the end of the first millennium.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Service To The Coordinator

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

In Chapter 21, Earth is ruled by the Dominacy. In Chapter 44, it is ruled by the Governance. Anderson is telling us that there are changes of regime but not of fundamental social relationships. (Someone once joked that, in America, man exploited man whereas, in Russia, it was the other way around.)

In the Terran Empire of Flandry's time, they say, "Glory to the Emperor!" In the Governance, they say, "Service to the Coordinator." (p. 413) In both cases, the head of state does not necessarily measure up. Terra suffers under Josip and, in the Governance, the Executive of North Meric responds without enthusiasm:

"Perhaps he was thinking of that painted giggler who sat in the Uldan Palace." (p. 413)

In the Governance, the Seladorians, who will rule Earth when the Envoy returns, are still a persecuted minority. Anderson uses Chapter 44 to add to the Kith History. Selador's "'...father was a Kithman who left his ship to marry an Arodish woman.'" (p. 413) Seladorianism is a split from Arodism. We meet a Kith convert to Seladorianism. Anderson surprises us by introducing a young viewpoint character, Panthos, who serves the Coordinator, protects some Seladorians from Arods and is killed with a slug through the skull.

However, in any case, Panthos' role was only to appear in this single chapter which shows us that Earth will not have made itself fit to receive the new knowledge and perspectives brought by the Envoy.


It was feared that the interstellar drive might destroy the universe. Instead:

"'Every voyage brings the universe even further from the metastable state, toward true stability that can last forever.'"
-Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999), p. 404.

Forever? I thought that there was a heat death to come? (Of course, the heat dead universe might remain stable forever, in this sense.)

It is interesting to be told how this stabilization is effected:

"'...the energy transfer actually makes a bond, like the transfers of virtual particles that create the forces holding the atoms together.'" (ibid.)

Thus, these neither existent nor non-existent virtual particles not only create the universe but also hold it together. If divinity is manifested anywhere, it is here.

What is significant is that the intelligent virtualities or quantum states impart this information, that the interstellar drive stabilizes the universe, because they have:

"'...had word from the future about what this can mean to the future.'" (ibid.)

Human beings with light speed spaceships and holonts with trans-temporal communicators will unite the universe.

Equally startling is the suggestion that by communicating with other organic, and also inorganic, intelligences, human beings will understand their own minds better.

Science And Faith

In Poul Anderson's Starfarers (New York, 1999), there may be scientific proof of survival after death. The Muslim character responds:

"'I think the soul, God, the purpose and meaning of existence, will always be matters of faith.'" (p. 403)

Paradox: if it is proved, then it is not faith, and, if it is faith, then it is not proved. Fortunately, religion can be based on practice and experience instead of on faith.

Today, I attended a large gathering in Lancaster (see recent post). My purpose as usual was mainly to meet people that I know. This time, I met a woman who is beginning five years of training in Wicca. She expects to experience rituals more deeply after her first initiation. I also met a man who, when he read the New Testament, believed that Jesus was the Truth, speaking to him.

I try to make sense of that man's experience in the light of my understanding of the texts. What I accept from the Gospels is that Jesus was a powerful healer who preached the imminence of divine rule on Earth. Thus, I do not accept the other miracles or a physical Resurrection. The Gospels have at least one feature in common with myths, legends and popular fiction: different versions of a common story. They are neither historical biography nor historical fiction but propaganda for a belief about Jesus. But, like some Hindu and Buddhist texts, they function as "scripture," i.e., some readers experience their relationship to the eternal while reading these words.

From Wells To Anderson; From One To Many

HG Wells wrote one classic, definitive time travel novel merely hinting at the paradoxes whereas Poul Anderson presents multiple fictions:

in the Old Phoenix sequence, many timelines coexist;

in the Time Patrol series, one mutable timeline exists because time travelers can change past events;

in The Corridors Of Time and There Will Be Time, one immutable timeline exists because time travelers cannot change past events;

in Starfarers, one immutable timeline exists because physical time travel is impossible.

Vast, systematic and comprehensive. And don't forget Wells.

Moving On

The page view count has been high during the week when Sean M Brooks' "The Three Phases Of Poul Anderson's Career" remained at the top of the blog. (I hope that no blog readers missed my shorter posts being published beneath it.) Now that "The Three Phases..." has begun to move down this blog, it has been copied to the Poul Anderson: Contributor Articles blog. See here. Other blog readers are invited to email articles on Poul Anderson's works to

The primitive centers of the brain are "...gustatory, splanchnic, olfactory..." (Starfarers, p. 396). Googling reveals that "splanchnic," unlike the other two centers listed, is not sensorial. The brain handles conscious mental processes, unconscious mental processes and unconscious biological processes. We really do not know what happens inside us.

Anderson refers to "...the value of e..." (ibid.) I checked this and it is not what I thought it was.

We have two British Bank Holiday Mondays, thus extended weekends, in May. Today, although still sneezing, I will join my family at the annual charity car boot sale in Lancaster Ryelands Park (see image).

Signing off till later.

Later: Ryelands Car Boot, as ever, was heaving, despite the impression generated by the one image that I found for it.


This article outlines and dates the three phases of Poul Anderson's career as a writer, with representative examples taken from his works. Considering how vast Anderson's output was from 1947 to his death in 2001, it will not be practical or desirable to cite more than a few of his many short stories and novels.  And one weakness of this essay is how I have completely ignored his mysteries, historical novels, and non fictional works.  One last point: this arbitrary carving up of a writer's career into phases is an artificial construct by critics, commentators, and fans, and should be done cautiously, with a grain of salt.

Strictly speaking, it would be correct to date Anderson's career as beginning in September 1944, when AMAZING published his first short story, "A Matter of Relativity."  However, dating the beginning of the early phase of his career to the publication of "Tomorrow's Children" (ASTOUNDING, March 1947) is more realistic.  Because Anderson only began to write regularly from 1947 onwards.

I argue for dating Anderson's early phase from 1947 when "Tomorrow's Children" (which became the first part of TWILIGHT WORLD) was published. And I date the end of this early phase in Anderson's career to 1958, when THE ENEMY STARS was published.  This early phase was when Anderson was still learning how to write, to find his natural voice as a writer, and when he began writing about many of the ideas and themes dearest to his mind.  This early period is also when we can detect a few false starts, or perhaps merely a change of mind in how he thought about and wrote his stories.  The clearest example of that being the Psychotechnic stories (found in collections such as THE PSYCHOTECHNIC LEAGUE, COLD VICTORY, STARSHIP, and novels like VIRGIN PLANET and THE PEREGRINE).

One of the false starts I believe can be found in Anderson's early phase is "Genius"  (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, December 1948). I base this on comments by a critic whose name I cannot convincingly recall (it may have been Sandra Miesel) who argued this very early story contradicted the moral values and beliefs of Poul Anderson.  I wish I could cite the author by name and quote the exact text.  I apologize for this vague and unsatisfactory paragraph and hope I can replace it if I find the text I am incompletely remembering.

Besides hard science fiction Poul Anderson also wrote a smaller but still impressive amount of fantasies, both novels and short stories.  The most significant example of that, during his early phase, being THE BROKEN SWORD (Abelard: 1954).  It's interesting to note how he became dissatisfied with the original form of that novel and published a revised version 1971. Which means THE BROKEN SWORD can be found in both his early and middle periods.  The following bit from Anderson's "Foreword" to the 1971 Del Rey/Ballantine Books edition of THE BROKEN SWORD gives us some understanding of why he became dissatisfied with the first version: "I would not myself write anything so headlong, so prolix, and so unrelievedly savage.  My vein is more that of THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS."

Going back to the Psychotechnic stories, in an "Author's Note" that Anderson placed at the end of THE PSYCHOTECHNIC LEAGUE (New York, Pinnacle Books, 1981) we are given some comments about his first "future history" and why he eventually became dissatisfied with it.  On page 284 Anderson wrote:
    A good reason for this abandonment was that the real world had, predictably, not been behaving as described.  For example, World War Three remains ahead of us, rather than behind.  No doubt I could have fudged my dates a bit. However, I could not explain away important scientific discoveries and technological advances which I had failed to foresee.
    People and institutions had also changed profoundly, as had my view of them. Once I was a flaming liberal, a fact which is probably most obvious in "Un-Man." Nowadays I consider the United Nations a dangerous farce on which we ought to ring down the curtain.  (In justice to it and myself, though, please remember that when I wrote this novella the U.N. had quite a different character from that it has since acquired, and looked improvable.)
I date Anderson's middle period as beginning with the publication of WE CLAIM THESE STARS! (Ace, 1959).  This middle period is marked by the confidence and strength with which Anderson wrote.  Two of his most prominent series of stories which began in his early phase, the stories featuring the Polesotechnic League/Terran Empire and the Time Patrol, reached their full maturity in this middle phase (although Anderson wrote one last Time Patrol story late, in 1995).  I would date the end of this middle period to 1989, when THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS was published. BOAT shows both definite similarities with Anderson's earlier works and touches on the ideas and themes which would dominate the works he wrote during the last twelve years of his life.

David G. Hartwell contributed a prefatory essay to the fourth volume of NESFA Press' reprinting of many of Anderson's shorter works in ADMIRALTY: THE COLLECTED SHORT WORKS OF POUL ANDERSON (2011).  What he said on page 10 admirably describes qualities which can be found in the stories Anderson wrote during his middle period (in fact, in all three phases).  Hartwell wrote: "Instead, again in the hard SF tradition, he most often wrote about strong men and women pitted against the challenge of survival in the face of the natural universe.  Some of them die.  But Anderson was optimist enough to see beyond the dark times into both a landscape, sometimes a starscape, and a future of wonders--for the survivors.  Anderson's future is not for the lazy or the stay-at-homes.  He was fairly gloomy about current social trends, big government, repression of the individual, so he catapulted his characters into a future of new frontiers, making them face love and death in vividly imagined and depicted environments far from home.  I recall the power and beauty and pathos of his fine black hole story, "Kyrie," the wit of THE MAN WHO COUNTS (THE WAR OF THE WING MEN) the good humor of "A Bicycle Built for Brew," the enormous scope and amazing comprehension of "Memorial."  His range was impressive."

(Hartwell's mentioning of "Memorial" puzzles me, I can't find it among Anderson's works.  The item closest to it being "In Memoriam," which can most conveniently be found in ALL ONE UNIVERSE, published by Tor Books in 1996.)

And I would date the beginning of Anderson's middle period in his writing of fantasies to the publication of THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS in 1961. However, since this edition was only an expanded version of the original form of the novel first published by the MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION in September/October 1953, this story belongs more to Anderson's early phase.  A truer representative of Anderson's work in fantasies dating to his middle phase is A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST (Doubleday, 1974).  An especially interesting thing to note about this book is how it was written almost entirely in blank verse, the form of poetry used by William Shakespeare for his plays.  In other words, TEMPEST was written as an act of homage to the Bard.

I am convinced Poul Anderson was a master short story writer.  In both fantasy and hard science fiction.  By turns poetic and elegiac, and scrupulously faithful to known science or not too impossible extrapolations from what was known.  He also excelled in describing his characters and the backgrounds of his stories.

What were some of the ideas and themes which Anderson took up with, in my opinion, magnificent success, in his later years?  Immortality, artificial intelligence based on computer technology (AI, for short), the uploading of human personalities into computer networks (and their downloading into human bodies created for them via DNA engineering and cloning), nanotechnology, even raising animal species to human levels of intelligence, etc. Albeit, as of this writing, we are seeing results in the actual world only in cloning and nanotech.  I am skeptical some of the themes Anderson speculated about in his later years will ever actually come to pass, such as immortality and AI.

One of the ideas which came most strongly to me as marking Anderson's late phase was how WELL he wrote during the period 1989-2001.  It is my opinion that THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS marks both the end of his middle phase and the beginning of his late period.  These years shows Anderson as not being content to rest on his laurels and rehash old ideas and themes from his earlier years.  Instead, his late phase is marked by how boldly he tried out new ideas, some of them very strange to me!  I refer, of course, to his four HARVEST OF STARS books, STARFARERS, GENESIS, and the posthumously published FOR LOVE AND GLORY.  I ardently recommend readers to try out the HARVEST OF STARS books, despite the difficult ideas found in them (some of which, as noted above, I am skeptical will ever actually come to pass).

One of the themes which marked Anderson's later years was how he preferred to speculate about STL means of mankind reaching the stars.  Mostly, of course, because that was, given our current knowledge of science, more likely than having a FTL drive.  But he did use FTL for his last novel, FOR LOVE AND GLORY.

Compared to his early and middle phases, Anderson wrote fewer fantasies during his late period, 1989 to 2001.  The first being "Faith" (co-authored with Karen Anderson) published in AFTER THE KING (1992).  And the first of only two fantasy novels he wrote during his later years was WAR OF THE GODS (Tor: 1997).  Truth to say, I consider WAR to be one of Anderson's very few weaker books.  The second being OPERATION LUNA (1999), placed in the same "world" as OPERATION CHAOS.

I should also note that during his later years Anderson continue to write short stories, both hard SF and fantasy.  Examples being "Death and the Knight," and the posthumously published "Pele" (set in Larry Niven's Man/Kzin wars series) and "The Lady of the Winds" (set in the Thieves World fantasy series).

Sunday, 24 May 2015

A Qualitatively Different Kind Of Life

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

The life-forms near the black hole might perceive sets of tensors as objects (p. 389) because they live in and directly experience phase spaces and Riemannian spaces. Also, the magnetic field near the black hole is " intense as to be well-nigh material..." (p. 392).

In this future history, artificial intelligences are not conscious because consciousness is an activity of an entire organism, not just of the upper brain but also of the animal brain, nervous system, muscles, viscera, glands, drives and instincts. However, equivalent nonchemical processes have arisen in the space near the black hole. Human and Tahirian explorers establish abstract, technological communication with these conscious and intelligent life forms but can never see or meet them.

Another unfamiliar word encountered today was "'...euthymic'" (p. 392), here used to mean a drug that induces or restores a euthymic mood.

In The Space Near A Black Hole

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

In the accretion disk, temporary concentrations of plasma, possibly shock-wave resonance effects, may form plasmoids, with the masses of large asteroids, in the flares. Such a plasmoid could be massive enough to deflect a scientific observation station from its intended orbit.

The station must round periastron (p. 333) and raise the apastron (p. 334). Readers without a scientific background gather some idea of the meanings of such terms from the contexts in which they are used in sf. However, it is worthwhile to check and get a clearer understanding.

A premise of Starfarers is that nothing that enters a black hole can re-emerge from it because the escape velocity of the collapsed star is greater than the speed of light. However, would an FTL craft be able to enter and leave? A frequent premise of "hyperspace" is that it cannot be used too deep inside a gravity well. However, James Blish's spindizzy-powered spaceships and flying cities have their own internal gravitational fields that are independent of the gravity of the external universe so would they have been able to travel around safely inside black holes and even into and back out of singularities if Blish had known of black holes when he wrote Cities In Flight?

Anderson shows that interstellar explorers have a great deal to contend with even before they encounter any extrasolar intelligences.


Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

A magnetic flare from the accretion disk of the black hole might divert the plasma stream of a space boat's reaction drive or "...start ruinous waves of resonance." (p. 339) However:

"The boat's collimating fields compensated." (ibid.)

Despite this:

"'A magnetic pulse of very high power seriously interfered with plasma collimation...'" (p. 341)

The term, "collimation," seemed familiar so I referred back to James Blish, "Nor Iron Bars" IN Blish, Galactic Cluster (London, 1963), pp. 61-92:

"...collimation-cruising..." (p. 69);

"'...I can use the star as a beacon to collimate my next measurements.'" (p. 87);

"'It'll be cut and dried into a routine after it's collimated -'" (p. 91)

This story can be seen as one episode of a future historical sequence by Blish. See here and here.

Apart from "collimation," there were one or two other words in Starfarers today that needed googling. However, since I was unwell and bed-ridden, I failed to make a note of them. But the message is clear: Anderson's rich vocabulary means that it makes sense to note unusual words and google them frequently.


OK. I have been laid up all day with yet another cold. Lying in bed, I have reread some more of Poul Anderson's Starfarers but not yet been motivated or inspired to post. Of the human explorers:

Kilbirnie is killed when she pilots a boat too close to the accretion disk of the black hole;

Brent mutinies and thus does what I would have thought was impossible, reintroduces armed conflict between a handful of characters in an STL spaceship exploring a black hole thousands of light years away from Earth.

I have already posted about the quantum intelligences composed of virtual particles in the gravitationally distorted space near the black hole and also about social conditions back on Earth when the Envoy returns millennia later but will continue to reread the novel, expecting to notice some new details in the remaining 100+ pages.

I have also reread much of Alan Moore's Watchmen. Both of these very dissimilar authors are masters of several genres, albeit mainly in different media. I have listed Anderson's genres more than once before. It may be of interest to compare Moore's slightly different list:

science fiction
historical fiction
detective fiction
historical fantasy
heroic fantasy
historical sf
humorous sf
maybe two ghost stories?

science fiction
fictional ads and political propaganda
a historical novel
a ghost story
contemporary fiction
a screen treatment

Someone will now tell me what I have missed from either list.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


(Far out. One image gives us the cover of my edition of Watchmen and the Awesome Mage himself.)

I am rereading Alan Moore's Watchmen so I need an angle to discuss it on the Poul Anderson Appreciation blog. Easy. It is all in the alternative histories.

Poul Anderson gives us alternative histories in which:

the Carolingian myths were true;
William Shakespeare was not the Great Dramatist but the Great Historian;
technology was based not on science but on magic.

And Alan Moore gives us alternative histories in which:

when superhero comics inspired real life superheroes, comic books turned instead to pirates and, after the New York incident, to horror;
Superman and Captain Marvel were comic book characters but Mick Anglo's Marvelman was a parareality program and Moore's revived Marvelman was the real thing.

Absolutely Mind-blowing.

A Scottish Accent And A Black Hole

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

Poul Anderson tries to reproduce a Scottish accent. "'Richt the noo?'" (p. 311) means "Right now?" Kilbirnie also addresses Nansen as "' jo.'" (ibid.), a Scottish term of endearment, not listed in the Wiki article but see here.

We know that a supernova briefly outshines its galaxy but Anderson writes:

"Briefly, it outshone its whole island universe." (p. 312)

Because it was originally thought that our galaxy was the whole universe, when other galaxies were postulated, they were initially called "island universes."

In Starfarers, a blue giant star had gone supernova, blasting out nickel, copper, silver, tin, gold, uranium etc, vaporizing any planets that it may have had and leaving a remnant of ten Solar masses that collapsed without limit, leaving a sphere 185 kilometers in circumference containing a point-like singularity. The collapsed star retains a fast spin, a strong magnetic field, a slight electric charge and a powerful gravitational field.

Occasionally, instead of two virtual particles mutually annihilating, one falls into the black hole while the other escapes. Atoms and dust accelerating inwards collide, generating photons and an accretion disk "...gyring about the black hole..." (p. 313) and at last falling into it whereas matter pulled to the magnetic poles is beamed outward. The accretion disk, visible as a small, flickering, blue-white ring, has clashing waves, flung flares, flaming coils, magnetic convulsions and unforeseeable chaos.

(Lower image, from Hubble space telescope, is possibly gas accreting round a black hole in elliptical galaxy, NGC 4261.)


Is anyone out there becoming tired of Starfarers? I am not. Each of these posts is a very brief comment on a very short section of an extremely dense and rich text that addresses:

modern physics and cosmogony;
a neutron star, a black hole and a recurrent nova (that last I had never heard of before);
the ultimate effects of technology on society;
cosmic life and alien intelligence;
personal interactions and relationships;
language and communication;
the cosmic role of intelligence.

I find Sean M. Brooks' division of Poul Anderson's career into three phases helpful and illuminating:

the Psychotechnic History, an early phase series, was abandoned because science had moved on and the author's views had changed;

the Technic History and the Time Patrol are mature works of the middle period;

The Boat Of A Million Years closes the middle period and opens the later period;

the Harvest of Stars Tetralogy, Starfarers and Genesis are later period future histories addressing new themes and very different from the already mature works of the middle period.

There remains a great deal more to be said about Starfarers.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Some Vocab

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

(i) "...en..." (p. 273) is the personal pronoun invented by the human explorers for use between themselves when referring to one of the single-sex Tahirians. I do not know whether it had any previous significance.

(ii) "...Cambiante..." (p. 240), the artificial language invented for human-Tahirian communication, is not spoken but displayed on the screens of hand-held "parleurs," also specially invented for this purpose (ibid.)

(iii) "...a sort of ramada where parties could gather..." (p. 281)

(iv) "He flicked a thumb at the culinator." (p. 289)

(v) Ruszek addresses a Tahirian as "'...baratom.'" (p. 282)

(vi) "'...what can I say that has not been said among us a lakh of times?'" (p. 299)

(vii) Years ago, the Admissions Tutor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) told a group of Careers Advisers, including myself, that potential students had to speak the language of mathematics and obey the laws of physics. The Tahirians obey these laws but express them differently:

"'The basic quantities of their dynamics are not mass, length, and time, but energy, electric charge, and space-time interval.'" (p. 272)

It sounds as if they have proceeded more directly to a theoretical understanding that human beings have had to discover.

(You thought that I was going to end May with a round number of posts, 80, and the first five months of 2015 with 500, didn't you?)

The Unknown

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

Pp. 274-277 present a frequent Poul Anderson scenario:

two characters explore an exposed planetary core left by a supernova;

such an environment is entirely unknown, hence the need to explore it;

however, the explorers are confident that there is no immediate danger;

despite their confidence, a sudden land quake opens a crevice that one of the explorers falls into;

however, her companion improvises a rope to pull her out.

I have de-emphasized the particularities of this incident in order to highlight its parallels with many similar occurrences in Anderson's works. The message is always clear: the mere fact that a new environment is mostly unknown means that many of its dangers to human beings are among the unknown features but there is only one way to learn what they are. Explorers, like entrepreneurs, take calculated risks.

I agree with this and suggest further that curiosity will outlast gain as a motive for exploration. Observing the Tahirians' planet-transforming technology at work, Clelland comments:

"'...any, uh, profit motive is irrelevant, when self-maintaining, self-reproducing robots do the work.'" (p. 233)

We understand that the Tahirians use their awesome machines merely to maintain their static civilization for millions of years but (at least some) human beings will always look outward, to "see another mountain."

Mysteries In Space

Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999).

In both the Technic History and the Hoka series (see also here), there is a planet so massive that its core survives its sun going supernova. In Starfarers also, a supernova-surviving planetary core is discovered, although this one is neither coated with supermetals nor inhabited. The mysteries surrounding the third core are:

Why does it display "'...rifts, grabens, highlands...'" (p. 264) instead of a smooth surface?

Did it acquire its atmosphere and ice from outgassing, from cometary impacts, from the supernova cloud or from some other process?

For me, another mystery comes when a Tahirian tells Captain Nansen:

"'Most of us would have kept knowledge of the black hole from you, for fear of what reckless things you may do.'" (p. 265)

And Nansen reflects, "Inevitable that that incident became known..." (ibid.)

What black hole and what incident? I am rereading the book very carefully but the text is so dense and information-packed that I have obviously missed something.

Addendum, 22 May: The black hole was introduced on p. 254.