Monday, 22 June 2015

Request For Articles

Once again, blog readers are invited to email long articles or brief notes to be published on the blog.

Why do you read Poul Anderson?
How does he compare with other fantasy, sf, historical or mystery writers that I have not mentioned?
How do you assess the moral issues raised by the Polesotechnic League, the Terran Empire or the human-AI interactions of Anderson's later future histories?
Is Nicholas van Rijn good, bad or too big for easy categorization?
Is Anderson's humorous sf successful?
Is the time travel logic of his Time Patrol series valid?
Are his aliens convincing or sometimes too anthropomorphic?
Does he realize historical periods and make them seem different from each other?
Should he have written more fantasy?
Do we want to read sequels or continuations written by other authors?
Should his works be filmed?
Which is his single most enduring work?


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Briefly, and most basically, I read Poul Anderson because his stories are fun to read. To say nothing, at the very least, of how they are very, very well written.

One writer of fantasy I don't believe you have ever commented is the late Avram Davidon. My view is that Davidson was very good at writing fantasies, but perhaps not quite as good at writing hard SF. I would esp. recommend his stories about Dr. Engelbert Eszterhazy, set in the fictional Triune Monarchy of Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania. These were what some might call Ruritanian fantasies.

As for Anderson's mysteries, I think they remind me of the works of Rex Stout, altho Trygve Yamamura was far more physically active than Nero Wolfe! And, if I had read Leslie Charteris' "The Saint" stories (greatly admired by PA), I might be able to compare these writers mystery works.

And the question you raised about the moral issues to be found in Anderson's stories about the Polesotechnic Leage, the Terran Empire, the HARVEST OF STARS timelime, is far too vast to briefly answered here in anything like adeguate detail. I would argue that Nicholas van Rijn, Dominic Flandry, Anson Guthrie, etc., did their best to do as little harm to others while still striving to do their duty by their own societies.

And Old Nick was certainly a bigger than life character! I would say, on balance, that he did far more good than harm (even while loudly claiming he only wanted to make as much money as the traffic would bear!).

As for how Anderson handled speculations about human/AI interactions, I do wonder if the sophotects we see in THE HARVEST OF STARS books and GENESIS would be as gentle as we see them. Mightn't they instead, have been pitilessly ruthless towards mankind? Another SF writer, John Wright, seems to have mixed views about AIs (see his THE GOLDEN AGE series and the books featuring Menelaus Montrose).

Yes, I like his humorous SF, both works written independently (A BICYCLE BUILT FOR BREW), and the Hoka stories co-authored with Gordon R. Dickson.

I think your massive commentaries on how Poul Anderson handled time traveling far better than anything I could say. I agree that PA surpassed most other writers trying their hand at this.

By and large, I found Anderson's aliens convincing. Far better than what I've seen done by too many other SF writers. Their aliens tends to be weak and unconvincing.

Yes, I enjoyed Poul Anderson's historical novels and stories. He worked very hard to convincingly show us, the Later Roman Empire in THE KING OF YS be both true to known history and humanly plausible. And the same was true of the Norway we see in THE LAST VIKING. ROGUE SWORD was a very good, if grim depicting of the decline of the Eastern Empire in the early 1300's.

It's hard to say if Anderson should have written more fantasy. Maybe, maybe not.

I am uneasy at the idea of other writers trying their hands at continuations using Anderson's "histories". If he was still alive to control such a process, as Larry Niven did with the writers who contributed to his Man/Kzin Wars, then I would give a cautious yes.

I definitely think some of Anderson's works should be filmed! Most so called SF films are simply EXECRABLE botchups! I would suggest that film producers and directors start with some of his short stories. I have suggested "The Game of Glory" as one possibility, because I think only fairly minimal special effects would be needed. And because I think the plot of a film of a short story is more likely to remain faithful to the text. A practice run, you might say!

Which of Anderson's works is his most enduring book? No fair! Because I could list many of his books! (Smiles) Trying to think of just ONE book.....very well, I pick THE HARVEST OF STARS.


David Birr said...

1st question: Mr. Brooks answered it perfectly.

2nd question: Mmmm, tricky. How DOES Anderson compare with, say, David Drake or Andre Norton or Sandy Mitchell? I don't generally think in terms of comparisons like that. I just read what I LIKE, and I like Anderson, Drake, Norton, Mitchell, and a number of others without ranking them thus.

3rd: I have to agree with Mr. Brooks on this one, too. An abbreviated reply might be: these are civilizations trying to survive and prosper. The universe is AMORAL; morality is a construct people try to impose on it. "Do no harm" comes into conflict with "Don't let anyone else harm you." A whole BOOK could be written on that.

4th: I feel van Rijn is not precisely a good person, but definitely not an evil one. His actions generally work out for the majority good, even if his reasons for those actions may sometimes be more selfish than otherwise. "Enlightened self-interest" is key, here: people who have good reason to be satisfied with the deal they've struck with him are less likely to try to force further concessions from him later ... unless they're unreasonably selfish, in which case he can persuade other, more reasonable people to side with him. Give the most people the best deal, and they're more likely to back him up against the greedier ones; that seems to be his thinking, and it's usually shown as working.

5th: I certainly find Anderson's humor successful. In addition to what Mr. Brooks cited, I'll mention that little touches of humor, sometimes black humor, can be found in many, MANY of his stories.
van Rijn murdering an alien by goading the fellow into biting old Nick's (toxic, to aliens) butt.
Flandry whistling, "Brown is the color of my true love's nose."
A dwarf telling Holger Carlsen that "Thar's gold in them thar hills."
"'s the Adversary who is humorless. I'm sure God likes to laugh."

6th: PA's assessment of time travel is carefully reasoned. I for one find the "alternate universes" theory more appealing, but I believe his logic is valid within its assumptions. We'll never know if those assumptions are valid unless someone invents a GENUINE method of time travel.

David Birr said...

7th: I at least find his aliens convincing. Beyond a certain point of non-anthropomorphism, aliens would have so little common ground with us that there'd be no possibility of meaningful communication, which would lead to no interaction aside from either "you ignore us and we'll ignore you" or wars of extermination by one side or the other -- simply because we can't communicate effectively enough to make peace.
C.J. Cherryh is big on creating aliens who're REALLY alien in their thought patterns, even when some of them are rather humanoid physiologically. The thing is, I find this off-putting, to the point that I've never been able to finish a Cherryh story focusing heavily on truly ALIEN aliens.

8th: I think Anderson does a very good job of showing different historical periods, and how they're unlike AND like each other.

9th: Would writing more fantasy have gotten in the way of writing more SF? I'm quite pleased with his fantasy output.

10th: I agree with Mr. Brooks: continuations UNDER ANDERSON'S GUIDANCE would be one thing, but as is, I worry that the result would often deviate too far from his original vision.

11th: Much as with answer 10, I fear that the screenplay would be a Hollywood obscenity. I'd love to see a well-done, faithful *Three Hearts and Three Lions*, for instance, but I know filmmakers would put a sword in Alianora's hands -- and that'd likely be the one of the LESS annoying changes.
I once briefly envisioned the possibility of a movie of *A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows*. One adaptation that I considered was that some of the narrative passages could be included in the form of voice-overs by Flandry himself. In particular, the opening lines (after the Dennitzan introduction about "Bodin's raid"): "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." Replace "Flandry" with "I" and that opening might help draw viewers into the "feel" of the story.

12th: So many possibilities.... Any story about an interstellar secret agent has to be compared to Dominic Flandry. *Three Hearts and Three Lions* created or codified several aspects of High Fantasy. *Operation Chaos* is a groundbreaking exploration of "Magical Technology." Too many possibilities. Some books will endure for one person while another reader can't even get into that book at all. *Operation Chaos* is my choice right now -- catch me at a different time and I might pick a different story.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Birr,

Thanks for your nice comment about how I responded to Paul's first question!

And your comment on "comparing" Anderson with other writers was better than mine. It really was enough to say that other writers can please you in different ways.

But I don't think of morality as a construct imposed on the universe. A star or planet cares nothing for such moral issues as murder, robbery, rape, etc. Stars and planets are unconscious, unaware THINGS. You need self aware, thinking beings to even be capable of worrying about moral problems.

While I broadly agree with your comments about Old Nick as a MERCHANT, I believe you erred in forgetting how he was also a devout, if not exactly a "conventional" Christian. My belief is that van Rijn's apparently Catholic faith greatly influenced how he behaved (never mind his loud talk about only trying to make as much money as possible).

Yes, I agree with what you said about how you can find many little touches of humor and comedy throughout Anderson's works. I should have thought of that!

I would argue that if non human races exist, then it might be possible to communicate with them. Esp. if they were enough like us to desire many of the same things, such as planets.

Ditto, what you said about continuations of Anderson's works only if HE could have supervised them. Fan fictions, of course, are another matter, and will have to be controlled both by the laws of copyright and the general recognition that they don't MATTER and can be ignored.

I like your comments about how A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS might be filmed. Esp. if we think of such a film as being partly narrated by Flandry himself.

Again, DITTO, I could list far too many of Anderson's books I believe will prove enduring.

And, I rather hope you will try your own hand at writing guest articles for this blog!


Paul Shackley said...

Thanks, guys. I hoped that my questions might inspire some articles to be published on the blog. In that sense, the questions were only suggestions. But it is good to have them answered in the combox.