Thursday, 4 June 2015

Science Fictional Subject-Matters

Two passages in SM Stirling's The Sky People (New York, 2007) led, first, to a reflection on relevant works by Poul Anderson and, secondly, to a more general reflection on science fiction which, appropriately, takes us back to HG Wells.

Sf writers can write about:

technological advances on Earth;
interplanetary travel;
interstellar travel;
time travel.

Thus, HG Wells wrote:

"The Land Ironclads" (tanks);
"In The Abyss" (an undersea vehicle);
The War in The Air (world war with aircraft);
The World Set Free (nuclear weapons);
The Invisible Man (invisibility);
The Food Of The Gods (giants);
Men Like Gods (the discovery of parallel Earths);
The First Men In The Moon (interplanetary travel);
A Modern Utopia (interstellar travel);
The Time Machine (time travel).

(A Modern Utopia is not a novel about interstellar travel but a discussion of a modern utopia. However, for the purpose of this discussion, Wells imagines that he and his readers have been transported to a utopian Earth in another planetary system. Also, the narrator of The War Of The Worlds speculates as to whether Martians or Terrestrials will traverse interstellar distances.)

In The Sky People, the subject-matter of interplanetary travel has passed from sf to contemporary adventure fiction. Two responses:

Frederik Pohl will concentrate on "Extrasolar stuff..." (p. 314);
L Sprague de Camp will stick to "'...historicals and time-travel from now on and leave the solar system alone...'" (p. 315).

Thus, sf has lost interplanetary travel but retains interstellar travel and time travel. Poul Anderson's main future history, avoiding the near future of interplanetary exploration, started with interstellar exploration in the twenty second century. Only much later did Anderson add a single story of interplanetary exploration set around 2055, now only forty years away.

De Camp is surely known for "...historicals and time-travel..."? His Lest Darkness Fall, a vast improvement on Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court, was one source of Anderson's Time Patrol.

In The Sky People, new arrivals on Venus bring equipment like a computer camera that is not yet marketed on Earth, thus reinforcing the hero Marc's impression that he is living inside an sf story - which he is. Metafiction.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

IF we had been so fortunate to have in real life an inhabitable, terrestroid Venus and Mars of the kind seen in S.M. Stirling's "Lords of Creation" books, then I have to argue that a Poul Anderson living in such an alternate universe would very likely have written a quite different Technic History series. And that's assuming he would have written stories and novels of the kind we have now, in our world. It's my belief that knowing Venus and Mars were terrestroid and inhabited would have affected and changed how PA would have written his stories after about 1962, at latest. We would have seen very different stories and never have known about the ones Anderson actually wrote.