Monday, 28 December 2015

UFOs

Poul Anderson, The Infinite Voyage: Man's Future In Space (London, 1969).

Anderson displays a picture of a "flying saucer" in New Mexico, not this one, on pp. 150-151. He points out that:

"...the reported behavior of flying saucers does not square with the laws of motion for solid objects." (p. 152)

I know a ufologist who would reply that obviously flying saucers are inter-dimensional craft that defy ordinary laws of motion. Obviously. The proposition that flying saucers are some kind of intelligently directed air/space/time/dimensional vehicles is for him not a testable hypothesis but an unassailable assumption and anyone who questions it is blinkered by Western science - unless and until scientists confirm one of his assumptions, in which case their testimony is then quoted as proving the matter. (It gets worse: every time scientists make a discovery that obliges them to revise their earlier statements or theories, they are showing themselves up to have been stupid for accepting their earlier "wrong" views; every time they publish the latest data, e.g., about the atmosphere of Venus, they are claiming infallibly and authoritatively to know the composition of the Venerian atmosphere, thus setting themselves up for another humiliation whenever they - by their own scientific methods, of course - acquire additional data. Could any (mis)understanding of science be more distorted than that?)

At a World SF Con, Arthur C Clarke showed slides, including one of an Apollo launch with a discernible and rather detailed ufo in the sky. He thought that it was some sort of reflection in the camera lens. What it was not was a vehicle hovering in a clear blue sky surrounded by thousands of eyewitnesses, including photographers and camera crews, none of whom noticed it. But a photo of that sort could easily be displayed in Ufology magazines as evidence that aliens monitored Apollo launches.

Anderson's The Infinite Voyage speaks to us from an earlier period when flying saucers were reported and "...Luna City...fifty or a hundred years from now..." (p. 82) was confidently anticipated. In his "Concerning Stories Never Written: Postscript" to some editions of Revolt In 2100, Robert Heinlein wrote:

"Space travel in the near future is likely to be a marginal proposition at best, subsidized for military reasons. It could die out..."

It could. In fact, as far as space travel goes, he is describing our timeline.

That is it for 2015, folks. Posting will resume some time in 2016.

Lunar Colonization

Why colonize the Moon?

"Military bases? No. Quite apart from the treaty forbidding them, they would have no usefulness that was not grotesquely outweighed by the expense and trouble."
-Poul Anderson, The Infinite Voyage: Man's Future In Space (London, 1969), p. 76.

That rules out the Space Patrol bases in Robert Heinlein's Future History or the Lunar Guard in Anderson's Psychotechnic History. However, nuclear missiles could instead be placed in Earth orbit.

"Scientific research?" (ibid.)

Yes. Anderson argues that machines cannot cope with the unforeseen whereas the purpose of exploration is precisely to discover (un-cover) what was previously unknown. Machines might become more sophisticated or might be remotely controlled but for the latter there would be a time lag. The purposes of exploration are many but Anderson articulates one that I had not encountered before. Maybe:

wind carried germs into the upper atmosphere;
light pressure drove them into space;
a few landed on the Moon;
some were protected from radiation by falling into cracks or mingling with dust;
there could be several hundred per year for over a billion years;
thus, the Moon might hold clues to the origins of life;
indeed, the Moon itself might have retained enough air and water to generate primitive organisms;
also, complex, pre-biological matter might have originated in the dust cloud that condensed into the Solar System;
the Moon will have vacuum-preserved any such earlier matter that landed on it.

So let's get some scientists onto the Moon.

Infinite Voyages: Man's Future

Poul Anderson, The Infinite Voyage: Man's Future In Space (London, 1969).

An infinite voyage through space or infinite voyages in every direction? Anderson's Foreword mentions:

the ocean;
the Antarcitic;
tropical rain forests;
science -

- although not the mind.

The ocean is mostly unknown. Anderson's "The Sensitive Man" describes an underwater settlement:

oil wells;
mines;
exploration -

- "...men learned to go deeper into cold and darkness and pressure. It was expensive but an overcrowded world had little choice." (The Psychotechnic League, pp. 140-141)

Science includes the exploration of the microcosm. How infinite is that? Is it possible that every particle is composed of smaller particles and spaces between them? No. If every particle = spaces + at least two smaller particles, then every particle = spaces + (spaces + at least four even smaller particles). But then every particle = spaces + (spaces + {spaces + at least eight much smaller particles}) etc. So, at infinity, the volume of every particle = space + infinite particles of zero volume, i.e., just space. In any case, physics has moved away from the model of particles as merely much smaller physical objects.

The human mind is also scientifically studied in the Psychotechnic History which includes "The Sensitive Man." Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

"...mind has mountains...no-man-fathomed."

Can science fathom mental mountains?

Star Gods And Astrology

Poul Anderson, The Infinite Voyage: Man's Future In Space (London, 1969).

Anderson writes on p. 1 that:

a Sumerian legend relates that the demigod Oannes did not look human and taught men civilizing arts;

one of Ezekiel's visions reads like a description of a spaceship with its alien crew.

Some people read such accounts and simply accept that these were extraterrestrial contacts. We have to list such contacts as one possible explanation of some ancient narratives. If the Sumerians met a deity and Ezekiel saw angels, then modern writers can adapt these stories as fantasies whereas, if aliens were involved, then the stories can become sf.

On p. 2, Anderson describes astrology as a superstition and as "...the belief that the stars and planets control our lives." Another understanding of astrology is that the stars somehow indicate what will happen in our lives. It is an empirical question whether they do or do not. The astronomer Patrick Moore was quoted as saying that a constellation is merely an accidental pattern as seen from Earth. The stars in the constellation may be at different distances and in any case have no direct connection with each other. This is the case. He then argued that it is impossible that they either control or indicate what will happen on Earth. But do they or don't they?

The psychologist Eysenck found a higher than statistical correlation between the horoscopes and personalities of several celebrities. See here and here. In my case, an astrologer friend has made predictions that turned out to be surprisingly accurate. But she was able to say that I would have a major personal problem, not what the problem would be. We had to wait to find out.

I do not understand how astrology might work but I do not understand astrophysics either. But I do know that astrophysicists understand astrophysics! Further research is needed on astrology.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Past, Present And Future

I have begun to read Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham. How does this connect with Poul Anderson? It may be less evident to American readers, but for someone in the UK, Anderson and Grisham are two fictional windows onto the US. Here, I discussed John Buchan, John le Carre and John Grisham as carrying their readers through modern history from the eve of World War I to the high tech War on Terror. A Grisham novel featuring early twenty first technology reads like sf. Anderson, of course, takes us further into the future(s) but sets some of his sf in the present and also wrote a contemporary detective trilogy.

Both Anderson and Grisham write well and prolifically. Grisham perfects the contemporary American legal thriller whereas Anderson roams through time and the universe. We need fiction about contemporary society and also about our place in the cosmos.

A Complete Psychotechnic History?

Baen Books' seven volume Poul Anderson The Technic Civilization Saga, compiled by Hank Davis, contains one previously uncollected story. Thus, we enjoyed rereading the entire History of Technic Civilization in chronological order of fictitious events and, as part of this, reading one installment for the first time.

A comparable collection of the earlier Psychotechnic History:

might perhaps fill two volumes;
would contain two previously uncollected short stories;
could retain Sandra Miesel's interstitial material from the earlier incomplete three volume collection.

However, Miesel's material would, I think, need to be expanded in order to harmonize the concluding story, "The Chapter Ends," more effectively with the rest of the history. Also, it would be possible to incorporate more of the historical events and periods into the Chronology and in particular to show:

that the First and subsequent interstellar Empires emerged from the Third Dark Ages;
that the Nomads endured through the Dark Ages and Imperial periods;
that the later Galactic civilization lies much further in the future than is implied by the present Chronology.

Into 2016

We have passed 1984, 2000 and 2001. The next significant year is 2018 from James Blish's Cities In Flight.

This blog focuses on Poul Anderson and related writers. The blog's contents clearly demonstrate that such a focus is far from narrow. At this time of year, I receive Christmas and birthday (1 Jan) presents that include other reading. However, such is the range of issues covered by Anderson's works, that it is usually possible to connect his works to that other reading (see here and here). The book about surveillance and social control also recalls SM Stirling's Draka: permanently militarized groups regarding force as the only reliable way to ensure their own survival and to maintain social control.

My agenda for 2016 includes:

to read The infinite Voyage by Poul Anderson;
after a welcome break, to return to the violent story of the Draka.

Will there be any significant publishing events in 2016, like -

a Baen Books Complete Psychotechnic History?
a Complete Works Volume I?

Themed Anthologies

I dislike themed anthologies as a literary form. I bought two such anthologies only because each included one installment in  different series by SM Stirling and I have not read every other item in either anthology. Themed stories by several authors seem samey if they stay on theme but senseless if they stray off theme.

My Christmas presents include a small, slim volume containing a 58 page story by Neil Gaiman, a sequel to his TV series and novel, Neverwhere. This story had originally appeared in an anthology, where I had not heard of it. I prefer to receive it in this form. Minor coincidence: a new character is called "Peregrine" and I have just reread Poul Anderson's The Peregrine.

Anderson's three Man-Kzin Wars stories should be collected in a single volume which would then form one volume both of Poul Anderson's Complete Works and of the Man-Kzin Wars period of Larry Niven's Known Space future history. The three stories are consecutive, therefore need not be interspersed with installments by other contributors. They also contain major speculative fiction by Anderson.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Outlaws

In Poul Anderson's The Snows Of Ganymede, Planetary Engineers investigating Ganymede deduce that the colony leaders could eradicate the Outlaws but do not want to. An external enemy is too useful for controlling their own population. A book that I received as a Christmas present argues that some existing regimes find it expedient to practice surveillance of external enemies because this gives them a means to control their own populations. Thus, there is a parallel between two texts, only one of them fictional.

This could be a controversial discussion! Imagine an argument between two Ganymedeans. One, supporting the colonial regime, believes that the Outlaws are simply a threat that must be eradicated. The other replies that:

some of the Outlaws oppose injustices within the regime;
the regime does not want to eradicate the Outlaws because vilification of them helps to unite the population and maintain the regime.

Now transfer that argument to an existing situation.

Meanwhile, back in an earlier sf novel, 1984, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia are permanently at war in mutually agreed battle zones but never attack each others' home territories although the prole populations are continually propagandized with the threat that invasion is imminent. This deception maintains social order, hence the Party slogan: "War is Peace."

Hloch And Sandra Miesel

Five future historical volumes by Poul Anderson are enriched by interstitial material:

The Psychotechnic History
The Psychotechnic League
Cold Victory
Starship

The Technic History
The Earth Book Of Stormgate
The Long Night

Sandra Miesel's insterstitial passages pull together the Psychotechnic History and inform us, as we would expect, that the interstellar Nomads carry seeds of knowledge through the Third Dark Ages, enriching the later Galactic civilization.

Hloch of Stormgate Choth on Avalon edits the Earth Book and greatly increases our knowledge of its contents.

The Long Night collects:

the one story about the Founder of the Terran Empire;
one story set during the Flandry period of the Empire;
one set during the Long Night after the Empire;
one set during the subsequent Allied Planets period;
one set during the much later Commonalty period.

Miesel's comments make this volume read like a coherent overview of much of the Technic History. She refers to:

the seminal figures, van Rijn and Flandry, although neither appears in any of these works;

the colonized planet Vixen, invaded in Flandry's time, that founds its own colony, New Vixen, which in turn is flourishing millennia later when descendants of rebels expelled by Flandry return to civilization.

There is a sense of historical depth and continuity.

Friday, 25 December 2015

The Future

Sf is often about the future and sometimes features characters learning about their futures:

the Time Traveler can describe human devolution and the end of life on Earth because he has traveled through time and returned;

The Shape Of Things To Come begins with a man dreaming that he is reading a history of the future;

in Stapledon's Last And First Men, a time traveler mentally influences the author who thinks that he is writing fiction and in fact distorts most of the future history that he receives;

Heinlein's Future History begins with the inventor of a machine that can accurately predict the date and time of anyone's death;

Asimov's Seldon and Anderson's Valti and Desai predict the futures of their civilizations;

Anderson's psychic time traveler, Jack Havig, describes the future periods of the Maurai Federation and the Star Masters to Anderson's relative...;

Anderson's Starfarers will build holontic time communicators;

Blish's Dirac transmitter receives messages from the future;

Herbert's users of the drug, melange, exercise prescience -

- a substantial list with Wells appearing twice and Anderson four times.

Happy Christmas, page viewers, and thank you for so far 225 page views on Christmas Day.

Untold Stories?

An author might create more background material for a work of science fiction than appears in the text. For example, a planetary ecology requires more globally interacting geographical areas and local environments than the hero is likely to encounter while traversing the planetary surface. Thus, the Author's Note to Poul Anderson's Virgin Planet discloses details about an uninhabited continent that remains unvisited during the novel.

Robert Heinlein's Future History Time Chart presents data, like an Antarctican Revolution, that do not appear in any of the stories and even lists in brackets six "stories-to-be-told" that never did get told. Might there be some such untold stories in Anderson's Psychotechnic History? Of course, none are listed in the Chronology. However, Anderson tells us that he:

compiled a Heinleinian chart of story titles;
occasionally wrote a story corresponding to one of the titles;
eventually did not complete the series but merely gave it up.

So there might have been more titles on his original time chart? The opening story mentions but does not feature Valti, the founder of psychotechnics. The Traveler crew had many adventures before colonizing Harbor. One involved riding and talking with centauroids en route to attack their winged enemies' aerial city. This adventure is mentioned again but not recounted. We learn that the centauroids, birds and flying city were on the planet Aesgil IV. But we would like to read that adventure.

Structural Parallels

There are structural parallels between Poul Anderson's first two future histories:

The Psychotechnic History
World War III
UN World government, then the Solar Union
The Second Dark Ages
The Stellar Union
The Third Dark Ages
at least two interstellar Empires
Galactic civilization

The Technic History
The Chaos
The Solar Commonwealth and the Polesotechnic League
The Time of Troubles
The Terran Empire
The Long Night
The Allied Planets
human civilizations in two or three spiral arms
The later era of the Galactic Archaeological Society

In both cases:

a period of Terrestrial conflict separates the readers' "present" from the first space-faring period;
civilization falls twice.

Although one story is set in the Times of Troubles and another in the Long Night, none are set during the Second or Third Dark Ages but might there be some untold stories in these periods?

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Abbey

The Abbey:

is the Order of Planetary Engineers headquarters and school, perched on the heights of Archimedes Crater on the Moon (see image);

has towers and thick walls of native stone, a local landing field, a spaceport and hidden weapons;

looks ancient;

is approached by a winding road;

burrows deep underground;

can be made self-sufficient;

comprises passages, storerooms, laboratories, bedrooms, refectories, assembly halls and recreation facilities.

Poul Anderson, The Snows Of Ganymede (New York, 1958), Chapter 2, p. 9.

Coordinators

(Ganymede.)

Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History is a succession of proto-series:

Un-men;
Sensitive Men;
Planetary Engineers;
interstellar exploration teams;
Nomads;
Traders (see "Teucan");
Coordination Service field agents;
Galactics.

"...Archimedes Academy, headquarters and training school of the Order of Planetary Engineers...," (The Snows Of Ganymede, Chapter 2, p. 9) could be the setting for any number of Engineers stories. In fact, it reads as if it is being set up for that purpose. See here.

Does anyone else notice similarities between the conclusions of Snows... and of "Esau"?

I have found another concealed continuity in the Psychotechnic History:

after the outlawing of the Psychotechnic Institute, the Planetary Engineers preserve psychotechnic training and the head of their Order has the title, "Coordinator";

there are Galactic Coordinators in the period of early faster than light interstellar exploration;

the Stellar Union Coordination Service uses computers called Integrators;

some Coordinators leave the Service to join the Nomads, giving them direction and restraint without disrupting their spirit;

the Nomads preserve knowledge after the collapse of the Stellar Union;

the later Galactic civilization employs psychotechnicians and uses Integrators.

Thus, three sets of Coordinators link the Institute to the Galactics.

Organizations

Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History is an "organizations" future history, far more so than its successor, the Technic History. The Polesotechnic League is not so much an organization as a den of thieves - and honest traders!

A Planetary Engineer compares his Order to an earlier organization:

"'The medieval Church was another supranational organization. Its attempts to interfere with separate states led only to trouble and ultimate failure, but in its character as the friend of all mankind it was honored and powerful. When that power began to be used for personal and local ends, the Church broke up. It's an example we might all bear in mind.'" (The Snows Of Ganymede, pp. 13-14)

The omniscient narrator compares the Psychotechnic Institute to the same earlier organization:

"Somewhat as the medieval Church nurtured Western civilization, the Institute was a kind of placenta for Technic society." (p. 47)

After the Humanist Revolution has overthrown the Institute:

"Analogies to post-Reformation Europe are tempting..." (p. 51)

This period is described as:

"...the adolescence of Technic civilization..." (ibid.)

- so that phrase is used in this earlier series.

Finally, another Engineer, discussing the outlawed Institute, says:

"'Look, oh, say at the Christian Church. It started with a noble ideal, maybe the noblest man has ever seen, a universal brotherhood of love. After a few centuries, it was burning people alive for disputing its authority.'" (p. 52)

The Church did not start with that ideal. It started with the proclamation of a resurrection, a divine intervention to reverse death. Since such a belief could not be proved, the Church had to resort to enforcing its authority.

Field Dynamics

(Ganymede, the setting of Poul Anderson's The Snows Of Ganymede (New York, 1958).)

Psychodynamics grew out of:

games theory;
communications theory;
general semantics;
the principle of last (least?) effort;
generalized epistemology. (p. 48)

"The original Psychotechnic Institute eventually absorbed all similar groups. Devoting itself to study, it came up with some fundamental equations describing human relations. The approach was that of field dynamics. Its discoveries about the psychometrics of the individual were of even greater ultimate importance, but centuries would pass before those bore full fruit." (ibid.)

Three interesting points:

field dynamics;
discoveries about individual psychology ultimately more important;
these discoveries bearing fruit centuries later - in the Stellar Union period?

The Institute is destroyed but psychotechnics is not.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Nemesis

In Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History, later generations incorporate the achievements of their predecessors. Planetary Engineers receive mind training from skilled psychotechnicians and therefore, like the title character of "The Sensitive Man," can exercise some control over involuntary functions. Also, one Engineer is even a clone of the "superman," Rostomily, like the earlier Un-men. Nomads preserve knowledge of such achievements through the subsequent Dark Ages. Eventually, Galactic men exercise much greater psychophysical powers. One Engineer, regarding science as a war of men against nature, reflects that nature is too strong and can easily shrug aside humanity - but the Galactics, by applying their artificially mutated brains, control cosmic forces, expending very little energy.

The omniscient narrator of The Snows Of Ganymede ascribes the downfall of the Psychotechnic Institute to "Hubris, Nemesis, Ate." (p. 47) Pride, retribution and ruin form a perfect Hegelian triad. A few pages later, an Engineer displays the hubris of Frankenstein by casually explaining how scientists have created microscopic life:

"'It was just a matter of reproducing and accelerating the chain of physiochemical reactions which led to the first life on Earth. Oparin had sketched that out as far back as 1930 or so.'" (p. 56)

We hardly notice this Frankensteinian achievement among the many other signs and wonders of Anderson's first future history.

Inner And Outer

Un-men fight political opponents of human unity. This political opposition is an external expression of psychological contradictions addressed by psychotechnicians. Ultimately, the enemy is within. Complementarily, the Order of Planetary Engineers addresses the real external enemy:

"He had meant to be a soldier in man's finest war, the fight of all men against a blind and indifferent nature which had brought their kind forth without caring."
-Poul Anderson, The Snows Of Ganymede (New York, 1958), p. 6.

(I write "the real external..." but of course nature is one and we are its self-consciousness, synthesizing subject and object, although usually experiencing antithesis, alienation and conflict.)

Aiming to serve all mankind, therefore needing to remain apolitical, the Order made itself independent of the Solar Union government and therefore survived the Humanist Revolution that outlawed the Psychotechnic Institute. Furthermore, Engineer cadets continue to receive mind training from skilled psychotechnicians - presumably also Order members.

Ironically, the Order, asked to terraform two colonized outer satellites, finds that the outlawed Institute is hiding in the outer System and that it is necessary to thwart the Psychotechnicians' plot for a violent return to power.

Fundamental Questions

Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History addresses these most fundamental questions:

Can there be a practical science of society?
How should the world be organized politically?
Many national governments or one world government?
How can people learn to live with the consequences of advanced technology?
To what extent can human faculties be enhanced?
Can individual human beings resolve their internal psychological conflicts?
Can society be organized on the basis of understanding instead of divisive ideology?
Is reality too complex for humanity to cope with?

The Psychotechnic Institute tries simultaneously to address two questions that we usually consider separately because it encourages both a particular kind of society and an intelligent citizenry capable of building and living in such a society. Also, it counteracts resistance to its policies not primarily by suppressing criticism but usually by recruiting questioning minds to its cause.

The protean enemy is identified as mankind itself. This accords with the TV series,  The Prisoner, in which the title character, unmasking his main enemy, No 1, sees his own face. In Anderson's series, it means that there is no good guys-bad guys relationship between the fictional organizations involved. On the contrary, any single organization can change sides. Thus, the Psychotechnic Institute begins with the right intentions but later misapplies its science, is outlawed after the Humanist Revolt and, while in exile, plots a violent comeback that must be prevented by members of the Order of Planetary Engineers.

On the other hand, the Nomads begin as a disruptive force that comes to be resented by agents of the Stellar Union Coordination Service whereas later those same Nomads, guided by former Coordinators, become the means by which essential knowledge is preserved through the Third Dark Ages.

Long after the Dark Ages, a Galactic psychotechnician:

"...wondered if the driving energy within man the force which had raised him to the stars, made him half-god and half-demon, if that was a legacy of Terra." (Starship, p. 258)

Of course our motivation came from our planet of origin, where else? But are men still half-demons in the Galactic era or is he just reflecting on history?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Chronology Of The Future

The contents page of Poul Anderson's Starship (New York, 1982) tells us that a "Chronology of the Future" begins on page 283 but, when we turn to that page, we find instead "A CHRONOLOGY OF THE PSYCHOTECHNIC SERIES."

There are two ways to construct such a fictitious chronology. In his Author's Note at the end of The Psychotechnic League, Anderson wrote:

"...I drew up a chart in the manner of Heinlein and, from time to time, completed a piece whose title was on it." (p. 284)

On this model, the chart listing fictional dates and titles preexisted the pieces corresponding to the titles. The opposite approach is to compile the chronological chart while writing a series. Thus, the chart hopefully prevents inconsistencies without prescribing what is to be written. It cannot become a straightjacket.

Doctor Who visited many historical and future periods. Script editors should have compiled a chart to keep the series consistent. However, Terrance Dicks, meeting fans at Lancaster Literature Festival, said that they did not keep it consistent. Fans were supposed either not to notice or not to care. But there are two kinds of fans. We value Heinlein's Future History and Anderson's future histories for several reasons, not least because of their detailed and careful consistency.

Star Ship In Starship

"Star Ship" is the title story of Poul Anderson's Starship (New York, 1982). Like the preceding installment of Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History, "Gypsy," and the succeeding installment, "Virgin Planet," "Star Ship" is about interstellar travelers who have gone astray although for an entirely different reason.

"Star Ship" is Poul Anderson 1950 action-adventure pulp fiction with a characteristic opening passage: the hero, returning home, is suddenly attacked and almost killed because there has been a revolution in his absence. Joining his friends in hiding and learning of the current faction fight, Anse deliberates, then announces:

"'I have an idea...'" (p. 50)

- but, of course, does not tell us what it is yet.

As with "Gypsy," I am not finding any internal evidence to link this story back to the pre-interstellar period of the Psychotechnic History and, if anything, the reference to "Galactic Coordinators" implies that the story is set not, as we are told, in the early stages of interstellar exploration but in a much later period of galactic history. There are "Coordinators" in the later Stellar Union period.

Human beings are plastic organisms that would indeed adapt to and fully accept a barbaric alien culture if a small number of them were stranded on an inhabited planet with such a culture, as happens in this story.

Ruins Of Empire

"He hovered by a broken caryatid (see image), marveling at its exquisite leaping litheness; that girl had borne tons of stone like a flower in her hair."
-Poul Anderson, "The Chapter Ends" IN Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), pp. 253-281 AT p. 273.

What girl? I realized that I did not know what a "caryatid" was so I googled it.

Jorun hovers above the ruined Sol City, the former capital of the First Empire which fell fifty thousand years before. Surely nothing of the city should still exist after all that time? Sol City has been:

bombarded;
sacked repeatedly;
weathered;
shaken by earthquakes;
pried by vegetation;
dug through;
quarried -

- yet still has walls, windows, arches, pillars, a caryatid and one tower.

The bombardment was from space so would have been heavy. One archaic word, "Empire," is accompanied by two others: "barbarian" and "slave."

"...sacked again and again by the barbarian hordes who swarmed maggot-like through the bones of the slain Empire..." (ibid.)

"...here the slaves had lived..." (p. 274)

Interstellar barbarians? They also appear in "Flight to Forever" and the Technic History. The latter series explains this apparent oddity. Unscrupulous traders sell nuclear weapons and spaceships to a king on an extrasolar planet in its Iron Age. Barbarianism on an interstellar scale indeed becomes possible. The maggot comparison is apt.

Slaves? Anderson rationalizes this idea in the Technic History but as a legally constrained criminal sentence, not as in the Roman Empire. The First Empire seems to have practiced slavery on the Roman model:

"...here the slaves had lived and worked and sometimes wept..." (ibid.)

Yet another archaic term is "peasant." Is it plausible that, so far in the future, when there is a Galactic civilization and people on Earth have an extended life span, they will have returned to milking cows and baking bread? 

The Future Historical Role Of The First Empire

In Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History, the First Empire must have emerged from the Third Dark Ages that had resulted from the collapse of the Stellar Union just as, in Anderson's Technic History, the Terran Empire emerged from the Time of Troubles that had resulted from the collapse of the Solar Commonwealth.

The Second Dark Ages had merely separated the interplanetary Solar Union from the interstellar Stellar Union. However, the collapse of an interstellar civilization was a catastrophe on a larger scale. Consequently, order was eventually restored neither by psychotechnicians nor by Coordinators but by older style imperialists, not by science but by force. However, at the same time, the Nomads preserved knowledge that would in the longer term benefit the much later post-Imperial Galactic Civilization.

Thanks to the Nomadic legacy, that civilization was served both by psychotechnicians and by coordinating Integrators. Their skills were indispensable when, for example, Earth had to be evacuated.

Am I deducing what must have happened or merely making a new story based on material presented by Poul Anderson and Sandra Miesel? In this context, there is no difference. If my inferences make sense, then they can stand as the explanation unless and until an sf writer thinks of something better.

The First Nomads

The Traveler, carrying colonists to Alpha Centauri, was thrown off course by a trepidation vortex. Unable to find Sol after a twenty year search, the colonists settled on an Earth-like planet where they were able to adopt a mechanized peasant life-style. However, some of those who grew up in the Traveler remained restless and eventually took the ship out again on an endless voyage, becoming the first Nomads. The founding captain envisages a mobile culture spreading the best from all races throughout the gestating interstellar civilization.

So what would you have done? Remained on Harbor or gone with the Traveler? I would have preferred an intermediate position: interstellar exploration while maintaining a base on Harbor. The Thorkilds leave behind them a farm that they had built.

The Peregrine tells us that, when the Nomads meet on Rendezvous beyond known space, the hereditary presidency of the Council remains with the Captain of the Traveler, currently the third of that name in three hundred years. The Chronology tells us that the endless voyage began in 2815 and that the events of The Peregrine occur in 3120 so three hundred is a round number. But the Nomads sure live a long time.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Jorun

Jorun:

is a psychotechnician;
is also a human being whose remote ancestors came from Earth;
but was born on the planet, Fulkhis, in the Galactic center, part of an ancient interstellar civilization;
is nearly 1,000 years old;
can, by his own power, cross 30,000 light years in 10 days while holding around himself an envelope of air and heat!

3,000 light years per day?

Superman flies through space because he is immune to cold and vacuum whereas the Green Lanterns can, like Jorun, hold air and heat around themselves. The latter proposition is marginally less implausible.

I am noticing and remembering these details about Jorun only because I am rereading carefully enough to summarize and post at the same time. 30,000 light years in 10 days! Whatever next?

Gaps

When the short story, "Gypsy," introduces the hyperdrive in Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History, we are told that the principles of the drive involve multiple dimensions and discontinuous psi functions. Thus, this is not the multiple quantum jumps hyperdrive of the same author's later Technic History.

In a future history series, the author might develop a near future period and a further future period, leaving a chronological gap between them. In Robert Heinlein's Future History, "Logic of Empire" shows indentured servitude on Venus while a Prophet gains support in the US whereas the succeeding installment, "If This Goes On -," shows a US theocracy that has caused a hiatus in space travel. We have not seen the First Prophet come to power although we are about to see one of his successors overthrown. Perhaps seventy years - as well as three "stories-to-be-told" - occupy the gap between the two installments.

The gap in Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History is much longer, 545 years according to the Chronology. In "Brake," human beings have spread through the Solar System but there is turmoil on Earth. In "Gypsy," human beings are spreading at faster then light speeds beyond the Solar System but the hyperspace ship, Traveler, is lost and its crew have settled on an Earth-like planet that they call "Harbor."

I am currently rereading "Gypsy" and have not yet found any internal evidence that it belongs in the same future history. In fact, when does the FTL period of the history make clear that it connects with the STL period?

The Chronology reads:

2270  "Brake"
2300  The  Second Dark Ages
2600
2784  Hyperdrive invented
2815  "Gypsy"
           Nomad culture develops  

So what happened in 2600 that we are not told about? It must be something to do with the restoration of civilization after the Second Dark Ages but it is not the founding of the Stellar Union because that comes later:

2875  "Star Ship"
2900  Stellar Union and Coordination Service founded

The Coordinators begin less than a century after the Nomads.

Arts

Solarian
Braganza Diane touches keys on a multiplex and the tape plays back stimuli-color patterns, music, scents and tastes conveying an abstract impression of mountains. Because genuine cold would be too distracting, she settles for appropriate colors and notes.

Nomadic
Nomad artists and artisans make goods to trade internally or externally. Peregrine Thorkild Nicki makes a clay vase in the form of two battling dragons to be cast in bronze, then sold or swapped.

Alorian
To attend a festival that will start when everyone arrives several Alori walk for two days, sleeping in the open and not minding when it rains. About a hundred Alori gather in a small valley surrounded by trees. It is night but two moons are full. Branches, water, birds and animals make music. Alori dancers accompanied by luminous birds express the seasons, then the end of all things. Afterwards, the audience sits in silence before leaving quietly.

Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979).

The Galactic Synthesis Of Human Psychodynamics With Interstellar Coordination

In Poul Anderson's "The Chapter Ends," the reference to psychotechnicians is a link back to the Psychotechnic Institute of the United Nations and Solar Union periods whereas the reference to an Integrator is a link back to the Coordination Service of the Stellar Union period so maybe the Galactics synthesize the best aspects of those earlier periods?

At the same time, the reference to a First Empire that has not been mentioned before but that fell fifty thousand years previously shows that the bulk of humanity has had enough time to:

migrate towards the Galactic Center;
extend their lifetimes by hundreds of years;
gain control of their nervous systems;
mutate their brains in order to control cosmic forces;
interact with the gas giant dwelling Hulduvians.

Although Sandra Miesel's Foreword to Anderson's Starship says that our species remains imperfectible, major changes have been made and earlier problems have been overcome.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Fifty Thousand Years

According to the Chronology of the Psychotechnic Series prepared by Sandra Miesel, the Third Dark Ages begin in 3200 and "The Chapter Ends" is set post-4000. Miesel's interstitial note introducing "The Chapter Ends" reads:

"By the uncertain dawn of the fifth millennium, Earth's farflung children had all but forgotten her." (Starship, p. 252)

However, "The Chapter Ends" itself says:

"'The Sirius Sector has been an isolated, primi - ah - quiet region since the First Empire fell, fifty thousand years ago.'" (p. 263)

The time scale and also the references both to a fallen First Empire and to Sirian Sector planets inhabited by peasants place this work more in the milieu of Anderson's "Flight to Forever." Again, the reference to Sol City as the capital of the First Empire (p. 272) prima facie links this work to Anderson's "The Star Plunderer," although that pulp short story was instead shoehorned into the author's later Technic History.

The political units in the Psychotechnic History are Unions (Solar and Stellar), not Empires. We are told enough about the First Empire to know that it is not the Stellar Union remembered under a different name.

What links "The Chapter Ends" to the Psychotechnic History? References to psychotechnicians, an Integrator and a trained nervous system. Also, in "The Peregrine," humanity is expanding towards the Sagittarii. In "The Chapter Ends," the bulk of humanity has migrated to the Galactic Center and one, visiting Earth, says:

"'This part of space means means nothing to us any more; it's almost a desert. You haven't seen starlight till you've been by Sagittarius.'" (p. 262)

A concluding note on an unfamiliar word:

"...he went with the Nomads through that abatis of woods." (The Peregrine, Chapter XX, p. 178)

Philosophical Fiction: Hegel

Does Hegelian dialectical philosophy not match up to the Alorian wholeness-principle?

Wanting to start philosophy at the beginning, Hegel reasoned that the most abstract concept, the most general category of thought, was "being" because everything is. However, to say of anything only that it is is not to say what it is, thus is to say nothing about it. Therefore (?), the thesis, being, implies and is even identical with its antithesis, nothing, although at the same time they remain contradictory because, if there is nothing, then there is no being. However, the less abstract/more concrete category of becoming synthesizes the notions of being and nothing while also producing being determinate, that which has become one thing rather than another. In human activity, an artisan might want simply to create an artifact but must then create a particular artifact, chosen either by commission or by his own creativity. On the cosmic level, when potential becomes actual, it must become a particular universe, not any other possible universe. (I suggest that potentiality is more abstract than Hegelian "being.")

Being determinate differentiates itself into many thesis-antithesis pairs, notably:

quality and quantity;
reality and appearance;
subject and object -

- all synthesized in the Absolute, the total reality, although, because Hegel was a philosophical idealist, he called this the Absolute Idea.

The three basic principles recognized by Hegel are:

interpenetration of opposites, as in the Taoist yin-yang symbol (see second image) and in Heraclitus' "The way up is the way down";

transformation of quantity into quality, e.g., boiling water, a quantitative increase in temperature becomes a qualitative transformation of liquid into gas;

the negation of the negation, i.e., antithesis negates thesis but is in turn negated by synthesis which incorporates opposites and becomes a new thesis.

This fits with the Alorian view of the universe as not isolated data but an organic whole.

Philosophical Fiction: Bergson And Hegel

Ilaloa says that life is:

"'...like a river, and you are a wave which rises and will sink back again, but the river flows on.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter XII, p. 106.

Trevelyan compares Ilaloa's ideas to those of:

"'Bergson...A philosopher of Earth, 'way back when.'" (ibid.)

Bergson follows Heraclitus, as does Hegel whom I referenced here and here. Anderson's Psychotechnic History presents further Hegelian processes -

Thesis: the Nomads;
Antithesis: the Coordination Service;
Synthesis: Coordinators becoming Nomads, directing and restraining without disrupting;
Antithesis: the Third Dark Ages;
Synthesis: a later civilization reaping seeds of knowledge borne by the Nomads;
Antithesis: interference between uses of cosmic energies;
Synthesis: peaceful coexistence of humanity and Hulduvians.

Philosophical Fiction: Heraclitus

A work of science fiction can be about a particular science. Thus, there can be biological, psychological, sociological or cosmological fiction. I think that some of Poul Anderson's works may count as philosophical fiction.

In Europe, Thales initiated "natural philosophy," which developed into empirical science, whereas Socrates initiated conceptual philosophy, which we call "philosophy." Thales and his immediate successors, including Heraclitus, were the "Pre-Socratic philosophers."

A Time Patrol Specialist says:

"'...Heraclitus was approximately contemporary with the Buddha, and some of his thought shows close parallels.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 53.

Heraclitus said, "Everything flows."

Manse Everard of the Patrol thinks:

"All is flux." (p. 99)

Everard also compares time to a river (see image) and history to a stream.

Heraclitus seems to be the philosopher of the Patrol, although he knows of "flowing" only in the first temporal dimension. In the Patrol's cosmology, the river not only flows but also can change course.

Wholeness

"The Alorian mind did not analyze into factors; it saw the entire problem as one unified whole." (The Peregrine, Chapter XVIII, p. 158)

"[The Alori's] wholeness-principle was something which had never been properly formulated in Union logic. It should be possible to make integrators which would not fit isolated data together but consider a local complex - society and its needs, physical environment, known scientific laws - in its entirety. Alori science, with the knowledge it had of the nervous system, would indicate ways to build such computers." (p. 161)

How much does the Coordination Service rely on its computers to understand society? Surely the brains of economists and ecologists do more than "...fit isolated data together..."? Each datum is not "isolated" but is as it is because of its relationships to every other datum, including the many that we do not know - although we do try to identify the principle factors. We cannot change one part of society without changing others accordingly. While the British transport system was nationalized, someone thought that it had nothing to do with profit. I replied that it moved workers to where they produced or consumed and therefore had everything to do with profit. He regarded the economy as a number of merely coexisting systems whereas I had got into the habit of regarding it as an interactive totality. (I did this with the help of a lot of reading and discussion, not just by my own efforts!)

Addendum, 20/12/15: Given the meaning of "data," I should not have written of "data" that are unknown to us! However, I hope that the meaning is clear enough.

Idyllic Planets?

Space explorers come to an extrasolar planet that is superficially idyllic but essentially problematic:

Methuselah's Children by Robert Heinlein (Future History);
A Case Of Conscience by James Blish (After Such Knowledge);
"Tiger Ride" by James Blish and Damon Knight;
The Peregrine by Poul Anderson (Psychotechnic History);
The Night Face by Poul Anderson (Technic History);
more than one Star Trek episode.

Obviously, these works differ considerably. Nevertheless, there is a discernible common theme. The two Anderson novels could even be adapted as Star Trek episodes although they would be considerably diminished in the process. As I wrote about the Blish/Knight collaboration (see above): 

Knight writes that the story asks, “What is a man?”  Like Star Trek, though not as tritely, it answers that men need the conflict of unsatisfied desire.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Alori Houses

Alori tree houses are like incomparably more advanced versions of the naturally hollow trees used as dwellings by the Nerthusian natives. This tells me something. I have yet to read the Psychotechnic History installment about the human colonization of Nerthus.

Nevertheless, later installments make clear that human beings had been living on that planet for a while before they realized that it was already inhabited. No wonder, if the aborigines were sheltering or even hiding inside trees on a planetary surface where there were no artificial structures like houses or villages. Indeed, the Nerthusians living in the native quarter of Stellamont themselves resemble trees: tall, green and four-armed with no machine technology.

An Alori house has:

a large, light, airy, cylindrical room;
hard, beautiful wood;
windows closable with transparent flaps;
a heavy curtain for a door;
a warm, springy, moss-like carpet and bed on the floor;
extruded shelves;
flowering vines;
bladders that are luminous at night but can be covered;
an inward-growing branch yielding clear water with a drain beneath;
a nearby bush growing a soap surrogate.

The Alori have developed the biological sciences as far as the Stellar Union has developed the physical sciences. However, mutually incompatible world-views underlie the scientific and social differences.

The Ancient War

"'If you were killed,' she said, 'I'd steal a ship and go hunting for the killer till I found him.'
"'You'd do better to help correct the conditions that led to my being killed.'
"'You're too civilized,' she said bitterly.
"The ancient war, he thought, the immemorial struggle of intelligence to master itself. Nicki could never stay on Earth."
(The Peregrine, Chapter XIV, pp. 127-128)

Over a thousand years previously, an Un-man had identified the old enemy as:

"...man himself...the revolt of a primitive against the unnatural state called civilization and freedom." ("Un-Man" IN The Psychotechnic League, pp. 31-129 AT pp. 125-126)

So has nothing been gained in a millennium? Yes, the ancient war has been won on Earth - and, millennia later, will be won in the rest of the Galaxy.

Trevelyan and Nicki discuss options:

he could join her Nomad ship (this is what later happens);
he might need an assistant on one of his jobs?

Answering that second suggestion, he says that, when he needs an assistant, he gets another Coordinator, usually an otherling. That is the basis on which "The Pirate," written later but set earlier, was built. Reading the Psychotechnic History in chronological order of fictitious events, we find in The Peregrine references to three earlier installments:

the origin of the Nomads;
the colonization of Nerthus;
a mission by Trevelyan and the Reardonite, Smokesmith.

Hyperdrive Fields

Does Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History present any rationale for the sf cliche of "hyperspace"? His later Technic History presents a beautiful rationale: a ship in hyperspace is not in another space or another dimension but is making many instantaneous quantum jumps through normal space. Thus, it has a "pseudo-velocity" in a very real sense:

it disappears at point A and appears at point B without having traversed the space between them;
however, points A and B are very close so that many such jumps must be made.

Hyperspace in the Psychotechnic History has the following features, some of them familiar from other works -

(i) A spaceship generates "hyperdrive fields."
(ii) While building up, the fields cause a twisting sensation in human bodies.
(iii) The ship then moves at a pseudo-velocity.
(iv) It is safer to go hyper in a weak gravitational field.
(v) Too close to a star and planet, the drive builds up "...with distressing irregularity." (The Peregrine, Chapter XIV, p. 126)
(vi) Any hyperdrive ship is elongated because "...field generators must be mounted fore and aft." (p. 123)

I am reminded of a humorous sf novel by Bob Shaw. An interstellar spaceship, shaped like a long trailer or a railway carriage, has a teleportation transmitter at one end and a receiver at the other. Thus it is seen continually turning around in space as it repeatedly transmits itself to itself.

Advanced Technology

I suggest that a rich text is one in which it is possible to discuss almost every sentence.

"'...when a technology has advanced to the point of interstellar drive, it doesn't need an empire.'" (The Peregrine, Chapter XIV, p. 124)

Right on. Intelligent beings capable of crossing an interstellar distance would have to carry their environment with them and therefore would not be dependent on finding such an environment on arrival - and how likely would that be in any case?

"'...green vegetables from an E-planet would help morale...'" (p. 119)

No doubt they would but is the universe full of Earth-like planets growing humanly edible green vegetables? Human beings have evolved in, and are adapted to, the ecology on only one planetary surface.

A technology capable of regular, faster than light interstellar travel implies an immense amount of both knowledge and energy. Beings capable of applying such knowledge and deploying such energy would hardly need to find other intelligent beings to conquer and exploit? They would already control more than enough wealth for their own needs and purposes.

As Alan Moore’s extraterrestrial character, Zhcchz (“Skizz”), says:

“You…refuse to…understand. When technology…has reached…a certain level…weapons…are redundant. When you already have…all that you need, then…why fight? We…have devices…that you would call weapons. To us…they…are tools.”21

-copied from here.

Conflicting Cultures

Over two years ago, I discussed four conflicting cultures in Poul Anderson's The Peregrine here.

On Erulan, there is slavery and cruelty. Three bodies hang from a gallows in a market square. Ilaloa of the Alori comments:

"'There is no need for this endless strife and suffering. But it is still more - right - than that which is in the city Stellamont.'" (The Peregrine, Chapter X, p. 89)

Stellamont is on a human colony planet and thus represents a fifth culture distinct from Sol, Nomads, Erulan and Alori:

Sol, Nomads and Stellamont are human;
Alori are humanoid (see image);
Erulan is human beings enslaving (other) humanoids.

I can only remark that I disagree with Ilaloa. Technology-using urbanites are indeed "...shut away..." (p. 88) from nature but that does not make a slave-owning society better than they are!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Navigating

Imagine navigating across interstellar space on the basis of visual observations like the Kirkasanters in Poul Anderson's Technic History. Here is another example from the Psychotechnic History. Looking at a drawing, a Nomad captain says:

"'Let's see. The shiningness is a bright gaseous nebula, of course, and the remote spiral is probably the Andromeda galaxy. That very bright star can only be Canopus, if you're in the Cross region, and here's the same dent in the Milky Way you can see from here.' He gestured to a view-screen overhead, blackness and the ghostly bridge of stars." (The Peregrine, Chapter XII, p. 101)

So it is a bit like recognizing a landmark or a familiar mountain range.

(I must go to a party. The holiday season interrupts blogging.)

Later: The captain, giving the drawing to the astrogator, tells him to use all the star tables and computers to find that part of space as accurately as possible.

The Need For Coordination?

Trevelyan Micah, field agent of the Stellar Union Coordination Service, outlines the problem:

"'A dozen or more highly civilized races, scattering themselves over this part of the Galaxy, intercourse limited to spaceships that may need weeks to get from one sun to the next - and nothing else. Not even the strong economic ties which did, after all, bind Europe to its colonies. Cross-purposes are breeding which are someday going to clash - they've already done so in several cases, and it's meant annihilation." (The Peregrine, Chapter XII, p. 105)

By why? If there is no economic competition, then what is there to fight about? Can different racial spheres not interpenetrate neutrally or peacefully like those of oxygen-breathers and hydrogen-breathers in the Technic History? If there is no mutual comprehension, then a few scientifically inclined beings will try to observe and study the "otherlings" whereas most perhaps will continue with their version of "business as usual," so why should there be any cross-purposes or clashes? The Peregrine shows us one fundamental conflict but why should such conflicts be the norm?

When we read that some of the slave-owning Erulanites are selling spaceships to human beings "'...from somewhere in the Cross...'" who "'...don't wear clothes...'" and "'...have the ways of natives...'" (Chapter IX, p. 84), we might begin to suspect that the Lorinyans are the enemy and have already planted a spy on the Nomads.

In A Nomad Ship Library

Epics were composed to be recited and heard. Drama was written to be performed, seen and heard. Thus, Hamlet means whatever a theater company can make it mean. The text is merely their working document. However, libraries rightly contain translations of Homer and copies of Shakespeare.

The library of the Nomad ship, Peregrine, is a long, double-tiered room lined with shelves holding micro-books from civilized planets, not just from Earth, "...an incredible jackdaw's nest of anything and everything." (The Peregrine, Chapter XI, p. 92)

references
philosophies
poetry
fiction
belles-lettres
the history of the Nomads

The history "...began with the memoirs of Thorkild Erling, first captain of the Nomads." (p. 93)

Thus, it begins with the short story, "Gypsy," which is narrated by Thorkild.

"...reading Thorkild's words, Trevelyan caught something of the glamour which had been in those first years." (ibid.)

Having read "Gypsy," we remember that glamour. However, we learn more:

"There was a note of disappointment in Thorkild's later writings; his new society was evolving into something other than what he had imagined." (ibid.)

Thorkild and his crew had wanted endless wandering so I am not sure how he was disappointed.

"More Lasting Than Bronze"

If the two missing stories were to be included in a future edition of Poul Anderson's Starship, then the Psychotechnic History would be complete in five regular volumes: three collections and two novels. There are two ways to publish a future history series: either in single novels and standard-sized collections or in omnibus volumes.

In the thirty second century of this future history, the depopulated, forested Earth is the human center of scientific research, education, the arts and the Stellar Union Coordination Service. It follows that there are libraries of all surviving literature. A Nomad ship has a library and its captain's cabin has a shelf of well used micro-books in various languages. So what will still be read? I suggest at least:

Homer - epics, myths;
Shakespeare - drama (histories, comedies, tragedies), sonnets;
the Bible - many kinds of writing edited to present a continuous narrative from creation to new creation, albeit based in a prescientific cosmology.

Shakespeare was referenced and quoted earlier in this future history. When a Coordinator traveling with a Nomad sees the stars from space, he quotes:

"The heavens declare the glory of God...and the firmament showeth His handiwork."
-Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter VII, p. 52.

The Nomad, puzzled, asks, "'What's that?'" and is told, "'An old Terrestrial book...Very old.'" (ibid.)

In fact, the Old Testament. The Nomad captain is familiar with the Bible. When reflecting that those who have enslaved a planet of barbarians are gradually becoming barbarized, he quotes:

"What shall it profit a man if he gaineth the whole world and loseth his own soul." (Chapter IX, p. 77)

Despite the change of cosmology, what could be more appropriate? They have gained a planet but are losing their identity.

Literature lasts. Horace (see image) wrote, "Exegi monumentum aere perennius," "I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze."

Nomads

Ship: Peregrine.
Family: Thorkild.
Personal name: Sean.
Rank: Ensign.
Service: Flier pilot and gunner.

He says not, "I am Ensign Sean Thorkild of the Peregrine," but "This one is called Peregrine Thorkild Sean." (The Peregrine, p. 43)

Nomads have not dispensed with the grammatical first person because he also says "my" and "we." Ship, family, rank and service can be read from his outfit.

Sean plays a stringed instrument called a "lorne" (p. 65) but what is it like? His song includes the word "dree," (p. 66) but apparently as an adjective, not as a verb.

In flight, the Nomads maintain their ship with minimal automatic or robotic machinery and make artifacts to trade either internally or externally. Floors are green and soft, not metallic. Walls have murals or carved panels. Apartments have plants. There is a park and three taverns. It does not sound like the inside of a spaceship.

Interstellar trade and travel is a big idea in American sf:

Heinlein's Free Traders;
Asimov's Foundation Traders;
Blish's Okies;
Anderson's Nomads, Kith and Polesotechnic League;
no doubt others.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Seeds Of Knowledge

"...as Trevelyan had wisely foreseen, the self-sufficient, enterprising Nomads bore various seeds of knowledge through the Third Dark Ages. The antecedents of our own civilization were among those who reaped what the Nomads had sown."
-Sandra Miesel, interstitial material IN Anderson, Starship, p. 252.

Does Trevelyan explicitly predict that the Nomads will bear seeds of knowledge through the coming Dark Ages? I will find out by continuing to reread The Peregrine. The following story, "The Chapter Ends," describes a later civilization although it does not indicate any Nomadic influence.

However, the idea that such a group would survive and would preserve something of value is entirely consistent with everything that Poul Anderson wrote, for example in his Technic History. And not just surviving groups - the Bronze Age and the Roman Empire also leave legacies.

"He found the Nomads' closeknit, tradition-laden ways more satisfying than the atomized, cerebral existence considered normal on Earth." (ibid.)

Really? I would be quite happy with an atomized, cerebral existence - but I also recognize the value of traditions. And it makes sense to think of Trevelyan, after a career in Coordination, joining a Nomad ship. According to the Chronology, the Third Dark Ages were then less than a century hence.

An Old Problem

Two Coordinators, Trevelyan and Smokesmith, discuss their suspect, Murdoch:

"'...available data indicate that his companions are quite unintegrate.'
"'...yes, hard cases, none Earth-born, several nonhumans from raptor cultures among them.'"
-Poul Anderson, "The Pirate" IN Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), pp.211-251 AT p. 220.

Later, when confronting this "unintegrate" crew, Trevelyan:

"...was aware that his own body quivered and went dry in the mouth. A remote part of him decided this was an unintegrate reaction and he needed more training." (p. 249)

These passages shed further light on some earlier posts. I thought that psychological conflicts had destroyed the Solar Union whereas it was cosmic complexity that was to overwhelm and destroy the Stellar Union. This view was correct as far as it went. However, the first problem had not yet been eradicated and indeed it also contributed to the fall of the Stellar Union. People on Earth had attained, or at least had begun to approach, integration of emotion with reason but two other groups had not:

some human beings born off Earth;
nonhumans from raptor cultures.

Thus, Sandra Miesel commented:

"One - even many - foes without could be vanquished; against the enemy within there was no defense. Given the prevailing stage of psychodevelopment, the innate contradictions with individuals and societies could not be resolved. Critical data that needed to be gathered surpassed the capacity of any organization to comprehend, much less coordinate. The Stellar Union flew apart like an overwound spring." (p. 252)

There are two points to note here -

(i) Against the enemy within, there was some defense. Coordinators received integration training. However, many more beings in extrasolar cultures did not.

(ii) Miesel mentions both problems, the stage of psychodevelopment and the inability to comprehend or coordinate critical data, but maybe runs them together, making them sound like a single problem? Of course, they interact. The Coordination Service:

"'...can't coordinate as many planets as are included in our civilization-range today. And that range is still expanding.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter IV, p. 30.

- and the problem is made even greater because many of those planets are inhabited by unintegrated populations. Noticing that Nomad fliers are armed, Trevelyan thinks:

"Earth thought it had achieved peace...and now this has blossomed again between the stars." (The Peregrine, Chapter VII, p. 51)

Contrasting Aspects Of A Future History Series

Formulaically, so to say, Poul Anderson's The Peregrine is hard sf about the consequences of technological advances in a fictitious future. However, three of its premises -

easy, regular, faster than light interstellar travel;
many habitable, easily colonizeable, Earth-like planets;
an alien race differing from humanity only in greater physical beauty -

- make me think of it more as set in an alternative reality verging on fantasy. Some of Anderson's early pulp stories, like "Witch Of The Demon Seas," present an alternative universe where human and other beings inhabit planets of different stars and there is the possibility of interstellar travel but at the same time magic works. The Peregrine is not in that category but not far from it either.

Any future history series links near future stories to far future stories. Near future stories, like "Marius" and "Un-Man," are much closer to our reality and present problems that we recognize. An Un-Man breaks into the apartment of an Americanist Guardsman, interrogates him, then kills him, making it look like suicide. He justifies this as an act of war and indeed the UN and "the gang" are waging an undeclared covert war. Many people believe that the mere declaration of a war justifies any killing ordered by our government - although, as soon as I write that, moral and even legal considerations intrude. There are such things as war crimes. Personally, I would not trust any existing government to tell me when to kill and would not have joined in the slaughter of 1914-'18 but would have seen the need to oppose Hitler, although not by mass bombing of German cities.

Back to the further future: although a Coordinator cooperating with Nomads thwarts a particular alien plot, the Coordination Service and the Stellar Union are soon to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of external threats:

"'The overworked integrators are years behind in correlating information...A thing can grow to monstrous proportions before they learn of it.'" (The Peregrine, p. 30)

What follows is the Third Dark Ages, similar to the Long Night in the Technic History, although in this series there are no stories set in the period following the breakdown.

Interstellar Fiction

Poul Anderson's The Peregrine, about the interstellar Nomads, was originally called Star Ways. Two of the Nomad spaceships are called Trekker and Voyageur. Anderson wrote this novel decades before the existence of Star Wars, Star Trek or Star Trek: Voyager. However, certain words and terminologies recur in an interstellar sf context.

We recognize the scenario from Star Trek and from other sf works, e.g., by James Blish. A large spaceship with a crew of hundreds or thousands enters a planetary system and goes into orbit around an inhabited or colonized planet. Crew members shuttle to the surface in ship's boats. Star Trek introduced the transporter (teleporter) in order to avoid scenes involving boats. Extrasolar planets are either colonized from Earth or inhabited by surprisingly humanoid natives. One Nomad "marries" (not legally) a very beautiful native woman with white skin and long silver hair.

Thankfully, at least, the Nomad and his new wife are not interfertile - although Star Trek does allow even that in the case of Vulcan. The Vulcans should have been a separated colony, not the result of independent evolution, just as the Time Lords should have been not aliens but future humanity.

Poul Anderson is able to write convincingly and to address significant issues despite such sf cliches, which he later transcended.