Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Different Kinds Of Alternative Histories

Rereading "Operation Afreet" in the Collected Short Works has led to rereading in this order:

Operation Chaos
Operation Luna
the Old Phoenix passages in A Midsummer Tempest 
Three Hearts And Three Lions

I have reached only p. 45 of 156 in Three Hearts...

We have segued from Valeria Matuchek's lunar journey to Holger Carlsen's Carolingian journey via the Old Phoenix. After this, there might be a first reading of SM Stirling's Against The Tide Of Years. Another alternative history novel, except that these are entirely different kinds of alternative history:

suppose a historical event had occurred differently;
suppose time travelers had been able to change the course of events;
suppose a particular mythology, e.g., Carolingian, were literally true.

Stirling's novels address the first two suppositions whereas Anderson's address the third. This is all high quality imaginative fiction but also in very different fictional categories.

In The Middle World

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977).

The "Middle World" in the Carolingian universe has both an Elf Hill and a Mirkwood (Chapter Seven, p. 42), place names to conjure with.

"'...in Mirkwood do the Pharisee laids hunt griffin and manticore...'" (ibid.)

"...laids..." should be "...lairds..." Holger thinks that "Pharisees" is a misunderstanding of Biblical texts by illiterate Christians. (Chapter Six, p. 41)

"'They do say elves an' trolls ha' made allayance,' said Unrich. 'An' when them thar clans get together, 'tis suthing big afoot.'" (Chapter Five, p. 35)

Elves and trolls do not make alliance in Anderson's The Broken Sword. But the "something big" in the Carolingian universe is an assault of Chaos against Law.

In Holger's guest rooms in the Faerie castle:

glowing carpets;
mosaics of precious stone;
cloth-of-gold hangings;
acres of garden seen through balcony windows;
unwavering tapers;
a moving tapestry;
hot running water, soap etc. (Chapter Seven, p. 45)

And the elves conjure all this up from the air? (ibid.)

Music In The Brook

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter Six.

This cover illustration shows the swan-may, Alianora. For fun, she changes to human in mid-air, then changes back to swan just in time to break her fall.

In the Middle World, the sun is hidden but it is not dark. There is a mysterious blue light.

"A brook ran close by which did not tinkle but played, an endless melody on an alien scale." (p. 39)

Imagine a world where continual background music is part of the environment. See here. In fact, imagine other media-derived worlds, e.g.:

Earth Opera or Musical, where everyone sings (Alan Moore incorporated some songs into the dialogue of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen);

Earth Advertisement, where no one can use a commercial product without dancing around the house or the street singing its praises;

Earth Comedy, where nothing is serious, all conversation is hilariously funny and there is background laughter;

Earth Murder Mystery, where even the smallest village has at least three murders every week.

The possibilities are endless.

Alianora

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter Five.

The swan-may, Alianora, has the same name as a former lover of Neil Gaiman's Dream/Morpheus. See image and here. A swan-may is not a were-swan but a woman who wears a white feather tunic that empowers her to transform into a swan. The tunic had belonged to the Valkyries who, like dead Pan, have existed in the Carolingian universe so it is another mixed mythology place. Like Holger, Alianora was found as an abandoned baby.

Like Poul Anderson's Tabitha Falkayn, she was brought up by non-human beings, in Alianora's case dwarfs and animals. In this universe, animals can talk. Alianora gains intelligence from swallows, moles, badgers, otters, kingfishers and crows. Thus, she knows that a Saracen seeks Holger and has described him, his horse and his coat of arms accurately. Holger still does not get it that he belongs here. He thinks that he must have:

"...made off with the horse and equipment of a man who, coincidentally, resembled him." (p. 33)

However, he experiences deja vu... (p. 30)

The History Of The Carolingian Universe

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter Three.

There is a perpetual struggle between two primeval forces or modes of existence, Law and Chaos. (Maybe Creation was the imposition of Law on Chaos but we are not told that.) There was a Fall and, after that, "'...everything were Chaos...'" (p. 28) but, since then, Chaos has been driven back. When the Savior was on Earth, darkness could not stand and Pan died. Thus, Chaos and darkness are linked. Now Chaos rallies and prepares to strike back.

In CS Lewis' That Hideous Strength, Hell has waited for the convergence of Atlantean magic with modern science. However, when the magician Merlin is revived, he joins forces with those who work against demonic science. In James Blish's Black Easter, Hell has waited for the meeting between Baines, who will commission the release of all the major demons, and Ware, who will be powerful enough to fulfill Baines' commission. Thus, the demons win Armageddon. In Three Hearts..., Chaos, which includes demons, prepares to strike but Holger is "...the Defender..." and it is "...as if dawn rode with him." (Chapter Twenty-Four, p. 154)

Holger speculates about the connection between the Carolingian Earth and the one he left:

"Had fleeting contact been made from time to time, castaways like himself who had returned with stories that became the stuff of legend? Had the creatures of myth a real existence here?" (Chapter Three, pp. 28-29) See here.

Woods Dwarfs

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter Three.

This cover shows the scene that I am rereading at present.

In the Carolingian universe, woods dwarfs:

live in the enormous forest;
eat mushrooms, nuts, rabbits and squirrels;
have no magical powers;
do not fear iron, silver or holy symbols;
unlike Narnian or Middle Earth dwarfs, do not take sides in wars between other beings -

"'We'll ha' naught to do wi' the wars in this uneasy land,' said Hugi. 'We'll bide our ain lives and let Heaven, Hell, Earth, and the Middle World fight it oot as they will. And when yon proud lairds ha' laid each the other oot, stiff and stark, we'll still be here. A pox on 'em all.'" (p. 26)

In one of Aesop's Fables, a donkey carrying military supplies is advised to flee in order to avoid capture by the advancing enemy. However, when he is told that the enemy will probably not try to make him carry any more than he is now because he is already at his limit, he replies, "I'll stay where I am!" In an sf novel by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle, factory workers asked how they feel about the prospect of aliens conquering Earth, reply that they will still have to work in the factories. (That shocked me when I read it. Then I saw their point.)

Another World

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter Three.

Having entered a magical realm, Holger Carlsen thinks wistfully of the world that he has left:

graceful spires in Copenhagen;
moors, beaches and wide horizons in Jutland;
ancient towns in green dales on the islands;
skyward arrogance of New York;
mist goldened by a San Francisco Bay sunset.

When you put it like that, why does anyone want to go to another world? (Holger didn't want to.)

Poul Anderson makes us aware of three groups who must do without coffee for breakfast:

Time Patrol members in the past (see here);
Holger in the Carolingian universe;
people living under "...wartime shortages..." (p. 24)

Holger's breakfast, served by Mother Gerd, maybe belongs on our food thread:

a bowl of porridge;
bread;
cheese;
ale;
"...a hunk of half-cooked bacon." (p. 23)

Despite the "half-cooked":

"Holger consumed the meal with appetite..." (p. 24)

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Libera Nos A Malo

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter Two.

To summon a sprite or demon, Mother Gerd, wielding a wand, draws two concentric circles around a brazier and dances between the circles, chanting:

"'Amen, amen...malo a nos libera sed -'" (p. 22)

Holger's hackles rise - and so do mine. She is chanting:

"Amen, amen...evil from us deliver but -"

- the Paternoster or Lord's Prayer recited backwards. Yet she had assured him that her magic was white, or gray at worst. The demon advises that Holger seek help in Faerie - but I think he is here to fight the Middle World? Gerd will send him to "'...Duke Alfric, the nearest lord of Faerie.'" (p. 23) That name seemed familiar so I searched the blog for it. See here.

A Few More Details

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter Two.

Mother Gerd has a hook nose, an iron pot and a black cat called "Grimalkin" and even claims to be a witch. She refers to:

"'...wonder-working relics of some saint, that do their miracles alike for Christians or paynim...'" (p. 19)

we have met "paynim" before, e.g., in The Shield Of Time, but perhaps it was time to google it. I had not realized that it was derived, via Anglo-Norman and Old French, from Latin paganus.

She says that dwellers in the marchland need magical "'...protection against the Middle World powers...'" (ibid.)

Thus, this "Middle World" seems to be different from Midgard or Middle Earth.

"This house, and the carline who took his knightly accoutrements as a matter of course..." (p. 20)

An old woman? Oh, so it refers to Mother Gerd.

Holger considers time travel but cannot make sense of Gerd's references to Fairies. The marches are disputed between the Middle World/Faerie and the Holy Empire. And there is another human group: the Saracens. The Christians claim that Mahound is an evil spirit and maybe he is here.

Percheron Etc

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Chapter One.

"The animal was gigantic, a stallion the size of a Percheron but with more graceful build, sleek and black as polished midnight. It was not tethered, though an elaborate fringed pair of reins hung from a headstall chased with silver and arabesques. On its back was a saddle, high in pommel and cantle..." (p. 14)

Having googled "Percheron," I now understand the significance of a stallion the size of one.

Holger dons the armor and rides the horse. He seeks hospitality from an old woman called Gerd who sounds like a fairy tale witch. They speak in a language that he does not recognize but nevertheless understands. She claims to live "...by the edge of the world." (p. 18) That might be literally true.

If this is a flat Earth, then how did it come into existence? Cosmos-forming processes would have to be entirely different. The flat earth of Narnia was directly created, sung into existence, by Aslan. There are some parallels between Three Hearts And Three Lions and The Lion, the Witch And The Wardrobe - apart from a leonine element in both titles, which I have only just noticed. Tolkien elaborately explains how the directly created flat Middle Earth became our round Earth. I suppose that a flat Earth has a place in our collective imagination. In Anderson's The Broken Sword, a ship leaves Midgard and enters Jotunheim by sailing North.

Myth And Reality

"'...that what was myth in one world might always be fact in some other.' PERELANDRA
-quoted from CS Lewis, Perelandra, by CS Lewis, "Forms Of Things Unknown" IN Lewis, The Dark Tower and other stories (London, 1977), pp. 124-132 AT p. 124.

If myth or fiction on Earth 1 is fact on Earth 2, is this because:

(i) dwellers on Earth 1 unknowingly create what they imagine?

(ii) poets and imaginative writers on Earth 1 unknowingly tune in to Earth 2?

(iii) every possibility exists?

Stories published by DC Comics have used explanations (i) and (ii).

In Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions, Holger Danske crosses over between the Earth where he is a hero and our Earth, or one like it, where he is a myth. On our Earth, he is in the Danish resistance during World War II. Googling reveals that one Danish resistance group was named after him. See here.

(A round number of posts and the second last day of the month. I might take a break from blogging and catch up with rereading Stieg Larsson.)

Advents

John Carter arrives naked on Mars. Holger Carlsen arrives naked on the Carolingian Earth. But Holger is expected. His horse and equipment wait for him.

Carter arrives on a dead sea bottom whereas Holger arrives in an exaggerated Terrestrial environment. Familiar trees, oak etc, are too big and wild for modern Denmark. A hawk hovers and a bear approaches. It looks medieval - or is this the way a forest would look in an imagined, mythical world?

Holger is bigger than the twentieth century norm and medieval men were smaller but the sword that he finds exactly fits his grasp. The stage is set and the principal actor has arrived. He just does not know it yet.

Farewells

"'Fare always well.' [Oberon] raised the staff. 'Titania, away!'
"They were gone into the radiant winter night.
"After a long while, Rupert took Jennifer's arm and said, 'Come, darling, let's get home before the day.'"
-Poul Anderson, A Midsummer Tempest, Chapter xxv, p. 227.

This is the end of the last numbered chapter. There follows a one-page Epilogue with a different cast of characters.

"-Farewell, we heard. Blessings. Coyote, kachinas, and the Beloved Ones vanished. We rested alone on Dowa Yalanne.
"Balawahdiwa led Valeria out by the hand. 'It's all right if Owl flits us to our brooms,' he said. 'Let's go home.'"
-Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 49, p. 438.

There is just one more sentence, in which the wolf howls.

"The men were descending with their plunder. 'Let's go,' Everard said, and led them away."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 765.

(Time Patrolmen play the role of plunderers.) Unfortunately, those two sentences are the very end of the Time Patrol series.

I think that, at the very end of the Star Trek episode, "The City On The Edge Of Forever," by Harlan Ellison, Kirk says, "Let's get out of here," then he, Spock and McCoy disappear in transport beams? Because this is a time travel story, I think of its ending in parallel with that of the last Time Patrol story.

Cavaliers And Roundheads

My childhood:

cops and robbers;
cowboys and Indians;
Cavaliers and Roundheads.

I read a comic strip with a Cavalier as hero and Roundheads as Nazi-like villains. In my teens, I read a series of novels about a Roundhead spy, Nicholas Pym:

Pym's immediate superior, the equivalent of M, was John Thurloe;
Pym also met Cromwell and prevented his assassination;
Pym's enemies were Guido Fawkes, son of Guy, and the Sealed Knot, which answered to the exiled Stuart.

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975), Chapter xii, Valeria Matuchek says:

"'...I always had sympathy for the Cavaliers. Maybe that was schoolgirl romantics; and anyhow, the issues may not be identical in Rupert's home.'" (p. 105)

Would you fight for a King against a Parliament? Leon Trotsky, analyzing seventeenth century England, identified three successive "dual powers," actual or potential civil wars:

King versus Parliament - Parliament won;
Parliament versus Army - Army won;
generals versus rank and file - generals won.

The significance of Cromwell was that he was on the winning side each time and thus became Lord Protector, dictator. My sympathies would have been with the Levelers, who wanted common ownership of land and an end to social hierarchies. However, I would have been pleased enough to see the merchants gaining political power as against the aristocrats, which is what came to pass.

Valeria concludes:

"'Nothing ever was forever, anyway. Peace never came natural. The point is, it can sometimes be won for some years, and they can be lived in.'"
-Epilogue, p. 229.

Dominic Flandry and Manse Everard say the same. We recognize Poul Anderson's authorship and philosophy in the Technic History universe, the Time Patrol universe and the old Phoenix multiverse.

"'Enough. I hope you've enjoyed my story.'" (ibid.)

So has Valeria narrated the entire novel?

Many Languages

I would like to be able to speak more than one language. At secondary school in the Republic of Ireland in the 1960's, I was "taught" Irish, French and Latin and never learned to speak any of them. Later, I learned some Esperanto and, when I saw that a guy was wearing the green star of Esperanto, I managed two lines of dialogue -

Me: Cu vi parolas Esperanton?
Him: Jes, jes, flue! Kaj vi?
Me: Ne, ne flue!

- which did not get us very far.

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, Clodia says, "'Da mi bassia mille.'" (Chapter xii, p. 94) Holger responds, "'Det var som Fanden!'" (ibid.) We have access to the meanings of both these sentences. Googling reveals that Clodia quotes a poem by Catullus addressed to her. See here. In Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977), Holger, on arriving in another world, mutters the same phrase and we are told that it "...means, roughly, 'What the hell!'" (Chapter One, p. 13) - so we do not need an explanation when we read the same phrase again in A Midsummer Tempest!

Sorry, folks, but real life is intervening here.

A Generation

Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977) is copyright Poul Anderson 1961. In the introductory Note, a first person narrator tells us:

"Holger and I first met more than twenty years ago. It was in another generation - another age." (p. 7)

I was told at school that a generation was about twenty years, just long enough for someone to be born, grow up and start to have children. We assume that the narrator speaks from the year 1961 unless the text states otherwise. Thus, in round figures, Holger and he might have met about 1940. In fact, he goes on to tell us that it was:

"...in the fall of that remote year 1938." (p. 7)

Remote, indeed. Fiction reflects life, including the passage of time. Even in 1961, 1938 was "remote" because of all that had happened since then. Apart from the War, the narrator says of "...the bright lads I am training these days..." (ibid.) that:

"...they have grown up with the incredible. Look at any scientific journal, any newspaper, out of any window, and ask yourself if outlandishness has not become the ordinary way of the world." (ibid.)

From the perspective of 2016 - the science fiction future -, we can only say, "All the more so."

In 1938, Holger Carlsen was six feet four, broad-shouldered, yellow-haired and blue-eyed, thus a classic Nordic hero, at least in appearance. "Carlsen," originally meaning "son of Carl," has of course changed from a patronymic to a surname but, in any case, is the name of the Danish family that had adopted Holger because he was found on a doorstep or at least in a courtyard in "'...Elsinore, Hamlet's home town.'" (p. 8) This reference to Hamlet links Three Hearts... to Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest in which Holger cameos and Hamlet was real.

References to relativity, quantum mechanics and sorcery link Three Hearts... to Anderson's Operation... volumes and Holger will meet Valeria Matuchek from those books in A Midsummer Tempest.

Onward.

Portenious Beginnings

Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions (London, 1977) begins with a Note narrated in the first person by a fictional character. He will relate Holger's tale although he does not claim that it is true. It is more likely:

"...a dream, or a very tall story." (p. 7)

But, if it is true, then it has practical future implications.

Anderson's There Will Be Time (New York, 1973) begins with a Foreword narrated in the first person by Poul Anderson although it is fiction. He is:

"...not about to pretend this story is true." (p. 5)

But, if Anderson and his readers were to research the matter, then:

"...our discoveries could conceivably endanger us." (ibid.)

Anderson's Operation Chaos (New York, 1995) begins with a passage without heading or title, narrated in the first person by Steven Matuchek who narrates the entire novel. Matuchek is not writing a text but attempting to broadcast telepathically to other timelines. His recipients, if he has any, might think that his message is "...nothing but a dream." (p. 2) Nevertheless, it contains a "...warning." (p. 2)

In all three cases, Anderson conveys the impression that his fiction might be both true and urgent.

Guests In The Old Phoenix III

"'Rupertus, filius comitis palatini Rheni, et Guillermus, miles et famulus suus.'"
-Poul Anderson, A Midsummer Tempest, Chapter xii, p. 97.

"Rupert, son of the guardian/imperial attendant (?) of the province (?) of the Rhine and William, his soldier and servant."

Even easy Latin is difficult.

For more information about Holger Carlsen, we turn to Poul Anderson's Three Hearts And Three Lions (Sphere, London, 1977). Chapter One is preceded by a five page "Note" (pp. 7-11) which, however, is not an author's or publisher's note but part of the text. The novel ends with another, two page, "Note" (pp. 154-156). The Notes are a framing device. Thus, they have first person narration:

"Holger and I first met more than twenty years ago." (p. 7)

"I had a letter from Holger Carlsen right after the war, to say he'd come through alive." (p. 154)

- whereas Chapters One to Twenty-Four are third person narration about Holger:

"He woke slowly." (p. 13)

Holger is a man in a timeline where there is a World War II. He is described by an acquaintance before being transported, through "...flame and darkness..." (p. 11), to a fabulous realm where he is destined to be a hero, "...the Defender." (p. 154)

A standard formula for a fantasy novel, the only question being how well Anderson writes to this formula.

Guests In The Old Phoenix II

Poul Anderson, A Midsummer Tempest (London, 1975), Chapter xii.

Holger Carlsen:

"'...was born in - a universe where the Carolingian myths are true...'" (p. 102);

was cast into a timeline where magic does not work and where World War II was fought against Germany;

is trying to find his way home with a spell that takes him between universes but without any direction;

"'...barely escaped'" from "'...a clutch of Aztec gods...'" (ibid.);

from hints and clues, has found his way to the Old Phoenix.

When Rupert speaks of Hamlet and Macbeth as contemporaries of each other and of cannon in Hamlet's time and claims to have met Oberon and Titania, Valeria asks him:

Did Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Falstaff and Othello exist?
Was there a University of Wittenberg in Hamlet's time?
Were there striking clocks in Caesar's time?
Was Richard III "'...really a hunchbacked monster?'" (p. 104)
Did Bohemia have a sea coast?
Does witchcraft work?
Does Rupert know of William Shakespeare?

Rupert knows of Shakespeare as "'...the great Historian.'" (p. 105)

Richard III was hunchbacked in our timeline. See here. (But also see Comments.)

The skeleton, which had several unusual physical features, most notably a severe curvature of the back was exhumed to allow scientific analysis. (copied) 

Monday, 29 August 2016

Guests In The Old Phoenix

Poul Anderson, A Midsummer Tempest, Chapter xii, p. 99.

The guests introduce themselves:

Valeria Matuchek from the United States of America;

Holger Carlsen of Denmark;

Rupert of the Rhine Palatinate, nephew of Charles I, grandson of King James VI of Scotland/I of England and of Queen Anne who had been a Danish princess (Rupert adds that England and Scotland have been friendly with Denmark at least since Hamlet).

Thus, we recognize:

Valeria and Holger from previous novels by Anderson;
Rupert and his royal relatives from history;
Hamlet from Shakespeare.

We realize that reality is turning itself inside out for our enjoyment and edification.

The Roman Connection

Poul Anderson, A Midsummer Tempest, Chapter xii, "LATER."

"'And this is Clodia Pulcher, come from Rome.'
"Will leered at her. Rupert was dumbfounded. 'That Clodia - Catullus' Lesbia?' he faltered. (His host nodded.) 'But she is dead this sixteen hundred years!'" (p. 97)

"primum Catullus Clodiae ipsi amorem declarare non audet..."
-Maurice Balme and James Morwood, Oxford Latin Course, Part III, revised impression (Oxford, 1994), Chapter X, "Catullus In Love," p. 104.

"da mi basia mille, deinde centum..." (ibid.)

"She crooned, to be heard only by him: 'Da mi basia mille.'" (A Midsummer Tempest, Chapter xi, p. 94)

7 da mi basia mille, deinde centum, Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,      copied from here



































Retcon

The order of writing of works that feature or mention Valeria Matuchek was:

"Operation Changeling" (1969);
A Midsummer Tempest (1974);
"Losers' Night" (1991);
Operation Luna (1999).

In these works, Valeria:

is three years old and abducted to the Hell universe;
is a young adult and a witch (training or qualified?) traveling between universes;
is listed among women who had spectacular lives;
turns fifteen and is the first human being on the Moon in her timeline.

Thus, Operation Luna "retconned" a spectacular event into Valeria's teens. Poul Anderson did not yet know about Valeria's lunar expedition when he wrote the earlier published works.

In A Midsummer Tempest, Chapter xi, "THE TAPROOM OF THE OLD PHOENIX," Prince Rupert and Will Fairweather enter the inter-cosmic inn, the Old Phoenix. Already present are a man and a woman who continue their conversation. She addresses him as "Holger" (p. 93) and he addresses her as "Valeria" (p. 94). Thus we know, or begin to suspect, that we have met both before although Valeria is considerably older than when last seen in "Operation Changeling."

Later: In A Midsummer Tempest, Valeria is "'...on a field trip, collecting material for a master's thesis.'" (Chapter xii, p. 103)

Gods And Demons II

James Blish's Black Easter ends when World War III and Armageddon occur off-stage. We are told that the demons have won the latter. Near the end of Poul Anderson's Operation Luna, gods and demons fight onstage. The gods win.

The Day After Judgment, the sequel to Black Easter, ends when Satan declares that mankind must begin a long evolution towards Godhood and undoes the effects of World War III. Operation Luna ends when an archangel undoes the effects of the battle between gods and demons.

Parallels between these works by Blish and Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys are discussed here.

Operation Luna is the sequel to Operation Chaos. A parallel between that work and The Day After Judgment is noted here.

The End

Does Poul Anderson's Operation Luna (New York, 2000) end somewhat abruptly? In the TOR paperback, the text ends at the very bottom of p. 438. After that, there are:

two blank pages, 439-440 if they are to be numbered;

the inside back cover with a photograph of the author and two sentences about him;

the back cover with an illustration, blurb and publication information.

At the top of p. 438, gods and demons are still in a battle that had begun on p. 435;
on p. 438 -

- the remaining demons flee;
the gods' allies relax;
a trumpet peals;
a choir sings;
the fifth archangel, Cambiel, fills the sky with his radiance, covers the constellations with his wings and removes all traces of the battle with a wave of his hand;
the Native American gods vanish;
the human beings fly home;
the wolf howls.

We want to know more about:

all the universes and pantheons;
Heaven and Hell;
the One God and His Adversary;
the future lives and careers of the Matucheks;
the future of goetic space exploration and colonization.

Poul Anderson's vast output is just one small part of all possible universes.

Gods And Demons

(Meanwhile in real life: Bank Holiday Monday, walk along the River Lune, stalls and refreshments at a village church flower festival.)

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000).

Steve Matuchek thinks of:

"...starting a movement to restore woodlands and flowery meadows on Earth, so the Fair Folk could visit their mother more often." (Chapter 48, p. 424)

We can think of:

"...starting a movement to restore woodlands and flowery meadows on Earth..."

- because this would be worthwhile in any case. The Fair Folk are in our imaginations, literature and visual art. Earth should be made worthy of them and us.

Valeria Matuchek pursued by demons from the Moon need not decelerate while approaching Earth because Native American gods absorb her momentum. Next, there is a gods and demons battle on Earth. The gods include Coyote and Shalako, the latter described as bird-headed and twice as high as a tall man.

Steve, werewolf, kills a mandarin;
Fjalar, dwarf, kills an armored, sword-wielding demon with his hammer;
Svartalf, cat, fights a cat demon until Steve kills it for him;
Svartalf and Edgar, raven, chase two rat-sized demons;
Curtice, celestonaut, kills a seven foot boar-headed demon with the sentient sword;
Coyote confuses a woman-shark demon by changing shape, then gets on its back and breaks its neck;
Ginny, witch, disperses a goryo with her wand;
a Native American priest and two kachinas repulse demons trying to reach Valeria and the broomstick;
the Twin War Gods fight with spears and shields;
the fire god's torch sets foes aflame;
the ogres of discipline club;
the kachinas smite;
the Mudheads bounce;
the Shalako tread the enemy underfoot;
Water Strider, Grandmother Spider and the Northwest Raven arrive;
the surviving demons panic, break and scatter.

My summary is condensed but Anderson's text is almost as condensed. It is too easy to read through it quickly and not to retain most of its details.

Legitimacy Lost

During Dominic Flandry's lifetime, four men plan or attempt to seize the Imperial Throne by force:

Hugh McCormac;
Hans Molitor;
Edwin Cairncross;
Olaf Magnusson.

They are not all defeated by Flandry and this is not just a good guys-bad guys routine. In fact, McCormac is a good guy, especially when contrasted with the Emperor Josip -  and his sidekick, Snelund, who is the real villain of the piece. However, Flandry defends the principle of legitimacy in government. Of course, he not only defeats the McCormac Rebellion but also knows how to dispose of Snelund.

There are some bad guys in the list. Cairncross is self-serving and Magnusson is a Merseian sleeper. Flandry defeats McCormac and Cairncross. Flandry's daughter, Diana Crowfeather, defeats Magnusson. Molitor succeeds. Flandry winds up working for a usurper. This statement might shock blog readers not familiar with the Flandry series but Poul Anderson explores every possibility.

We should add that legitimate succession had been lost and the civil wars had begun before Molitor contended for power. Nevertheless, he founds a new dynasty by force alone - or is that how they all begin?

Addendum: See Comments. Sean refers to his articles which can be found here.

Valeria on The Moon II

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 47.

Does Valeria have it rather easy on the Moon? She lands on the demon-infested Moon but:

she lands among the exiled Fair Folk;
they tell her that there are less than a hundred demons;
the demons are scattered because, although they were expecting Valeria, they did not know where she would land;
three attack;
she kills them, following her sentient sword's good advice ("...no silly overhead cuts leaving your belly wide open..." (p. 420);
a fairy enters her broomstick to help it back to Earth;
she takes off just as more demons swarm over the horizon.

Fair Folk And Mortals

Fairy opinions of humanity:

Lord, what fools these mortals be!
-copied from here.

"Nor do we understand any more the souls of most men, who no longer walk in awe and worship, but question everything and seek ways to bend the whole world to their will."
-Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 47, p, 417.

Thesis: awe;
Antithesis: questioning;
Synthesis: both - why should they be contradictory?

CS Lewis argued that the power of man over nature was really the power of some men over others with nature as the instrument. Not necessarily. All men can cooperate to understand and control natural forces like electricity without either harming each other or "bending" the world in the process.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Parallel Reading

Poul Anderson writes young female povs convincingly:

Wanda Tamberly;
Diana Crowfeather;
Valeria Matuchek -

- as does Stieg Larsson (and here) with Lisbeth Salander.

I turn from Anderson's Operation Luna to Larsson's The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo when I want to read fiction without posting to the blog. However, I find interesting parallels. Anderson's Steve Matuchek tries to rescue his teenage daughter, Valeria, while Larsson's Mikael Blomkvist investigates the disappearance of the teenager, Harriet Vanger.

The Matuchek's Jewish neighbors are good-hearted and reliable and practice their beliefs. (Chapter 42, p. 379) Larsson's Inspector Bublanski attends synagogue for congregational worship and fellowship. However, when he wants to talk to God/think about his work and life, he sits in the back of a Catholic church because he knows that no one will disturb him there! How many people find uses for two different places of worship? (I meditate in any, provided I am confident that this is acceptable to the owners/habitual users of the building.)

(It is time to watch an episode of Smallville.)

Valeria On The Moon

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 47.

"First lunar landing ever!" (p. 414)

In how many timelines is that said?

The "...terrain..." (is that the right word?) is gray and black with gently contoured mountains under blue Earthlight. Like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Valeria Matuchek lands on the soil of the plain called the Sea of Tranquility. But before that her broomstick hits the wall of an invisible castle of the Fair Folk who have migrated from Earth. This ceases to be a credible Moon landing.

For Anderson's hard sf accounts of the Moon, see here and here.

Three Features In Two Sentences

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 43.

"The clouds piled higher in the west, snow-bright on top, blue-black in their depths. The wind piped louder and colder." (p. 393)

This is a mobile scene, clouds and wind heightening. These two sentences display three features that we have already noticed in Poul Anderson's texts:

an appeal to at least three of the senses;
an active role for the wind;
the pathetic fallacy, although I will have to explain the context for this.

Three Senses
We see the clouds mounting, bright above but black below.
We hear the wind loudening.
We also feel the same wind coldening.

The Wind
It pipes again, like a Greek chorus commenting on the action.

The Pathetic Fallacy
While the clouds are piling higher, the magicians are trying to rescue Valeria Matuchek who meanwhile is on a broomstick flying uncontrollably out of the Solar System. What is about to happen is that, on the one hand, they will successfully reverse her path (good) but, on the other hand, she will now be flying not back to Earth but towards the stick's original destination, the Moon (bad). Thus, only partial success. The skyscape symbolizes this. Brightness is hope but blackness, loudness and cold are continued danger. In Anderson's works, every word and phrase counts.

Three Narratives II

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000).

Chapter 38, in which Steve Matuchek negotiates with Native American gods, ends:

"'Daddy, Mother, help!' the girl-voice cried, small, remote, desperate. 'Please, can you hear me? Anybody? Help!'" (p. 344)

Chapters 39 and 40 are about Ginny Matuchek traveling to Yggdrasil.

Chapter 41, in which Valeria Matuchek tries to fly the space broomstick to a hiding place so that the IRS will not be able to seize it, ends:

"'Daddy, Mother, help!' she cried. 'Please, can you hear me? Anybody? Help!'" (p. 371)

Chapter 42 begins when Steve responds to Val. Thus, we return to first person narration as two of the three narratives reconverge. The broomstick flies straight up out of control. Valeria Matuchek will become the first human being on the Moon in her timeline, the Cavor or Armstrong of her universe. Does this make sense? It happens anyway.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Three Narratives

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000).

When Steve Matuchek writes that his story splits three ways:

he confers with Native American gods;
Ginny consults Mimir;
Valeria remains at home.

The riddle that Ginny asks Mimir to solve is the US tax code. Thus, in this chapter, the story becomes a satire. The wise jotun consulted by Odin about the Ragnarok gnaws his beard while struggling to understand income tax.

There is a further point here. We read chapters that are narrated from Ginny's and Valeria's points of view. Thus, in these chapters, third person narration replaces first person narration. For example, Valeria wonders:

"How about rereading a Magister Lazarus book? And, after dinner, playing some music to fall asleep by? Who knew but what Daddy and Mom would both be back when she woke..." (p. 362)

If the entire book had been written from Valeria's pov, then we would accept that this was what she thought. However, Steve has already told us that he had reconstructed this part of the story from information received later and from guesswork. Thus, Valeria might not have thought precisely this. It is her father's guess at the kind of thing that she might have thought.

He has also told us (see here) that his narrative is to be be put under a hundred-year seal so that, in any case, none of his contemporaries and none of Valeria's acquaintances will ever read it. And it is not addressed to us in our timeline as the telepathically broadcast Operation Chaos was. So we are not reading it either. The process of narration becomes ever more mysterious.

Mimir And More

(Some posts are mentally drafted during the day and grow accordingly. Mimir has got ahead of himself. Quit while you're a head.)

We will consider literary links between:

the Biblical Genesis;
the Eddas;
The Shape Of Things To Come by HG Wells;
Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon;
the Ransom Trilogy by CS Lewis;
Operation Luna by Poul Anderson;
Genesis by Poul Anderson.

Mimir, the original talking head, appeared in the Eddas. Anderson's adaptation of him in Operation Luna recalled the Head in Ransom Volume III and the Great Brains in Last And First Men. (The Brains are the Fourth Men.)

The Bible recounts what God did whereas future histories recount what mankind will do. Whereas the Psychotechnic and Technic Histories are Anderson's Heinleinian future histories, Genesis is his Stapledonian future history, a single volume covering billions of years. Terrestrial evolution culminates either in the Last Men on Neptune or in inorganic intelligences in interstellar and intergalactic space.

The Ransom Trilogy is:

a sequel to the Bible because it replays the Temptation of Eve and the Curse of Babel;
a reply to anthropocentric future histories because Lewis argues that man cannot remake himself with science but can destroy himself with it.

Which kind of future are we building now?

Mimir

I said he was eerie and he speaks with "...an eerie hiss." (Operation Luna, p. 353)

Ginny negotiates with Mimir by quoting Shakespeare! In exchange for advice, he wants an eye such as Odin gave. Ginny replies that she asks less than Odin and that an eye would have to mean an eye alone without any blood. She also arouses Mimir's interest by serving him coffee.

"'This they quaff not in Valhalla!'" (p. 358)

Her gifts to Mimir are from outside the Nine Worlds, Native American carved images and an unfamiliar kind of rhyming verse:

"'Mimir who dwells by the Well
"'Is the wisest twixt Heaven and Hell.
"'Since his head lacks two hands,
"'A heart and some glands,
"'It more thoroughly thinks, I can tell.'" (p. 357)

IN CS Lewis' That Hideous Strength, evil scientists link a guillotined murderer's head to machinery and keep it functioning but the intelligence that speaks through the head is a demon, not the murderer. One of Olaf Stapledon's future human races creates its own successor, a race whose members consist of giant disembodied brains, each housed in an entire building. The idea is that this race will practice thought undistracted by bodily needs. However, these "men" lack feeling and insight. Thus, it becomes necessary to create yet another embodied race although with larger brains than before. When I overcome breakfast indolence, I will go upstairs to consult Last And First Men and check which races of Men we are talking about. (They were still on Earth, not yet on Venus or Neptune.)

Under Yggdrasil

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 40, pp. 352-353:

a descending passage;
clay floor;
snaky, dead-white roots;
water dripping and puddling;
darkness;
a carpet-like cobweb;
a dog-sized spider;
further down, rock;
underground chill;
a huge cavern;
blue light from the rock;
black moss around silver water in the well;
a square, rune-carved, man-high stone block with a ramp to the well;
on the block, Mimir's embalmed, revivified head -

white hair and beard;
tight livid skin;
jutting bones;
deep dark eyes -

- and that is eerie enough for tonight. It is past midnight here.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Yggdrasil II

We have read about the World Ash Tree, Yggdrasil. Poul Anderson realizes it as a physical place in War Of The Gods (New York, 1997) and in Operation Luna (New York, 2000).

In War..., Odin and Loki climb over twisting and swaying branches and through "...caverns of leaf..." (p. 82) to the branch from which Odin hangs himself. He is sacrificed to himself. Loki wounds him with his own spear. We recognize the central act of Christianity in a pagan myth.

In ...Luna, Virginia (Ginny) Matuchek (a witch), Edgar (a raven, Ginny's familiar) and Fjalar (a dwarf) see:

smoky fog;
light from an unseen sky;
a root like a cliff rising from the soil;
rich green moss;
a trunk too broad to show curvature, fading in both directions, rearing as if forever;
a gleam brighter than gold;
the mouth of a tunnel;
Odin's path.

Other senses:

warmth, life like a tide, strength, abidingness;
a ghost of the wind between the worlds;
roots deeper than death, crown among the stars.

The wind is always with us.

Who Are "We"?

Poul Anderson's fictional texts are packed with meaning and significance. To discuss them is to discuss everything from anthropology to zoology as I think that this blog demonstrates. For example, an impossible fantasy addresses social realities.

Coyote has helped foreign devils to sabotage NASA. Steve Matuchek seeks an alliance with some other Native American gods, who respond:

"We know that Coyote has consorted with strange Beings. What is that to us? Again and again have we raised the hearts of our peoples. Again and again they were crushed. Their war cries resound no more.Their lands have fallen to those who love not Earth our Mother, but flay her alive. Why should we help the invaders?"
-Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), p. 342.

Very well spoken. How does Matuchek respond? His response, on pp. 342-343, is nearly a page in length and I cannot quote it in full although I advise my readers to read it. He says in part:

"...is this the worst of all possible worlds? Are my people really such monsters?" (p. 342)

- and:

"-Sure, we whites have done horrible things and made horrible mistakes. We're still at it. We're human, after all. But more and more of us are trying to do better; and we've worked out a few guidelines, like the Bill of Rights; and -
"-And, God damn it, we're not about to fold our hand and quit the game! I said it, we're human too!" (p. 343)

My perspective is very different from Matuchek's and I think that it is worthwhile to compare perspectives although sometimes we will seem to be at odds. I dislike his querulous tone. Although I happen to be pink, I do not identify with the "...we whites..." who continue to do "...horrible things..." I particularly dislike his "We're human, after all." That can be used to excuse anything. (My mother actively resisted any criticism of the police. When it was reported that some of them had accepted bribes, she resorted to "They're human." That can be said of anyone, including all those whom she did freely criticize.)

In the early 1990's, the British National Party, campaigning for a whites only Britain, began not only to make electoral gains but also to encourage racist violence. Many of their members were convicted of such offenses. Since then, we have defeated them politically, successfully campaigning to drive them out of any elected office. In 1993, I joined a large march through London to protest against the presence of the BNP HQ. Large numbers of helmeted Metropolitan Policemen prevented us from getting anywhere near the BNP building. Some of them attacked our people with truncheons. At one point, marchers, with police to their left and terraced houses to their right, could have retreated by stampeding through the houses but fortunately did not. If they had done so, then they would have been accused of wantonly rampaging through the homes of local residents. Any violence on a demonstration is automatically attributed to the demonstrators.

On the march, I was surrounded by a group of young black men who vigorously clapped and chanted:

"Racist attack -
"We fight back!
"Because we're black -
"We fight back!"

There was hostility and contempt on the faces of white policemen. Although I did not join in chanting, "Because we're black -" (!), I got the impression that my fellow marchers would not have objected - might not even have noticed - if I had done so. I was one of them, not one of "we whites."

Nowadays, when confronting the remnants of the BNP, we sometimes affirm our unity by singing:

"We are black, white, Asians, gays and Jews...
"There are many, many more of us than you!"

So, if I were in Steve's shoes, I would greet the gods not by apologizing for whites but by affirming my unity with reds.

Progress

In Operation Chaos, parallel earths are hypothetical although Steve Matuchek tries to communicate with them.

In Operation Luna, when his daughter, Valeria, has turned fifteen, Steve says:

"Transcosmic expeditions had been mighty few, I recalled. Some had never been seen again."
-Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), p. 337.

In A Midsummer Tempest, Valeria, an adult, travels between universes, knows how to assess parallel Earths and has found the inter-cosmic inn, the Old Phoenix.

Thus, scientific progress accompanies the growth of the Matuchek family.

I find the pompous talking sword unbelievable. However, if Operation Luna were to be filmed, then its/his shining surface should pulsate and change color in synchronization with his speech. This would be slightly more acceptable that an apparently disembodied voice accompanying an inactive weapon.

Two Premises

Two premises for time travel stories:

the past cannot be changed;
it can.

In The Corridors Of Time and There Will Be Time, Poul Anderson brilliantly presents the "cannot" premise. There are no inconsistencies in his narratives - and past and future periods are presented in considerable detail. In his Time Patrol series, Anderson brilliantly presents the "can" premise. The inconsistencies are subtle, requiring close analysis of the texts. Again, past periods are presented in detail. There is less about the future - although there are many alternative futures in Anderson's complete works.

By contrast, mass media presentations of the "can" premise remain appalling. I discuss an X-Men film here and last night encountered more of the same in a Smallville episode:

(i) Clark has the notebooks of Virgil Swann who received messages from Krypton. After someone has space-time traveled from the present Earth to the past Krypton, a new page appears in Swann's notebook.

(ii) Clark receives a message from past Krypton. Someone was trying to murder the young Kal-El (Clark's Kryptonian name). If Clark does not time travel to Krypton and prevent the murder, he will never have existed...

The powerful drama of the Luthor family, especially when Lex finally murders his father, is worthy of Anderson whereas these time travel scripts should never have been written.

No Omniscient Narrator

"Now the story splits again, three ways this time. I'll have to reconstruct two of them from what information came to me later, most of it brokenly, and the best guesses I can make. Nor may I say much about my own experiences. They're branded on my memory, but I  gave my word of honor I'd keep certain things secret."
-Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 37, p. 332.

This is the opening paragraph of Chapter 37. Not only is there no omniscient third person narration here but the first person narrator openly admits his limitations. First person narration always opens the possibility that a sequel will contradict the narrator. Thus, Watson wrote that there were no handholds by which Holmes could have climbed up from the place on the footpath at Reichenbach where he fought Moriarty. Holmes returns and says that there were. Even without a first person narration, in Ian Fleming's eleventh James Bond novel, M informs readers of The Times that the friend and colleague of Commander Bond who had popularized his adventures was not prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act only because of his many inaccuracies - thus neatly explaining Fleming's inconsistencies and cutting ten years off Bond's life!

In the case of Anderson's Steve Matuchek:

the information that came to him later might have been inaccurate;
the story that he reconstructed from it could also be inaccurate;
his guesses could be wrong;
another participant in his later experiences might not be bound by the same oath of secrecy.

Thus, here is scope for a sequel that would not only add to but also contradict Matuchek's account. But his account would still stand as his account, to be read before the better informed sequel. More could be done with alternative points of view that most authors or readers realize.

A Few Points That Didn't Get into Recent Posts

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000).

When the dwarf Fjalar starts to think about how to forge a steel broomstick capable of space travel, he considers:

the kind of alloy that had gone into Brynjubitur;
slightly more dragon-bone charcoal and eagle dung;
a spell like the one that powered Gungnir.

Eagle dung? Our willing suspension of disbelief is strained.

"Nobody can foreknow everything." (p. 294)

This is relevant to Omniscience? Why can nobody foreknow everything? Suppose I did foreknow in exact detail everything that I was going to see, hear, feel, taste, smell, think, say and do tomorrow, even including precisely how my thoughts and actions were going to be influenced by this foreknowledge. Suppose that my foreknowledge of the entire day was so complete that it was indistinguishable either from directly experiencing the entire day or from vividly/photographically remembering the entire day. In this case surely there would be no difference between foreknowledge and mere knowledge? The future is that part of our life that is not known in anything like this amount of detail. That is how we distinguish it from the merely remembered past and the directly experienced present. Thus, complete foreknowledge is contradictory.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

"How Does It Work?"

Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson are primarily hard sf writers who always explain how a spaceship works, whether it is a kind of rocket inside the Solar System or a faster than light craft venturing beyond the System. Ray Bradbury and CS Lewis are soft sf writers, not interested in technology. Bradbury has rockets taking off from Earth towards Mars melting snow and causing Rocket Summer. His version of an FTL drive is just to write, "...their speed was the speed of a god." (Quoted from memory.)

In the previous post, I discussed one novel in which Anderson imagines interplanetary travel that is based on the fantasy premise of magic rather than an sf premise like rocketry, solar radiation, gravity control etc. I compared Anderson's magic with Wells' Cavorite and ERB's planetary rays and wondered about CS Lewis' Weston, whom I have since checked up on. Lewis' approach provides an interesting contrast to Anderson's. Lewis does not understand technology:

Lewis' unfamiliarity with technology is shown by his use of the word "...gimmicks.." for the instruments that Jenkin must use. (5)
-copied from here.  

Consequently, Lewis imagines a Classics scholar like himself contemptuously addressed by a hostile physicist:

"'As to how we do it - I suppose you mean how the spaceship works - there's no good you asking that. Unless you were one of the four or five real physicists now living you couldn't understand: and if there were any chance of your understanding you certainly wouldn't be told. If it makes you happy to repeat words that don't mean anything - which is, in fact, what unscientific people want when they ask for an explanation - you may say we work by exploiting the less observed properties of solar radiation.'"
-CS Lewis, Out Of The Silent Planet (London, 1963), p. 27. 

Perfect. This passage:

establishes the characters of Ransom and Weston and the interaction between them;
absolves Lewis of any responsibilty to write a scientific explanation;
nevertheless, informs the reader that not rocket science but solar radiation is involved.

Poul Anderson does not do it this way but that is why we value both approaches.

The Magicians Who Sold The Moon

Poul Anderson's Operation Luna is the sequel to Anderson's Operation Chaos, which was modeled on Robert Heinlein's Magic, Inc. However, Operation Luna also recalls another work by Heinlein, "The Man Who Sold The Moon." In both of these works, a private company strives to send someone to the Moon and back. However, Heinlein's sf story is about money and a rocket whereas Anderson's fantasy novel is about magic and a steel broomstick.

In Heinlein's story, the Moon landing happens off-stage because the narrative is about how one determined man inspires, finances and organizes the expedition. A supply of high grade rocket fuel is crucial whereas Anderson's implausible premise requires a piece of Moon rock because rocks from the Moon have a magical affinity with it. Native Americans donate a medicine bundle that provides life support. The reader begins to question whether there could be an alternative timeline where such measures were effective.

This reminds me of two other fictional means of interplanetary travel apart from rockets. (Are we told what propels Weston's spherical spaceship in CS Lewis' Out Of The Silent Planet? I can look it up.) HG Wells' Cavor makes Cavorite which is opaque to gravity. Thus, when the Cavorite shutters are closed on the side of the sphere facing Earth and open on the side facing the Moon, the sphere falls towards the Moon. In Edgar Rice Burroughs' Solar System, each planet emits a distinctive ray and a ship approaches a planet by attuning itself to that ray - or something.

All Gods

The Bhagavad Gita
The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali
The Middle Earth History by JRR Tolkien
The Chronicles Of Narnia by CS Lewis
The Ransom Trilogy by CS Lewis
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
Operation Luna by Poul Anderson

Seven works:

two Hindu scriptures
five modern fantasies
three written by Christians
two by Lewis
two by the agnostic Anderson
all incorporating the gods and God into a single framework

"...he did not know the future. Nor, he believed, did the gods. (Well, the branching universes are so many, and each so strange, that probably none but the One God can keep track of them.)"
-Operation Luna (New York, 2000), p. 283.

Even if these two levels of divinity were to be acknowledged in reality, I would also affirm a third level: the One Reality, everything that exists, is manifested through all things, including you, me and "...whatever gods may be..."

From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.
-copied from here.

Branches

"...the branching universes are so many..."
-Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000).

Suppose that there is just a single universe without any branches. In that case, we would still be able to discuss other timelines as logical possibilities even if not as material realities. Thus, if I had attended a different University, then my life would have diverged from that point onwards. Anything might have happened. I would have met different people and would either have married someone else or remained unmarried - or I might have died in a fatal accident on my first day of attendance at a different University.

My question is this. If omniscience were not only possible but actual, would even an omniscient being know what would have happened if I had attended a different University - and if every other such contingency had occurred differently? If every sperm had met a different egg? If the entire world were populated by potential people who were neither conceived nor born in the world as we know it? Or has even omniscience got limits?

Omniscience?

"...he did not know the future. Nor, he believed, did the gods. (Well, the branching universes are so many, and each so strange, that probably none but the One God can keep track of them.)"
-Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), p. 283.

There are philosophical problems with the concept of omniscience. Apparently, Godel has proved that omniscience is impossible. I do not know his argument but here is mine:

if everything were known, then nothing would be unknown;
if nothing were unknown, then nothing would be future;
if nothing were future, then everything would be past or present;
if everything were past or present, then, at the next moment, everything would be past;
if everything were past, then everyone would be dead;
if everyone were dead, then nothing would be known;
thus, if everything were known, the nothing would be known;
reductio ad absurdum;
therefore, it is not possible that everything is known.

(I think that) any consciousness requires a remembered past, an immediate present and an unknown future. Atemporal consciousness - a single instant of durationless sensation without memory or future - would begin and end simultaneously and thus would not exist. Another reductio ad absurdum.

It may be argued that omniscience is knowledge of everything that exists and that the future does not yet exist. However:

we usually include the future among the things that are unknown to us but that would be known to omniscience;
it is convenient for some purposes to regard all moments as coexistent even though we are conscious of each moment only in that moment;
simultaneity is relative in relativity theory.

Omniscience would have to be neither temporal nor atemporal but transtemporal, incorporating and transcending instead of negating duration, but is that possible?

Retellings

A fictional narrative is either a newly created story or a retelling:

Homer and the Greek dramatists retold myths;
Virgil retold the prehistory of Rome;
William Shakespeare retold already existing stories;
John Milton retold the Biblical narrative;
pantomimes retell familiar fairy stories;
new films or TV series retell the stories of superheroes;
Isabel Allende retold the story of Zorro;
several of Poul Anderson's works, e.g., The King Of Ys (with Karen Anderson) or Hrolf Kraki's Saga, are retellings.

However, the details of a retelling can at the same time constitute a newly created story, e.g., Poul and Karen Anderson's character of Gratillonius and his struggle to preserve civilization as the Roman Empire retreats. Although the Smallville TV series retells a modern American myth, it simultaneously presents a never before told story of complicated interactions between the Kents and the Luthors. Certain highly dramatic episodes of Smallville reinforce my impression that Poul Anderson would have been an ideal choice as a writer able retell this heroic myth. Anderson would have not only rationalized the story's inherent absurdities, without adding any more, but also realized its characters and their period.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Our Lady Of Guadalupe Etc

Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 30.

When the local gods are unhelpful, sending no dreams or omens, Balawahdiwa makes:

"'...a novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe.'" (p. 274)

Pagans have no problem about incorporating such a figure into their pantheon. Our Lady of Guadalupe, of Mount Carmel etc must be particular avatars of Our Lady who is the mother of a powerful deity. In fact, by avoiding the word "goddess," I have almost, I think, kept within the bounds of Catholic terminology. Last week, in our Zen meditation group, someone compared the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin to Our Lady of Walsingham.

Manse Everard of the Time Patrol and his Tyrian guide visit the High Temple of Asherat:

"'...to honor Our Lady of Nuptials.'" (Time Patrol, p. 267)

And also:

"...a small temple [is] dedicated to Tanith, Our Lady of the Waves." (p. 241)

Storm Darroway reminds him of ancient Cretan images of Our Lady of the Labrys.
-copied from here.

Aphrodite is the foam-born Virgin, the Mother of Eros, Our Lady of the Weddings, a slut mocked by Homer;
-copied from here.

Were goddesses called "Our Lady" or has Anderson read Catholic terminology back into pre-Christian religion?