Wednesday, 17 August 2016


Poul Anderson, Operation Chaos (New York, 1995), Chapter XXIX, pp. 223-224.

The characters discuss the nature and survival of the soul, a big subject of which we will scratch the surface. I will return to Operation Chaos after surveying some comparable fictional treatments of the subject. Here is an incomplete list:

The Land Of Mist by Arthur Conan Doyle;
Immortality Inc. by Robert Sheckley;
The Palace Of Eternity by Bob Shaw;
Inferno and Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle;
What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson;
The Great Divorce by CS Lewis;
"The Man Who Traveled In Elephants" by Robert Heinlein;
Why Call Them Back From Heaven? by Clifford Simak;
The Triumph of Time by James Blish;
The Day After Judgment by James Blish;
Midsummer Century by James Blish;
Starfarers by Poul Anderson.

I cannot treat all of these works equally:

I have not read The Land Of Mist;

decades ago, I saw a TV dramatization of Immortality Inc. and remember that survival was not automatic but could be attained either yogically or technologically;

The Palace Of Eternity has electromagnetic "egons" in interstellar space disrupted by the wakes of Bussard ramjets;

Niven and Pournelle follow Dante's account;

Matheson follows spiritualist accounts;

Lewis presents an allegory;

the surprise ending of Heinlein's story is that the viewpoint character is dead;

Simak's novel states that there is a hereafter but does not describe it;

in The Triumph Of Time, one theoretical possibility is the continued existence of isolated consciousnesses with memories but without bodies, environments or sensory impressions but no one wants this;

characters in The Day After Judgment speculate that eternal life is stable negative entropy;

in Midsummer Century, a personality is a semistable electromagnetic field which remains integrated as long as it has the supplementary computing apparatus of a brain and the energy source of a body but then fades away unless it is picked up by a suitable receiver;

in Starfarers -

A sympathetic human character, Jean Kilbirnie, dies in the black hole. Or does she? In fiction, and particularly in fantastic fiction, when no body has been found, the author might reverse the death. Two of Jean's colleagues later suspect that holontic configurations are not transitory but permanent, imposing a trace on the vacuum, a direction on randomness, a change in the metric, thus lasting and surviving death, implying that organic patterns and processes might last also.

So could the Holont rescue Jean's consciousness from the death of her body? This is my speculation, no one else's, but it is implied by passages that otherwise are left undeveloped. Anderson's intention is to show us that there is always more to be learned so there will at any stage be still unanswered questions.
-copied from here.

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