Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Deadly Unknown

In how many of Poul Anderson's works does a space explorer's environment unexpectedly explode in his face, threatening his life and reminding him that he is in direct contact with the unknown? - which is why he is exploring it. There are at least two examples in the Technic History alone: Satan's World and "Starfog."

David Falkayn is helpless, buried by an avalanche. Practical question: how will he be rescued? Scientific question: what caused the avalanche? Poul Anderson will always answer both.

Muddlin' Through cruises above, fanning an energy beam that melts the snow from around Falkayn, then hauls him up with a tractor beam. The glacier was mainly solidified carbon dioxide which, after being held in an unstable equilibrium between increasing daylight heat and rapid nighttime chilling, suddenly sublimed explosively, dislodging the rest of the escarpment. Falkayn comments:

"'We can't think of everything. Nobody can. We're bound to do most of our learning by trial and error.'" (David Falkayn: Star Trader, p. 457)

That is a comment not only on cosmic exploration and scientific discovery but also on human history and individual life. If I spend a lifetime learning some simple lessons, when am I to apply the lessons? The answer to that is that the universe was not designed for our convenience. Self-consciousness and intelligence result from natural selection. Specifically, consciousness exists because pleasure and pain have survival value. But we can do something else with it.

No comments: