Sunday, 6 November 2016

Metafiction

Metafiction is the acknowledgement by a fictional text of its own fictional status. Ian Fleming contradicts his own earlier biographical information about James Bond, then tells us, through M.'s Times Obituary for Bond, that a friend and colleague of Bond had written a serious of inaccurate popular books about his exploits!

"...these high-flown and romanticized caricatures in the career of an outstanding public servant."
-Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice (London, 1966), p. 180.

We would like to read a more accurate account of:

"...the many adventurous paths down which his duties led him." (p. 179)

Apparently, the publicity about some of Bond's adventures made him an unwilling public figure. Thus, when a Ministry of Defence switchboard operator tells a colleague:

"'It's another nut who says he's James Bond. Even knows his code number.'"
-Ian Fleming, The Man With The Golden Gun (New York, 1965), p. 10 -

- this line is perfect metafiction. It could equally be uttered in the fictional world or in ours.

When Alan Moore's Miracleman tells his wife that what happened in '63 was not a joke, he is right. That was the year when the original series, then called Marvelman, ceased publication. But how did a comic book superhero experience the cancellation of his title?

"It was an a-bomb, Liz. AN A-BOMB! It wasn't a game anymore."
-Alan Moore, Miracleman, Book One: A Dream Of Flying (Forestville, California, 1988), Chapter 2: Legend, p. 5.

I mention these dramatic metafictions because there are at least two in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization. First, Hloch tells us that the source of The Man Who Counts is uncertain. There are two possible places (planets) of publication with different authors and dates cited but:

"...Rennhi did not feel the matter was worth pursuing further." (The Van Rijn Method, p. 338)

No wonder. Poul Anderson tells us that the first paperback edition:

"...was badly copy-edited and saddled with the ludicrous title of War of the Wing-Men. I am happy that now, at last, the proper text and name can be restored." (pp. 513-514)

Rennhi, a winged Ythrian, would not have wanted to pursue the source of an account of the winged Diomedeans as "Wing-Men."

Secondly, Michael Karageorge, introducing "Sargasso of Lost Starships," writes:

"Many scholarly works of varying lengths have been written on both the history and the literature of the early years of the Terran Empire, and the majority completely ignore the piece which follows." (Rise Of The Terran Empire, p. 363)

That translates as: "This early story has never been collected before."

Karageorge, a former pen name of Poul Anderson here appropriated by the Technic Civilization Saga compiler, Hank Davis, continues:

"The few which do mention it mostly do so only in passing, describing it as 'obvious fiction,' or even scorning it as a hoax." (ibid.)

This is because, as Davis in his own persona says in the Introduction to this volume:

"'Sargasso' is pure-quill pulp writing, both in the style and in the plot, which is much unlike anything else in the Technic Civilization saga." (p. IX)

Sandra Miesel wrote:

"'Sargasso of Lost Starships' is an account filled with discrepancies..."
-Sandra Miesel, "Afterword: The Price of Buying Time" IN Poul Anderson, A Stone In Heaven (New York, 1979), pp. 237-251 AT p. 240.

Karageorge says that the story looks suspiciously like pro-Imperialist propaganda but, with this qualification, it still belongs in the History. The Bible comprises myths, legends, laws, genealogies, theologically interpreted histories, proverbs, hymns, prophecies, philosophy, apocalyptic, fiction, letters and propaganda. Similarly, "The Star Plunderer," about the Founder of the Empire, is only one chapter of its author's unpublished Memoirs and might be historical fiction. The entire Earth Book Of Stormgate is a sequel to the Sky Book, which we never see. Like Fleming suddenly reclassifying the previous ten James Bond novels as fictions within the fiction, Anderson leaves open the possibility that some of the installments of the Technic History are not what happened but what was said to have happened.

1 comment:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I knew, of course, of how dissatisfied Poul Anderson was with the first edition of THE MAN WHO COUNTS, the "Wing Men" version. It would be interesting if someone compared the mangled text of THE WAR OF THE WING MEN with THE MAN WHO COUNTS, and gave us some examples of how the two texts differed.

    Considering how different "Sargasso Of Lost Star Ships" was from the rest of the Technic Civilization stories, I sympathize for those who had difficulty making sense of the story! Still, it does ties in with the Technic stories: one example being how Shalmuans were seen at the beginning of the tale. And we see the planet Shalmu in THE REBEL WORLDS and Flandry's invaluable valet/chef/pilot, etc., Chives, is a Shalmuan.

    Sean

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