Sunday, 23 April 2017

Higher Wisdom?

"'...the Warlocks taught me that the nonrational sections of the brain were sources of higher wisdom, that dreams, instincts, and intuitions were superior to logic.'"
-John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), p. 192.

We have discussed these issues in relation to Poul Anderson's works. See links here and here.

"Nonrational" can mean either pre- or trans-rational. Only "trans-" would be "higher." Instincts, dreams and intuitions are different phenomena. Instincts are prerational. A dream might be the vehicle for an intuition which might be a realization resulting from unconscious mental processes and therefore not from conscious reasoning. Logic is consistency between propositions, therefore basic to any thought. An intuiton not arrived at by logically reasoning would nevertheless have to be thought about logically.

Biological And Technological Evolution

Let's look in a bit more detail at what Wells, Anderson and Wright do here.

Biological
Applying Darwinism to Victorian class society gave Wells the bourgeoisie devolving into Eloi and the proletariat devolving into Morlocks.
Anderson assumed continued evolution of humanity into Danellians.

Technological
Humanity coexists with, merges with or is superceded by AI.

That seems comprehensive?

Originality, Quality And Quantity

The previous post referred to:

one of the founders of modern science fiction, HG Wells;
a current sf writer, John C. Wright;
between these, no less than three relevant works by Poul Anderson -

- while at the same the post omitted the equally relevant but slightly more complicated human-AI interactions in Anderson's mammoth Harvest Of Stars Tetralogy, my point as always being that we applaud Anderson not only for original contributions to sf but also for a body of work displaying both quality and quantity.

(And grammatically this post was a single sentence - until I added this one!)

Post-Humanity

Will humanity survive, evolve, devolve or be superceded?

In HG Wells' The Time Machine, humanity devolves into Morlocks and Eloi;

in Poul Anderson's Time Patrol, humanity evolves into Danellians;

in Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years, immortal human beings and Artificial Intelligences share a nanotech-engineered environment;

in Anderson's Genesis, post-organic intelligences, some incorporating recorded human personalities, supercede humanity;

in John C. Wright's The Golden Age, a carefully protected immortal human being lies in a coma while his computer-enhanced consciousness goes elsewhere and interacts with its environment as filtered through several layers of cyberspace.

Wright's character, whose recorded personality will be re-embodied if his first body dies, mentally accesses Internet information and outwardly perceives not only his physical environment but also various semblances that can be switched off like images on a computer screen. Although I applaud this level of creative imagination and technological extrapolation, I am finding it hard to empathize with these effectively post-human beings and their strange ways of doing business, like voluntary partial amnesia.

Four Authors

Four authors on my current agenda -

Poul Anderson: for discussion of Anderson, read the blog to date;
SM Stirling: succeeds and surpasses Anderson in alternative history fiction;
John C. Wright: highly imaginative "Cutting Edge" speculative fiction;
Stieg Larsson: not sf but contemporary thrillers with content that would have been sf until recently.

Does Wright match Anderson or Stirling in quality of writing? I cannot assess this yet, having so far read only part of one novel.

Since Larsson describes details of intelligence services and since Anderson's Time Patrol is an intelligence service behind and beyond all others, I imagine the Patrol as observing from the background although not intervening but this is merely an association in the mind of a single reader. However, everything interconnects. Our brains connect data in different ways.

Good As SF?

I am not going to cite many authors' names here but occasionally I have gone from reading an sf novel to reading a contemporary thriller and have found the quality of writing better in the latter. Once, an sf novel and a thriller each had a scene set in the Soviet Union and I found the former "tinny" by comparison.

There used to be a debate about whether sf should be judged by the same literary criteria as any other fiction or whether it could be good as sf provided that its ideas were original and were developed logically. I think that the issue still exists. Obviously we want sf that combines literary qualities with imaginative concepts.

I say this for three reasons:

first, we find, perhaps to our surprise, that, despite his pulp action-adventure origins, Poul Anderson's prose is of high quality as I have tried to demonstrate;

secondly, SM Stirling is a worthy successor of Anderson by both sets of criteria;

thirdly, having been drawn into rereading Stieg Larsson's thrillers, I might be with them for some time and might therefore find less to say here.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Millennium Later

If we ask what happens in the twentieth century of Poul Anderson's Technic History timeline, then the answer is that we already know because that timeline does not diverge from ours until some time in the twenty first century whereas, if we ask what will happen a thousand years after the events of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, then the answer is that we cannot know because Larsson did not write a sequel set that far in the future and indeed would not have done so because he was not writing that kind of fiction.

On the other hand, Millennium, like any contemporary fiction, is set in a timeline that is identical with ours except for the existence of the characters and the occurence of the events that are described in the Trilogy. Thus, whatever is going to happen in the Millennium timeline is what is going to happen in our timeline. We do not know what that is but we need not envisage a different future for Millennium as I was doing when I began to write this post. This is a consequence of the genre. Although I am intrigued by ways of fitting different genres into a single fictional tapestry, there is no need to project a science fictional future for Millennium.

Questions About The Multiverse

How big is the multiverse that is accessible from Poul Anderson's intercosmic inn, the Old Phoenix? Is every kind of fiction and myth real somewhere? The multiverse is certainly vaster than Anderson's own canon. There are different sets of dramatic and fictional characters and even different pantheons. Are there worlds of anthropomorphic animals and cartoon characters with appropriate laws of physics?

When a daily newspaper featured three comic strips each with only three panels per day, I thought that they were a single continuous story and did not understand why the realistically-drawn characters never met the cartoonish characters. Little did I suspect that what I was asking for was a multiversal crossover.

Again, it is cleverer when diverse genres can somehow be fitted into a single fictional universe. When Superman, usually drawn realistically, visited Plastic Man, usually drawn cartoonishly, Supes was also drawn cartoonishly because, it was explained, the drug that gave Plas his stretching power also affected his perceptions. Anderson would have been able to cameo such character interactions just as he did cameo that near-as-dammit-a-superhero, the Lensman, in the Old Phoenix.

In Vino Veritas

I usually don't drink but tonight I shared a bottle of wine so some of this will be Bacchus-inspired.

Here I imagined fitting works of four genres into a chronologically linear sequence. (James Blish's After Such Knowledge is a three-genre Trilogy but not necessarily a linear one.) Of course, Poul Anderson has already fitted works of different genres into the non-linear framework of the multiverse. Hard sf character, Nicholas van Rijn, even visits the fantasy venue of the Old Phoenix. But a multiverse can incorporate anything, even what otherwise would be contradictions.

Seven Ways To Handle A Series Character
(i) Never show us his death. Thus, there is always scope for another sequel: Nicholas van Rijn: David Falkayn; Dominic Flandry; Gratillonius... As John Carter says, "We still live!"

(ii) If he does die, then leave him dead.

(iii) If this is a fantasy, then show us the hereafter or stage a resurrection.

(iv) Write stories set earlier. Doyle did.

(v) Explain that the character was not really dead after all. Doyle did this also. It is the death and resurrection myth in another form.

(vi) Contradict yourself. Harry Lime died in The Third Man the novel/film but is still alive in The Third Man the TV series. There are other examples.

(vii) Explain the contradiction with a multiverse.

Please don't tell me that I've missed anything!

Tomorrow II

I have speculated about a multi-period series somewhere else but let's go through it again. Works by Poul Anderson could easily have been adapted in this direction:

(i) a heroic fantasy series set in a prehistoric, even mythical, past;
(ii) a historical fiction series;
(iii) a contemporary fiction series;
(iv) a future history series, covering multiple periods;
(v) a time travel series linking (i)-(iv).

Observations
Some characters in the historical and contemporary series would turn out to have been time travellers.

To preserve the realism of (ii)-(v), their references to (i) would have to be ambiguous or tangential. But it could be done.

Tomorrow

The future begins tomorrow:

Poul Anderson's Brain Wave begins with a contemporary setting, then rapidly moves into an amazing future, unlike any other in fiction;

HG Wells' Time Traveller spends eight days in the far future, then returns to the same day so that, in the evening of that day, he tells his dinner guests that he had travelled into "tomorrow," then "Tomorrow night...";

Wells' Invisible Man thinks that his Reign of Terror is the beginning of the future;

CS Lewis' Introduction to his That Hideous Strength, published in 1945, informs us that the novel is set loosely after the War.

Lewis' first two novels could happen "now" (before and during the War, respectively) because no one knows that Ransom has been to Mars and Venus any more than anyone knew that Cavor and Bedford had been to the Moon or that Bedford had returned alone. However, That Hideous Strength is "day after tomorrow" fiction: everything is the same but one thing will be different. The further future is discussed and decided.

Any contemporary novel could be Volume I of a future history. There will be future events. We are usually not told what they will be. But the author could continue the narrative. One way to do it would be:

to write several novels set here and now;
to write an sf series set several centuries hence, too far ahead to be overtaken by events in our lifetimes;
to have the latter refer back to the former.

Thus:

van Rijn refers to a twentieth or twenty-first century ancestor;
a device used in the Technic History began to be developed in the twentieth century;
somebody think of a better example?

Our Web Is Not Their Web

The word "knowledge" is ambiguous. Books and computers contain knowledge or more accurately information but this is not conscious knowledge. I read a book or computer screen, then consciously know a small fraction of the information.

My brain contains both conscious and unconscious memories whereas a computer "memory" is entirely unconscious. I spoke to a friend who thought that a computer "knew" and "understood" how to answer my computer searches. He therefore thought that the computer was on its way to becoming conscious as we are. Of course, the computer does not know or understand anything and is not on its way to becoming conscious.

I say all this in order to contrast two kinds of fiction:

in contemporary novels, like Stieg Larsson's Trilogy, the characters regularly browse and hack a global web of unconscious computers;

in some futuristic sf, there is a global or even interplanetary web of conscious artificial intelligences.

But our web is not becoming that web - which might exist in future.

Inverstigative Journalism In The Solar Commonwealth

There are corrupt companies in the Polesotechnic League in Nicholas van Rijn's time. In Stieg Larsson's Trilogy, the investigative magazine, Millennium, exposes a corrupt businessman. OK. Let's imagine a magazine on Earth in the Solar Commonwealth investigating:

Serendipity, Inc.;
Solar Spice & Liquors;
Supermetals;
the Seven in Space;
the Home Companies;
etc (see here).

After some confrontations with van Rijn and Falkayn, a campaigning journalist learns to focus his attentions elsewhere. The Solar Commonwealth is a complex, multi-faceted civilization. We would like to see all its aspects, not just van Rijn's admittedly liberal and cosmopolitan perspective...

Memories And Now II

Staying with the theme of memories and identity: "Here is one I prepared earlier," as they used to say on a British children's TV programme.

In Larry Niven's World Of Ptavvs, an alien and a human being briefly exchange all their memories with the result that the human being spends some time thinking that he is the alien in the wrong body whereas the alien, used to telepathy, does not make the reverse mistake.

After these mind-expanding extrapolations, I will return to a sunny day in Lancaster and to rereading Stieg Larsson who, like every other part of the universe, is sometimes relevant to Poul Anderson Appreciation.

Memories And Now

Recent posts have discussed works by Poul Anderson and John C. Wright in which:

memories can be transferred from one brain to another;
Artificial Intelligences can be programmed with the memories and apparent experiences of human beings.

In a civilization where it was known that such procedures were possible, or even routine, then no one would be certain either that he was who he thought he was or even that he was a human being in a material body and environment.

I have already come to the view that my sense of self is a mental construct. All that exists here and now is a psychophysical organism responding to its environment. My name and identity are memories. Memories change and our attitude to them can change through meditation. We need not identify with them. Remembered events are not happening now. The universe is conscious of itself through this organism now: not a unit of a hive mind but a unique though transient perspective.

Maybe such realizations would come more easily in the civilizations envisaged by Anderson and Wright?

Emulated Bond?

Poul Anderson addresses the relationship between memory and identity in "Memory" and Artificial Intelligence in later works. In The Golden Age, John C. Wright imagines AIs that include conscious fictions and a character who is distraught to learn that she is not who she thinks she is. She is merely a mental copy of a woman who committed suicide.

I want to focus on the idea of conscious fictional characters who think that they are real. This happens in some of Anderson's later novels. Let's also stay with the theme of James Bond whom we have mentioned recently. Could an AI "emulation" comprise a detailed dramatization of the James Bond series incorporating self-conscious programs mistakenly believing that they really are Bond and the other characters?

Some editing would be necessary because the texts are inconsistent. See here. If Bond bought his car in 1933 and was, e.g., twenty in that year, then he was fifty when he was briefly married in 1963 and should therefore have been retired from the 00 Section ten years previously according to yet another of the novels. But his brief marriage was in 1961 because it was two years after Thunderball which, according to internal evidence, was set in 1959. And Bond cannot both have been active in the Secret Service before the War and yet have joined the Navy, and thus also Intelligence, only during the War - and then only by lying about his age. That is also inconsistent with buying a car in 1933 - and with being born about 1913!

So I propose two Bond "emulations" - I ignore the films and the post-Fleming novels -, one based on Bond's biography according to Casino Royale, the other based on his biography according to the Times Obituary written by M in You Only Live Twice.

Is it really possible that such "emulations" will be created?

Friday, 21 April 2017

Who?

I think that a fictional character has become a myth if he is universally recognized even by people who are unfamiliar with the book or other work(s) in which he appears. A measure of mythical status is that a later writer can refer, e.g., to Sherlock Holmes, without having to explain this reference to his readers. We are all too aware that Poul Anderson refers to Sherlock Holmes but here is another such reference:

"'If you wanted James Bond, you sure were mistaken.'
"She gave him a blank glance. 'Who?'
"'Never mind,' he said, largely to cover his own astonishment.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Corridors Of Time, Chapter Two, (Frogmore, St Albans, Herts, 1968), p. 18.

Lockridge has to be astonished at Storm's ignorance of James Bond. He does not yet know that she is a time traveller from a much later civilization.

We can all too readily compare Anderson's Dominic Flandry to Bond (see here) although no such comparison is made in the texts. I recently compared Flandry's Merseian antagonists with Bond's Russian opponents (see here) although SM Stirling commented that the Merseians remind him of classical Japanese.

We cannot escape without a dose of synchronicity. Part II of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire (London, 2006) is, for very good internal reasons, entitled "From Russia With Love." Larsson does not really need to tell us that this is:

"...a homage, of course, to Ian Fleming's classic novel." (p. 86)

But it is indeed a classic.

Personal Identity

(i) Is Artificial Intelligence possible?
(ii) If yes, will it be possible to record a human personality and to reproduce it as an AI?
(iii) If yes, what are the legal implications for personal identity, responsibility, inheritance etc?

Poul Anderson addressed (i)-(ii) in later works.
John C. Wright addresses (i)-(iii) in The Golden Age.

Regarding (iii), I think that new laws would have to be made. For some discussion, see here. I have just read to a point in Wright's text where lawyers are becoming legally tedious on the issue.

There is another issue. All this reading sf has made me way behind with rereading Stieg Larsson so I will probably do some of that tonight although it is less likely to generate comparisons with Poul Anderson to blog about here. But I won't be away for long though.

Inner Control

In Poul Anderson's Brain Wave, human beings with immensely increased IQs gain control of their instincts and emotions. See here. In some other works of sf, like Greg Bear's Eon and John C. Wright's The Golden Age, this inner control is gained by technological means:

"...Phaeton tended to use some small glandular and parasympathetic regulators. But now, with that support gone, it was almost like being drunk. Despair and frustration raged within his brain, and he had no automatic way to turn those emotions off."
-John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), p. 141.

There should be a solution:

"Phaeton took a deep breath, fighting for calmness. Everyone in the ancient world used to control themselves naturally, organically, without any cybernetic assistance. If they could do it, he could do it!" (ibid.)

However, suddenly stabbed and surprised by blinding anger, Phaeton reflects:

"(...the ancient world had been turbulent with war and crime and insanity, not once or twice but at all times. Maybe, this self-control stuff was more difficult than it seemed.)" (pp. 141-142)

We could have told him that! Wright simultaneously imagines a future and comments on the present, the two roles of an sf writer.

Virtual Omnipotence

How much drama is possible in a narrative with virtually omnipotent characters? Unqualified omnipotence is a theological concept but what is virtual omnipotence?

An sf premise: a technology enabling its owners to do whatever they want within the bounds of physical laws;

a fantasy premise: magical or supernatural powers overriding physical laws.

We will consider Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey for fantasy and Poul Anderson and John C. Wright for sf.

In The Sandman, Gaiman deliberately set out to tell a story about virtually omnipotent supernatural beings. Carey followed him with Lucifer. However, both authors begin their narrative with the central character temporarily weakened and needing to regain much that he has lost. Even when at their most powerful, the characters generate considerable conflict. The issues include a family feud between anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness - Desire's determination to destroy Dream - and how to govern a universe. Should the Creator be worshipped? Should there be a Hell?

In Anderson's Genesis, the inorganic intelligences:

cannot traverse space faster than light but do spread through and beyond the galaxy at sub-light speeds;
incorporate the memories of extinct human beings;
spend centuries studying organic life where it exists;
protect the Solar System from cosmic threats like radiation fields;
divide and re-merge their consciousnesses;
can create conscious AI "emulations" of human history.

Their moral conflict becomes whether it is right to re-create human life.

In Wright's The Golden Age, human beings are immortal and AI-enhanced. Vast and nanotechnological planetary and solar engineering projects are controlled by a small entrepreneurial class, not by society as a whole. Phaeton did something so shameful that he willingly erased the memory but now wants to know what he did! A dilemma impossible to us but possible then.

Despite nanotech, longevity and brain-augmentation, important decisions are still taken only by a wealthy minority? To say that everything has changed but that nothing fundamental has changed is a contradiction.

Two Kinds Of Heroes

See here for discussion of the relationship between sf and superheroes.

Superheroes are of two kinds: those who are physically strong, fast, able to fly etc and those whose powers derive from something that they wear, a ring, suit etc.

Poul Anderson's Jack Havig is of the first kind. He time travels by an act of will - and thus can fight several opponents simultaneously by jumping backward and forward in time.

John C. Wright's Phaeton is of the second kind:

"The armor had a truly astonishing number of control interfaces, servo-minds, and operator hierarchies... Phaeton, with the armor, was able to use these control-interfaces to dominate the local thoughtspace."
-John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), p. 122.

Wearing the armor, Phaeton is able to move upward at several times the speed of sound. Thus, not Superman but Iron Man, so to say.

Ways To Survive

Fictionally, how many ways are there to survive into the very remote future?

(i) Time travel:
HG Wells' The Time Machine;
Poul Anderson's "Flight to Forever."

(ii) Time dilation:
Anderson's Tau Zero.

(iii) Temporal stasis:
Anderson's "Time Heals."

(iv) Longevity/immortality:
Robert Heinlein's Methuselah's Children;
Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years;
Anderson's World Without Stars;
John C. Wright's The Golden Age.

(v) Inorganic intelligences:
Anderson's Genesis.

(vi) Resurrection:
Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series.

(vii) Suspended animation:
Wells' The Sleeper Wakes.

(viii) Reincarnation:
ERB's The Moon Maid;
the Golden Age Hawkman.

As always, a longer list than expected and some unexpected inclusions. Anderson appears six times and Wells twice.

Memory And Identity

John C. Wright's Phaeton looks at boxes containing memories edited from his brain over three millennia for the dual purposes of saving space and preventing senility overload - exactly as happens in Poul Anderson's World Without Stars.

Is there any difference between memory and identity? If two people swapped memories, then they would think that they had swapped identities - although the legal criterion of personal identity remains (so far) spatiotemporal continuty of a body even if that body suffers total amnesia. Also, how much of someone's personality comes not from conscious memories but from the body, including unconscious cerebral connections?

Here, we considered a Poul Anderson story in which a man replaces one set of memories and apparent identity with another. I compared this to the meditative realization that I am not a separate self. The superhero-secret identity scenario is similar. Each of us perhaps has two sets of motivations, which, using Buddhist terminology, I call "enlightened" and "unenlightened." The latter motivations assume the reality of the illusory separate self: "I want..." Someone who suddenly acts instead from the enlightened motivations of wisdom and compassion is like a superhero shedding his secret identity - transcending the limitations represented by glasses and a business suit - and acting for the world.

Wright's characters with their minds augmented by AI seem to have not just two but several layers of memory and identity. Phaeton asks what is his real self. Philosophically, we must retort: is there a real self?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Powerful AIs

What might Artificial Intelligences be able to do?

(i) An Asimov computer in hyperspace reverses entropy. See here.

(ii) In Poul Anderson's Genesis, a planetary inorganic intelligence can "emulate" historical periods, alternative histories and fantasy realms. An "emulation" is a simulation containing conscious programs erroneously believing that they are human beings with material bodies inhabiting the simulated/emulated environment.

(iii) In John C. Wright's The Golden Age, although the AIs do not have time travel, they can in a very real sense invite the past and future to a festival: AI constructs of historical figures and of inhabitants of projected future histories. Thus, the latter are conscious fictional characters - who might even believe that they are real time travellers?

The mind most definitely boggles.

Merseians And Russians

Poul Anderson's Merseians, like Ian Fleming's Russians, treat diplomacy as war by other means. It follows that a Terran or Western diplomat who treats diplomacy as diplomacy responds inappropriately.

When Brechdan Ironrede tells Shwylt Shipsbane that he, Brechdan, must attend a welcoming festival for the Terran delegation, Shwylt, expessing surprise and contempt, calls it one of their stupid rites and a farce. Brechdan replies that they do not know that and also that, by encouraging hopes of a settlement, he can lessen the impact of aggression elsewhere. This sounds very like Fleming's Head of SMERSH explaining the new "hard-soft" policy to his fellow Intelligence chiefs.

Brechdan's successor, Tachwyr (see here), orders the feeding of propaganda to Imperial academies, religions and media. Sickening cynicism - but Anderson's aliens merely mimic current Terrestrial practice.

Biblical Images

See here for a question about Biblical images and symbols and for a link to a discussion of Biblical quotations.

See the combox for a neat "666" reference.

See here for powerful Christologicalical imagery, here for an even more powerful image of the Day of Judgement and here for "Different Uses Of The Bible In Fiction."

Anything else in Anderson, though?

The Virgin Mary as Star of the Sea is not a Biblical image. Poul Anderson traces its possible pagan antecedents.

Temporal Interconnections

This morning, returning home unexpectedly early, I said that, like Hamlet, I had a "...sudden and most strange return." (Whether or not that is an accurate quotation, that is how I phrased it.) Turning the page in John C. Wright's The Golden Age, I find an interesting discussion of Hamlet from a future perspective on p. 74.

Poul Anderson's Manse Everard mentions synchronicity (and here) and Anderson's alternative-historical Prince Rupert lives in a Shakespearean universe.

Am I at the centre of a web of temporal interconnections? Yes. Everyone is.

Excellent Interconnectedness

(That is Beria with Stalin's daughter and Stalin in the background!)

We have discussed villains in the works of Poul Anderson, SM Stirling, Ian Fleming and Stieg Larsson;

therefore, we have mentioned Beria as an off-the-stage villain in the first James Bond novel;

meanwhile, we have also discussed the instability of a totalitarian regime in a Poul Anderson story;

therefore, in the combox, Mr Stirling mentioned the shooting of Beria as a turning point in the Soviet Union.

I couldn't make this stuff up but fortunately I don't have to!

The Mark Of Cain

Poul Anderson's fiction addresses religious beliefs and theological issues but how often does it use specifically Biblical images or symbols? I ask this because the mark of Cain is seen in works by two authors whom we compare with Anderson: Neil Gaiman and John C. Wright. In Wright's The Golden Age, the mark is:

"...a ghastly triple scar burned into his forehead." (p. 72)

In Gaiman's The Sandman: Season Of Mists, Morpheus, communicating formally with the Lord of Hell, sends the only messenger whom Lucifer will not harm. Lucifer pulls back the hair from Cain's forehead, revealing for the only time - a branded circle.

So there is plenty of scope for authors of imaginative fiction to revisit the familiar Biblical landscape. Cain's mark with all its implications is one of many details.

Addendum: I should have referenced Anderson's many Biblical quotations. See here. Nevertheless, what I meant was not quotes inside inverted commas but allusions embedded in Anderson's texts. This might lead to another post.

Unlimited SF

Consider, among many other works:

The Time Patrol series, Tau Zero and Genesis by Poul Anderson;
the Draka History by SM Stirling;
The Golden Age by John C. Wright (and how does Wright imagine all that?)

Is sf literally unlimited? Will the possibilities never be exhausted? Yes and no.

Sf does not just come out of anyone's head. The best head in the world would create nothing without input. Ex nihil nihil: from nothing nothing. The creators' inputs are:

the entire history of the universe, evolution and humanity to date;
all past literature;
an understanding of the universe that has been repeatedly transformed in the twentieth and twenty first centuries;
modern technology, its extrapolations and social implications;
what human beings have done and are capable of doing;
what other rational beings and their civilizations might be like...

In fact, we haven't even started yet.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Who Lives On The Moon?

We have it on the very best of authority that the Moon is or will be inhabited by:

Selenites (HG Wells);
Moon Men (ERB);
"'...an accursed people, full of pride and lust...'" (CS Lewis' Ransom);
"'A great race, further advanced than we...'" (CSL's Filostrato);
Lunarians (adapted human beings) (Poul Anderson);
"...an ancient lunarian..." (John C. Wright, p. 43, see here).

Since Wright's novel is set in the distant future, we deduce that his lunarians are adapted human beings like Anderson's Lunarians, not lunar natives like the Selenites, Moon Men or accursed people/great race.

Sometimes, Poul Anderson alone covers every possibility. At other times, he and his colleagues do it together.

Ultimate Questions

"'...long after Earth is gone, when the universal night has extinguished all the stars, and all the cosmos dies of final entropy, the entities with the most wealth and stored-up energy...'"

Yes?

"'...shall be the very last to go.'"
-John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), p. 43.

That conclusion surprised me because I expected some variation on Poul Anderson's speculations summarized here. See also here.

"'...which of us is simple enough to be understood by, or complex enough to understand, ourselves?!'" (p. 33)

That is a good question. Are we complex enough to understand and simple enough to be understood by ourselves? Can consciousness understand its own emergence from preconscious processes? A neurological description of a brain and a psychological description of a mind are related how? (See here.) I think that naturally selected organismic sensitivity to environmental alterations quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed into conscious sensation. Thus, there was a first moment of consciousness and it was preceded by a very long period of unconscious physics, chemistry and biology. Mere internal complexity does not become conscious but that combined with quantitatively increasing and interacting external sensitivity might. But there remains a qualitative difference between unconsciousness and consciousness and we know/recognize/are conscious of this difference only by being conscious of it.

"Memory" II

Poul Anderson's "Memory" makes a basic point about humanity. The brain cannot be separated from muscles, veins, viscera, skin, blood, lungs and bones. The organism is whole. For five years, Wanen had lived the biologically sound life of an Islander. When those memories were removed and his original memories restored, his brain forgot that he had been an Islander but his body remembered what it had been like to be an Islander. That was enough to make him rebel against the inhumanity, indeed the antihumanity, of the Hegemony.

There is another point. The expert who monitored Wanen's mental states suspected this but did nothing about it. He also was deviant. As he himself quotes, "'Who shall watch the watchmen?'" (p. 42) (see here)

When I remembered the story, I made a comparison between Wanen's realization that he is not who he thinks he is but an interstellar explorer and the meditative realization that I am not a separate self but one with the universe. However, the point of the story is that it is the biological memory of Torrek's way of life that is more fundamental than Wanen's identity as a unit of the Hegemony.

"Service to the Cadre!"

SM Stirling's Draka say, "Service to the State!" and "Glory to the Race!" For similar phrases in two of Poul Anderson's future histories, see here. Also:

"'Service to the Cadre! Dismissed!'
"'Service to the Cadre!'"
-Poul Anderson, "Memory" IN Anderson, Beyond The Beyond (London, 1973), pp. 7-43 AT pp. 33-34.

An sf short story by Poul Anderson presents action and adventure - Torrek's aerial fight with the kraka - and also serious issues:

human beings evolved in forests and open air and with families whereas the Hegemony confines them indoors with machines, selects their mates whom they rarely see and takes their children to raise in creches;

Hegemonic units are prepared to exterminate the inhabitants of an entire archipelago in order to occupy a single island, especially since "deviationism" is anticipated among the crew who might even mutiny and join the enemy.

Clearly the Hegemony is unstable and we can expect our viewpoint character, so far a loyal "unit," to rebel against it.

Cutting Edge II

Here, we listed six kinds of fiction:

mysteries;
historical fiction;
heroic fantasies;
three kinds of sf.

There is not always a convenient label for what we are talking about. The first two kinds of sf are straightforward: future histories and time travel. The third is... Hal Clement-style world-building - or speculative planetology?

In all six cases, we said, "If you read works of this type, then also read certain specified works by Poul Anderson." Next we will mention another two kinds of sf:

alternative histories fiction;
what I have here called "Cutting Edge" speculative fiction.

In these two cases, it is appropriate to mention Poul Anderson in relation to other authors. Thus:

if you have read Anderson's "The House of Sorrows" and Eutopia," then read the alternative history novels and series of Harry Turtledove and SM Stirling;

if you have read Anderson's later "Cutting Edge" sf, then read the works of several later aurhors, e.g., John C. Wright.

For a summary of Anderson's account of an AI-nanotech economy, see here. I have only just begun to read John C. Wright's The Golden Age. To write hundreds of pages of narrative set in a society with such an advanced technology is a sustained feat of the imagination. The reader must accept that everything makes sense in its context but that we do not (yet) see the entire context. Thus, we read that someone was present:

"...only as a partial-version..."
-John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), p. 4 -

- and we deduce from this that AI technology enables a man to be represented at a meeting or a social event by a self-conscious duplication of part of his own mind/personality/consciousness.

My initial impression is that Wright partly imagines a transformed future scenario but also partly projects features of twentieth/twenty-first society onto that scenario. Thus, crime and coercion are outmoded concepts yet some individuals and lineages are immeasurably wealthy compared with everyone else. One character reduced himself to penury by bad investments. Another is described as "...the owner of a vast entertainment empire..." (p. 33) That phrase suggests a population of individuals with incomes which they spend partly on necessities and partly on entertainment. How do they acquire their incomes? If they are employed by and work for owners of entertainment or other companies/"empires" etc, then our economy has survived unchanged whereas if instead each member of the population has a share in the vast technologically produced wealth, then why is distribution of this wealth limited in such a way that there is still a division between rich and poor?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The New Empire

In Isaac Asimov's future history, after the Fall of the Galactic Empire, the clandestine Second Foundation covertly guides the Foundation on Terminus towards the Second Empire although an even more clandestine group of robots led by Daneel Olivaw covertly guides the Galaxy instead towards a collective consciousness that will be robust enough to resist extragalactic invasion.

In Poul Anderson's "Memory," after the fall of an unnamed interstellar Empire, the Hegemony, the Republic, the Libertarian League, the Royal Brotherhood, the High Earls of Morlan and several other civilizations spreading into space contend to build their idea of the New Empire.

In Anderson's Technic History, after the Fall of the Terran Empire, the Allied Planets recivilize some isolated planets and human civilizations eventually spread through several spiral arms.

In Anderson's "Flight to Forever," a multi-species Second Empire is built.

Interstellar empires seem impressive but we know them. We read about them in old sf mags. One James Blish story has six fallen empires older than man. See here.

"Memory"

A man was found with total amnesia. Initiated into the community, he now thinks that he is:

"'...Torrek, a Harpooner of Diupa, adopted to the Bua Clan and an oath-brother in full standing of Sea Bear Lodge, pledged to the King of Dumethdin.'"
-Poul Anderson, "Memory" IN Anderson, Beyond The Beyond (London, 1973), p. 18.

However, when these memories have been removed and his original memories restored, he knows that he is Korul Wannen, a lieutenant in the Astro service and an officer of the scout ship, "Seeker."

Before we gain any spiritual insight or understanding, each of us thinks that he is a separate self. However spiritual teaching and meditation uncover the realization that we are not separate but one. I find an analogy between this realization and Korul Wannen's rediscovery that he is not Torrek on the World Called Maanerek but an interstellar explorer. It is for this reason that I am rereading "Memory."

Cutting Edge Speculative Fiction

I have realized that there is a level of speculative fiction about which I can make several tentative statements:

I provisionally call it "Cutting Edge";
Poul Anderson addressed "Cutting Edge" in some later works;
however, other authors have since developed it considerably further;
names associated with "Cutting Edge" include Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Stephen Baxter, Iain M. Banks and John C. Wright;
but there are others with whom I am even less familiar;
"Cutting Edge" speculations might include -

high tech, including nantech;
abundant wealth;
indefinitely extended lifespans;
god-like (not God-like) control of mass and energy;
colonization at least of the Solar System;
slower than light interstellar travel;
Artificial Intelligence;
artificial enhancement of human perceptions and mentality;
human-AI mergers and syntheses;
the recording and duplication of conscious memories and personalities;
transcendence of current problems and creation of new ones;
narratives difficult for the reader to follow because so much that is described is outside our experience.

I have read very little as yet of John C. Wright's The Golden Age (New York, 2002). On p. 6, public outcry has driven away financial support for projects to reengineer Saturn. In familiar economics, money controls distribution and enriches investors. However, would money still circulate or need to circulate when there was no longer any need to limit distribution and when it had become possible for an immense population to be abundantly enriched? I do not think that anyone would need either to work for a wage or salary or to buy commodities so I question a continued role for money. But, in any case, this is the sort of discussion and speculation that we need about the future implications of current technology.

X And Y

We say, "If you read x, then read y."

Examples
x = detective fiction;
y = Poul Anderson's Trygve Yamamura Trilogy.

x = historical fiction;
y = Anderson's The Last Viking Trilogy and two other historical novels.

x = JRR Tolkien's Norse-based fantasies;
y = Anderson's Norse-based fantasies.

x = Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy;
y = Anderson's History of Technic Civilization.

x = HG Wells' The Time Machine;
y = Anderson's Time Patrol series, three time travel novels and one time travel collection.

x = Hal Clement's Mission Of Gravity;
y = Anderson's The Man Who Counts and A Stone In Heaven.

Anderson = comprehensive.

The point is not that y is just like x but that it should be of interest and there are some parallels.

John C. Wright's The Golden Age has "Sophotecs" and an "Earthmind" so it might be similar to Anderson's Harvest of Stars Tetralogy. The quoted reviews mention:

Alfred Bester
Jack Vance
Gene Wolfe
Arthur C. Clarke
Iain Banks
Coleridge
Olaf Stapledon
E.R. Eddison
David Lindsay
Bruce Sterling
Charles Harness
Michael Moorcock
Greg Egan
David Bunch
Felix Gotschalk
Curme Gray
Marvel Comics
The Matrix -

- but not Poul Anderson

Overload

Overload time, folks:

The Sunrise Lands by SM Stirling and The Golden Age by John C. Wright have arrived;

I am rereading "Memory" by Poul Anderson, The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson and Casino Royale by Ian Fleming;

the British Prime Minister wants a General Election on 8 June;

the sun is shining and I will shortly drive my daughter and the student she cares for to his agricultural college out in the country;

I have had to turn away Jehovah's Witnesses whom I do talk with when there is time.

Later, I will blog I don't know about what.

Scene-Setting II

For reference, see here.

On p. 8:

Torrek and his glider pilot, Vilyan, are tattooed with the blue symbol of Sea Bear Lodge (Sea Bear?);

there is not only a Skara River but also a Skara Man's Hat mountain and a Fenga Fjord;

a "kraka" (flying kraken?) nests on the mountain and takes livestock and small children;

Torrek's remembers only the last five years of his life;

Vilyan invokes "Ellevil and the Moon Lady."

We know lunar goddesses and a Moon Woman. Ellevil sounds familiar: Elves, Elrond, eldila and El (also here).

I am out of here.

More Villains

Searching the blog for "villains," I find an extraordinary number of posts analyzing villains created by Poul Anderson and related authors. I do not want to repeat that analysis. However, it might be of interest to note that I have found an author who, I think, presents the most interesting succession of villains. In Ian Fleming's novels:

Bond discredits Le Chiffre, who is then assassinated by SMERSH;
Beria directs SMERSH;
G succeeds Beria;
Bond kills Mr. Big, Donovan Grant and Goldfinger and captures Rosa Klebb, all of SMERSH;
Bond meanwhile also fights the Russian-backed Nazi, Hugo Drax, and the Spangled Mob - the latter later joins Goldfinger's Hoods' Congress;
while recuperating from the SMERSH attempt to assassinate him, Bond eliminates the independent operator, Dr. No;
when Khruschev disbands the discredited SMERSH, some of its members join SPECTRE;
Bond defeats Largo and Uhlmann of SPECTRE and destroys the organization twice;
Bond kills the founder and director of SPECTRE, Blofeld;
because of the aftermath of his fight with Blofeld, Bond must kill Scaramanga to regain his position in the Secret Service;
the Mafia is represented in the Hoods' Congress, SPECTRE and Scaramanga's Group;
SPECTRE poaches men from the French equivalent of the Mafia, the Unione Corse, which then helps Bond against SPECTRE.

And I did not expect that list to grow so long.

Famous Opening Lines II

"Time Patrol" is the opening story of Time Patrol which is the opening volume of the Time Patrol series. What is the opening sentence of "Time Patrol"? I would have said that it was:

"'The work is, you understand, somewhat unusual,' said Mr. Gordon."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol, p. 1.

(Beautifully understated.) However, on looking at the text, I am reminded that Mr. Gordon's observation is preceded by:

"MEN WANTED - 21-40, pref. single, mil. or tech. exp., good physique, for high-pay work with foreign travel. Engineering Studies Co., 305 E. 45, 9-12 & 2-6."

Not the catchiest of openings but not really part of the text, either. More like a heading. Again, it is an understated account of time travelling. We should compare it with an earlier lead-in to the subject of time travel:

"The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us."
-HG Wells, The Time Machine (London, 1973), p. 7.

These are our first introductions to Anderson's Time Patrol and to Wells' Time Machine but we forget such introductions, instead just becoming familiar with the concepts.

To answer a question asked here:

"It was an anachronism to have a human receptionist in this hall of lucent plastic..."

"When Captain Dominic Flandry opened his eyes, he saw metal."

But this time I leave it to blog readers to source these quotes. (They are easy enough to find.)

Monday, 17 April 2017

Beginnings

(Roughly, comparing Casino Royale and Ensign Flandry.)

A series can have either one or two beginnings.

A one-beginning series: each James Bond novel is a sequel, never a prequel, to its predecessor - thus, the first published novel, Casino Royale, remains unequivocally the beginning of the series.

Two two-beginnings series: CS Lewis' Narnia Chronicles and Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series - an installment written later but set earlier may be a prequel to the earliest published installment in which case it becomes the beginning of the series not in terms of publication history but in terms of fictional chronology.

Thus, Casino Royale is a first and only beginning whereas Ensign Flandry is a "written later" beginning.

Bond is already in the 00 Section but, later in Casino Royale, explains to another character how he joined it. Flandry is not already in Intelligence but Ensign Flandry explains how he was recruited.

Le Chiffre's trade union would be a fifth column in the event of war with Russia. The Merseian plot on Starkad could destroy the Terran Empire. Bond bankrupts and discredits Le Chiffre. Flandry exposes the Merseian plot.

SMERSH is run by Beria. The Merseian plot is masterminded by Brechdan Ironrede. Beria, who remains off-stage, has the advantage of being a real person which is impossible for Brechdan, who, despite his alienness, is sometimes our viewpoint character.

Famous Opening Lines

Remember, a Poul Anderson fan reads other fiction and literature and often finds resonances. We might go from The Broken Sword and Hrolf Kraki's Saga to other sagas or the Eddas. Poul and Karen Anderson's Gratillonius loves Virgil's Aeneid. So can we. Literature includes famous opening lines:

The Aeneid;
A Tale Of Two Cities;
Pride And Prejudice;
The War Of The Worlds (in fact, read the opening paragraph).

We should cherish opening lines. What are the opening lines of the first Time Patrol, Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry stories?

This opening sentence certainly deserves fame:

"The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning."
-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (London, 1965), p. 7.

I recently reread You Only Live Twice, finding some interesting parallels with Anderson's sf spy character, Flandry. Maybe I will reread Casino Royale on the same basis?

Scene-Setting And So On

Poul Anderson, "Memory" IN Anderson, Beyond The Beyond (London, 1973), pp. 7-43.

On p. 7:

unfamiliar geographical names - Kettleback Fell, Brann's Dale, Skara River, Dumethdin;

Clan and Lodge emblems tattooed on faces;

men addressing each other as "oath-brother";

a viewpoint character called "Torrek," which means "stranger," because he looks different from everyone else and cannot account for his parentage;

an unfamiliar astronomical (?) term, "...all folk under the Rings..."

A humanly habitable but ringed planet within our universe has to be extrasolar or in the far future or both. Is this just an imaginary world or a future extrasolar colony or a result of planetary engineering within the Solar System? What will p. 8 disclose?

Detective Work Through Time

In 1955, Manse Everard finds, in a collection of Victorian and Edwardian stories, a reference to an 1894 tragedy at Addleton, England, and the mysterious contents of an ancient British barrow. Our timeline contains that collection but not the London Times reports which Everard reads in a New York public library the following day. (Later along his world-line, Everard would be able to read Times reports on his computer.) The reports recount a death caused by a deadly emanation from ingots in a chest found in the barrow.

In 1894, Charlie Whitcomb uses a radiocarbon counter to date the chest to 464 A.D.

The Time Patrol investigates:

"It turned out that even the Patrol knew little about the dark period when the Romans had left Britain, the Romano-British civilization was crumbling, and the English were moving in. It had never seemed an important one."
-Poul Anderson, "Time Patrol" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (Riverdale, NY, 2006), pp. 1-53 AT p. 29.

Observations
(i) The English were moving into England! - and giving it its name.
(ii) It had never seemed important? It marks the decline of the Roman Empire and the origin period of the King Arthur story. Such stories are perennially important.
(iii) Again, it had never seemed important? Does it seem important because of Everard's and Whitcomb's discoveries? Then it is known to be important by the Patrol office in London, 1894, and thus to any other Patrol agent with access to the records of that office which exists from 1890 until 1910. Words like "never" have to be used with extreme caution in time travel narratives. The same point was made about another investigation here.

Heroic Life And Legendary Death

Today, the Duchy of Lancaster presented a display of medieval armour and combat in the Castle courtyard. See image. An early Duke was the father of a King and an ancestor of three dynasties - Lancaster, York and Tudor. The Dukedom is held by the monarch.

When we last see Nicholas van Rijn, David Falkayn, Dominic Flandry, Manse Everard and Gratillonius, they are still alive. We know that they will die - indeed, van Rijn and Falkayn have to be long dead by the time of Flandry - but we do not see their deaths. By contrast, SM Stirling gives Mike Havel, Lord Bear, a legendary death. He is literally the King who dies that his people may live. Fatal single combat prevents what would have been a cataclysmic war. It was already a matter of legend how Mike killed a bear and became Lord Bear. The post-Change generation inhabits legendary and mythic time. They confuse stories of President Clinton and of Captain Kirk.

Stirling's alternative histories include at least three trilogies:

the Draka History until the Final War;
Nantucket after the Event;
Mike Havel's lifetime after the Change (Change Years One to Ten).

The fourth Change novel and John C. Wright's first novel should arrive tomorrow.

"One of us will not leave this field" II

See here. It was not true. "One of us..."

Days end. Lives end. It is appropriate to invoke Neil Gamain's characters. Two fictional characters from the Change timeline enter the realm of Death. Your blogger enters the realm of Death's younger brother, Morpheus. The novel still has one chapter and an epilogue to go. Tomorrow we might attend a medieval reenactment at Lancaster Castle. On Tuesday, normal life resumes and I might visit my friend of Italian descent living on two floors above the Old Pier Bookshop where there is no longer an Old Pier in Morecambe. There will continue to be much to read and blog about.

"One of us will not leave this field."

"'As you will,' he said in Latin. 'One of us will not leave this field.'"
-Poul Anderson, "Delenda Est" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (Riverdale, Ny, 2006), pp. 173-228 AT p. 227.

A Time Patrolman from the mid-twentieth century addresses a Neldorian from the 205th millennium in Latin at Ticinus in 218 BC! I will try to get that dialogue translated into Latin but not tonight. Here in 2017, it is 12:51 AM.

In Change Year 10, they speak English:

"'One of us, I think, will not leave this field alive,' he said..."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Twenty-Two, p. 588.

Thus, Norman Arminger has reminded us first of Brechdan Ironrede, then of Manse Everard.

Is that phrase, "One of us will not leave this field," common in jousting or in other forms of single combat?