Thursday, 22 June 2017

Philosophy II

Poul Anderson's Ivar Frederiksen reflects that it is bleak to believe only in accident. I quote and reply here.

SM Stirling's Sandra Arminger reflects:

"'There are times when it's inconvenient to be an atheist...I simply don't have anyone to be thankful to. My eternal gratitude, O blind and ontologically empty dance of atoms just isn't very satisfying, somehow.'"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eleven, p. 319.

I completely disagree. Who says that the only alternatives are theism and an empty dance of atoms? That is theist propaganda. "Dancing atoms" are mechanical materialism, not dynamic materialism. The ultimate reality, philosophically called "matter" or "being" because it is independent of consciousness, is energy which takes every form, including the forms both of atoms and of conscious beings.

Blindness is a defect in sighted organisms but not in being as such. In any case, being becomes conscious in animals and human beings. "Ontology" means "knowledge of being" and atoms are one form of being, thus are not "empty" of being. The Buddhist ontological category of "emptiness" means not that nothing exists but that every subject and object of consciouness is a transient interaction, not a permanent substance.

I am "atheist" towards monotheism and agnostic but sceptical towards polytheism and I feel gratitude towards:

being, which takes every form and knows itself through us;
whatever gods may be;
the ancestors without whom we would have nothing.

Literary Geography II

I am reminded of Literary Geography because:

Ian Fleming stated that SMERSH HQ was in 13, Stretenka Ulitsa, Moscow, so a reader sent him a photograph of the building to show that it wasn't;

 much of North America is "Montival";

Nicholas van Rijn has a penthouse in Chicago Integrate (see here), a mansion on Kilimanjaro (see here) and an office in Djakarta (see here);

Terran Admiralty Center is in the Rockies (see here) but we are not told where the capital, Archopolis (see here), is.

I suppose that future and alternative geographies differ from allegedly real geographies. Fleming claimed in an Author's Note that his information was accurate. But, in terms of literary geography, SMERSH HQ is exactly where Ian Fleming says it is.

The Hardest Thing

SM Stirling The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eleven, p. 315.

The Lady Regent Sandra Arminger tells everyone, including her confidential secretary, to leave her, then reflects:

"Sometimes that's the hardest thing to take...Never really being alone anymore. They're always there, listening, watching, may their dear loyal souls fry." (p. 315)

Time Patrolman Keith Denison/Cyrus the Great tells his colleague, Manse Everard:

"'Sometimes I've thought that's the hardest thing to take about this situation, never having a minute to myself. The best I can do is throw everybody out of the room I'm in; but they stick around just beyond the door, under the windows, guarding, listening. I hope their dear loyal souls fry.'" (Time Patrol, p. 81)

The Time Patrol remains an endless source of quotations and comparisons.

Small Solutions To Big Problems

Turning to graphic fiction for a change from prose, I read:

"...downsizing conventional numbers and reinvesting in a small, Superhuman Unit for Twenty-First Century problems."
-Mark Millar, The Ultimates, Vol 1, Super-Human (New York, 2005), Chapter Two, Big, p. 7, panel 2.

This speech balloon describes a superhero team but also recalls two of Poul Anderson's time travel organizations. See:

An Army Of One;
Team Work And Individual Excellence.

A Time Patrol Academy graduate armed with weapons from uptime would be equal to Tony Stark who is the superhuman Iron Man only when wearing his suit. Both can replace a battalion.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Will There Be War?

Will the future be like the past, an endless succession of wars and transient civilizations? Not necessarily. Most of the past was not like that. Civilization is a recent invention. A civilization with advanced technolgy but still unresolved internal conflicts can be expected to destroy itself, not to endure through further millennia.

Many of Poul Anderson's works project future wars. However, in different timelines, the Time Wardens Period and the Star Masters period seem to have resolved social conflicts and to have ended wars.

High-tech low-population futures are shown in Midsummer Century by James Blish and in October The First Is Too Late by Fred Hoyle. However:

the Birds attack Blish's Rebirth IV civilization;
Hoyle's future society remains peaceful by staying small and avoiding scientific or technological advances - in other words, they give up.

Filling The Universe

Should human beings spread to fill the universe and try to survive beyond the end of it?

Poul Anderson's characters of whom he approves try to explore and colonize as far as possible and his artificial intelligences have plans to survive the universe. See here. Asimov has a story in which entropy is eventually reversed. See here.

CS Lewis' evil scientist, Weston, wants mankind's descendants to spread throughout the universe but he has no answer for what to do when the last star dies. In Fred Hoyle's October The First Is Too Late, a man living six thousand years in our future argues that stars and galaxies will die and that material continuity is impossible. Hoyle seems to have abandoned his theory of the steady state universe.

Having reread October... to the end, I find that I do not understand everything that happens in it but will leave that discussion to anyone else who wants to read the novel. It is certainly worthy of thought and discussion.

The narrator of October... compares human beings disturbed by the intervention of a higher intelligence to ants disturbed by a man lifting a stone. The same comparison is made in Wells' The War Of The Worlds. Hoyle's future humanity covers a quarter of the Terrestrial land surface, an issue that we discussed here.

I think that that completes current thoughts on this novel by Fred Hoyle. It has been a fascinating digression.

Wellsian Themes

I identify four Wellsian themes as:

space travel;
time travel;
alien invasion;
future society or, more specifically, future history.

We have on this and other blogs considered contributions to these themes by:

Olaf Stapledon;
CS Lewis;
James Blish;
Poul Anderson;
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle -

- and I do not think that it is necessary to enumerate these contributions yet again. Anderson, of course, makes massive contributions to three of these themes (Tau Zero for space travel!) and an original contribution to alien invasion. The present post is occasioned by my realization that Fred Hoyle also contributes to all four -

alien invasion: The Black Cloud and Rockets In Ursa Major;
space travel: Into Deepest Space;
time travel of a sort and a future history summarized: October The First Is Too Late.

Hail Hoyle!

Gods And The Future

(Apollo.)

Themes of this blog include:

gods;
future histories;
Poul Anderson's treatments of such themes;
comparisons of Anderson's with others' treatments.

In classical Greece:

"The gods represented a quintessence of human emotions and abilities."
-Fred Hoyle, October The First Is Too Late (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1974), Chapter 12, p. 127.

Thus, to sacrifice yourself to Dionysus and to act wildly and spontaneously are much the same thing.

Hoyle's narrator and his friend are shown a silent film summarizing six thousand years of history at an average rate of a century for every four minutes:

Africa and Asia become affluent;
a homogeneous civilization spreads quickly over the Earth;
cities spread and join;
they cover a quarter of the Terrestrial surface;
all other animal species become extinct;
people live in standardized small dwellings;
technology advances at the expense of freedom;
there is anger in the ant heap;
no one travels except on official business;
food, amusement and work are provided locally;
work is undemanding;
food is factory-produced and of poor quality;
the apparently homogeneous civilization splits in two;
there are bombs, rockets and fire;
movement, transport, food distribution and social organization cease;
a few small population centres survive;
centres expand;
technology improves;
a new language is spoken;
many books and other relics are recovered;
centres overlap and argue;
there is a war followed by global coherence;
life degenerates as before;
there is a second catastrophe and a second reconstruction;
each such cycle occupies just under a thousand years;
at last, after a catastrophe, just two centres survive;
they grow to a modest size, then stop for nearly a thousand years;
after so many catastrophes, the population is less heterogeneous;
people are restrained and reasonable, having learnt from the past;
there is friendly rivalry between the two centres;
both groups grow;
for a long time, they control the growth;
suddenly, it becomes uncontrolled;
rivalry becomes hostility;
in the next re-expansion, there are three groups;
when they reach a million each, they negotiate, merge and occupy a small area;
over a thousand years, there is little change;
they believe that they have reached genuine stability.

A more extreme version of Anderson's rise and fall of civilizations.

Jason And Odysseus

See Odysseus here.

"Jason and the Argonaut might have glided by."
-Fred Hoyle, October The First Is Too Late (Harmondsworth, Middlesex), Chapter 10, p. 102.

A ship is traveling from Britain 1966 to classical Greece. Just as Poul Anderson's Time Patrolman Manse Everard might have seen the ship of Odysseus and Everard met Hiram of Tyre, Hoyle's characters might have seen the Argonaut and Hoyle's narrator will meet Socrates.

Time And Consciousness

The relativistic view of time as a fourth dimension and of particles or objects as world lines is accepted in:

The Time Machine by HG Wells;
the Time Patrol series by Poul Anderson;
The Corridors Of Time by Poul Anderson;
October The First Is Too Late by Fred Hoyle;
The Quincunx Of Time by James Blish.

However, Wells contradicts this premise when his Time Machine is said not to extend but to move and even to accelerate along Time.

Wells and Blish refer to immaterial consciousnesses moving along Time whereas Hoyle compares each three dimensional state of the universe to a numbered pigeon hole containing written information about what is in pigeon holes with lower numbers and then postulates consciousness successively illuminating the contents of the pigeon holes. Surely it is sufficient to say that there is consciousness in some moments though not in others? Thus, some pigeon holes are lit by a small internal candle or bulb whereas others are not? No sequence of lightings of pigeon holes is necessary and indeed such a sequence would introduce a second temporal dimension although Hoyle denies this.

Of these four authors, Anderson alone avoids this particular set of conceptual difficulties.

Addendum: I could also have listed -

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut;
Jerusalem by Alan Moore.

Neither would have directly affected the point at issue but what names to conjure with!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Two Themes In Wells, Stapledon, Lewis, Hoyle And Anderson

The previous post referred to one work each by Wells and Hoyle, two by Anderson and several by Stirling. Because of the reference to Hoyle's October The First Is Too Late, I have started to reread it. Hoyle makes the point that an sf alien should be something other than a human brain in a reptile body or even a humanoid body. Perhaps Anderson's Merseians or Ythrians measure up to Hoyle's criteria?

Alien Invasion
Wells and Stapledon: Martians invade Earth;
Stapledon: Earthmen invade Venus and Neptune;
Lewis: a demonically possessed scientist from Earth mounts a moral attack on the sinless Venus;
Hoyle: an intelligent gas cloud enters the Solar System;
Anderson: Martians conquer Earth but are controlled by extra-solars;
Anderson: militarily superior extra-solars conquer Earth economically.

Time 
Wells: The Time Machine;
Stapledon: mental time travel;
Lewis: an argument that physical time travel is impossible;
Hoyle: serious discussions of the significance of time and the meaning of consciousness;
Anderson: the Time Patrol etc.

Thus, a powerful tradition of serious speculative fiction.

Mountain Valley And October First

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009).

Rudi explains Montival as "Mountain Valley" on p. 267 of Chapter Ten.

A few significant phrases have appeared in the text:

"game of thrones" (obvious);
"Chaos and Old Night..." (Milton);
"Principalities and powers..." (St Paul);
"'October first...'" (p. 286)

Why do I regard that date as significant? Maybe it isn't. I read the remainder of the page carefully but found no reference to lateness. See here.

In some sf, a superior technology intervenes and human beings must respond to events or circumstances beyond their understanding or control:

in Poul Anderson's The Avatar, an older civilization has distributed T-machines throughout the universe;

in SM Stirling's Lords of Creation books, a superior technology has terraformed Venus and Mars;

in Stirling's Nantucket-Emberverse series, some mysterious malevolent entities have caused the Event and the Change;

in Fred Hoyle's October The First Is Too Late, someone has generated a composite Earth with Greece in Socrates' period, France in World War I, Britain and Hawaii in 1966, the US apparently pre-1750 but really in the post-catastrophe fourth millennium, Mexico about 6966, Russia still uncivilized, China after the Sun has melted and fused the Terrestrial surface etc.

And sometimes it is natural events without any interventions by intelligent beings that change humanity or its circumstances, e.g.:

In The Days Of The Comet by HG Wells;
Brain Wave by Poul Anderson; 
The Peshawar Lancers by SM Stirling.

Force And Legitimacy

Swords suggest heroism but also mere force. Fictional heroes can be parodied as thugs.

Statements about swords:

"He who lives by the sword dies by the sword";
"I come not to bring not peace but a sword";
"The pen is mightier than the sword."

Governments need to combine force with legitimacy. For a discussion of Poul Anderson's views on political legitimacy, see here. For the similar views of an SM Stirling character, see The Sword Of The Lady, Chapter Ten, p. 262.

The hero of Anderson's After Doomsday becomes captain by leading a mutiny but then gains legitimacy by strong leadership at a time when the government that had authorized the mission no longer existed so that a new start had become necessary. 

The Sword

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009).

What is the Sword?
Why should Rudi try to get it?
Why do his enemies try to prevent him from getting it?

Two beneficial consequences of the Quest:

en route, Rudi makes new friends and allies;
the Sword, if acquired, might be a potent symbol to unite the new kingdom that must be built.

But there must be more to it than that. Why was there a vision of the Sword? What do the Cutters know about it that makes them want to kill Rudi?

"'You-cannot-stand-against-us-without-It.'" (Chapter Nine, p. 240)

That sounds serious. We have contemplated Magic Swords before and this is clearly another.

Alternative Scenarios

SM Stirling, The Sword of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Nine, pp. 243-244.

Mathilda, Rudi and Father Ignatius fight soldiers of the Church Universal and Triumphant. Rudi invokes the Morrigu and the shadow of a great scythe seems to move with his sword. Ignatius invokes four angels and behind him are vast wings, wheels or eyes, a blue-mantled figure touching his forehead and sword and a shining radiance. Mathilda also sees something inside the Cutter...

I know of at least three scenarios that can encompass all of these phenomena:

a Christian world view in which the gods exist but as demons;
a pagan world view in which the Biblical figures are one of many coexistent pantheons;
an sf scenario where high tech beings are able to masquerade as mythological figures, as happens near the end of Poul Anderson's The Avatar (see here).

A variation on the pagan world view is Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, where the gods are dreamed, then exist outside the Dreaming for as long as they are believed in and worshipped. See here. I confidently expect SM Stirling to have devised an ingenious explanation that may or may not connect with any of these scenarios.

Demons II

See Demons.

As we proceed, Stirling's entity goes further, claiming:

"'We-are-abroad-and-loose-and-will-not-be-put-back...'" (Chapter Nine, p. 240)

Who and what are they? What do they want? The suspense has reached a crescendo. Are we reading sf or fantasy or has this series transcended that distinction? CS Lewis' eldila are both extraterrestrial and supernatural. That shook me when I read it.

Behind their assailants, Mary and Ritva glimpse:

"...something moved, planes of shining jet that receded into infinity, as if constructs greater than worlds squeezed down to interact with the tiny space of the planet, of this rooftop in one place and time." (Chapter Eight, p. 214)

That also recalls enormous eldila visiting Ransom on Earth. This is something cosmic and multidimensional.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Goddess Of Mercy

In Buddhism, mythological beings called Bodhisattvas personify wisdom and compassion. When Buddhism moved to China, a masculine Bodhisattva of compassion was transformed into the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin. Tonight, at the Zen group, we were informed about the significance of Kuan Yin who is represented by a picture on a scroll hanging behind the altar. I was reminded of Poul Anderson's account of the goddess, Nehalennia:

"Hers are the well-being of mortals and peace among them." (See here.)

- as well as the prayer that he wrote to the Virgin Mary. (See here.)

It is unusual to be reminded of a work of science fiction when receiving instruction in spiritual practice.

Demons

"WE WILL DO WITHOUT THE ANTICHRIST. HE WAS NEVER NECESSARY. MEN HAVE ALWAYS LED THEMSELVES UNTO ME...I WILL EDUCATE YOU. ETERNALLY, FOR A BEGINNING."
-James Blish, Black Easter, 17, IN Blish, After Such Knowledge (London, 1991), p. 423.

"'You-are-mine. Eternally. For-a-beginning...We have no need to buy men's souls. You give yourselves to us.'"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eight, pp. 210-211.

Blish's speaker is a demon. Stirling's seems to think he is. He, or It, is certainly some kind of entity possessing a human being. Both Blish and Stirling use typographic devices and there is also some parallel phraseology.

Blish's premise is that demons are real. Stirling's is that some power has intervened on Earth. It should be regarded as demonic for practical purposes at least until more is learnt. Will an exorcism work? (It doesn't in Black Easter because there the demons are winning Armageddon.)

Addendum -

Blish's demon: "WE ARE ABROAD AND LOOSE, AND WILL NOT BE PUT BACK." (p. 424)

Stirling's entity: "'Soon. We-will-be-abroad-and-loose.'" (p. 215)

Five Authors

See Four Authors.

I missed something, namely a fifth author:

Merlin returns in CS Lewis' Ransom Trilogy;
advanced technology stops working in SM Stirling's Change series;
advanced technology stops working because Merlin returns in Peter Dickinson's Changes Trilogy.

(At least, I have been told that Merlin returns in the Changes Trilogy.)

"Four Authors" compares:

Lewis and Tolkien;
Anderson and Tolkien;
Anderson and Stirling;
Stirling and Tolkien.

My advice: read them all.

A Banquet

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eight, pp. 202-204:

roast pigs;
smoking quarters of beef;
glazed ribs in racks;
roast turkeys;
roast ducks;
pheasants;
chickens;
crisp golden grouse;
long stuffed baked fish;
warm rolls with butter;
salad;
boiled new potatoes;
beef in a cream and herb sauce;
mashed potatoes;
steamed beets;
gravy;
wine;
brocolli with butter;
sour-cherry pie with ice cream.

Stirling's characters eat well when they can, which is a good philosophy of life. It has been pointed out that their active lives require both quality and quantity when it comes to food.

Morning And Morecambe Bay

This morning, very soon, we will drive around Morecambe Bay (see here), where Eirik Blood-Ax landed (see here). This evening, I will attend the Zen group in Lancaster Friends' Meeting House (see here) and will thus address "spooks."

There will hopefully be time for reading and blogging between returning from Cumbria and attending Zen and after Zen.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Alternative Literature

(Neil Gaiman's Library of Dreams in The Sandman.)

I have said this before in different words. I happen to think that this blog is worth reading but I take no credit for that. Retired, I have leisure to read, reread and reflect. I would be nowhere without:

Poul Anderson;

several literary traditions that he represents (I will not list the names yet again, at least not this time);

his successors, notably SM Stirling whom so far I prefer "in his own write" rather than in collaboration, although I have not read everything yet.

If, on the one hand, humanity did exist but, on the other hand, none of these literary traditions or individual authors existed, then this would only be because several millennia of history had diverged, thus generating an entirely different literaure which someone else would at this moment be appreciating. (Hello, across the timelines, if you exist.)

SM Stirling explored this idea. What was it that Kipling wrote in the timeline of the Fall? (See here.) And, in that timeline, the Sherlock Holmes series was an alternative history.

Heroes II

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009).

See Heroes.

Rudi Mackenzie, on a heroic Quest, is able to send occasional letters home.

Rudi's mother, Juniper, the Chief and High Priestess of the Mackenzie Clan, is also a musician.

Juniper's songs based on Rudi's letters circulate among the Mackenzies and their allies.

The songs change and Juniper responds by changing them further.

Thus, the story of a vision of the Virgin to one of Rudi's companions is in circulation although we have reason to believe that this did happen.

Juniper mythologizes the Quest while it is happening. Rudi's half-sisters read his letters like an adventure serial and one of them is a bard, quoted at the beginnings of chapters. Juniper's husband quotes:

"'...yet half a beast is the great God Pan...'" (Chapter Six, p. 158) (see here)

If Rudi were to die on the Quest, then there would definitely be a Denial - a myth of his Resurrection and eventual Return.

Right With The Spooks

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009).

After a battle, Rudi Mackenzie invokes:

the Lady of the Ravens;
the Lord of Death;
the Guardians of the Western Gate;
the Mother-of-all -

- on behalf of the slain foemen. Jake sunna Jake is highly impressed:

"'Hey, that's a good saying word t' keep spooks down...'" (Chapter One, p. 21)

He can tell that Rudi and Edain are not like Iowans who "'...pray to the Jesus-man.'" (ibid.)

Later, when Jake offers the Chieftainship to Rudi, he enumerates how much Rudi can teach his people, including:

"'...how to get right with the spooks...'" (Chapter Four, p. 109)

Jake probably imagines real vengeful ghosts. An instructor in Zen meditation might tell him that:

each of us has "spooks" or "demons";
they are inner consequences of past actions;
they must be faced, not suppressed;
in this way, it is possible to get right with them.

No Ivory Towers

My task is twofold: to blog but also to communicate that bloggers do not post from ivory towers. Real life is happening and even accelerating. However, it is this life that is reflected in fiction, even in fantasy and sf.

Poul Anderson's and SM Stirling's characters respond, whether heroically or discreditably, to crises and catastrophes, as do the inhabitants of Earth Real. This evening, sitting for meditation, I was interrupted by a knock at the door. The Boddhisattva calls. Muslim neighbours were collecting money to help the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. See here and also here.

In Poul Anderson's "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth" and History of Technic Civilization and in SM Stirling's Emberverse series, we follow a single family through several generations. Thus, it is not entirely inappropriate to consider the generations of our own families from time to time. See here.

Every day, politicians and populations make decisions that propel humanity into a future probably more fantastic than any imagined by sf writers. We each participate in this history while continuing to read Anderson and Stirling.

What Has Been Lost

(See here. Williamson Park Cafe was full so we drove to a nearby village for Wallings ice cream.)

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Six.

"'Hand and hand seven!'" (p. 143) means "'Seventy...'" (ibid.) How much a small group of survivors can forget in a generation. The Southsiders Chief will know each of his seventy stolen horses by look and name within a few days but does not know the word for seventy. He is "Jake sunna Jake," Jake son of Jake, so surnames have gone.

Edain Aylward Mackenzie has to ask the significance of a number at the bottom of a painting. Rudi explains that, before the Change, years were numbered from the birth of the Christian God. Now dates are mostly reckoned in years after the Change.

Knowledge has been lost but closer contact with the Powers is being gained. Father Ignatius meets the Virgin Mary whereas Rudi meets Odin... What is going on?

Mountain Wall

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Four.

"Interval" is derived from "inter-vallum," "between walls," so "Montival" means "Mons vallum," "Mountain wall"? It sounds as if it should mean something important.

When Rudi Mackenzie reflects on the disparate peoples that he must unite, the name comes to him and he thinks that it sounds right:

"...like an echo of music heard over the hills by moonlight." (p. 114)

- or like the horns of Elfland faintly blowing? See here.

Clearly, the name is inspired. Or is it foreknowledge of a name that will be used because Rudi had foreknown it? Edain says that it puts all the existing names together although I do not see that. It is also a new name, which is important to Changelings. They do not want names that are merely handed down. Uniting the realms, Montival will be ruled by a High King. Indeed, The High King Of Montival is the next volume in the Emberverse series.

I did not expect to make a post out of a single word but was determined to try since I will have to go about other business shortly. Four generations will celebrate Fathers' Day in Williamsom Park, Lancaster (see second image). None of us is a High King but perhaps we are venerable patriarchs?

Similar Trajectories

Poul and Karen Anderson's Centurion Gratillonius travels to Ys in order to become the Roman prefect in the city but also becomes the last King of Ys.

ERB's Captain John Carter arrives naked on Mars but then becomes a chieftain of Thark, a Prince of Helium and, later, Jeddak of Jeddaks, Warlord of Barsoom, even though that last title had not existed before.

SM Stirling's Rudi Mackenzie, tanist of his Clan, realizes that he must become the High King of Montival even though that country does not exist yet.

In Virgil's Aeneid, Caesar's soul waits in Hades...

In John's Gospel, the Word was in the beginning...

Usually, a country comes first, its name second, but some times are different. Stirling, Virgil and John imagine supernatural antecedents of historical events:

the founding of Montival;
the founding of Rome and its Empire;
the ministry of Christ. 

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Tale Of Niall

(The Stone of Destiny at Tara, the seat of the High Kings in Ireland.)

Niall of the Nine Hostages crops up again (see before) when SM Stirling's Rudi Mackenzie tells the tale of Niall's meeting with the Goddess. In fact, She blesses Niall's High Kingship not because of his warrior skills but because of his kindness to Herself disguised as a poor old woman. (An Sean-Bhean Bhocht or "The Poor Old Woman" is one of the nationalist personifications of Ireland along with Kathleen Ni Houlihan and Roisin Dubh, the Dark Rosaleen.)

By telling the tale, Rudi consciously instructs his illiterate audience in the importance of kindness, especially in kings. Thus, he powerfully reinforces his own reflection that we need tales to make sense of the world.

And I am about to watch a dvd tale about the first modern superhero so I will check back here later.

Tales

"We need tales to make sense of the world."
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Four, p. 100.

How did the world begin?
What must men work to live?
Why do women have pain in child birth?
Why do snakes lack legs?
Why are there rainbows?
How do we know that mankind will not be destroyed in a flood?
Why are there so many languages?
Why are there racial differences?
Why are there tides?
Which question is the odd one out?
Do we still rely on tales to make sense of the world?

Retro Futures

Why might people fight with swords in the future? Science fiction writers present at least three reasons:

(i) in Charles Harness' The Paradox Men, only the point of a rapier can penetrate a personal force field;

(ii) in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, precisely because the Terran Imperials are decadent, they affect the archaism of scientific fencing - useful when fighting a telepath because he cannot anticipate his adversary's reflexes;

(iii) in SM Stirling's Emberverse, advanced technology, including even gunpowder, no longer works so -

civilization falls;
the survivors have a lot to fight about;
they must relearn the use of swords, spears, lances and bows and arrows.

In fact, Stirling's characters really develop their archery. Where else do we see revived archery?:

in one James Bond short story;
every superhero universe has to have an amphibian, a speedster and an archer - Marvel has Hawkeye and DC has Green Arrow.

Prevented Futures

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Four, pp. 99-100.

Rudi Mackenzie helps the Southsiders by making better bows and "arrers" for them. Momentarily, Rudi sees the Southsider chief tied above a fire as ragged figures dance around him. He thinks that this is a vision of what would happen if he did not help the Southsiders: a prevented future. In another sf novel, aliens showed the human characters moving pictures of themselves experiencing events that had not happened and that were not going to happen.

A friend said that he sometimes dreamed of future events and, forewarned, could alter the course of a conversation. Once, in a London cafe, I said, "'I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet' has posters of the Apollo IX mission," and he responded, "I dreamed of you saying that while I watched that bus turn round that corner three weeks ago."

Historical Novels in A Future History

How many sf novels featuring Nicholas van Rijn are there in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization? Three:

The Man Who Counts/War Of The Wing Men;
Satan's World;
Mirkheim.

How many historical novels featuring van Rijn are there in Technic Civilization? Hloch tells us that there are several. The Man Who Counts is on both lists. Hloch includes this text in The Earth Book Of Stormgate because:

van Rijn is more central in it than in any of the others;
it recounts events that had consequences for Falkayn's home planet;
winged Diomedeans are of interest to winged Ythrians.

Of the three novels listed, this one is about van Rijn whereas the others are about van Rijn and his trader team.

Think of events that you have been involved in, then imagine that they are to be filmed. The actors would not look like the original people. The dialogue would be fictional. The sequence of events would be simplified. The film would probably not be shot in the original locations. CS Lewis' family made all these obervations about Shadowlands but added that it was true, i.e., authentic. I am sure that, in this sense, Poul Anderson has written true accounts of Nicholas van Rijn even if we imagine that the real events differed in many details.

Friday, 16 June 2017

What Do You Remember?

SM Stirling, The Scourge Of God (New York, 2009), Chapter Three, p. 82.

Denson: "'You're not old enough to remember the Change, are you?'"
Ingolf: "'Nope...Not really. I remember the flash of light and the headache, but not much before that and not much more after, not for years. I wasn't even six then.'"
Denson: "Yeah, I can't remember much of when I was six either.'"
Ingolf: "'I do remember how scared everyone was.'"
Denson: "'Yes...I was old enough to know.'"

Each of us can parallel this dialogue from our own life experience:

I am not old enough to remember the War;
I do remember living in a post-War period;
I have no memory of the Coronation in 1953 although I do remember it being referred to as a recent important event;
I remember saying that I was six and, a year later, seven;
I finished secondary school and started University in 1967, the Summer of Love - fifty years ago;
in 1989, when there was a film about the Profumo Affair, I was a mature College student and told younger students that I remembered asking, "What's this Profumo business?," and adults not answering.

Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry remembers that, when he was a boy, there were news reports of the Alarri fleet crossing the marches with nuclear weapons, then being defeated by an Imperial Navy task force at the Battle of Mirzan. The first Quatermass TV serial climaxes with the appearance of an extraterrestrial monster on the roof of Westminster Abbey and, in the novelization of the fourth serial, a character remembers his mother pulling him away from the TV screen...

Heroes

Men perform heroic deeds and stories are told about them. There are:

histories;
stories about historical figures; historical fictions;
fictions.

Many works of fiction merely recount the deeds of heroes. Some authors go further by reflecting on the interplay between a real person and his historical persona. David Crockett would be an excellent candidate for such treatment. Sean Connery's Robin Hood tells the minstrel, Alan-a-Dale, "It didn't happen like that," and I think that this same phrase was used in a film about the Earps. A man who knows enough to say, "It didn't happen like that," stands at the intersection between history and story, fiction or legend.

The Ythrian historian, Hloch, tells his Avalonian readers that on many inhabited planets it is not their Founder, David Falkayn, that lives in folk memory as either hero or rogue but Falkayn's mentor, Nicholas van Rijn. SM Stirling's colonists of Venus know that they are heroes of adventure stories back on Earth. While Stirling's Rudi Mackenzie and his companions pursue their Quest for the Sword of the Lady, stories and songs about them, composed by Rudi's mother, circulate among the Mackenzies and their allies. The stories include a vision of the Virgin to Father Ignatius. But we have read a prose account of that vision! So where is the line between fictional fact and fictional story? The Author knows. I will continue to read. It really is quite intriguing.

(Busy days. Less time for blogging.)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Feudalism?

Sandra Arminger's copy of the Weekly Trumpet contains an article on "Feudalism: God's Will Or Just Common Sense?" (The Sword Of The Lady, Chapter Two, p. 38)

We have discussed feudalism but here is a new angle and maybe a syllogism:

Only God could have willed the Change;
the Change enforced a return to feudalism;
therefore, God has willed feudalism.

Does anyone want to pursue this theological discussion?

The Times

While reading novels by Poul Anderson and SM Stirling, we find that we are living in times as eventful as those described by these authors. I can apply the word "exciting" to their accounts of pitched battles in which many are killed but cannot apply the same adjective to a terrorist atrocity or a burning building. There is a sense of human solidarity and also a feeling that at least some of the conditions generating such events can and should be changed without delay. Maybe there is a better future ahead.

Blur And Death

Rudi Mackenzie moves and fights so fast that he is:

"...a whirling screaming striking blur that left death and ululating agony in its wake..."
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter One, p. 13.

Accidental association of ideas: there are two versions of what Clark Kent did with his powers before he became Superman -

he was Superboy;
he moved so fast that he was known as "the Red and Blue Blur," later shortened to "the Blur."

"Death is a forgetting..." (p. 16)

I agree, provided that we are clear about what we mean by this. My memories will end at death and will not be reproduced in any later organism. However, I believe neither that individual consciousness will linger in a Summerland nor that there will be any one-to-one relationship between me and a later-born organism. Being is the subject of all consciousness and death is its Lethe.

The Goddess

The Three of Ys comprise a male and female principle and impersonal nature. The Goddess is the most comprehensive of the three deities (see here) and the city is named after Her (see here).

I dislike "the Lady" as a title for the Goddess as in Wicca and in SM Stirling's The Sword Of The Lady. It is too close to "Our Lady," a term applied to the Virgin Mary in Catholicism. A Wiccan friend told me today that he was not brought up in Catholicism and therefore does not share my history with the phrase, "Our Lady."

To me, the Goddess personifies female beauty and sexual experience. The Triple Goddess is maiden, mother and crone, not miraculous mother and maiden. Neil Gaiman's Endless, anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness, include the androgynous Desire, who is bad news, and Death who defines her opposite, life, and therefore appears not as the Grim Reaper but as a beautiful young woman.

The Goddess, however conceived, is with us - manifested in people we know.

Noticing

"Nothing moved but his eyes, and he flicked them back and forth; a steady fixed gaze was oddly noticeable to the one you were staring at, like brushing a feather over the nape of the neck."
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2010), Chapter One, p. 4.

Is this true? I suspect that it is. Although my mental processes are entirely logical/linear/abstract/verbal, I have sometimes felt danger when there was danger. Enough people refer to the sensation of feeling eyes at their back. But how does it work? There must be a great deal still to be learnt about organism-environment interactions. There are many more senses than the "five."

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Endings

How a book ends matters. If the book is a volume of a series, then its ending prepares for the beginning of the succeeding volume. A tetralogy by James Blish ends:

"Creation began."
-Cities In Flight, p. 596.

Volume I of Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization should introduce Ythrians, Nicholas van Rijn, David Falkayn and Adzel to the reader but not yet to each other. How much is being prepared in this volume. If, as I suggest, Volume I collects the first nine instalments of the History, then Adzel appears once and each of the others twice. By the time they meet, they are already well established characters.

Volume II should end, as in the Baen Books edition it does, with "Lodestar," the last time we see the trader team employed by van Rijn. The team will be reconvened much later but only once and for a different purpose. In "Lodestar," the shadow of God the Hunter is over the Polesotechnic League.

Volume III should end, as it does, with The People Of The Wind. Thus, the Terran Empire has been introduced but not yet Dominic Flandry. In my opinion, Volumes IV-VI should cover the entire Flandry period and should thus end with Flandry's Testament. Volume VII ends with human civilizations spread through several spiral arms of the galaxy and a period of unprecedented wealth about to begin in one of them.

Every end is a new beginning.

Flandry's Testament

"'We play the game move by move, and never see far ahead - the game of empire, of life, whatever you want to call it - and what the score will be when all the pieces at last go back into the box, who knows?'"
-Dominic Flandry on the last page of The Game Of Empire.

That life is a divine game is an idea in Indian philosophy. Who knows but also who cares? We will be dead. I do not buy the Indian ideas of souls and reincarnation.

When the final whistle blows, the play stops and the score is fixed. This is a good analogy for life, the difference being that we know the score after a football match but not after life. All the more reason to enjoy it while we are here. I enjoy blogging and want to leave a big blog.

Progress

(Des Moines.)

The Emberverse Iowa has:

a large capital city with miles of water-powered factories and furnaces and black smoke from tall brick chimneys;

a ruling group with shares in the factories;

at least two political parties, Ruralists and Progressives.

That is more technological and social progress than I would have thought possible after the Change. Progress generates political and moral questions, as in other timelines. See here. The Church Universal and Triumphant opposes progress and that Church seems to be inspired by whatever entities caused the Change, that moment when technology stopped working. It would be interesting to live in a world where superhuman Powers occasionally intervened, e.g., in Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods, offerings are made to Thor because of a troublesome giant but, inexplicably, the god does not intervene on this occasion.

In secular society, we have learnt to manage our own affairs without appealing to the gods.

Flight And Freedom II

See Flight And Freedom.

In American sf, the supreme symbol of freedom is flight between the stars although, paradoxically, while travelling, interstellar astronauts are usually confined within a metal hull, as Poul Anderson sometimes pointed out. Some fictional characters address this problem. James Blish's Okies fly cities. Anderson's asterites move a hollowed out asteroid with an internal environment and ecology. Dominic Flandry's interstellar speedster is sybaritic.

To make another comparison between space and the sea, James Bond, surveying the interior of a very expensive yacht, comments that the right way to treat the sea is as if it did not exist.

Flight And Freedom

"Free as a bird."

Flight is a symbol of freedom. Indeed, the ability to fly away from any situation is the most basic freedom. Poul Anderson's Ythrians, intelligent winged carnivores, are most alive when, by flapping their wings, they pump oxygen into their veins, then soar through the sky of Ythri or Avalon. Many human Avalonians "go bird," i.e., join Ythrian choths and fly with gravbelts.

Even in a spaceship, Ythrians need room to spread their wings and cannot be confined in spacesuits. Spaceflight is a symbol of freedom for Terrans but not for Ythrians. Hloch, wearied of the void, returned to the winds.

I have been making some comparisons with James Bond but always with the Bond of the books, not of the films. However, in the pre-credits sequence of the film, Thunderball, the Sean Connery James Bond demonstrates freedom from responsibility by assassinating an opponent, then flying away from any pursuit, using a jet pack.

An Iowan Dinner

SM Stirling, The Scourge Of God (New York, 2009), Chapter Twenty, pp. 487-489.

The concluding chapters are a travelogue of Changed North America. The travellers are dinner guests on an Iowan farm:

a long table;
at one end, a cold, brown-glazed, roast suckling pig, with an apple in its mouth, on a carved oak slab;
at the other end, a sirloin of beef, pink at the centre;
between -
breads;
hot biscuits;
butter;
salads of greens, cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers and radishes with oil and vinegar;
potato salad;
deviled eggs with minced ham forcemeat;
fresh boiled asparagus, cauliflower and eggplant baked with cheese;
sauteed mushrooms;
glazed carrots;
wine;
apple and cherry pies;
walnut ice cream;
after -
pear brandy;
real coffee in silver service and bone-china cups.

Kinds Of Timelines

There are many kinds of fictional timelines. Let us consider three related kinds.

(i) Poul Anderson, "The House of Sorrows"; The Shield Of Time, Part Six, "Amazement of the World."

There was an agricultural revolution but not a later scientific revolution. Therefore, there were no political, industrial, technological or cultural revolutions. Societies continued to farm and fight.

(ii) Anderson, Maurai and many others.

A nuclear war or other catastrophe destroys technological civilization but it can be rebuilt.

(iii) SM Stirling, Emberverse.

The Change ends technological civilization and it cannot be rebuilt. What happens next? I am finding out. What caused the Change? We might find out.