Monday, 16 July 2018

Across The Atlantic

SM Stirling's new heroine, Luz, travels to Europe by airship and returns by submarine. Stirling's text conveys that, in 1916 (B), these are new and exotic ways to travel. This is retro-sf. We have to remember earlier periods:

Jules Verne described a balloon, a submarine, a space projectile and a combined speedboat, submarine, automobile and aircraft (see here);

HG Wells described aeroplanes, a deep sea sphere, the Cavorite sphere and the Time Machine;

ERB describes an undiscovered continent, a tunneling machine and interplanetary ships;

Poul Anderson, one culmination of sf, describes several means of STL, FTL and time travel.

Tomorrow, when not preoccupied with family matters, I will rejoin Luz and her companions in mid-Atlantic.

Social Chaos

In Poul Anderson's The Avatar, Earth sounds as chaotic as it gets in the pre-interstellar period of his Psychotechnic History:

planetary crowding;
New Islam;
unfeasible secessionisms;
legitimate grievances;
centralized global government;
revived Keynesianism!

Keynesian policies? Public spending on useful projects to boost the economy? Perish the thought. Let the market be unconfined!

Such arguments will continue as long as the present kind of economy continues. But nothing will last forever.

Grapple Guns

We have all seen a certain masked avenger climbing the outside of a tall building by hauling himself up a line that he has fired from a grapple gun. Alan Moore's vigilante, Rorschach, does also. SM Stirling shows us that this would be no easy matter. His new character, Luz, is a fictional spy who not only fights enemy agents but also spies, with lock-picks and a camera. Her night-time climb to a guarded office in a castle tower in freezing rain is an adventure in its own right that does not need any encounters with armed guards or fights on the rooftop to increase the excitement.

Like Fleming's Bond and Anderson's Flandry, Luz is sexually active but, unlike them, not always heterosexual. Descriptions of homosexual encounters are perhaps a further social change. See Social Changes.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

People In Different Timelines

(Nikola Tesla.)

There is a reference to a "Father Flandry" in SM Stirling's Black Chamber, TEN, p. 204. An ancestor of Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry? No. Father Flandry is a celibate Catholic priest and not in the same timeline as Dominic. But there could be a third timeline in which they are directly related.

In the Black Chamber timeline, Nikola Tesla works for President Theodore Roosevelt's National Advanced Research Projects Institute. We anticipate rapid technological advances in the twentieth century of that timeline.

In Lancaster Real, I will visit Ketlan on the Marsh Estate and attend the Zen group at the Friends' Meeting House tomorrow and meet the guys in the Gregson on Wednesday and we will have a big family birthday party here at Blades Street (scroll down) on Saturday. As ever, I strive to blog.

Actual To Alternative

Knowledge of history is necessary for writers of historical fiction and of alternative history fiction and advisable for writers of future histories. Poul Anderson wrote all three kinds of fiction. His major future history series, the History of Technic Civilization, is based on a theory of history.

Any alternative history has a point of departure from actual history. In SM Stirling's Black Chamber, this point is President Taft's afternoon nap on May 25th, 1912.

Readers lacking knowledge of the period might think that some of the details of the actual history are parts of the alternative history. Thus, there was an Irish Republican Brotherhood before there was an Irish Republican Army and Hugo Gernsback did edit science magazines as well as sf magazines although maybe the June 1916 issue of The Electrical Experimenter was different in the Black Chamber timeline?

Russia is going to Brest-Litovsk for a peace treaty a year and a half early and Admiral von Hipper rises faster in the German Navy.

Alternative Lives

Alternative histories include alternative lives and careers for historical figures. There are too many examples to list here.

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, there is Prince Rupert of the Rhine. See here. Also, by implication, there is the William Shakespeare who was not the Great Dramatist but the Great Historian.

SM Stirling's Black Chamber has, among others, alternative versions of Theodore Roosevelt and Colonel Nicolai. The author must keep such characters consistent with their real life counterparts while at the same time presenting their responses to altered histories.

This is essentially the same procedure as when one author writes another's character, e.g., Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series features not only Cyrus the Great and Hiram of Troy but also Sherlock Holmes.

Action-adventure fiction is endless. We accept not only new stories of old characters but also new characters like Stirling's Luz who kills men and spies on Nicolai's war preparations. The World Wars are endlessly re-fought in memory, recorded history, historical fiction and alternative history. Will the German's secret weapon be deployed against American cities?

Saturday, 14 July 2018


What role should coincidence play in fiction? Arguably, fiction without any coincidences would be unrealistic. However, no major plot development or resolution should ever depend entirely on a series of implausible coincidences and I have read some novels where this does occur. See SF Premises here. Robert Heinlein presents an unacceptable list of coincidences near the end of his Future History, Volume V.

In Poul Anderson's "Lodestar," it is a coincidence that van Rijn and Falkayn meet at Mirkheim but this enables their inevitable confrontation to occur there and then instead of elsewhere and later. "Lodestar" is a short story, not a novel.

I am rereading Stieg Larsson who presents some coincidences and also reading for the first time SM Stirling's Black Chamber. I think that Stirling's fiction is coincidence-free?


Dominic Flandry:

"What you'll find worst, though, is the risk of having to sell out your own comrades, name them to the enemy, so he will keep confidence in you. Are you brave enough to sacrifice twenty lives for a world?"
-Poul Anderson, "Hunters Of The Sky Cave" IN Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (Riverdale, NY, 2012), pp. 301-149 AT XIII, pp. 249-250.

I would not. And there would be very few, if any, occasions when the choice was as stark and simplistic as twenty lives for a world. See here. I remember that, if an Asimov robot was forced to choose between killing ten people and killing twenty, then it would kill the ten, then go insane, having broken First Law.

IN SM Stirling's Black Chamber, an American agent infiltrating a German spy ring kills French agents trying to kidnap a German scientist. Why not kill the German spy that she is with and help the French? She is by no means certain that staying with the German will yield a positive result.

Common Ancestry

Manse Everard has been in fifth century Britain and now visits a house in London in 1944:

"Mary perched on the edge of the sofa, watching him with large eyes. He wondered if Wulfnoth and Eadgar were among her ancestors. Yes...undoubtedly they were, after all these centuries. Maybe Schtein was too."
-Poul Anderson, "Time Patrol" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (Riverdale, NY, 2010), 6, p. 47.

(Schtein had traveled to the fifth century from 2987.)

"If you go back to the Visigoths...or even just medieval times...everyone is descended from everyone, including Charlemagne and Genghis Khan, she thought but did not say. You can prove that with some simple mathematics."
-SM Stirling, Black Chamber (New York, 2018), FIVE, p. 102.

Each of us has:

two parents;
four grandparents;
eight grandparents;
sixteen great-grandparents;
thirty two great-great-grandparents;
sixty four great-great-great-grandparents.

That is six generations. From 500 to 1940 A.D. is seventy two generations and the world population shrinks as we travel pastward. It seems to me that I have always been more interested in the fact of our common ancestry than in tracing my particular line of descent but it might have been Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" that made me aware of common ancestry.

Bryan Talbot ends his Alice In Sunderland by celebrating descent from Picts, Celts, Romans, Africans, Middle Easterners, Gauls, English, Vikings, Danes, Normans, Irish, Europeans, Belgians, Lithuanians and Jewish Poles. A man to whom I handed an anti-racist leaflet in Lancaster was outraged when I claimed that everyone is related and tried to insult me by saying that I looked Chinese!

Friday, 13 July 2018

Real And Fictional Politics

In one future history: a military coup in Washington. See here.

In an alternative history: Theodore Roosevelt's "...triumphant return to power." (SM Stirling, Black Chamber, THREE, p. 66. See here.

Today: President Trump in London. See here.

OK. Totally dislocated. But my brain connected those three items before passing out for the night.

I hope to be more coherent tomorrow.