Wednesday, 5 September 2012

"Operation Salamander"

Is the magic getting a bit implausible by the time we have read as far as Chapter IX of Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos (New York, 1995)? University Physical Sciences are housed in a "...grimy little..." building and nuclear physics is to be valued only because, e.g., it makes alchemy practical by preventing the unintended production of radioactive isotopes (pp.55-56).

In "...the goetic age...," a football match is a contest not of physical prowess but of the "...essentially intellectual..." Art (p. 58). Footballers levitate, change form - one even into a greased pig -, cast spells and counterspells, wear Tarnkappes and toss thunderbolts. One accidentally steps on a blown scorecard, piercing several of his opponents' names.

Clearly, this is not a football match. Fantasy and sf fans praise what we see as clever and logical implications deduced by the author from his initial premise. A guy I knew would have dismissed many of these implications as "tricks." Obviously, the fantasy of Operation Chaos is very different from that of the same author's Three Hearts And Three Lions or his A Midsummer Tempest. Three premises:

the Carolingian myths were true;
Shakespeare's plays were true;
magic works.

The first involves a very basic conflict between orderly civilization and a primordial destructiveness.
The second involves the modern conflict between immemorial forests and industrial factories.
The third involves "tricks"?

In fact, something else is going on beneath the surface of Operation Chaos but it is very abstract. In the untitled opening passage, Steve Matuchek refers to the trans-cosmic war between Law and Chaos, which we recognize from the Carolingian universe of Three Hearts And Three Lions. This is a "...strife...older than creation..." (p. 3)

Also, in Chapter IV, which was maybe added to the book version, Steve, rendered unconscious to the outside world, enters a void where he overhears a malevolent message or monologue. In Chapter XI, again rendered unconscious, he does not overhear but is addressed by "...absolute hate..." (p. 76). So there is an ultimate opponent of some sort but this is all very vague as yet.   

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