Sunday, 30 June 2013

Faces Of War

"The second face of war is different for every individual. Consider Ensign Helen Kittredge. We pick her name at random out of personnel data. These say little more about her than that she was twenty Terran years of age, born and raised amidst the starknesses of the planet Vixen..."

(Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 276)

There are two points to note here. First, Helen is the third Vixenite Kittredge to be named in the History of Technic Civilization. Adzel met one and Flandry met another. Secondly, in this passage, the narrator directly addresses the reader, "Consider..." This narrator then turns out either to be collective or at least to include the reader in his use of the plural pronoun, "We...," and also to be consulting data at a later date within the History. Thus, this is not the timeless, omniscient narrator who sometimes transcends fictional characters' points of view. Instead, what we have here is a historian reconstructing what must have occurred to some individuals during the Magnusson rebellion, almost a later version of the Ythrian Hloch who had compiled The Earth Book Of Stormgate in an earlier period, just after the Terran War on Avalon. (War is a recurring theme of the History.)

This historian of the Magnusson rebellion reconstructs very creatively:

"We can imagine Ensign Helen Kittredge on leave - let us say, on Ansa..." (p. 278)

So we do not know that she was on Ansa although we can imagine that she might have been on leave somewhere like that. In Mirkheim, we learn that Nicholas van Rijn likes onion soup a la Ansa, in "Sargasso of Lost Starships," we see the planet Ansa just after it had been forcibly annexed by the recently founded Terran Empire and, in The People Of The Wind, we learn that an Imperial cruiser is called Ansa.

Helen Kittredge is:

"...assigned to energy weapons control on the light battleship Zeta Sagittarii." (ibid.)

Our narrator knows only that Zeta Sagittarii "...was lost." (p. 283)

- so he creatively imagines four different ways that she might have died.

The description of a space battle is comparable to those in Ensign Flandry and The People Of The Wind. This particular battle, when Magnusson defeats Blenkiron, is commemorated in a name. A previously innominate red dwarf star will henceforth be known to spacefarers as Battle Sun as, in England, a village near Hastings is called Battle because it is the site of the Battle of Hastings.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

"The Divine Is With Us"

(Contrary to an earlier note, I have written 10 posts today so here is the 100th post for June.)

In Poul Anderson's The Game Of Empire (IN Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012), the sense of living in troubled times reaches a crescendo when the radio blares that:

"...Admiral Sir Olaf Magnusson had bowed to the unanimous appeal of his valiant legionaries..." (etc) (p. 261)

The insurrection is under way. The transmission ends:

"'Stand by. The Divine, in whatever form It manifests Itself to you, the Divine is with us.'" (ibid.)

Imagine people on and between two planets, some in uniform and armed with blasters, hearing that message. The appeal to an impersonal Divine is an attempt to calm and reassure as many as possible. How does the Divine manifest Itself to Patricians? Magnusson himself is a Neosufi, contemplating the All and aspects of the Divine. Targovi, a pagan, refers to Javak the Fireplayer. Axor, visiting the system, is a Jerusalem Catholic.

An even more ecumenical appeal would have been, "The Eternal, in whatever form you conceive it, is with us." That would include those who conceive ultimate reality as Emptiness or who say, "Nothing is eternal but eternally moving, eternally changing matter and the laws by which it eternally moves and changes..."

The Colonization Of Daedalus

Fully inhabitable terrestroid planets are rare and artificial worlds have obvious limitations so some planets have to be terraformed, for example, Daedalus, discovered by David Jones, which, in its natural state, grows no food edible to human beings or Tigeries. Native soil has to be sterilized to bedrock, then a terrestroid ecology, when introduced, has to be nurtured and protected from the native life which tries to return. Islands are easiest to defend and some baronies were rich enough to buy a non-interference pledge from the Empire.

Light is refracted around the curve of Daedalus so that, instead of a horizon, an endlessly receding landscape is seen with the setting sun perceived as a ring. The Highroad River links the capital Aurea to the Phosphoric Ocean where an autonomous cloned community (but see here) inhabits the island, Zacharia.

The single moon of Daedalus is, appropriately, called Icarus. 

Admiral Olaf Magnusson, based on Daedalus, is from the harsh planet Kraken which we have not seen (I don't think) whereas his wife, Vida, is from the oceanic world, Nyanza, where Flandry counteracted Merseian subversion. We know from the next installment of the Technic Civilization series that Kraken will be a centre of interstellar activity during the Long Night after the Fall of the Terran Empire.

The New Team

It should not surprise us to learn, in Poul Anderson's The Game Of Empire, that Diana, daughter of Dominic Flandry, and Targovi, son of Dragoika, are close friends because:

"[Diana] had passed her life among Tigeries and Seafolk." (Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 214)

She has also become guide to the Wodenite Axor. The latter's search for Foredweller ruins will provide a good cover for Targovi's spying on Daedalus. Thus, Anderson assembles a new crew of one female human being, one male Jerusalem Catholic Wodenite and one male Tigery, quite similar to the earlier trader team of one male human being, one male Mahayana Buddhist Wodenite and one female Cynthian.

Because of their different purposes in life, it would have been tricky to hold this new team together for any sequels, even if Diana does go on to join Targovi in Imperial Intelligence, but Anderson would have found a way if it had suited his story purposes. In fact, something must have happened to these three beings after they had helped to defeat the Magnusson rebellion. It is just that we do not know what...


Where the Crystal River enters Dawnside Bay on Imhotep, the Tigeries who had lived in Kursoviki on Starkad have built their new town, Toborkozan:

the gray stone Castle of the Sisterhood - guarded with traditional halberds and firearms - including the Gaarnokh Tower, named after an extinct horned Starkadian species;
most goods manufactured on Imhotep because they had been able to transport very little from Starkad;
Terran mission headquarters;
timber houses with carven totems on the roofs;
cobbled streets;
archaic windjammers, many with auxiliary engines;
modern hovercraft;
a landing field for aircars, gliders and propeller-driven wingboats;
flying snakes above the sea;
out to sea, the Starboard and Larboard Islands that may hold Foredweller ruins.

We do not see anything of the Seafolk on Imhotep because the action moves to Daedalus.

Family Connections

In Poul Anderson's The Game Of Empire:

Chapter One is Diana, daughter of Dominic Flandry, and the Wodenite Axor on Imhotep;

Chapter Two is the Tigery Targovi on Daedalus;

Chapter Three is Targovi back home on Imhotep and now we are told that he is a son of Dragoika, chief of the Toborkozan Sisterhood, and are reminded that she is an old friend of Fleet Admiral Dominic Flandry who knows the Emperor.

Thus we have met what I call two more "Children of Empire," Dominic's daughter and Dragoika's son. The two previous novels had introduced Dominic's son and Max Abrams' daughter. So I call the three novels a "Children of Empire" trilogy.

In Chapter Two, Targovi, working covertly for Imperial Intelligence, interrogates a Merseian prisoner. Regular readers are familiar with Eriau terminology. The Merseian is Fodaich Eidhafor the Bold, Vach Dathyr.

Chapter Three reveals more about the terraforming of Imhotep. The pioneers had melted the snow on the twelve kilometer high Mt Horn and heated the planet with nuclear energy, killing the ice bulls and their ecology, but human beings still need reduction helmets at sea level whereas Tigeries are comfortable there but need either a helmet or a detachable oxygill, requiring preliminary surgery, higher up.

Some aged Tigeries believe that the spirits of the dead go to the Land of Trees Beyond but such beliefs do long survive contact with other races or emigration to another planet.


Although Wodenites are prominent in the Technic Civilization History, we do not see any action on the surface of the planet Woden. We are told that, although its gravity is two and a half times that of Earth, Woden's sun is so energetic that animals can grow to gigantic size.

Father Francis Xavier Axor, the Wodenite who has converted to Jerusalem Catholicism and has been ordained in the Galilean Order, gives us some details. His haizark, still comparatively primitive, are nomads in the Morning Land, across the Sea of Truth from the Glimmering Realm where the Terrans are based. In the Ascetic Hills, erosion has revealed Foredweller ruins. Such remains are eventually destroyed by micrometeoroids on airless planets or by weather and geology in atmospheres but, on Woden, they were fossilized by petrifying ash or mud.

Axor gained a merit scholarship from the University of the Galilean Order at Port Campbell in the Glimmering Realm where Fr Jaspers suggested that Foredweller ruins might provide evidence for the Universal Incarnation. Hence, Axor's search through space, eventually arriving on Imhotep in the Patrician System. Later, Dominic Flandry obtains funding for Axor's research. I would agree that the Foredwellers should be researched whether or not for Axor's reason.

Fictional Universes

Fans of a multi-volume fictional universe like Middle Earth or Star Trek can immerse themselves in it imaginatively and intellectually so that they become able to discuss it endlessly in interactive media like fanzines and blogs.

Many people may not realize the extent to which it is possible to do this with Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization series. They might read and enjoy stories about van Rijn, Falkayn, the trader team or Flandry without fully appreciating the wealth of depth and detail that permeates almost every word of the texts.

I bought The Game Of Empire when it was published and thought then that it was a hastily written, superficial addendum to the career of Dominic Flandry. It would certainly have been written quickly because Anderson was able to do that but not carelessly. It encapsulates much of the information presented earlier in the Technic Civilization series and adds considerably more. It can be read quickly to follow the plot but there are many descriptive and background details that are almost certainly missed or quickly forgotten if read just once.

The opening paragraph introduces yet another colonized planet, and mentions another in the same system, and a new view point character and makes us feel what it would be like to live as part of a thriving, multi-species, frontier population. Like the opening chapters of Anderson's Mirkheim and The People Of The Wind, Chapter One conveys the sense of living in troubled times when a resident, Diana, informs the new arrival, Axor, that:

"'...we may be on the edge of a real war.'" (Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 215)

The Glorious Revolution

"'The glorious revolution was necessary,' Patel declared. 'Emperor Hans restored order and purged corruption.'"

(Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 220)

Potentially, Patel's declaration has two resonances for present day British subjects. First, Patel's name makes him sound like one of our Muslim neighbors, I mean right here on this street! Or maybe also like the owner of an Asian grocery shop.

Secondly, our present British Constitution enshrines the revolutionary settlement resulting from the Glorious Revolution, so called, of 1688, when the King and his heirs were appointed by Parliament, not by divine right. If we see it that way, then we can still, like the French and Americans, experience the exhilaration of living in the aftermath of a revolution that was successful and that changed society from that time onwards. The British Establishment does not want us to dwell on that particular lesson from history.

Back to the Patel in the Terran Empire. His problem is that, when a revolution has been successful, it is not only permissible but obligatory to declare that it was both glorious and necessary but what is to be said about the next attempted revolution (Cairncross) or the one after that (Magnusson)? In an age when unresolved social contradictions tend to generate revolution after revolution, then Flandry's answer seems to be unavoidable: Hans was the least bad contender after the old dynasty had broken down but now there must be an end to seizures of power.

FX Axor

In Poul Anderson's The Game Of Empire, the Wodenite, Axor, has taken the Christian name, Francis Xavier, and is ordained in the Galilean Order of the Jerusalem Catholic Church. Real world equivalents are the Jesuit Order and the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, Francis Xavier was a Jesuit.

Characters in two earlier installments of the Technic Civilization series, "The Saturn Game" and The People Of The Wind, are Jerusalem Catholics. This is either the Roman Catholic Church with its headquarters moved (back) to Jerusalem or a new denomination existing in the future. Anderson's texts do not say which and, for story purposes, it does not matter. There is no mention either of a Pope or even of Bishops. All that we encounter after a couple of lay members is the single priest, Axor.

Axor seeks evidence of an Incarnation other than the one that (he believes) occurred on Earth three thousand years before. He asks whether strangely familiar religions are to be explained by:

"'Coincidence? Parallel development? Or a deeper mystery?'" (Anderson, Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 209)

Surely parallel development suffices as an explanation? It already accounts for the many physical similarities between organisms. Terrans have encountered Merseian and Ythrian monotheisms that are incompatible with Christianity but there might also be some that are less incompatible. How will Axor distinguish between evidence of an Incarnation and evidence of a belief in an Incarnation?

He begins a question with:

"'If science can show that the gospel account of Christ is not myth but biography...?'" (p. 210)

- but can it? That is a big "if." The gospels do not give any biographical details about their central figure but instead present propaganda for a belief about him, namely that, despite the ignominious death of a criminal, he is the Messiah, resurrected in accordance with scriptural prophecies.

Axor suggests that the Builders, who had an interstellar civilization millions of years ago but disappeared:

"'...went on to a higher plane of existence.'" (p. 210)

We encountered this belief in The Day Of Their Return. It is not a Christian belief and I am not sure how Axor proposes to incorporate it into his Christianity.

He studies the remains of Builder records: worn etched diagrams; electronically revocable molecular or crystalline recordings, either incomprehensible or possibly astronomical - signs for pulsars, hydrogen atoms, periods and directions. He estimates how pulsars have slowed and moved, thus where they are now and which star a record might point towards. Certain clues:

"'...appeared to me to whisper of the sun Patricius.'" (p. 211)

I think that is a bit too vague. Whisper? He means that the clues hinted, implied, suggested, insinuated that something was to be found on a planet in the Patrician system? Diana confirms that Tigery explorers speak of what may be ruined walls although Imhotep has never had any native intelligences.

And that is where the matter rests. Anderson's fictitious history is like our real history. Such matters are not resolved quickly or easily and many have not been resolved yet.

Diana Crowfeather

From the tower of St Barbara's, Diana sees one Donarrian, two Shalmuans, three Irumclagians and her first ever Wodenite, to whom she introduces herself as Diana Crowfeather.

One of the stated purposes of Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series was to convey the variety and wonder of the universe. One way in which he did this was, with each new story, to create or reveal new information within the established framework of his Technic Civilization series, of which the Flandry series is a part. Thus, as Diana converses with the Wodenite, a history emerges that is familiar to her and partly familiar, but mostly new, to us:

the Dakota people had tried to retain their identity in North America;

during the Breakup, they emigrated to the planet Atheia and founded an autonomous community, Dakotia, where Maria Crowfeather was born;

about forty years ago, Ensign Dominic Flandry, who has since become a Fleet Admiral, discovered that the planet Starkad was about to be destroyed when its sun went nova;

the Empire evacuated some Starkadians, both Tigeries and Seafolk, to Imhotep because this nearby planet was sufficiently similar to Starkad, already had a scientific base with support industries and was in the same system as Daedalus, a colony with a Naval base;

Maria Crowfeather, a xenologist in the resettlement project, met Flandry on one of his visits, became pregnant and gave birth to Diana;

three years ago, Maria was killed by a sudden tidal bore on a strange coast;

Maria's then partner wanted to enroll Diana in the Navy school on Daedalus and get her married to an officer;

however, Diana ran away because:

"Meanwhile Tigeries were hunting through hills where wind soughed in waves across forests, and surf burst under three moons upon virgin islands." (Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 214)


"She had passed her life among Tigeries and Seafolk." (ibid.)

It seems that Diana has fulfilled the dream of every teenage reader of juvenile adventure fiction. She has run away from an officious foster parent, avoided conformity and adventured with exotic beings exploring a new planet.

While Diana and the Wodenite, Axor, speak, it also emerges that he has heard "'...tales of Admiral Flandry's exploits.'" (p. 213) In true future historical style, having read an entire series narrated from Flandry's point of view, we now move to another part of the same fictitious universe there to encounter beings leading different kinds of lives but for whom Flandry is a public figure.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The Patrician System

(Note: This 30th post of June 2013 will be the last post for this month, probably. I want to work in round numbers and am unlikely to add another 10 between now and the end of the 30th. Any more that are written before then will be published on 1st July.)

In the immediately preceding post, I wrongly referred to six inner and four outer planets of the star Patricius. The diagram of the Patrician System (Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 193) is diagonally divided into an upper left half showing the inner planets and the asteroids and a lower right half showing the outer planets. However, closer examination of the diagram reveals that "Vitruvius" appears both as the outermost of the "inner planets" and as the innermost of the "outer planets." Clearly, this is done to show us how the two halves connect. But the result is that the total number of planets is nine, not ten.

The Patrician System is very similar to the Solar System with:

nine planets;
asteroids between the fourth and fifth planets;
colonies on the third and fourth planets.

I have already mentioned:

Daedalus and Imhotep, the two colonized planets;
Archimedes and Leonardo, the two that are obviously named after famous engineers;

The remaining four are the two innermost, Liang Ling-tsan and Channing, and the two outermost, Katsuragi no Kami and Sennacherib.

Patricius is St Patrick whom regular Anderson readers have met in the King of Ys Tetralogy before he gained his Christian name.

Despite being equivalent in position to Mars, Imhotep has thirty per cent greater gravity than Earth. This planet held only a scientific base and a few support industries for centuries until the Starkadians were settled there in the previous generation. Since then, the city has grown and now houses Imperial offices in the Pyramid with many other new buildings around it.

The Seas Of Yang And Yin

When I was commenting on the fifth paragraph in Poul Anderson's The Game Of Empire (IN Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012), I skipped over an exotic place name because I had already quoted it in a much earlier post but it is worth repeating here. The aquatic vaz-Siravo from the doomed planet Starkad had been settled on Imhotep in "...the Seas of Yang and Yin..." (p. 197). This Chinese reference adds an Oriental touch to the British Raj ambiance that has already been established by the title and the opening sentence.

I should also mention five visual aids on pp. 193-194:

(i) a diagram of the Patrician System, showing the six inner planets, including the two scenes of the action, Imhotep and Daedalus, the asteroid belt and the four outer planets;

(ii) a map of Imhotep, showing Olga's Landing on a northern continent and the Seas of Yang and Yin, which are two inlets on a southern continent;

(iii) a map of Daedalus;

(iv) and (v) maps of two parts of Daedalus where events occur in the novel.

I have skipped past the diagrams and maps on previous readings but this time will refer to them as appropriate. Anderson's Introduction explains that the Patrician planets are named after "...great engineers of legend and history...although just two of them got into the story." (p. 192) We recognize Archimedes and Leonardo if not any of the others.

The Game Of Empire II

The fourth paragraph of Poul Anderson's The Game Of Empire (IN Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, pp. 189-453) informs us that Diana, still with no surname revealed, is homeless. She hides her few possessions in a ruined temple and sleeps there in a sleeping bag when she does not find a doss anywhere else.

She sits on the tower of St Barbara in the middle of the market square in the old quarter of Olga's Landing on the planet Imhotep:

" enjoy the ever-shifting scenes..." (p. 196);
to spy chances to earn credits by guiding newcomers - "Nonhumans were safe." (ibid.);
to run errands or find information for acquaintances who pay with money, meals, a doss etc.

The fifth paragraph, a colorful description of the life in the market square, refers to two intelligent species that we know from earlier in the Technic Civilization series. We learn that Imhotep is where the vaz-Siravo from Starkad were settled and that the Merseians have attacked recently.

The sixth paragraph begins:

"Folk were mainly human..." (p. 197)

- so some were not. Imagine living in such an environment. The human beings, most of whom have never seen Earth, differ in appearance according to the planets that they inhabit. Because of Imhotepan gravity, the locals are "...muscular and never fat." (p. 197) and, if their families have been on the planet for the generations since Olga's Landing was just a scientific base, are usually dark and aquiline.

That gets us to the end of the third page of the text. Unless we pause to savor these details, we miss many of them because we continue reading until the dialogue and action begin.

The Game Of Empire

Two correspondents have explained how the opening and closing sentences of Poul Anderson's The Game Of Empire (IN Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, pp. 189-453) pay homage to Rudyard Kipling. I imagine that the title does as well?

The novel begins:

"She sat on the tower of St Barbara..." (p. 195)

The opening paragraph establishes that this tower is not on Earth by telling us that the sun is called Patricius and that two moons are in the sky. The paragraph closes by telling us that the planet is called Imhotep, that its Mt Horn is twelve kilometers high and that "her people" have modified the climate since coming here.

In the second paragraph, "she" becomes "Diana" as she looks from the old quarter towards the city center where "...the Pyramid ...housed Imperial offices and machinery..." (ibid.) Of course, we already know that this novel is part of a series. Nevertheless, we can study the text to find out how soon it informs us of its relationship, if any, to other works by the same author. Thus, we might at this stage wonder whether these "Imperial offices" indeed represent the Terran Empire of Anderson's Technic Civilization series. At the end of the second paragraph, and of the first page of the text, we learn that the old quarter has:

"...a brawling, polyglot, multiracial population, much of it transient, drifting in and out on the tides of space." (ibid.)

Space has no tides but the metaphor is apposite. We expect interesting things from a varied and variable population.

The third paragraph not only informs us that Imhotep was colonized centuries previously but also refers both to the Troubles and to the Terran Empire, thus unequivocally confirming which fictitious timeline we are in. Also, we learn more about this particular planet, Imhotep, which has not appeared in the series before:

first, there was an exploration base, sometimes threatened by stampeding ice bull herds;
secondly, the planet was threatened by marauders during the Troubles;
thirdly, "...the hand of the Terran Empire reached this far..." (p. 196).

St Barbara's, originally part of the defensive works against ice bulls and marauders, has long since been obsolete, its guns scrapped, its chambers empty, its vine-covered yellow stone crumbling, its neighboring towers demolished and a market square surrounding it. It is " Olga's Landing...," which seems to be the name of the city (ibid.).

We do not yet know who Diana is or why she sits on St Barbara but a lot more information will be imparted before she speaks for the first time in our hearing in the middle of p. 199.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Planet In Space III

Extraordinarily, the mere similarity between the titles A Stone In Heaven and Pebble In The Sky led to yet another comparison between Poul Anderson and Isaac Asimov, repeating points made in earlier posts. It is remarkable that quite a long list of parallels between these authors' future histories can be compiled although the gestalts of the two series are very different.

Another example of such similarity with difference is Perelandra by CS Lewis and A Case Of Conscience by James Blish. Each of these novels is a volume of a theological trilogy and, in each, a Christian and an atheist scientist disagree and argue on a sinless planet... But the differences are far greater.

A Stone In Heaven is certainly an evocative title. Taken literally, it suggests something like the Black Stone of the Kaaba before it fell to Earth, a fitting subject for a mythological fantasy by Anderson. Sometimes, the title of a novel turns out to be a brief phrase used casually in the text of the novel. When the reader comes across the phrase, it gains an additional significance because it is recognized as the title and thus as somehow encapsulating the theme of the novel. I had remembered that the stone in heaven of the title was a planet seen from space but which planet? While rereading the novel, I was looking out for the phrase and wondering if I had missed it.

As it happens, in Baen Books' The Technic Civilization Saga, Volume VII, Flandry's Legacy, pages 1-188 are A Stone In Heaven. Page 171 ends:

"Elaveli [a moon of the planet Ramnu] filled much of the scene, its lighted three-quarters a jumble of peaks, ridges, scarps, clefts, blank plains, long shadows - airless, lifeless,"

and page 172 begins:

"a stone in heaven."

Thus, Elaveli is the titular stone. We turn the page and find our title. But then Flandry reflects on the bright blue Ramnu as a "sapphire" and "a precious jewel" because it holds awareness and because he thinks that his journey here has been his "last expedition..."

So Ramnu is the important planet but Elaveli gains significance because its description becomes the title of the novel.

A Planet In Space II

To continue the comparison:

(i) Poul Anderson's 400 light year diameter Terran Empire a thousand years in our future is like a less implausible version of Isaac Asimov's galaxy-wide Galactic Empire tens of thousands of years hence.

(ii) Asimov wanted a galactic population only to make psychohistorical predictions mathematically accurate, which they wouldn't be anyway. Thus, he gave the impression of millions of planets with identical environments and interchangeable inhabitants whereas Anderson presented variety and complexity in his imagined environments, including even details of planetary masses and orbits and local equivalents of grass.

(iii) Anderson's earliest attempt at a future history had already addressed the Heinleinian themes of a future history with a time chart, the quest for physical immortality and slower than light multi-generation interstellar spaceships and the Asimovian themes of humanoid robots and a practical science of society.

(iv) Asimov's future history was stretched and diluted by the addition of extra volumes by other authors. I used to think that a multi-authored future history would be a good idea and maybe it would be in theory but Heinlein's Future History and Anderson's Technic History each works perfectly with its single author.

For all these reasons, the History of Technic Civilization deserves to be more widely read and better known than the Foundation Trilogy.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Welcome, New Readers

OK, folks. Page views on this blog so far today are 214. The figure has never been over 200 before. I used to think that 50+ was good for a day. Anyone who is new to the blog, please comment. Tell us what you think about Poul Anderson's:

pulp sf;
later sf;
original contributions to time travel fiction;
speculative fiction;
future histories;
historical fiction;
historical fantasy;
heroic fantasy;
retellings of Norse myths;
detective fiction;
contributions to other writers' sf series;
influence on other writers;
contributions to Wellsian and Heinleinian sf;
relationships to William Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling;
any aspects of his life and work that I am unaware of or have not mentioned.

Also, please disagree with everything that I have written so far - except that Poul Anderson is worth reading.

27 June 2013: Yesterday ended with 226 page views and today already has 55 at 6.43 AM. (My "day" starts at 01:00.)

A Planet In Space

What do Pebble In The Sky by Isaac Asimov and A Stone In Heaven by Poul Anderson have in common? They invite comparison because both titles mean "a planet in space."

Each is a futuristic sf novel featuring faster than light interstellar travel through hyperspace and a human interstellar empire that parallels the Roman Empire, even to the extent of, literally, an enthroned Emperor;

each is a single volume of a long future history series;

each of these future histories is an amalgamation of two previously independent series;

thus, each features a pre-Imperial period followed by the long rise, decline and eventual Fall of the Empire;

in both series, a theoretician predicts the Fall and an attempt is made to prepare planetary populations for the subsequent chaos and barbarism;

in both cases, we see something of the post-Imperial period.

The differences are far greater than the similarities:

Anderson writes better prose and novels with better characterization;

Asimov presents a humans only galaxy whereas Anderson imaginatively describes many other intelligent species;

Anderson realizes that even terrestroid planets will not necessarily be places where human beings can simply breathe the air and drink the water etc without needing dietary supplements, environmental modifications etc;

Asimov's hyperspace is an unexplained sf cliche whereas Anderson plausibly rationalizes his as millions of quantum jumps per second;

Anderson understands religion and treats it sympathetically whereas the only religion in Asimov's future history is a cynical social manipulation that has not happened in any real history;

Asimov's Hari Seldon is a mathematician who predicts the Fall because sufficiently large populations are predictable in the way that mechanical interactions between macroscopic objects are predictable despite the randomness of individual particles whereas Anderson's Chunderban Desai is, more plausibly, a student of Terrestrial history;

Anderson applies a real, complex theory of history to his fiction and manages to say something substantial and interesting about how societies change and develop;

Seldon schemes to manipulate society in order to reduce the period of the interregnum whereas Anderson's Flandry, again more plausibly, just tries to prolong the Empire.

Why do I keep dumping on Asimov? Would any Asimov fan like to reply?

Rereading A Stone In Heaven

Currently rereading Poul Anderson's A Stone In Heaven, I have completed Chapters I-VI of XIV. So far, Flandry has conversed with his servant, Chives, his adversary, Cairncross, and our heroine, Miriam/Banner. There has been discussion of Imperial decline and usurpation, Miriam's father who was Flandry's old mentor, Max Abrams, and the curious planet, Ramnu.

There has been one piece of action. Out of sight of Miriam, on the other side of her locked hotel room door, Flandry stunned a man who was trying to kidnap her. Opening the door, she sees a fallen form and a figure in a hooded cloak whom she recognizes as Flandry when he draws back the cowl - an appropriate way for our cloak and dagger (or blaster) hero to make his first appearance to the heroine.

But that piece of action is over in two short paragraphs. We have come a long way from Flandry's early action adventure stories in the magazine Planet Stories. A Stone In Heaven is a serious speculative novel about the future of mankind and about other forms of life.

The Purposes Of The Flandry Series

According to Poul Anderson's Introduction to his novel, The Game Of Empire, the Dominic Flandry series had three purposes:

to entertain;
to convey the endless variety and wonder of the universe;
to provoke thought about history and politics.

(Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 191)

The purpose of this blog is convey that the series succeeds admirably in all three of its purposes. In fact, Anderson's precise wording for his third purpose is " provoke a little thought..." In this, he over-succeeds.

The purpose of this "...coda to the biography of Dominic Flandry..." (ibid.) is to show a new generation taking over the saga, although Anderson did not expect to write a series about this new generation comprising Flandry's daughter and her companions. There was "...too much else to write about."

The Introduction goes on to present some interesting scientific background details about "...Daedalus, the world without a horizon..." (p. 216). Finally, the book is a homage to Rudyard Kipling. Anderson hopes that the first and the final sentence:

"She sat on the tower of St Barbara, kicking her heels from the parapet, and looked across immensity." (p. 195)

"He crossed his hands on his forelegs and smiled, as a being may who is winning salvation for himself and his beloved." (p. 453)

- will raise a few smiles. But, because I am very ignorant of Kipling, I hope that some reader of this blog will be able to elucidate these references?

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Wellsian Vision

Let us consider two basic features of Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization:

colorful, exotic, carefully detailed descriptions of technologically advanced future periods;

the recurrent theme of the rise and fall of civilizations - both van Rijn and, later, Falkayn see that their society is doomed.

These features were reminding me of something else that I had read, in fact not just of a single other work but of an entire literary tradition in science fiction. If we trace that tradition back to its origin, then we come to this passage in the Epilogue of a classic work:

"He, I know - for the question had been discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made - thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so." (HG Wells, The Time Machine, London, 1973, p. 101)

Thus, Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry, living in his powerful but doomed future Empire, follows in the footsteps of HG Wells' Time Traveller, who visited the future but still thought cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind.

Benoni Strang's Grievances

If I had lived on Hermes in David Falkayn's time, then I would certainly have agreed with those who said that the Hermetian social system was long overdue for some radical reform, despite Falkayn's stated preference for aristocracy:

a head of state who must be elected from just one family by members of the other ruling families;

in other public affairs, a pyramidal social hierarchy with multiple votes at the apex, one vote each somewhere in the middle and no votes at the base!

Benoni Strang, a diaffected "Traver" (worker), has genuine grievances. I summarize his account (which may of course be one-sided):

he attended a crowded public school while Kindred children were individually tutored by the best Hermetian teachers;

all the valuable land and resources and key businesses belonged to the domains, the Kindred and their Followers, who opposed any change in case it challenged their privileges;

his fiancee's parents prevented their marriage "'...because a Traver son-in-law would hurt their social standing, would keep them from using her to make a fat alliance -'" (Poul Anderson, Mirkheim, London, 1978, p. 144).

Later, Falkayn comments on Strang:

"'And he's taking this chance to get revenge. Or to right old wrongs, he'd say. Same thing.'" (p. 167)

Not exactly the same thing, David. Whether Strang is motivated by personal resentments and whether his cause is just are two distinct questions. What Strang does do wrong, of course, is to try to enforce his social revolution from the top down and, even worse, to do it with the backing of the orbiting missiles of alien, Baburite, invaders.

It transpires that Strang, with his human co-conspirators, is manipulating the Baburites but this does not lessen the wrong that he does on Hermes. In fact, it means that he is not only oppressing his fellow Hermetians but also exploiting the otherwise inoffensive Baburites.

After all this, Anderson, whose sympathies cannot possibly be with Strang, does make the reader sympathize with him right at the end. Dying in Adzel's arms, he says:

"'Listen. Tell them. Why should you not tell them? You're not human, it's nothing to you. I brought everything about...I, from the first...for the sake of Hermes, only for the sake of Hermes. A new day on this world I love so much...Tell them. Don't let them forget. There will be other days.'" (p. 207)

And social reforms can no longer be halted after the civil war has been lost and won.

How To Film Mirkheim?

(i) Three members of the Polesotechnic League:

Freelady Hanny Lennart, a vice president of Global Cybernetics, one of the Home Companies of the Solar Commonwealth;
Freeman Bayard Story, a director of Galactic Developments, one of the Seven In Space;
Freeman Nicholas van Rijn, owner of the Solar Spice & Liquors Company, the most powerful of the independent companies -

- dine in the Hotel Universe, Lunograd, during a meeting of the League Council.

In any screen dramatization, we should of course see the faces and hear the voices of all three delegates.

(ii) Sandra Tamarin-Asmundesn, Grand Duchess of Hermes, meets Benoni Strang, High Commissioner of Hermes for the Baburite occupation force. We should see the back of Strang's head and hear his voice - like the treatment of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the early James Bond films. Voice and initials might alert viewers to Strang's identity.

(iii) Sandra shows van Rijn's agent, David Falkayn, a tape of her recent conversation with Strang. We should not see the screen. Falkayn yells, asks whether Strang has a twin brother or a double, then explains. While he explains, the camera should pull back so that we do not hear what he is saying.

(iv) Eventually comes the dialogue in which van Rijn affirms the identity of Story and Strang.

(v) When, after fighting on Hermes, Strang dies in Adzel's arms, we should at last see for ourselves that Strang is Story.

I think that this would be very effective as a dramatic sequence in a feature film or TV series. See also here.

Hermes In The Empire

After finishing Poul Anderson's Mirkheim, the only way to continue reading about the planet Hermes is to skip forward to A Stone In Heaven. The first thing we notice is that the Runebergs are yet another of the several families that survive through successive periods of Anderson's Technic History.

In Mirkheim, the Runebergs were one of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Hermes and a member of that family was the Hermetian ambassador to the Solar Commonwealth. In A Stone In Heaven, when Hermes, like many other colonized planets, has come to be ruled by the Terran Empire, Sten Runeberg, consulting engineer and friend of Miriam Abrams, lives with his wife and child (for whom the Runebergs employ a governess) in Starfall, the Hermetian capital city.

We recognize the names of Hermes' sun, Maia, of its main spaceport, Williams Field, and of several other Hermetian locations. From a balcony of the Runeberg's mansion on Pilgrim Hill near the Palomino River, Sten and Miriam see the garden, with its daleflower and roses, trilling tilirra and blinking glowflies, and, beyond that, keeps and spires, Riverside Common, Daybreak Bay and the Auroral Ocean.

I have read A Stone In Heaven more than once not really heeding these details which are in fact strong links back to Mirkheim and yet more evidence that each of the fictitious planets in the Technic History is well realized as a solid location with distinctive features known to generations of its inhabitants.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Mirkheim, Chapter XXI

Two important changes occur, very understatedly, in the concluding chapter of Poul Anderson's Mirkheim (London, 1978). In previous volumes of the Technic History series, Nicholas van Rijn had run the Solar Spice & Liquors Company while his protege, David Falkayn, had, with his fellow trade team members, traveled through space in their ship, Muddlin' Through.

However, these roles are about to be reversed. Now, Falkayn will run Solar Spice & Liquors because van Rijn will be traveling around in Muddlin' Through, trying to hold the Polesotechnic League together after its civil war. This mission is expected to last for several years. Thus, here is yet another entire period of the characters' lives and careers about which a short series of stories could have been written. Van Rijn will:

"'...patch the old garment so it will hold off the coldest winds till those who is close to me has reached a safe port...'" (p. 213)

(This sounds like Dominic Flandry comparing the declining Terran Empire to a late autumn with winter approaching.)

Also holding civilization together on Earth will be van Rijn's illegitimate son Eric representing the planet Hermes, helped and advised by Falkayn. And also conferring to prepare their planets for what is to come will be Falkayn's former traveling companions, Adzel and Chee Lan.

It is only after that that Falkayn will, we know, found the colony on Avalon - his "safe port" - and van Rijn will, we think, lead an expedition outside known space. We would have liked to have seen that.

On The Sunda Strait

Another science fiction writer might have told the same story but with a less rich text. In Poul Anderson's Mirkheim (London, 1978), Chapter XVIII, Hanny Lennart, Special Assistant Minister of Extrasolar Relations for the Solar Commonwealth, and Eric Tamarin, Admiral of the Hermetian Space Navy, discuss the current Babur War over lunch. Minimally, the author could have stated just that they were in a private room of a hotel or restaurant and moved straight to the dialogue, as in a radio play.

Instead, Anderson always attends to - and devotes time and text to - colorful details enhancing the reader's enjoyment:

Eric has chosen the Tjina House, recommended by van Rijn;
twenty one boys lay out the meal and withdraw from the private room, leaving the diners to ring if they want more;
a wall has been retracted to let tropical sea air enter;
it is "...a lovely day along the Sunda Strait..." (p. 182);
multi-colored garden terraces with palms and bamboo descend to the cobalt blue sea where a cargo carrier and sail boats are visible;
there is an unseen flute player;
Eric enjoys beer and curry;
near the bottom of the first page of the chapter, the political discussion begins but we are glad to have seen where the speakers are first!

The Falkayn Domain

Poul Anderson's David Falkayn series comprises:

"The Three-Cornered Wheel"
"A Sun Invisible"
"The Trouble Twisters"
"Day of Burning"
Satan's World

- but another six works, mainly featuring Nicholas van Rijn, are set between the first Falkayn story and the concluding novel. Further, van Rijn, apart from being mentioned in stories in which he does not appear, cameos in "The Trouble Twisters" and is equally on-stage and active in the concluding three works about Falkayn. Thus, Mirkheim is the culmination of both series.

Until Mirkheim, all that we knew about Falkayn was that he was obliged to earn a living because he was a younger son of an aristocratic family on the planet Hermes and therefore wound up leading a trader team for van Rijn. In Mirkheim, David's older brother Michael, Admiral of the Hermetian Space Navy, dies in combat so that David succeeds as head of the family and president of their domain and returns to Hermes.

The gray stone Falkayn manor house, Hornbeck, occupies a plateau on a lower flank of Mount Nivis with forest and snow-covered peaks to the north and west but farm land to the south and east. The domain began in timber and iron, then its enterprises became planetary. Domain lands include a hunting lodge also used by off-duty servants. An independent fisherman, Sam Romney from Longstrands, does most of his business with the Falkayns. David confers with his mother, Athena, who mentions her other married children, John and Vicky.

We learn of the Falkayn domain on Hermes but never see it again after this novel. The universe is changing. David founds the colony on Avalon and, in the next Technic History series story, "Wingless," his son, van Rijn's great-grandson, Nicholas Falkayn, speaks with his son, Nat, on Avalon. Later again, in The People Of The Wind, we encounter another descendant, Tabitha Falkayn, on Avalon. And that is as much as we learn about the Falkayns in the History.

God's Gifts

"'The troublemakers, they are those what are not contented with God's gifts of good food, drink, music, women, profit. No, they bring on misery because they must play at being God themselves, they will be our Saviors with a capital ass.'"
-Nicholas van Rijn in Poul Anderson, Mirkheim, London, 1978, p. 102.

I disagree with van Rijn on a few points. Good food, drink, music and profit are not given by God but produced by humanity. Profit is created when commodities, including labour power, are bought and sold at their value. Thus, van Rijn's employees sell their labour power at its value, then produce more than that value.

"No system that mortals devise is perfect; all break their share of lives." (p. 104)

"Troublemakers," so called, are often not those who play God but those who protest when they lose out economically because of decisions taken elsewhere. I participated in a demonstration outside a closed print works. A policeman pushing back a demonstrator said in exasperation, "Why don't you just go home?" to which the demonstrator replied, "I don't want to go home! I want to be in there! I've lost my job, do you know what that means?"

Van Rijn is right that such men can be misled by "Saviors" but, meanwhile, many of the unemployed do not have van Rijn's access to good food, drink or profit. If I saw these things as God's gifts, then I would have to say that God was not handing them out equitably.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Nicholas Van Rijn, Philosopher?

In Poul Anderson's Mirkheim (London, 1978), Nicholas van Rijn's granddaughter struggles to explain the history of the Polesotechnic League. Van Rijn comments:

"'You remind me of the final examination in the philosophy class, my dear...The single question was, "Why?" You got an A if you answered, "Why not?" You got a B if you answered, "Because." Any other answer got a C.'" (p. 132)

Van Rijn is a Master Merchant, Polesotechnic League. I am a philosophy graduate. I think that the A answer should be, "Why what?" "Why - ?" without any content after the "Why" is not a complete question so cannot have an answer.

If the question means "Why does anything exist?", then perhaps this question is as meaningless and unanswerable as "Where is everything?" Any one part of existence is either located or explained by its relationships to other parts so the question becomes pointless if applied to everything. I think.

In that case, maybe "Why not?" is not too bad an answer. Chinese philosophy has the idea of a void from which everything comes. Hegel argued that the most abstract thesis and antithesis, being and nothing, are identical. Modern physics has particles continually beginning and ceasing in empty space.

Rig Veda says, "That god who sees in highest heaven, he alone knows. Or perhaps he knows not."

From History To Legend And Myth

A fictitious character can become famous or notorious both in our world and in his. Thus, we read about Sherlock Holmes in works of fiction by Arthur Conan Doyle whereas inhabitants of the Holmesian universe read about him in their newspapers or in narratives of questionable accuracy by John Watson. The obituary for James Bond in You Only Live Twice reveals that some of Bond's exploits had received publicity and that a former friend and colleague had written highly inaccurate popular accounts of them, thus cleverly and amusingly accounting for some glaring inconsistencies between the earlier and later volumes of the series.

When interned on the hostile planet of Babur, Poul Anderson's character, David Falkayn, is told:

"'Maybe you imagine being famous will protect you. Well, forget that. You're a long ways off into a territory that doesn't care a good goddamn about your reputation.'" (Mirkheim, London, 1978, p. 74)

When Eric Tamarin receives a letter from his father, Nicholas van Rijn, he thinks:

"Old Nick himself...You hear stories about him throughout space as if he were already a myth..." (p. 127).

When they meet, van Rijn introduces a middle aged man to Eric:

"'Here is David Falkayn, you heard about him after the Shenna affair...'" (p. 130)

Eric reflects that:

"Van Rijn's visage [is] sharply remembered from documentary shows a decade ago following the Shenna business..." (p. 131)

Thus, van Rijn is a public figure on civilized planets and a hero of stories told in space. Such a figure can become a character in historical fictions such as those we read in Anderson's Technic History. In fact, he does. The story "Esau," starring Emil Dalmady and featuring van Rijn, which we read in Baen Books' The Van Rijn Method, was written by Dalmady's daughter, Judith, published in the magazine Morgana on David Falkayn's colony planet of Avalon and later collected in The Earth Book Of Stormgate by Hloch of the Stormgate Choth on Avalon.

Thus, we read not necessarily a fully accurate account of Dalmady's meeting with van Rijn but the account that was read by Avalonians a couple of generations later.

Know Your Enemy V

Recently, I reread some passages of Poul Anderson's Satan's World, then of his Mirkheim (London, 1978), because I wanted information about Nicholas van Rijn's adversary, Edward Garver. However, I soon got back into rereading Mirkheim from cover to cover because it is such a concentrated piece of the Technic History and the real turning point of the entire series.

In "Lodestar," Chee Lan refers to "the Terran Empire" as a possible (worse) replacement for the Solar Commonwealth and the Polesotechnic League. I now think that "Lodestar" should appear near the end of an omnibus collection to be entitled Decline Of The Polesotechnic League and that Mirkheim should appear, as indeed it does in Baen Books The Technic Civilization Saga, at the beginning of an omnibus entitled Rise Of The Terran Empire. The descent into the Troubles preceding the Empire, that Indian Summer of Technic civilization, begins here.

Meanwhile, to summarize on Garver - like Flandry and Tachwyr, both of whom we meet later, he rises in rank or status each time he appears or is mentioned:

director of the Lunar Federal Centrum of Security and Law Enforcement;
Lunograd delegate to the Parliament of the Solar Commonwealth;
Minister of Security for the Solar Commonwealth.

Thus, his Ministry combines his former directorship of Security with his later Membership of Parliament. He passionately hates van Rijn as an archetype of everything to be abominated in the League. We are to understand that bad things do happen in the League:

"Many grudges were genuine...Reckless exploitation of societies and natural resources...introduction of modern technologies to backward races...irresponsibly, for a quick credit..." (pp. 104-105)

- although we also learn not to identify van Rijn with such practices. But he would have wanted to use Mirkheim merely to enrich himself further if Falkayn had not persuaded him otherwise.

How would I respond to the League if I were a contemporary of Garver? Here are three things not to do:

seek election to Parliament;
strengthen the state;
waste mental energy by investing it in personal hatred of van Rijn or of any other League merchant.

Many Anderson readers would probably want to join a trader team. This would not suit me unless, improbably, the crew included a full time academic whose sole role was to analyze and compare xeno languages, political systems and religions. (Perhaps I would have fitted better into the Grand Survey period.)

Below are a few things that I might try to do as a citizen of the Solar Commonwealth.

(i) Seek a well salaried post in public service, not in the private sector.

(ii) Campaign against particular abuses and injustices. Would such campaigns be among the "...exciting causes..." of which Anderson is rather dismissive? (p. 104)

(iii) Campaign also for a more cooperative and communal approach to economic and social life (an even more exciting cause!) with the understanding, first, that such a movement, if it gained any momentum, would be opposed by powerful invested interests, secondly that, in adverse circumstances, it could all too easily degenerate into just another bureaucracy and thirdly that the only way to prevent bureaucratic degeneration is for a movement to remain under the control of its members whose ideas might diverge from those of its founders. Thus can the founders be prevented from becoming "'...our Saviors with a capital ass...,'" in van Rijn's phrase. (p. 102)

(iv) Alternatively, join an expedition to found an extrasolar colony on radically different principles. This was the sort of thing that happened during the earlier period of the Breakup.

(v) Organize trade unions? This job needs to be done but I would prefer to leave it to those with more appropriate temperaments and aptitudes. I have had all too much experience of how union leaders and their employees can become bureaucrats contemptuous of their members. It is probably inevitable that trade unions reflect the society of which they are part. Since unions are merely defensive organizations, they are, like parliamentary parties, part of the status quo, not a way to anything better.

(vi) Support the Supermetals Company (if we knew its back story)?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

War And Peace

Poul Anderson excels at descriptions of nature and of seasonal changes. Throughout Mirkheim (London, 1978), he continually contrasts the peaceful natural beauty of the planet Hermes with the threatened technological warfare to be waged from space.

The Duchess and her son discuss the approaching invaders in a low lit room with three sources of illumination visible through the open French window to the balcony:

the nearby city, hidden by the garden wall, lights the sky and a few steeples;
dew reflects both moons, nearly full;
air car lamps resemble "...many-colored glowflies." (p.113)

There are two other reasons to leave the window open:

"...the odor of daleflower and the trills of a tilirra." (ibid.)

The two moons, the daleflower and the tilirra remind us that the setting is an exotic planet. The air cars remind us that the period is an advanced technological future. Preoccupied Hermetians would take for granted the spectacular sight of a night sky illuminated by multi-colored air car lights whereas the ruling family hopefully has sufficient leisure to appreciate it - except when threatened by imminent invasion and occupation.

We would like to be able to look up at night to see direct evidence of human activity in space even if for many of us it soon became all too familiar and taken for granted.

The Council Of Hiawatha

Pages 103-107 of Poul Anderson's Mirkheim (London, 1978) summarize the Polesotechnic League's turning point Council of Hiawatha. It is impossible for me to summarize these pages here because they are already a highly condensed summary. I would be obliged simply to transcribe the entire three and a half page passage.

Anderson writes so skillfully that it is difficult for the reader to discern exactly where things went wrong at the Council. There are different points of view. Hotheads who want to resort to arms against the new interventionist legislative measures of the Solar Commonwealth government are shouted down but a boycott of the Commonwealth would be expensive, even ruinous. The laws are not all bad. Some are favorable to trade. By acquiescing within the Solar System, the League remains influential and can modify the legislation.

But the long term result is two cartels, the Home Companies entwined with the Solar government and the Seven in Space controlling extrasolar governments. A century later, there is civil war. What should the League have done at Hiawatha, from the Anderson/van Rijn point of view? Neither revolted nor acquiesced but continued to operate independently even if this had involved moving further out into space at that stage as van Rijn eventually does by leaving known space and Falkayn does by founding the colony on Avalon?

The speakers who are not heeded are those who argue for standing by the League principle of liberty. For me, the hero of the series is Falkayn who gives Mirkheim to the poorer planets and founds Avalon.

Starfall On Hermes

If human beings do ever cross interstellar distances and colonize extrasolar planets, then inhabit them for centuries, then they will build cities that become the homes of many generations of individuals. Poul Anderson shows this happening many times in his History of Technic Civilization.

Sandra Tamarin, returning by air to Starfall, first sees the city dark against the brightness of Daybreak Bay, then discerns details:

the red brick Mayory;
St Carl's Church spire;
the Hotel Zeus on Phoenix Boulevard;
flowers around Elvander's statue in Riverside Common;
dense traffic and busy terrace cafes on Constitution Square;
Jackboot Lane where she in her youth had drunk like generations before her in the Ranger's Roost tavern;
Pilgrim Hill with its trees, gardens, Signal Station, Old Keep and New Keep where Sandra now resides as Grand Duchess of Hermes.

All of this is centuries old and as solid and substantial as any Terrestrial city, yet could be destroyed by nuclear bombardment. Anderson makes us see what Sandra and her generation would lose if that were to happen. 

The Thirtieth Century And Later

(For convenience, I refer to dates as given in Sandra Miesel's Chronology of Technic Civilization although it may be necessary to revise these dates slightly. In particular, Dominic Flandry might belong in the thirty second century rather than the thirty first.)

In Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, the twenty fifth and the thirty first are the only two centuries in which more than one or two works are set. The thirty first has seven novels and eight shorter works of different lengths, including one that could count as a short novel, set during the lifetime of Dominic Flandry. After that, there are only four works set in widely separated centuries of the further future. Their dates as given in Sandra Miesel's Chronology can only be guesses.

Although van Rijn's century, the twenty fifth, and Flandry's, the thirty first (or thirty second), total thirty one works between them, that still leaves twelve works set in earlier, intermediate or later centuries. Thus, a continuous historical thread links:

the twenty first century to van Rijn;
van Rijn to Flandry;
Flandry to the further future.

A greater story emerges from the many individual stories. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Anderson realized this while writing and planned subsequent works accordingly.

The Twenty Fifth To The Thirtieth Centuries

By contrast with earlier centuries, the twenty fifth is crowded with sixteen works of different lengths from "Margin of Profit," which introduces Nicholas van Rijn, to Mirkheim, which is the sunset for van Rijn and his companions. This century ends with van Rijn's protege, David Falkayn, leading the colonization of Avalon, although there is no story about Falkayn himself on Avalon.

The twenty sixth century has one story about Falkayn's grandson on an Avalonian island and a second about other colonists on an Avalonian continent. Miesel's Chronology informs us that Nyanza is colonized and the Polesotechnic League dissolved in this century.

The twenty seventh century is the Time of Troubles and the end of the Commonwealth. In the single story set in this century, "The Star Plunderer," Manuel Argos leads a slave revolt and announces that he will found the Terran Empire. That Empire annexes Ansa in the twenty eighth century but fails to annex Avalon in the twenty ninth century and agrees the Covenant of Alfzar with Merseia in the thirtieth century.

So far we have seen:

21st C one story;
22nd C one story;
23rd C no stories;
24th C one story;
25th C thirteen short stories and three novels;
26th C two stories;
27th C one story;
28th C one story;
29th C one novel;
30th C no stories.

However, some inconsistencies in Sandra Miesel's Chronology might affect the information presented here.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Twenty Second, Twenty Third And Twenty Fourth Centuries

"22nd C  The discovery of hyperdrive makes interstellar travel feasible early in the twenty-second century. The Breakup sends humans off to colonize the stars, often to preserve cultural identity or to try a social experiment. A loose government called the Solar Commonwealth is established.
"Hermes is colonized."
-Sandra Miesel, Chronology of Technic Civilization IN Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method, New York, 2009, p. 612.

Only one story, "Wings of Victory," about first contact with Ythri, is set in the twenty second century. Miesel's Chronology note for this story reads:

"The Grand Survey from Earth discovers alien races on Ythri, Merseia, and many other planets." (ibid.)

- and some of those other planets are named in "Wings of Victory."

Mirkheim informs us that the Breakup made the O'Neill colonies obsolete but that the colonies remained in their orbits and that the companion habitats called Hiawatha and Minnehaha still held working populations at the time of the Polesotechnic League Council of Hiawatha two centuries later.

Thus, Technic civilization begins in the twenty first century and the Solar Commonwealth in the twenty second. Several other major features of the later League period also begin in the twenty second century:

extrasolar colonies, including Hermes;
contact with Ythrians, Mersians and other races.

According to the Chronology, the League is founded as a space merchants' mutual protection society and the planets Aeneas and Altai are colonized in the twenty third century and the planet later called Avalon is explored in the twenty fourth century. No story is set in the twenty third century and only "The Problem of Pain," about the exploration of Gray/Avalon, is set in the twenty fourth century.

Thus, to summarize the History so far:

21st C "The Saturn Game"; Technic civilization.
22nd C "Wings of Victory"; Breakup; Commonwealth; Grand Survey.
23rd C  League.
24th C "The Problem of Pain"; Gray/Avalon.

Four centuries; three short stories; no story about the founding of the League.

The League must have been founded at some time but I am not sure how we know that this happened in the twenty third century? As far as I am aware, "The Problem of Pain" does not mention it.

The Twenty First Century

"The Technic Civilization series...begins in the twenty-first century, with recovery from a violent period of global unrest known as the Chaos. New space technologies ease Earth's demand for resources and energy permitting exploration of the Solar system."

Sandra Miesel, Chronology of Technic Civilization IN Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method, New York, 2012, p. 611.

Only one story, "The Saturn Game," (pp. 1-73) is set in the twenty first century and it describes exploration of the outer Solar System by fleets of spaceships although it also reveals that there is an Apollo University in a city called Leyburg on Luna, the Moon, in 2057. (Willy Ley was a real world pioneer of space exploration.)

Mirkheim reveals further that, in the twenty first century:

space habitats called the O'Neill colonies were constructed in Lunar orbit sixty degrees ahead of or behind the Moon, at the Lagrangian points;
whole new industries flourished within the colonies;
such industries revived free enterprise;
this revival thoroughly transformed economics, thought and life;
meanwhile, diverse Terrestrial societies merged;
the economic, social revival and the cultural merging together generated a new, "Technic," civilization.

In the twenty second century, a further change occurred, faster than light interstellar travel.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Surface Of Mirkheim

Mirkheim, the supermetal-coated remnant of a giant planet of a massive star that went supernova, is unlit by any sun so might resemble a rogue planet except that its surface is:

not covered by dust or frozen atmosphere;
not cratered;
metallic, hard, blank, dimly shining, almost mirror-like;
in some places, fantastically ridged and corrugated by congealed moltenness;
with five Terrestrial gravities and enough radioactivity to kill in weeks.

Rogue planets, which feature in more than one work by Anderson, are sunless because they move through interstellar space. Mirkheim, which appears in a short story and a novel, is sunless because its sun exploded a long time ago. Sunlessness suggests sameness but Anderson takes the trouble to imagine the differences, as summarized above.

Shortly before Sandra Tamarin visits Mirkheim, David Falkayn has visited the sub-Jovian Babur. Thus, although Anderson describes many beautiful humanly colonized planets like Hermes, Avalon and Dennitza, he also envisages planetary surfaces that are as inhospitable as space itself and also shows us what his characters see when they explore such places.

Living beings venture to Mirkheim not to live there but to mine the supermetals which are so valuable that a war is fought over them.

Falkayn Remembers...

While fleeing and in imminent danger of death, David Falkayn remembers...

In such a passage, the author can both give us new information about the character and remind us of what we have already read. Poul Anderson does both. Here, he lists no less than fifteen of Falkayn's memories. Six of these are about his wife, Coya. I will quote only the last two:

"...the splendor of an Ythrian on the wing, Coya bringing him sandwiches and coffee when he sat far into a nightwatch studying the data readouts on a new world the ship was circling..." (Mirkheim, London, 1978, pp. 81-82).

If we have read the Technic History in order, then we find that reference to a flying Ythrian extremely evocative. This is indeed one of the splendors of the History. The last memory is tantalizing because it refers to a quiet moment during the five year period when Coya had joined the trader team of Falkayn, Adzel and Chee Lan. No stories are set during this period. It occurs off-stage during the concluding sections of the extended Prologue to Mirkheim. We would like to read a collection of stories set during the period but, if Anderson had presented simply a linear series about the team, then he would never have got around to showing us the League's decline and its aftermath in later years.


"Still below the horizon, Maia, sun of Hermes, made the tops of steeples and towers in Starfall shine as if gilded." (Poul Anderson, Mirkheim, London, 1978, p. 35)

And Starfall is also the name of a provincial community on the planet Dayan (Anderson, Flandry's Legacy, New York, 2012, p. 43).

When Anderson wrote A Stone In Heaven (collected in Flandry's Legacy), did he forget that he had already placed a "Starfall" on Hermes? (Addendum, 2 Sept 2017: No, because the Hermetian Starfall is also named in A Stone In Heaven.) In any case, it is a place name that is likely to be used more than once.

Both of these passages merit rereading, and quoting, at greater length - but a series of posts on Anderson's works cannot comprise endless quotations. I can only refer page viewers to the works themselves. Maia, rising from Daybreak Bay, shines westward over the Palomino River and down Olympic Avenue to Pilgrim Hill. From her balcony, the Duchess looks down to the bay and the Auroral Ocean while a colorful, singing nidiflex flies past.

And Miriam Abrams, remembering the Starfall of Dayan, views the towers of Archopolis, knowing that they are just one part of a single city stretching around Terra...

Merseians, Wodenites And Baburites

In many of Poul Anderson's novels, there is maybe one chapter or passage of condensed information that defines the theme of the novel. Mirkheim is equally condensed from cover to cover.

Several Merseians of the aristocratic party enlist in the Baburite Space Navy because of their dislike for the Polesotechnic League. Here is the later conflict between the Merseian Roidhunate and the Terran Empire in embryo.

Captain Nadi of the Supermetals Company is yet another Wodenite. Thus, we see at least four members of this species - in the League period, Adzel and Nadi; in the Imperial period, Hugh McCormac's former comrade in arms and Fr Axor.

Babur is sub-Jovian: solid water; seas and rain of liquid ammonia; atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Yet there is a solid surface with mountains of ice, volcanoes of exploding ice, destructive winds (landing spaceships must be protected in silos), murky colors, low, black-leaved trees and leviathan animals. This is how Jupiter was imagined in earlier sf, including in some earlier works by Anderson.

Falkayn can scarcely differentiate the caterpillar-centaur-lobster-shaped Baburites from their draft animals and wonders whether a Baburite would detect as little difference between a man and a horse. Thus, Anderson conviningly conveys an alien environment and its inhabitants.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Some Important Organizations

Poul Anderson's Mirkheim (London, 1978) informs us, on p. 34, that "Esau" is set about thirty years earlier than the novel, which makes me re-revise where I think that that short story should fit in the History of Technic Civilization series.

Meanwhile, it might be helpful to list some of the main players in Mirkheim.

The Polesotechnic League
The Home Companies
The Seven In Space
The Independents

The Home Companies
Global Cybernetics
General Atomistics
Unity Communications
Terran Synthetics
Planetary Biologicals

The Dominant Unions
United Technicians
Service Industries Workers
The Commonwealth Scientific Association

The Seven In Space
Galactic Developments
XT Systems
Interstar Transport
Sanchez Engineering
Stellar Metals
Timebinders Insurance
Abdallah Enterprises

The Independents
The Solar Spice & Liquors Company
Danstrup Cargo Carriers
Sinbad Prospecting
The Society of Venturers

Planetary Governments
The Solar Commonwealth
The Grand Duchy of Hermes
The Autarchy of United Babur

The Supermetals Company Member Planets
some Cynthian societies

We know of all the named Supermetals member planets and Galactic Developments' head office is on Germania which becomes important later. I would expect to be employed by a Commonwealth Department like Education and to be a member of the Service Industries Workers Union.

Nicholas van Rijn, Star of Solar Spice

Nicholas van Rijn is a life long actor. We could almost call him a professional actor since it is part of how he makes a buck. He is continually playing a role:

"Van Rijn's image in the screen rolled eyes piously in the direction of heaven...

"Van Rijn spread his hands in a gesture of horror. 'You speak so crass in this terrible matter? What are you, anyways?'" (Mirkheim, London, 1978, p. 27)

This perpetual dramatic performance is not dishonesty. The reader and the other characters soon realize that it is how he self-expresses and communicates.

He is renowned for his malapropisms. I think that the best is in this passage in Mirkheim. Persuading Chee Lan to embark on a new expedition (or exploration) he refers to it as "'...a daring exploitation...'" (ibid., p. 27)

"With lamentation by him and scorn by her and much enjoyment on both sides, the fee was haggled out for a service which might be dangerous and certainly would not yield a monetary return." (p. 27)

The "enjoyment" makes clear that the "lamentation" is more acting. There is no direct monetary return from, hopefully, preventing a war but, of course, peace is better for business, or at least for the kind of business that van Rijn runs. He sells drinks, not guns.

He is, to quote the title of the first novel in which he had appeared, "The Man Who Counts," the one who knows how to motivate others to do whatever needs to be done. Thus:

"She insisted that Adzel be paid the same...Van Rijn admitted what she had suspected, that Adzel had been recruited by a shameless appeal to his sense of duty." (p. 27)

Sure, but Chee Lan is motivated by money and Adzel by duty so van Rijn knows how to do business and knows what he is doing.

Mirkheim, Chapter I

In my edition of Poul Anderson's Mirkheim (London, 1978), the pagination starts, as it should, on the first page of the text, not earlier. Thus, the extended, nine part, Prologue occupies pp. 1-22 and Chapter I begins on p. 23.

As always, Anderson instantly immerses his readers in a detailed, well realized, future. The pontoon city, Delfinburg, slowly crosses the Philippine Sea. Above the streets of the pleasure district, at the starboard edge of a leading pontoon, the roof garden of Gondwana House presents views of both city and ocean. By day, the ocean ahead is often crowded with boats. At night, there are lights from fish herders and, in the tropics, from ships pumping minerals up to the plankton beds.

In the garden, flowers and shrubs surround the dance floor where the live orchestra plays music of the Classical Revival. The Falkayns retire to an offside bar, then to a secluded place at the outer rail. We learn that Coya's several years of membership of the trader team have begun and ended between the Prologue and Chapter I and that both have retired because the example of an older, more hedonistic generation has shown them that children need stability.

We learn that war might soon break out, as we did on the first page of The People Of The Wind. There is no better way to communicate a sense of urgency at the beginning of a novel. In response, van Rijn is re-assembling the old team...