Monday, 30 March 2015

"Beyond The Fields We Know"

A key theme of this blog is that Poul Anderson's works are comparable to those of many better known authors of both fantasy and sf. I need not list the names yet again.

However, I have also acknowledged the limits of my own knowledge. In particular, I have not kept up with more recent sf. Consequently, I am grateful to the correspondent who advised me to check out the works of SM Stirling, whom I now regard as a worthy successor of Anderson.

In fantasy, comparisons can probably be made with Terry Pratchett except that I have never got into Discworld so let me now invite comments and contributions from any page viewers who are fans of that humorous fantasy series. I can think of two probable points of contact:

Anderson describes many real or imaginary cities (Ys, York, Amsterdam, Archopolis, Ardaig, Starfall etc) - Pratchett presents Ankh-Morpork (see image);

Anderson's Cappen Varra stories are humorous fantasies and part of the shared "Thieves' World" series.

These observations have been prompted by someone remarking on facebook that Ankh-Morpork is partly based on the City District of Lancaster and Morecambe (L-ANC-aster and MOR-ecambe) where I live. Pratchett indeed had local connections and there are reasons why, e.g., "the Unseen University" might be an appropriate ironic description of Lancaster University. Also, that does look like our River Lune on the map.

Last post for March, folks. Round numbers and all that.

Sunday, 29 March 2015


(SIS = Secret Intelligence Service or Swedish Internal Security.)

I have frequently compared Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization with other science fiction future histories. However, its Dominic Flandry sub-series can also be compared with other spy fiction. In the latter genre, my four authorities are Ian Fleming, John Le Carre and Fredrick Forsyth (for both, see here) and Stieg Larsson.

Correspondent Sean M Brooks found a prima facie contradiction in the Flandry series. See here. Although the Terran Empire had acquired intelligence about the telepathic abilities of the Merseian agent, Aycharaych, the top Terran agent Flandry was later completely taken aback to learn about these abilities from Aycharaych himself. The "earlier" novel, in which the Empire acquired this intelligence, was written later. Therefore, arguably, the "later" story should then have been rewritten to edit out Flandry's total surprise.

Sean later came up with a solution: Terran Intelligence was so obsessed with secrecy and in particular with preventing the Merseians from finding out what they knew that they even prevented their own field operatives from knowing it!

Larsson shows us one section of Swedish Intelligence concealing itself from all others. The SIS Section for Special Analysis (SSA):

has a handful of members and a budget so small that it seems to cover only some routine matter;
conceals its offices on one entire floor of a residential block nowhere near SIS HQ and even conceals its very existence from the current chief of SIS;
has some agents covertly working in the SIS outer office unknown to each other;
uses unauthorized surveillance and phone taps to spy on all SIS personnel, however high in the organization;
tried unsuccessfully to prove that a Social Democratic Prime Minister was a KGB agent;
also spent years investigating other Social Democratic politicians;
contributed to forming and funding the "Democratic Alliance" organization described by its critics as extremely right-wing;
employs three members of this organization and recruited a fourth through it;
employs this recruit to reinforce SSA investigation of foreign citizens as against Immigration Division;
answers only to the assistant chief of the Secretariat of the Security Police, an individual who has been on the SSA staff for ten years;
handles a Russian defector and covers up his criminal activities, silencing one of his victims by getting a psychiatrist to diagnose her as insane.

It is to be hoped that Terran Intelligence is free from such practices!

World Designers

Never underestimate the explanatory power of natural selection. For Poul Anderson on "Science and Creation," see here. Even when I was at University, I still thought that organisms must have been designed and I have discussed natural selection with people who clearly did not understand that:

individuals best able to survive in a given environment live longer and breed more, thus bequeathing pro-survival genes to more members of succeeding generations and changing their species in the process;

one quadruped population becomes longer-legged by evading predators whereas another such population becomes longer-necked by grazing trees, to grossly over-simplify.

Characters in some works of science fiction find evidence of design on different cosmic levels:

in Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos, inhabitants of at least one universe can directly contact either the Creator or his Adversary;

in Anderson's Genesis, the failure of rockets in an AI emulation is evidence for the artificiality of the emulated environment although its inhabitants have no way to deduce this and may even be deactivated at any moment;

in CS Lewis' Perelandra, Elwin Ransom meets the Venerian Adam and Eve;

in Carl Sagan's Contact, computations of the value of pi disclose that the numbers after the decimal point display a pattern that conveys a message;

in Arthur C Clarke's The City And The Stars, a civilization powerful enough to move heavenly bodies has constructed a circular constellation to communicate to any other space travelers, "We are here;"

in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, everyone who has died on Earth is resurrected on another planet that has been designed or redesigned to accommodate them;

SM Stirling's The Sky People (New York, 2006), set on Venus, contains the following dialogue:

Marc: "'You don't mean the aliens-did-it stuff, eh?'"
Cynthia: "'You got a better explanation? And that explains a lot - how Venus has a fossil record that ends two hundred million years ago, and how you've got dinosaurs and people together at the same time. This place isn't a naturally living planet at all: it's a terrarium, a zoo. An experimental station.'" (p. 201)

However, as yet, our universe displays no such signs of cosmic engineering - no radio messages, Dyson spheres, artifacts moving at near light speed etc.


SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

On Venus, pterosaurs (see image) - not pterodactyls - attack the Vepaja. How many sf writers present dinosaurs surviving into the present? For example, James Blish wrote The Night Shapes. Poul Anderson has characters encountering dinosaurs but that is because they have time traveled, in "Wildcat" and "The Nest."

Marc keeps noticing oddities about the Englishman but does not draw conclusions from them. The reader has been informed that the supposed Englishman is in fact a French spy. Was the author right to inform us of this or should he instead have left us to draw conclusions from the oddities? Or is he preparing us for some other surprise? I am unwise to speculate while still reading.

Words That I Either Have Not Encountered Before Or At Least Was Unsure Of Their Meanings
tumpline (p. 138)
abatis (p. 180)
Ainu (p. 185)

A Clever Invented Word
Venus grows sham bamboo, thus shamboo.

Literature In Alternative History
Marc has often reread At The Earth's Core and A Princess Of Mars (p. 180). So have some of us but the point here is that many more people would do so if it turned out that ERB's fictional Solar System was closer to the truth.

I noticed some perhaps unintended parallels between Anderson's Aeneas and ERB's Barsoom. See here.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Short Series With Large Implications

As previously discussed, several "series" by Poul Anderson consist of just two works. In some such cases, there is a novel and a shorter prequel or sequel that can be, and sometimes has been, included in the same volume as a later edition of the novel. Thus, a novel can inspire a further idea that need not be treated at the same length.

I have found this same pattern twice so far in the works of SM Stirling whom I regard as a worthy successor of Anderson:

The Peshawar Lancers has a prequel;
the second Lords of Creation novel also has a prequel.

Each of these prequels was published in a themed anthology of original stories, the themes respectively being alternative histories and fictional versions of Mars. Thus, in each of these cases, an sf fan might want to read the Stirling novel and the anthology or just the works by Stirling. At present, I am half way through the first Lords of Creation novel.

The possibility exists that all of Stirling's alternative history novels could come to be connected as occurring in different universes of the same multiverse, just as the Old Phoenix Inn links four novels and two short stories by Anderson. Whether or not the various histories are explicitly connected, the idea of their coexistence remains implicit in the concept of divergent timelines.

Addendum: See here.

Friday, 27 March 2015


Poul Anderson has Cloud People passing through Beringia in 13,212 BC in the Time Patrol timeline whereas SM Stirling has Cloud Mountain People on Venus in 1988 AD of an alternative timeline. There is probably no direct connection. I had to check to find that one People has a Cloud Mountain whereas the other just has a Cloud.

In Stirling's The Sky People (New York, 2006), a priest inciting a riot against Terrans photographing in a temple screeches:

"'Look!...It is true what the other one said! The imiAmerican steal away the image of your God!'" (p. 98)

Neither then nor later (at least as far as p. 129) do Marc or his companions question the use of the phrase, "...the other one...," although this is a clear clue to treachery by a fellow Terran. However, I might not have spotted the clue had the reader not already received privileged information about the presence of a spy in the Allied ranks.

This post addresses clouds both literal and metaphorical.

At present, I am following three fictional narratives:

SM Stirling's The Lords of Creation series;
the Smallville TV series, where the characters have just celebrated Thanksgiving;
Stieg Larsson's Trilogy, where we have just had an almost literal resurrection by the title character.

As I remarked in a recent post, an embarrassment of riches. I might read some of Larsson's Volume III this evening and watch more Smallville later but I trust that readers of this blog are being kept supplied with sufficiently interesting observations on Anderson's, and now Stirling's, works - and also, I hope, reading or rereading the works in question.

More ERBian Allusions

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

See here.

If Marc had called his greatwolf pup not Nobs but Woola, then the ERBian reference would have been unmistakable since Woola was John Carter's calot.

One of the Allied blimps on Venus is called the Vepaja which sounds Indian and therefore made me think of The Peshawar Lancers, where dirigibles are also used, although I did not immediately google "Vepaja." However, the Vepaja's sister-ship is the Duare and that is recognizably ERBian, the equivalent of saying "Dejah Thoris" in a Martian/Barsoomian context. I did then google "Vepaja" and was reminded of its meaning, while also learning that it has a different significance for Doctor Who. Sf writers might consciously or unconsciously copy words from earlier works.

It is authentic that, if space explorers found a habitable and inhabited Venus, then they would use ERBian terminology while exploring it. One fiction appropriately refers to another. Surprisingly, I remember some parallels between Poul Anderson and ERB but not any direct references by the former to the latter.

Terrans, Venusians And Spoilers

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

Terrans meet Venusians. (My computer recognizes neither of those nouns.) I would prefer to write that Earthmen or Terrestrials meet Venerians but must quote the terminology used in the particular text that I am reading. (My computer recognizes neither "Earthmen" nor "Venerians.")

"Terran" is a piece of jargon exclusive to sf (I think?) although Poul Anderson invested it with considerable authority by writing about a Terran Empire. However, his "Terran" is a translation from Anglic and can equally be rendered as "Terrestrial." Further, his Empire began as a conventional setting for pulp space opera but became instead the subject of serious speculation about the decline of civilizations. See here. Thus, Anderson transformed the Terran Empire - just as Alan Moore changed the Swamp Thing from a conventional monster to a plant elemental and also changed Marvelman from a conventional superhero to a Nietzschean Messiah. Creative writers transform received ideas, either avoiding cliches or changing them into their opposites.

"Venusian" is like "Marsian" or "Jupiterian," not taking into account the Latin roots; Vener-, Mart-, Jov-. (Although I critique some of Stirling's terminological usages, his contributions to alternative history fiction are highly original, as I hope these posts show.)

I post as I read, taking us well into Spoiler Alert territory.

(i) Excruciatingly Etonian Christopher turns out to be French spy, Christophe. (We can usually rely on humanity to export its imperialisms.)

(ii) We are told that there are Martians as well as Venusians (p. 93).

(iii) We learn that one group of natives has access to higher tech and, as part of this, we read something that reminds us of The Peshawar Lancers:

"'The Cave Master can show you what has been, and what will be - and what might be.'" (p. 91)

Indeed. An alternative history fiction can merely be set inside an alternative history or can also refer to alternative histories. The Sky People has begun to do the latter.

Living History

Although science fiction is mainly about the future, history also plays a major role in the works of sf writers, Poul Anderson, James Blish and SM Stirling, so, before turning in tonight, let me list a few of the ways that we still live with history.

Richard III fought in the English civil wars called the Wars of the Roses and became a hunchbacked character in Shakespeare's historical canon. When it was deduced where Richard might be buried, a car park was dug up and a deformed skeleton was found. Richard's living descendants were identified and their DNA matched the skeleton. Today Richard was reburied inside Leicester Cathedral (see image). Benedict Cumberbatch, a well known actor who has played several prominent roles, including Richard III, read a new poem written by the Poet Laureate. The poem, as spoken by Richard, includes the line, "Grant me the carving of my name." It is now carved on his Cathedral tomb. One of my sisters with her family queued to see Richard's coffin before it was buried.

Leicester is also the home of characters in Blish's Doctor Mirabilis. In nearby Nottingham, I was part of a group addressed by the current Sheriff, whose remote predecessor was an opponent of Robin Hood - the latter also mentioned in Blish's novel - and I also met a man playing the role of Friar Tuck. In Lichfield, I visited the site of a battle fought by Anderson's character, Prince Rupert.

We live in Lancaster, one of the contenders in the Wars of the Roses, and occasionally visit York, Lancaster's rival. In nearby Kendal, I sometimes meditate in a side chapel containing the tomb of the grandfather of the sixth wife of Henry VIII.

Living history indeed.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Earth-Like Venus

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

Unfamiliar Terms
"...podna..." (p. 73);
"...berm..." (p. 78);
"...syllabic alphabet..." (p. 74)

(I knew of syllables and of alphabets but not of syllabic alphabets.)

I must emphasize again that what I am doing here is appreciating a rich vocabulary, not complaining of incomprehensibility!

In one respect, Stirling's fictional Venus differs from the Golden Age planets that it vicariously recalls. Even when a dominant race was fully humanoid, an author like ERB would ensure that his Martians etc rode un-equine equivalents of horses, domesticated un-canine equivalents of dogs etc. On Barsoom, his main though not his only way of doing this was to ensure that the Martian animals were always multi-pedal, even though a fellow fan commented that four was the most probable number of limbs. I was disappointed when a comic strip presented "banths," the Barsoomian equivalents of lions, as recognizably leonine apart from the greater number of limbs.

On Stirling's Venus:

"'...dis ting is definitely a bovine...'" (p. 24);
"...marshes alive with birds that looked very much like duck and snipe and flamingo..." (p. 74);
"...people, pigs and gaudy domesticated birds the size of turkeys..." (p. 76).

It is all too Earth-like and, of course, there will be an explanation. I once tried to explain why Kryptonians looked exactly like white North Americans (see here). It would not be enough for the god Rao to plant a human colony on a barely habitable part of Krypton. He would also have to intervene continually in order to preserve the human form despite the environmental enhancement of abilities.

ERBian Allusion

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

Unfamiliar Words
"...remuda..." (p. 59)
"...fetor..." (p. 64)

ERBian Reference
Marc has adopted a greatwolf pup and suggests calling it "Nobs." When the Englishman seems not to understand the reference, Marc reflects:

"Surely everyone read Burroughs now?" (p. 62)

I have read ERB, including the relevant work (see image and here), but did not get the reference! However, it is good to be able to google it immediately.

Furthermore, this prompts another observation. ERB was a prolific though not a great writer who bequeathed to us a fictional Solar System containing:

Carson Napiers' Venus;
the Moon Maid and the Moon Men;
John Carter's Barsoom;
an inhabited Martian moon;
Skeleton Men of Jupiter;
Tarzan's Africa;
Caspak -

- and yet another inhabited planetary system.

I would like to see this colorful cosmos developed by writers of the caliber of Poul Anderson (of course, no longer possible) or of his successors like SM Stirling. ERBdom has been adapted into comics and films but a few novels better written than ERB's could also be added to the canon.

Miscellaneous Points

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

(i) "The Sky People" is what the natives of Venus call Terrestrials (p. 40).

(ii) "Everyone knew that the Sky People, while wizards of great power, were raving mad. Filling a sack with useless rocks and treating it like a treasure was typical of them." (ibid.)

Thinking that something is useless because we do not understand it: a bad mistake, one that I made in childhood.

(iii) Two hundred million years ago, Venus was somehow terraformed. It looks as if biological action pumped carbon out of the atmosphere and oxygen into it (p. 39). We approach an answer to the central question of the novel.

(iv) "...un-transport..." (p. 50) - ?

(v) "You had to keep in mind that the world the size of Earth or Venus was a big place..." (p. 51). A valid point and typically Andersonian.

(vi) Colonists of Venus are heroes on Earth:

"Marc...was undoubtedly the thinly disguised hero of countless trashy novels and bad TV shows by now - and the illustrated heart-throb of countless girls." (p. 52)

So our viewpoint character is the real life version of a popular fiction hero - but we, in another timeline, are reading the true account. How cool is that?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Multiple Timelines?

SM Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers and The Sky People are set in different alternative histories but this could nevertheless make them installments of a single series since The Peshawar Lancers, like many other works of sf, assumes the coexistence of divergent timelines. For example, Poul Anderson's many series include not only future histories and historical fictions but also several interconnected alternative history novels.

In both The Peshawar Lancers and The Sky People, Terrestrial history diverges from the course of events known to us because of celestial events: 

comets strike Earth;
life has evolved on Venus.

I thought that history in The Sky People had diverged from ours in 1962 when a Russian Venus lander transmitted an image of a Neanderthal. However, before that:

in the late1940's, microwave observations had provided evidence of Earth-like surface temperatures;
in 1932, infrared studies had shown that the atmosphere was possibly oxygen-nitrogen;
in 1927 and 1928, ultraviolet photographs were taken although we are not told the results.

Googling discloses an article by Ross (named in the novel) on the 1927 ultraviolet photographs so it seems that, from the point of view of Terrestrial history, this timeline diverged from ours after 1927, possibly in 1932, whereas, from the point of view of Venerian evolution, it diverged billions of years ago. Similarly, in The Peshawar Lancers, that timeline diverged not when the comet or comets struck the Earth but when cometary orbits had taken a different course at a much earlier date.

Parallel Evolution On Venus?

Thesis: in Golden Age sf, space explorers uncritically accepted the existence of Earth-like organisms, including even beautiful princesses, on other planets;

Antithesis: in more recent, more realistic sf, they do not find any such organisms;

Synthesis: in SM Stirling's The Sky People (New York, 2006), they do find such organisms and are extremely puzzled by them.

Even with panspermia or microbes on meteors:

"'...evolution's a chaotic process; you get general similarities, but not identities...'" (p. 25)

So what is the explanation? Maybe separate evolution can reproduce exact details or:

"'...maybe the God-did-it crowd is right -'
"'Them!'" (p. 26)

At this early stage of the novel, certain principles are clear:

the characters need to do more research;
"'...evidence first, theory second...'" (ibid.);
I expect the author to make some explanation to the reader even if the characters remain in the dark;
an author can base a fiction on any premise - CS Lewis presents divinely created human beings on Venus;
however, Stirling writes in the hard sf tradition of Poul Anderson, not in the theological sf tradition of CS Lewis.

A Few Details On Venus

(The image is a radar topographical map of Venus with false colors but maybe kind of appropriate here?)

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

(i) Venus has no moon so it has no tides, right? Wrong. There are "...low solar-only tides..." (p. 19).

(ii) One domesticated animal on Venus is the tharg (p. 23). Tharg is the name of the fictional alien Editor of the British comic, 2000 AD, but that has to be a coincidence.

(iii) Is it grammatically incorrect to split an infinitive?

Star Trek: " boldly go..."
Stirling: " not bother people..." (p. 22)

No. Grammarians trying to model English grammar on Latin grammar thought that an English infinitive should never be split because a Latin infinitive is never split. However, a Latin infinitive cannot be split because it is a single word: amare, to love. We can do what we want in English.

(iv) The multiple qualifications of people sent to Venus are demonstrated in "'Wing Commander Christopher Blair, RAF...Anthropology and linguistics, lighter-than-air pilot...'" (p. 22).

(v) When do timelines diverge? For people on Earth, the Sky People timeline diverged from ours in the 1960's when a probe landed on Venus. But Venus and Mars had diverged a long time ago.

(vi) If their Earth was the same as ours until the 1960's, then Wing Commander Blair might be related to one of our recent British Prime Ministers?

(vii) Christopher Blair has " excruciatingly Etonian voice..." (ibid.) just as Mainwethering in Poul Anderson's Time Patrol had an Oxford accent so cultivated as to be almost incomprehensible. Are these North American caricatures of British characters? Maybe, except that there really are British people like that.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Traveling To Venus

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

(i) Nuclear rockets transport people between planets, reaching Venus in a hundred and twenty days depending on orbits.

(ii) Solar sails carrying freight take three or four times as long but are robotically controlled because no one can survive that long without gravity and also because there is greater danger of solar flares on longer journeys.

(iii) Passenger ships gradually adjust to denser air and higher oxygen en route to Venus.

(iv) Anyone even short listed to go to Venus has two or three degree-equivalents and is physically of almost Olympic caliber.

(v) Nevertheless, they need weeks or months of "...carefully phased acclimatizing..." (p. 11) after arriving.

This sounds plausible and torpedoes any idea that I might have had in the 1950's of joining Dan Dare's Interplanetary Space Fleet if I lived into the 1990's.

Water On Venus

SM Stirling, The Sky People (New York, 2006).

Stirling writes "...Venusian..." (p. 11), not "Venerian."

The image shows the planet Venus above water on Earth. One version of the goddess Venus rose from the sea. There used to be an idea that there was a lot of water on the planet Venus, the opposite of the truth.

Olaf Stapledon: sea-dwelling Venerians;
Edgar Rice Burroughs: Pirates Of Venus;
CS Lewis: an oceanic Venus, "Perelandra;"
Robert Heinlein: frog-like, swamp-dwelling Venerians;
Ray Bradbury: heavy rain on Venus;
Poul Anderson: an inhabited oceanic Venus in one story and an uninhabited dry Venus in another.

Also, the colonized Venus of Anderson's Time Patrol universe is one factor that does date that series historically. SM Stirling, implausibly, presents the Venus of the Time Patrol timeline as having been terraformed. (Stirling's Time Patrol story is discussed here.)

The Venus of Stirling's 2006 retro novel has an Arctic supercontinent and an Antarctic continent with a chain of islands between (p. 8).

Dinosaurs On Venus

Progress in reading SM Stirling's The Sky People has been slow. Bed-ridden today, I have not felt up to reading a new text that I would want to blog about. Making a start in the evening, I find that Stirling's Venus has a breathable atmosphere and dinosaurs used as draught animals in 1988.

Such a retro text invites comparisons with fiction that we read when it was thought that Venus might really be like that. I further expect to make some comparisons with the works of Poul Anderson. First, however, I remember that Dan Dare's Venus had dinosaurs. A sedated dinosaur was being transported by spaceship to London Zoo. However, a Treen crew member who was secretly a Mekon loyalist deliberately roused the animal, causing havoc inside the ship.

In past ages, the Treens had transported Terrestrial organisms, including even blue-skinned Atlanteans, to Venus. I suspect that Stirling's Venerian species are also connected to Earth but will have to read on to find out. Thus, this novel should evoke:

many memories of earlier sf;
also, of course, appreciation of Stirling's narrative in its own right.

Treens have some similarities to Anderson's Merseians.

Monday, 23 March 2015

An Embarrassment Of Riches

While still rereading Poul Anderson's Fire Time, I have started to reread Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire and have also received SM Stirling's The Sky People (New York, 2006) from Amazon. (It should have been Stirling's Dies The Fire.)

Stirling harks back to the kind of inhabited Venus that Stapledon, Burroughs, Heinlein, Anderson and others wrote of in previous decades. Stirling's way of doing this is to locate his inhabited Venus in an alternative timeline, thus combining interplanetary adventure in an inhabited Solar System with a different, usually unrelated, sf concept.

Stirling's "Acknowledgments" refer to:

John Carter (of course);
Northwest Smith (I recognize the name);
"Wrong Way" Carson of Venus.

Did ERB call Carson Napier "'Wrong Way' Carson"? In any case, he did go the wrong way, departing from Earth towards Mars, pulled off course by the Moon, falling towards the Sun, then landing on Venus - celestial acrobatics almost as implausible as Carter's astral projection. Since ERB's Martians knew of intelligent beings on Mercury, since Carter traveled from Mars to a Martian moon, then to Jupiter, and since later space travelers, also aiming at Mars, instead found a civilization inside Earth's Moon, ERB was well on his way towards presenting a fully inhabited Solar System - a concept that Stirling nostalgically revives, at least as regards Venus and Mars.

A metafiction is a fictional text that somehow acknowledges its fictional status. For example, a work of fiction set in an alternative timeline might obliquely refer to our version of the "real world." Stirling approaches such metafiction at the end of his Prologue when a scientist, looking at video images broadcast from Venus, exclaims:

"'A Neanderthal...What the fuck?'" (p. 6)

This could be more elegantly translated as:

"How has our timeline happened to diverge from any of the more probable timelines in which Venus either is uninhabitable or at least certainly is not inhabited by any species recognizable from Terrestrial evolution?"

However, as a first approximation, a four letter word suffices!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Recent Posts

A moment that has become very familiar to regular readers of Poul Anderson's works is reached at the end of Chapter XVI of Fire Time (St Albans, Herts, 1977):

"A thought went through him like an electric shock. She sensed it in his body. 'What is the matter?' she asked timidly.
"'Nothing, nothing.' He spoke with his voice alone; his mind was elsewhere. 'I just got a notion...'" (p. 179)

The viewpoint character:

has a practical/personal problem;
has suddenly realized a possible solution;
will not confide this notion to his wife or, by implication, to the reader until he has implemented it.

Having reread to this point, I know what the problem is but do not remember what the solution was. I have been posting about, and am still rereading, Fire Time. However, I previously posted about this novel just over two years ago. Thus, much of the ground has already been covered.

I have also recently mentioned CS Lewis in relation to Poul Anderson. Readers of this blog might like to check out my Science Fiction blog, where I discuss Lewis a few times. See here.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Sharing A Planet

Poul Anderson, Fire Time (St Albans, Herts, 1977).

Ishtar, like several planets in Anderson's Technic History (see here), is inhabited by more than one intelligent species. Anderson helps us to imagine coexistence of different rational species as a norm of life.

"...Larreka glimpsed a small flyer parked in a shed. Ng-ng, we've got a human visitor, he thought. I wonder who." (p. 137)

"The room was chiefly floor space, a  long table, mattresses strewn about, some chairs for occasional humans." (p. 138)

"Presently he was sprawled on a mattress beside Meroa, his pipe alight, a mug of hot spiced jackfruit cider to hand. A couple of family elders lay nearby." (p. 140)

(Quadrupeds smoke pipes and drink cider but lie on mattresses instead of sitting on chairs.)

"'Who's our human guest?' he asked.
"'Jill Conway,' Meroa said." (ibid.)

Larreka knows Jill and so do we. She has been a viewpoint character but now is discussed by Ishtarians. Human lives are so short that an Ishtarian must befriend a human bloodline rather than a single individual.

A man from Earth is surprised that the Ishtarians have not exterminated the semi-intelligent species, their equivalent of Australopithecus, but Jill tells him that:

"'Ishtarians wouldn't. Not even the most warlike barbarians have our casual human bloodthirstiness. For instance, nobody has ever tortured prisoners for fun or massacred them for convenience. You probably think of the Gathering of Sehala as a sort of empire. It isn't. Civilization has developed without any need for the state. After all, the Ishtarians are a more advanced form of life than us.'" (p. 82) See here, here and here.

Rereading Fire Time

Continuing to reread Poul Anderson's Fire Time (St Albans, Herts, 1977), we find on p. 137, another (to me) unfamiliar word, "...finial..." and yet another characteristically long, detailed Andersonian list-description. An Ishtarian ranch has:


(Another unfamiliar word there.)

This ranch publishes texts and trades with ranches specializing in other kinds of production like rope and iron.

I am posting in haste because possibly going out for the day soon but encouraged by over 150 page views early in the day.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Two Kinds Of Life On One Planet

Rereading Poul Anderson's Fire Time reminded me of his short story, "Interloper," because:

In Fire Time, there are two independent kinds of life on Ishtar, native and T-life;
in "Interloper," there are two independent kinds of life on Earth, ordinary and nocturnal;
Ishtarians regard T-life as supernatural just as human beings regard nocturnal life as supernatural.

Arnanak alone among Ishtarians has traveled far into the T-life realm at the risk of his life - he could eat nothing there and there was less water. The dauri showed him ruins and gave him some sort of incomprehensible artifact. Thus, it seems that the Tammuzians did colonize Ishtar. However, that extra-Ishtarian race is as mysterious to the dauri, who have evolved on Ishtar from Tammuzian microbes, as it is to the Ishtarians and to the human colonists. Arnanak knows that the latter would pay well for more information.

To learn more about T-life will be one objective while continuing to reread the novel although such rereading currently competes with several other activities. Tomorrow, I would, with a coach load of other Lancastrians, have made a round trip to London for a national anti-racist march. However, Sheila continues to need support in the wake of her hip operation so we might instead drive around Morecambe Bay. Today, I watched the second Stieg Larsson film and another of Michael Portillo's train journeys and finished reading Shadowlands about CS Lewis. Meanwhile, SM Stirling's The Sky People should now be en route by post.

Link Labyrinth

For me, an entirely unexpected dimension of blogging has been the links. Reading about CS Lewis' attitude to sf, I posted "Which works by Poul Anderson might CS Lewis have liked?" (here) Then, linking this post to all previous blog posts about Lewis, I found posts that I had entirely forgotten:

a passage in Lewis' Perelandra is relevant to Anderson's The Night Face (see here);

Lewis wrote a poem critical of interstellar empires as described by, e.g., Asimov and Anderson (see here);

on the Personal and Literary Reflections blog, Lewis' Trilogy is listed as one of several fictional sequels to the Bible (see here);

a network of links connects Anderson and Lewis to Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey and SM Stirling;

an Anderson short story has the same title and theme as a work of Christian apologetics by Lewis (see here);

we can leave fiction and, on another blog, directly discuss "Philosophical Disagreements with CS Lewis" (see here);

Lewis, like Anderson, follows Wells and Stapledon but, in Lewis' case, it is in order to disagree with such secularist sf writers, not to perpetuate their vision of an anthropocentric future.

This and more can be found either by following the links or by scrolling up and down the blogs. Since some of it surprises me, I hope that it also surprises and interests other page viewers.

(We will shortly drive out to view that eclipse.)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Which Works By Poul Anderson Might CS Lewis Have Liked?

An Anglican friend has given me Shadowlands: The Story of CS Lewis and Joy Davidman (London, 1985) by Brian Sibley. (The image shows an (American?) edition with a slightly different title but a better cover.)

"...Jack found the majority of conventional science-fiction stories not at all to his taste and preferred the romantic fantasy writers - such as David Lindsay, Ray Bradbury, ER Eddison, Mervyn Peake and Tolkien - to the work of social prophets like Huxley and Orwell or scientific visionaries like Arthur C Clarke." (p. 55)

My comments:

"Jack," of course, is Lewis;

I do not think that I have read this particular Lewis biography before but, in any case, it is worthwhile to either read or reread it;

for previous blog references to Lewis, see here;

I could not get into either David Lindsay's Voyage To Arcturus or George MacDonald's Phantastes, both recommended by Lewis;

I do not share either Sibley's admiration for Lewis' philosophical reasoning or his acceptance of the believability of the settings of Lewis' interplanetary novels;

I accept that the gods (if not God!) think that I should read this book right now;

however, because I also want to continue blogging, I pose the question that is the title of this post.


Poul Anderson, Fire Time (St Albans, Herts, 1977), pp. 128-129.

In a trinary star system (see here), life somehow migrated from Tammuz, a now dead planet of the red giant, Anu, to Ishtar, an inhabited terrestroid planet of the Sol-like Bel, but using opposite amino acids and sugars.


a Tammuzian colony failed;
Tammuzians colonized Ishtar but then discovered FTL and left the system;
Tammuzian explorers left microbes;
Tammuzians seeded Ishtar;
Tammuzian spores crossed on meteoroids.

In any case, only microscopic T-life survived but it evolved new multicellular species that cannot interact biologically with Ishtarian life. T-life on Ishtar has evolved in the north of a single continent, possibly originally a separate island. Thus, Ishtar has two intelligent species but the T-life intelligences also evolved on Ishtar. Native Ishtarians rarely see the T-intelligences and have no communication with them until Arnanak, a barbarian war-leader, makes an alliance with the uncanny, petal-headed "dauri."

Parallel Blogs

These blogs are like parallel universes. Right now:

Personal and Literary Reflections compares the Stieg Larsson novels and films;

Comics Appreciation compares the Smallville and Arrow TV series;

Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments compares Anderson's Daedalus with Rudyard Kipling's India;

James Blish Appreciation compares Blish's The Seedling Stars with Anderson's "Starfog";

Science Fiction compares the Planet Of The Apes continuities;

The Logic of Time Travel discusses a story in a recent anthology;

Religion and Philosophy, in a post copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, discusses the Bhagavad Gita;

Zen Marxism Synthesis is my, unavoidably controversial, attempt to relate Eastern psychology to social development;

Poul Anderson Appreciation compares fictitious histories by Wells, Stapledon, Anderson and Stirling.

It is a privilege to be able to comment on such major and diverse works of fiction and philosophical issues.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

"The road goes ever on..."

What is next to read that is relevant? Quite a lot.

(i) I have yet to finish rereading Fire Time by Poul Anderson.

(ii) In SM Stirling's Conquistador, Alexander the Great's empire endures for longer than it did in our timeline. Thus, this novel connects with works by Poul Anderson and by Greg Bear that have already been discussed on the blog.

(iii) I am told that Poul Anderson cameos in Stirling's In The Court Of The Crimson Kings but that first I must read the prequel, The Sky People! Also, that both these works display Andersonian influence.

So, if you are still with me, then we are here for the long haul.

Heights And Depths

SM Stirling, "Shikari in Galveston" IN Worlds That Weren't (New York, 2003).

(The image shows Galveston.)

The higher we are the further we can fall. CS Lewis' tutor rejected "demonic" as a description of war time enemy atrocities on the ground that demons are mythical, then rejected "bestial" on the ground that no beasts act thus. The only adjective left was "human."

However, in Stirling's story, North American savages are on the verge of losing even their humanity. Hunting each other for food, they have no social group larger than the extended family and barely retain fire or language. Inbreeding and savagery are making them physically distinct: no chins; sloping foreheads; horribly scarred faces; huge broad noses; narrow eyes; heavy brows and shoulders; long thick arms; broad feet. A visiting Imperial, Eric King, has to ask what they are. From a distance they looked like men...

If even one generation fails to transmit language to its children, then surely the degeneration to animality will be complete? How is this averted? Russian Imperialists, themselves practicing ritualized cannibalism, organize, train, equip and arm the savages to wage war against their civilized neighbors while remaining cannibals! Stirling imagines thoroughly evil villains for his Angrezi Raj timeline.

King has to acknowledge that technically the change among the savages is for the better because they are now living a little more like human beings and less like mad beasts (pp. 129-130). I would add that, although they have become more dangerous, they also now have the potential for greater good. Stirling continues Wells', Stapledon's and Anderson's discussions of evolution and devolution.

Someone commented that the language in "Shikari..." was difficult but I have not found it so. Mr Stirling, please write more about the Angrezi Raj!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Brains And Universes

This post is a reflection on the previous one but is also true to the spirit of Poul Anderson.

Brains evolved to process sensory inputs in mobile organisms on a planetary surface so how have human brains become able to think about the entire universe and even about different kinds of multiverse?

Organs can transcend their original use. An orifice used for eating is also used for speaking. The ability to see nearby objects is also the ability to see a galaxy two million light years away. Opposable thumbs used for grasping and manipulating can also be used to play musical instruments and to write poetry. Manipulating the environment led to thinking about it. The ability to think about immediate practical problems is also the ability to think. To think about what is is also think about what is not. ("This is green so it is not blue, red etc.")

Poul Anderson's science fiction celebrates the emergence of sapience anywhere in the universe and in any material form. Biology and psychology differ, and Anderson shows their alienness, but we nevertheless empathize with Ythrian immigrants to Avalon or with Merseian immigrants to Dennitza.

Gills became super-chargers, enabling intelligent Ythrians to fly in terrestroid conditions. They walk awkwardly on the ends of their folded wings but soar, dance and honor God in the sky. High is heaven and holy!

Two Kinds Of Multiverse

Two similar but distinct hypotheses:

(i) that our space-time continuum is just one of many such continua distributed along a fourth spatial dimension;

(ii) that, within our continuum, every random event or conscious choice causes a bifurcation such that divergent timelines proliferate in a second temporal dimension.

Both hypotheses involve many universes and at least one extra dimension. However, (i) involves many permanently distinct and self-sufficient universes whereas (ii) involves a single universe continually splitting into increasingly dissimilar alternative versions of itself. In (ii), another universe might contain, e.g., a World War II won by the Axis whereas, in (i), World War II - and indeed the entire history of Earth, the Solar System and the Milky Way - occur only in our universe. (ii) has "parallel Earths" whereas (i) has only one Earth. A variation on (ii), as expounded by Valeria Matuchek in Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, is that the diverse universes have been distinct from the beginning but their differences did not become apparent until later.

Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker experimentally creates many increasingly complex universes, including ours. Thus, Stapledon presents (i) but not (ii). HG Wells, as he did with several key concepts, presented (ii) in a single novel. Several subsequent sf writers have, as we know, endlessly elaborated (ii). However, I think that (i) must also be present somewhere in Anderson's vast body of work?

Monday, 16 March 2015

Evolution And Devolution II

The previous post also omitted these comparisons:

Poul Anderson presents mankind evolving into physically time traveling Danellians;

earlier, Olaf Stapledon had presented mankind evolving into mentally time traveling Last Men;

earlier again, HG Wells had presented mankind devolving into Time Traveler-visited Morlocks and Eloi.

Beautiful contrasts! Wells and Stapledon are universally recognized as major science fiction writers. Anderson should be similarly recognized. His Danellians are literary successors and conceptual sequels to the Morlocks and Eloi and to the Last Men.

And now I must return to other tasks, possibly also meditation group this evening since there will be a visit by a monk. And Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy deserves a post on another blog.

For something on Millennium, see here

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Evolution And Devolution

HG Wells imagined:

in a paradisal Terrestrial environment, social classes devolving into distinct species, Morlocks and Eloi, the former eating the latter;

Martians degenerating into machine-protected brains living by extracting blood from humanoid organisms;

Selenites artificially adapting members of their species solely to perform specific industrial tasks.

Aldous Huxley imagined future humanity adapting its members for socially stratified roles.

Olaf Stapledon imagined:

eighteen successive human species;

some artificially adapted to inhabit Venus and Neptune;

Neptunians devolving into animality and later re-evolving intelligence.

Poul Anderson continued such evolutionary speculations by imagining extrasolar planetary environments, then explaining why, e.g., his fictional Diomedeans and Ythrians had evolved as they did in their particular environments. Thus, Anderson is Wellsian and Stapledonian. In his Harvest Of Stars future history, artificially adapted and specialized human beings have become redundant and are ghettoized.

SM Stirling's alternative histories include one in which Mars and Venus are humanly habitable because they were somehow terraformed a long time ago but I have yet to read any installments of this series.

(I did not want to go upstairs to check how many future human species Stapledon had imagined so I googled it instead. I will devolve into a brain attached to a finger pressing a keypad.)

Addendum, 18 Mar: Regular readers might notice that I have added a sentence to the paragraph about Anderson. It is difficult to remember every relevant detail while posting. Today is likely to be taken up with chores and preparation for a Latin class tomorrow, thus less time for posting.

Stapledon To Stirling

The alert reader will have noticed that the previous post did not refer to Poul Anderson. However, it did highlight two major stages of a literary process in which Anderson's role is pivotal.

Olaf Stapledon - a major post-Wells future history;
a cosmic history.

Poul Anderson - every kind of science fiction, including:

Tau Zero, its time scale modeled on Stapledon's future and cosmic histories;

a major post-Heinlein future history;

several works set in alternative timelines.

SM Stirling - a specialist in long series set in alternative timelines.

Although Stirling is not the only alternative historian, he is the one who has so far caught my attention with his The Peshawar Lancers, dedicated to (and worthy of) Poul Anderson.


SM Stirling, "Shikari in Galveston" IN Worlds That Weren't (New York, 2003), pp. 63-148.

I think that the secular bases of morality are as follows:

we were naturally selected to help others either because they bear the same genes or because they might help us in return and we experience this motivation as moral obligation, not as calculating self-interest, which is what it sounds like when expressed in biological terms;

as members of a social species, we have collective interests, like speaking a common language, that transcend a simplistic selfishness-altruism dichotomy.

It follows that lists of commandments and precepts are formulations of an evolved morality, not divine instructions. However, could humanity lose its moral basis?

"When men hunted each other to eat, there could be no trust, and trust was what let even the wildest men work together. Usually man-eaters had no groupings larger than an extended family, and often they barely retained the use of speech and fire. Human beings were not meant to live like that..." (pp. 118-119)

Loss of speech would be loss of humanity. In Olaf Stapledon's Last And First Men, Venerian human beings artificially adapted in haste to colonize Neptune spread across the Neptunian surface but degenerated into animality, one species retaining the custom of gathering in a circle to hear a single individual howl. Later, quadrupeds migrating into an area dense with tall plants began to walk upright, thus freeing forelimbs for manipulation and growing new fingers above the vestigial digits of their ancestors.

Stirling's cannibals have not degenerated that far yet but, if they lose speech entirely, then they will no longer be human.

Histories Future And Alternative

How are future histories and alternative histories connected? First, both are fictions. Secondly, Wells wrote both. I have mentioned his future history often enough. Men Like Gods is a novel about a visit to a parallel Earth. A Modern Utopia is a speculative discussion of an alternative history.

American sf writers followed Wells. Robert Heinlein's Future History and Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History were neither prophecies nor predictions but nevertheless were each intended as a fictitious account of one single linear future timeline. When our future had become our present and had diverged from the fictions, then the future histories retroactively became alternative histories. To prevent this from happening again, Anderson started his Technic History further in the future.

An alternative history can be presented as such without having to be a future history first. SM Stirling's Angrezi Raj timeline diverged in 1878. His "Shikari in Galveston" contains many passages narrated from the point of view not of the visiting Imperials but of the North American natives, thus presenting a more rounded account of this alternative Earth, although there still remain many other countries that Stirling could show us.

The natives have reverted to patronymics. "Robre sunna Jowan" is "Robre, son of Jowan" and "Sonjuh dowtra Pehte" is "Sonjuh, daughter of Pehte." I still have fifty pages to read so I expect to learn more about the Second British Empire.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Worlds And Words

SM Stirling, "Shikari in Galveston" IN Worlds That Weren't (New York, 2003), pp. 63-148.

Science fiction writers show words changing their meanings in the future. In Poul Anderson's There Will Be Time, Jack Havig, time traveling to his future, meets a young woman who, when asked what she does with her time, replies that she jokes a lot. An amateur comedienne? However, when she and he share a picnic with no one else present, she announces that she had figured they could joke after eating but why not before and after?

(Addendum, 15 Mar: Also highly relevant is Anderson's "A Tragedy of Errors." See comments.)

In Neil Gaiman's sequel to Alan Moore's Miracleman, "London" means an event as "Hiroshima" does for us and "Kidding" has become a swear word because of what the Kid did in London. (Alan Moore had asked, "What would someone with Superman's strength and speed but not his scruples do?" He then answered this question with extremely detailed instructions to a comic strip artist.)

In SM Stirling's "Shikari in Galveston," a Bengali trader surprises us by telling Eric King that the local savages "'...are a clean people...'" (p. 80) Clean? King has just complained of sweat, squalor, smoke, sewage and stink. However, the trader's use of the word "clean" does not refer to hygiene. He spells it out:

"'From the time of the Fall.'" (ibid.)

King understands:

"King nodded...that was one of the fundamental distinctions in the modern world, between those whose ancestors had eaten men in the terrible years after the hammer from the skies struck, and those who hadn't. The only more fundamental one was between those who still did, and the rest of humanity." (ibid.)

And I am certain that the use of the word "clean" would be extended in precisely this way in those circumstances.

Tomorrow there will be a family outing for Mothers' Day (we have two mothers in the household) so maybe not much time for posting. Before turning in this evening, I have had to stop reading Stieg Larsson in order to post and must now stop posting in order to watch Smallville. Retirement, as expected, is an endless choice between enjoyable activities.

A World That Wasn't

SM Stirling, "Shikari in Galveston" IN Worlds That Weren't (New York, 2003), pp. 63-148.

In fiction, there are three kinds of history: past, future and alternative. Much of Poul Anderson's fiction is set in the past or the future with a smaller number of works set in alternative timelines, including one series with magical instead of scientific technology in the twentieth century.

Later science fiction writers, Harry Turtledove and SM Stirling, have specialized in the third kind of history, each generating several lengthy series set in divergent timelines. Worlds That Weren't is an anthology of original alternative history stories by four different authors. SM Stirling comments in his afterword, pp. 149-152, that "Alternative history has many uses..." (p. 149) and that one such use is to restore the terra incognita that our twentieth century banished from Earth and even from Mars and Venus. An even more fundamental use is to remind us that our timeline, in which an asteroid killed the dinosaurs but no such catastrophe has as yet killed humanity, is just one of many possibilities.

We know of Stirling's Angrezi Raj timeline from 1878, the point of divergence, to 2025. In "Shikari in Galveston," Eric King and Ranjit Singh, both of the Peshawar Lancers, are in North America during the reign of Queen-Empress Elizabeth II (1989-2005). In The Peshawar Lancers, their sons, Athelstane King and Narayan Singh, also both of the Peshawar Lancers, are in India at the end of the reign of King-Emperor John II (2005-2025) and at the beginning of the reign of King-Emperor Charles III (2025- ). Narayan, but not Eric, survives into the later narrative. Eric never suspects that his daughter, Athelstane's sister, will become Queen-Empress.

These two works, set in different continents, are separated by a generation and thus are well on their way towards becoming a fictitious history. I have yet to read "Shikari..." to its conclusion - but it must compete for reading time since I have been drawn back into Stieg Larsson's trilogy!

Eclipse And Universes

We have a near total eclipse due next Friday morning - a sufficiently Andersonian event, I think - so I will be asked to drive the family to a suitable observation point.

Right now, I am passing back and forth between several fictional universes:

the Terran Federation of Poul Anderson's The Star Fox and Fire Time;

the Angrezi Raj of SM Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers and "Shikari in Galveston";

Stieg Larsson's Millennium;

the Smallville, Metropolis and Arctic Fortress of the Smallville TV series.

Copyright permitting, a fictional character would also be able to travel between these and other such universes. If I were able to write fiction, I would do Jane Austen's Mr Collins en route to dine with his Patroness the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Burgh at Rosings only to encounter a time traveling Batman who would need his help but whom he would regard as a demon.

Poul Anderson's Old Phoenix scenario easily allows for any and all such bizarre inter-cosmic encounters.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Previous Other Reading

(The image shows Manchester Central Library.)

Everyone who reads one author also reads others, usually. Any writer's works are read not in a vacuum but in a particular social and literary context which differs for each reader. For example, I reread Poul Anderson's Fire Time in Lancaster while remembering a Stieg Larsson thriller whereas someone else might read Anderson's Tau Zero for the first time in New York while remembering a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott. Etc. Each reader of this post can fill in their own details.

Thus, Poul Anderson fans can discuss:

Which other authors do you read?
Are they connected?
If so, how?
Do they come before or after each other in a literary sequence? (I have discussed this a lot.)
Which authors seem to be completely unconnected? (We look for connections because nothing exists in isolation from everything else.)

In this vein, I have occasionally mentioned other reading on the blog:

David Attenborough;
PG Wodehouse;
Iain M Banks;
Modesty Blaise;
Stieg Larsson -

- and, in many of these cases, I have found comparisons to make with Poul Anderson.

Other Reading

Having watched the Swedish film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I have got into rereading the novel which is long and volume I of a trilogy. Thus, maybe less time posting on this blog for a while. However, the anthology containing SM Stirling's one other work set in the Angrezi Raj has been ordered and there are still several NESFA collections of Poul Anderson's shorter works to track down.

I have previously discussed how to film scenes from two of Anderson's works - Mirkheim and "The Game of Glory." The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a British TV serialization of Pride And Prejudice and some other TV dramatizations are sufficient proof that a novel can be accurately adapted from page to screen, despite all appearances to the contrary.

In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the story is shortened merely in order to reduce it to the length required for a cinema film. However, I think that any filmed adaptation of a novel should be a serial, whether it is made for the large or the small screen. Authentic dramatizations of Anderson's Time Patrol series and Technic History and of SM Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers (dedicated to Anderson) would be awesome.

Thursday, 12 March 2015


"The fact of hexapodality versus quadrupedality appears to be fairly trivial, a biological accident."
-Poul Anderson, Fire Time (St Albans, Herts, 1977), p. 83.

On Earth, quadrupeds became bipeds or two-legged, two-winged flyers. On Ishtar, hexapods became quadrupeds, four-winged, two-legged flyers or two-winged, four-legged flyers.

Someone said that, if we were quadrupeds, it would cost more in trousers. However, Anderson's intelligent quadrupeds on different planets are always, like mythical centaurs, hardy enough not to need clothes. In fact, it is difficult to imagine appropriate garments. Larry Niven's tripedal Puppeteers also go naked.

Anderson's Ishtarians can trot, gallop, sleep out of doors and live off the land or their own bodily foliage while traveling long distances. Porters are strong, messengers are fast and ranchers pull their own wagons. In fact, why are human beings so helpless in their natural environment? We make up for this by cooperation and intelligence and have constructed vast artificial environments instead.

I am getting back into rereading Fire Time but am also just about to go out to a meeting so will be back online later.

Brief Posts

Why do I not read a novel from cover to cover, then post a lengthy review of it? I find it easier, more enjoyable and I think more comprehensive to post as I read. Posts can be any length, can focus on any aspect of a text, even a single comma, and can follow interesting digressions wherever they lead. In the case of SM Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers, we have considered:

vocabulary, grammar and literary style;
parallels with Kipling;
comparisons with Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series and Technic History;
social complexities;
issues of artificial intelligence, war and racism;
Stirling's clever incorporation of real people into his alternative history;
Indian contributions to civilization, including food and religion;
Bradshaw's Guides;
the concluding quotation from a poem by James Elroy Flecker;
what my family was doing at the same time in Lancaster.

Thus, I feel that regular posting covers details that might otherwise remain unnoticed and also captures the flow of life in a way that less frequent, more carefully constructed posts would miss. Right now, birds are singing and I need some breakfast. I have other things to do today so there might be less posts.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

"Thy merchants chase the morning down the sea..."

I have been riveted by SM Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers (New York, 2003). American correspondent, Sean M Brooks, suggested that a Poul Anderson fan should read some Stirling. Having now read this one novel, I am bound to agree with him. So what next? For me, more Stirling and more rereading of Anderson but also more reading and rereading of other works not connected to this blog: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is dying for me to get back to her!

The Peshawar Lancers has a conventional happy ending with three marriages and the heroes returning home:

"The lord of Rexin laughed softly, shook his head, and looked up through the fresh green leaves of the chinar trees and the exploding white and pink flowers of the orchards, up toward the manor and its gardens." (p. 458)

The text concludes with a characteristically evocative quotation from James Elroy Flecker, in this case from his "Ishak's Song." (This is a double link to Neil Gaiman because Gaiman also quotes Flecker and because Ishak is the Court Poet of Haroun al Raschid, who is the central character of Gaiman's Ramadan.)

I do not begrudge Stirling's characters their happy ending and do not wish any more adventures on them but I do want to know more about their history: the international situation and the threat of a second Fall.

King Charles III

SM Stirling, The Peshawar Lancers (New York, 2003).

If we have looked ahead to the admirably compact Appendices, then the list of King-Emperors has already alerted us that Charles III will succeed his father, John II, in the year of the action of the novel, 2025. (Post-Imperial Britain might also have a King Charles III by 2025.)

Kingdoms were begun in military conflict but, unusually, Charles III of the Angrezi Raj must begin his reign in combat, with his father murdered. Fortunately, he is fully competent, delegating tactical command to Captain Athelstane King while also issuing orders about contacting search parties. Although I prefer a society without class distinctions, it is good to read of a monarch who is primarily aware not of royal rights but of duties and responsibilities, rajadharma (p. 432), and who is also capable of fulfilling them. Athelstane King is the hero of the novel but we realize that the new King is another.

Curry And Naan

Reading and posting about SM Stirling's Angrezi Raj in his The Peshawar Lancers (New York, 2003) has been and still is a transcendent experience. Alternative universes meet in the imagination if not as yet in reality.

Hero and villain, Athelstane King and Count Ignatieff, fight an epic sword battle on top of a sinking dirigible. Will the narrative become anti-climactic after the villain's death? Or can he somehow rise again?

The dirigible is damaged, unmaneuverable and sinking with its crew murdered but that does not mean that the kitchen is not working!

"Servants came in, bearing food - the kitchens were still working, thank the merciful Gods. Cassandra started wolfing down a fiery chicken Marsala, scooping up sauce and rice with pieces of naan; nobody was standing on ceremony now." (p. 432)

I have recently mentioned Indian food and it is good to see it appreciated here. Our family is vegetarian except for Sheila who does eat chicken dishes. Lassi, especially mango lassi, should be drunk after, not before or during, the meal because it fills you up. I like aloo (potato) dishes (see image).

India has given us:

"Arabic" numerals with the decimal point;
sitar music;
two long epics - Mahabharata and Ramayana;
rich and colorful mythology.