Monday, 11 January 2016

Early Interstellar Travel

We know very little about early interstellar travel in Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History. By "early," I mean not just STL but also pre-Stellar Union. Consider these dates:

2126  first STL interstellar spaceship launched
2784  FTL hyperdrive invented
2900  Stellar Union founded

In fact, we know of that one STL ship launched in 2126 and also of three FTL ships that were launched at unspecified dates, then lost in approximately 2787, 2800 and 2825, respectively. See here.

The loss of Traveler in 2787 had extremely long term consequences because that ship - literally "lost," not destroyed - became the first Nomad. Later, some Stellar Union Coordinators joined Nomad crews. Consequently, the Nomads preserved knowledge of the science of psychotechnics through the Third Dark Ages and the period of interstellar empires. Thus, the much later Galactic civilization was able to revive and expand psychotechnics until individual human beings became able to control the most basic cosmic forces with their artificially mutated brains. The Coordinator-led Nomads link the psychotechnic science founded by Valti to the Galactics and thus unify the entire Psychotechnic History.

However, I started out to discuss that early interstellar period, not the long term consequences of one ship. Traveler and New Hope carried colonists whereas I think that the ten couples in the "Star Ship" were explorers? I will have to reread "The Troublemakers," about the STL ship, and maybe also "Star Ship." But first I need two or three days for other reading and activities. Life continues in Lancaster. A meditation group and a Latin class still meet, junior doctors are protesting against government changes to their working conditions and my family likes afternoon trips out of town.

But the appreciation of Poul Anderson and SM Stirling also continues unabated.


David Birr said...

I find it an interesting _possible_ coincidence that one of the lost FTL ships was *New Hope* -- because Andre Norton mentioned a lost starship by that name in her stories about the Free Trader ship *Solar Queen*.

The *Queen's* Cargo Master collects space folklore, and is particularly good at telling the spooky stories, such as how the refugee ship *New Hope* has become, effectively, an outer-space *Flying Dutchman*.

"...the *New Hope* never boarded, never salvaged because it was only sighted by ships which were themselves in dire trouble, so that 'to sight the *New Hope*' had become a synonym for the worst of luck."

It's probably not possible to learn, but it's interesting to speculate, whether one or the other author used that name as a nod to whichever used it earlier. It MIGHT simply be coincidence, of course. But, for instance, I'm convinced that the opening situation in Norton's *The Stars Are Ours!* was inspired by H. Beam Piper's short story "The Mercenaries," so musing about a similar salute between her and PA is natural.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I find it extremely difficult to swallow such ideas in "The Chapter Ends" as that story saying that individual humans "...became able to control the most basic cosmic forces with their artificially mutated brains." That is, being able to do things like travel FTL without a ship solely by willing it. Among all the works of Poul Anderson, we see such an idea in only one other story: "Earthman, Beware!" (1951).

I think it's significant that only these two stories feature such implausibilities. And that they were both written during the early phase of Poul Anderson's career. Only one other story gives us even a hint of such speculations, the Ice People we see in "A Message in Secret." They told Dominic Flandry that they MIGHT have been able to contact Terra in thought FTL by "dreams."

And that's it. Poul Anderson seemed to have thought that the idea of physically incarnate rational beings manipulating the "most basic cosmic forces" by mentally willing it too implausible to seriously consider.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Thanks to a private email exchange I had with Paul, I'm writing this note to correct what I previously wrote above.

I should have added that another very early story by Poul Anderson, "Sargasso of Lost Starships" (PLANET STORIES, Jan. 1952), also shows us people, this time by non humans, manipulating "cosmic forces" by mentally willing it.

I'm forced to conclude that the idea of mentally manipulating "cosmic" forces by willing it was more widely used by Poul Anderson in his early phase than I had thought. It was one of the ideas he was thinking about and experimenting with in his early writing career before apparently deciding it was too implausible and abandoning it. Mea culpa!