Sunday, 10 April 2016

Typing Up Loose Ends

Weoch-Captain and his crew are as good as dead on p. 290 of Larry Niven, Ed., Man-Kzin Wars III. However, Poul Anderson's "Inconstant Star" continues until p. 310 because three loose ends need to be tied up:

(i) future history continuity;
(ii) personal relationships between our hero, his wife and the new female character;
(iii) who was the kzinti's intelligence source on Wunderland?

We will take the first one first.

(i) A prequel must not contradict later continuity. In Niven's Known Space future history, neither the kzinti nor the Earthmen acquired a tnuctipun weapon enabling them to win a decisive victory in the Man-Kzin Wars. Yet representatives of both species have discovered such a weapon in "Inconstant Star." Captain Saxtorph (human) has given Weoch-Captain (kzin) and his crew a lethal dose of radiation so it looks as if Saxtoroh's crew have sole control of the weapon. But they have not. Weoch's last defiant act is to propel the weapon with himself on it into hyperspace. The Rover crew "...saw their prize disappear." (p. 294)

That concluding phrase of Chapter XIX represents a literary tradition that is Wellsian or older. Except when alternative histories are invoked, it is a literary convention that fictional events occurred in the world as it is known to us. Thus, a Tolstoyan character can contemplate assassination of Napoleon but decides against it - and, if he did attempt it, would not succeed. The Cavorite sphere disappears into space and the Selenites kill Cavor before he can transmit the formula back to Earth. The Time Traveler does not return from his second expedition. On a more trivial level, in the 1950's, a weekly comic strip had cavemen discovering that the Moon is made of cheese, pulling it down to Earth and eating it. I said that the following installment must explain why there is a Moon today. Someone said, "Don't be stupid. It's only fiction." But, sure enough, the next installment explained how the Moon had been replaced.

That disappearing tnuctipun weapon follows in the proud footsteps of the disappearing Time Machine and Cavorite sphere.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I remember very well how Weoch-Captain snatched away the tnuctipun weapon from the hands of Saxtorph and his friends at the very moment of their triumph. And of how ironically frustrating that must have been! Yes, I understand now why Poul Anderson wrote that scene in, to ensure continuity with Larry Niven's Known Space timeline. I had not thought of that before.

Btw, I think Poul Anderson picked up the phrase "tying up loose ends" from me! I don't recall him using that metaphor in his earlier works--but I did use it in one of my letters to him. It seemed to have caught Anderson's fancy and he started using it. I think first in one of his later Time Patrol stories in THE SHIELD OF TIME.