Sunday, 31 July 2016

Populations, Not Individuals

Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series is about a vast organization:

"The entire organization was so vast that he could not really appreciate the fact." (Time Patrol, p. 13)

Although it focuses on one individual, the series gradually shows us many more members of the Patrol with different functions and makes us aware of the vastness.

SM Stirling's alternative history novels are about populations, rather than individuals:

the Draka fulfill their destiny;
the Angrezi Raj survives the Fall;
the Nantucketers survive the Event;
the New Virginians colonize the Other Side;
the Sky People colonize Veunus.

We remember the individuals but also the populations.

Asymptomatic Carrier

SM Stirling, Island in The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

The small group that went to help the Olmecs included one asymptomatic carrier and most of the group was eaten by Olmecs. Thus, the group, far from helping the Olmecs, has wiped them out. Martha points this out to the group's leader, David Lisketter, on the deck of a ship, then, as she walks away, hears a splash. Has he committed suicide?

This inadvertent wiping out of populations kind of simplifies life. The incomers are spared any further conflict with the Olmecs and now have new territory that they can expand into - whether or not they are about to do so in a hurry. Are twentieth century diseases going to have the same effect in the Old World? Even if not, mutineers from Nantucket are about to overturn civilizations there so it will not be long before the time travelers are no longer operating in the known history of the ancient world.

Successive Timelines

If I move from one place to another, then I am at one set of spatial coordinates (longitude, latitude and altitude) at time t1 and at another set of coordinates at t2. The entire three-dimensional spatial universe exists at both times. Similarly, I suggest, if the Scipios do not die at the battle of Ticinus in timeline 1 but do die at that battle in timeline 2, then the whole four-dimensional spatiotemporal universe exists in both timelines. This makes more sense, I think, than that a Neldorian time criminal causes a single timeline to split, thus effectively creating an entire new universe, merely by shooting the Scipios.

These are two examples of a successive timelines scenario:

"Delenda Est" by Poul Anderson
Timeline 1: Rome wins the Second Punic War.
Timeline 2: Neldorian intervention causes Carthage to win the Second Punic War.
Timeline 3: Time Patrol counter-intervention restores Roman victory in the Second Punic War.

Island In The Sea Of Time by SM Stirling
Timeline 1: Nantucket departs 1998 A.D.
Timeline 2: Nantucket arrives 1250 B.C.

In the second case, many Native Americans die of diseases imported by Nantucket and many Olmecs die fighting Nantucketers. Thus, many people die years or decades earlier in timeline 2 than they did in timeline 1. Thus, further, many other lives are affected, e.g., the Olmec champion killed by a Nantucketer would have lived longer and killed more people in timeline 1. Changes in peoples' lives change whether and when they procreate. Thus, before long, the entire population will be not only living in an altered history but also of a different genetic make-up. To give an example in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, there might be a blog written not by me living in a history which had a World War II but by someone else living in a history that did not have a World War II. We cannot know what would happen.

Comparing two timelines, there are three kinds of people:

before 1250 B.C., two identical world populations;
from 1250 B.C., an increasing number of people whose lives begin identically but then take a different course, e.g., by premature death;
some time later: two entirely different world populations.

Priests And Good Societies

Although it would be distasteful to read a detailed description of torture, an author is at liberty to treat his characters in any way that is appropriate to the story that he is telling. Alan Moore, in particular, is merciless to his fictional characters.

In this respect, SM Stirling makes a point that I touched on here when discussing a virtual reality of primitive deities in Poul Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years. Religion and morality exist independently and are not always synthesized. It follows that a society ruled by "priests" is nor necessarily a good society.

Many of Stirling's readers might be glad to see his environmentalist character, Lisketter, come to grief. However, she suffers considerably more than anyone ought to. She says:

"'From what I've read, the Olmecs had a deep spiritual relationship with nature, so [their leadership]'ll probably be priests or priestesses of some sort.'" (Island In The Sea Of Time, p. 316)

It is indeed priests of some sort and the priest-king has such a deep physical relationship with nature that he rapes Lisketter after causing something even worse, but also arguably "natural," to happen.

Readers should not overlook that Stirling does not write off all environmentalists:

"'The other environmentalists are treating [Lisketter] like a leper...'
"'Yeah, but they're the sensible ones. Hell, they're some of our most useful people. They know things - marine biology, handicrafts, stuff like that. And they know I'll listen to them. But Lisketter...she's a True Believer." (pp. 279-280)

We should end this post with Manse Everard's take on Lisketter types:

"The old man was bald except for white remnants of beard, toothless, half deaf, gnarled and crippled by arthritis, eyes turned milky by cataracts. (His chronological age must be about sixty. So much for the back-to-nature crowd in twentieth-century America.)" (Time Patrol, p. 300)

Wish Fulfillment

Alternative history fiction can be utopian, dystopian, speculative or bizarre:

What is the best history that we can imagine?
The worst?
What would have happened if (fill in the blank)?
How different could things be?

Robert Heinlein imagined a future society where magic works like a technology - a flying carpet transport company must pay compensation to a church because the flying spell ceased to work above consecrated ground - and Poul Anderson, more consistently, relocated this magical technology idea to a parallel Earth. SM Stirling imagined maybe the worst possible scenario with his Draka. I have noticed a further possible motive for writing alternative history fiction: wish fulfillment, not so much "How might we build an optimal society now?" as "How might this world have been a better place all along - even though it wasn't?"

It is logically, and maybe also quantum mechanically, possible that there is an indefinite number of alternative Earths with unpolluted environments, multiple Atlantic Oceans with no trans-Atlantic shipping lanes or air routes, innumerable opportunities for lucky cross-time travelers to make a fresh start and get it right this time. This vision, plus the retro social setup of New Virginia, is a large part of the appeal of Stirling's excellent Conquistador.

Anderson was perhaps too realistic to present such a wish-fulfillment scenario. His Eutopian cross-time travelers seek the Good Land but then conclude that it is to be found only in the many imperfect worlds of their experience.

Mistakes About The Past II

See Mistakes About The Past.

Another convergence -

An idol is drawn in procession through the land by an oxcart, then the slaves who wash the idol in a secluded lake are drowned. Everard remarks that the goddess, Nerthus, is:

"'A pretty grim sort,'...The neopagans of his home milieu did not include her in their fairy tales of a prehistoric matriarchy when everybody was nice." (Time Patrol, p. 565)

SM Stirling's character Lisketer says:

"'From what I've read, the Olmecs had a deep spiritual relationship with nature...'" (Island In The Sea Of Time, p. 316)

The Olmecs slaughter Lisketer's crew on first contact.

War, Sex And SF

Writers describe, among other things, war and sex. Science fiction writers describe, among other things, war, sex and landing on another planet. Do we have to have experienced something before we can describe it? If that were so, then science fiction would be impossible.

Poul Anderson and SM Stirling write convincingly about war without having experienced it. There are, after all, many written accounts that authors can draw on - starting with Homer.

We can know that, e.g., Anderson's Dominic Flandry is sexually active without necessarily reading any detailed accounts of his sexual activity. The Irish novelist, Maeve Binchey, said in an interview that she did not write about sex because, if she described sexual practices with which she was unfamiliar, then she would get it wrong whereas, if she wrote from her own experience, then she would feel that she was betraying a confidence. SM Stirling describes some sexual activities that he cannot possibly have experienced directly! However, as Terence wrote:

"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto"
-copied from here.


"You could win battles, but entropy won all the wars."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), 305.

Dominic Flandry prolongs the Terran Empire despite the inevitability of the Long Night. Heroes fight and win battles in Midgard, then in Valhalla, despite the inevitability of the Ragnarok.

But are there ways to counteract entropy in the long run? See here. We don't know but science fiction covers every possibility.


Hot rocks;
damp rockweed;
clams in net bags;
young corn in the husk;
a quartered turkey;
lobsters still alive;
homemade pork and venison sausage in cheesecloth bags;
a closed clay pan of beaten biscuits;
more weed;
a tarpaulin;

At the nearby campfire:

a thermos of sassafras tea;
a beer cooler;
oysters with bread and Tabasco sauce.

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), p. 279.


It was an already established fact that Poul Anderson (novelist), SM Stirling (novelist) and Neil Gaiman (graphic novelist) all quote from James Elroy Flecker (poet). Flecker's "The Bridge of Fire" has six stanzas numbered I-VI. In The Sandman: The Wake, Gaiman, very appropriately, quotes stanza VI, beginning:

"Between the pedestals of Night and Morning..."

In Island In The Sea Of Time, Stirling quotes stanza I, beginning:

"High on the bridge of Heaven..."

- and then also quotes stanza VI.

Consulting my The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker (see image), I see that stanza V lists several gods, including our old friend, Mithras. Also of possible interest here is an sf poem, "To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence," (here) ending:

"O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
"Student of our sweet English tongue,
"Read out my words at night, alone:
"I was a poet, I was young.

"Since I can never see your face,
"And never shake you by the hand,
"I send my soul through time and space
"To greet you. You will understand."

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Terminology Of Temporal Displacement

Mark Twain: transposition of epochs.
HG Wells: time traveling.
Later sf writers: time travel or chronokinesis.

Poul Anderson made several significant contributions to time travel fiction -

time corridors
psychic time travel
the Time Patrol
the quantum mechanical explanation of causality violation
random fluctuations in space-time-energy (the real reason for the Patrol)
a personal causal nexus -

- but did not need to modify the Wellsian terminology.

In SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), the astronomer says:

"'The...the transition event must have included a body of water around the island...'" (p. 24)

- and the Coast Guard captain says:

"'We were near the edge of the, uh, phenomenon...It evidently, ah, transposed an ellipse of ocean as well as the island, reachin' several miles offshore...'" (p. 37)

These expert observers pause before the words "transition," "phenomenon" and "transposed." And maybe "transposed" is a faint echo of Twain's "transposition..."?

Temporal Pathetic Fallacy

(These two covers represented the entire Time Patrol series - until Poul Anderson wrote more.)

John Sandoval contemplates the Chinese conquest of North America:

"'Good God, Manse! When Columbus gets here, he'll find his Grand Cham all right! The Sachem Khan of the strongest nation on earth!'" (Time Patrol, p. 149)

Next, something remarkable happens that I have not remarked on before, not in terms of fictional events, just in terms of Anderson's prose:

"Sandoval stopped. Everard listened to the gallows creak of branches in the wind." (ibid.)

Of course Sandoval stopped speaking but Anderson states this in order to convey that there was then a silence during which:

"[Everard] looked into the night for a long while..." (ibid.)

The gallows of the history protected by the Patrol? Wodan and his wind returned from earlier centuries? The pathetic fallacy in time as well as in nature.

Harvesters' Lunch II

If fictional characters are to experience a North America uninvaded by Europeans, then they can travel either pastward or sideways in time:

Poul Anderson's Time Patrolmen, Manse Everard and John Sandoval, travel pastward to 1280 A.D. (before Columbus);

SM Stirling's John Rolfe travels sideways to "New Virginia" (there never was a Columbus);

Stirling's Nantucket travels pastward to 1250 B.C. (long before Columbus) but also travels sideways because the Nantucketers initiate a divergent timeline.

Time Patrolmen visiting past periods either spend time in well equipped prehistorical bases, like the Academy or the Lodge, or take their high technology into the wilderness with them, e.g., on another expedition, when Everard is with Janne Floris:

"Two one-person shelters rested side by side in soft radiance, and savory odors drifted from a cook unit, technology futureward of his and her birthtime." (Time Patrol, p. 539)

The Nantucketers, stranded with dwindling technology, must accept back-breaking agricultural toil and a welcome lunch:

thick brown pork and lobster stew;
half a loaf of rough dark bread;
cool water.

Simian Chatter

An engineer keeps listing the benefits of a newly constructed desiccator. Chief Cofflin responds:

"'Ayup. You've struck oil, Ron, you can stop drilling,' Cofflin said dryly.
The problem with being the one who can bind or loose is that everyone keeps trying to convince you of things, he thought wryly."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), p. 257.

How true. How much speech is unnecessary?

The desiccator is clearly working effectively so the Chief Exec does not need to be reassured that it is working effectively;

anyone who has a new proposal just needs to ask Cofflin to put it on the agenda for the next Town Meeting but does not need first to convince Cofflin that it is a sound proposal;

for a while at work I had to assign new tasks to colleagues but they did not need to keep reporting back to me what they were doing with the tasks;

a colleague unable to explain her procedure to a visitor who had passed briefly through the office insisted on lengthily explaining it to me instead;

when I quote something that has been said to me, my hearers address their replies to me in the apparent belief that I have said it, not merely quoted it, or ask, "What did he mean by...?" when all I can reply is "That's what he said..." or ask, "Did he say anything about...?" when all I can reply is "That's all he said..."

Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series refers to two languages, Temporal and Exaltationist, which are succinct and not designed for endless chatter. An interesting sequel would be one in which the author could give us just a few lines of such a language.

Ancient Racism?

Was there racism in the ancient world?

There was antisemitism in the Middle Ages. Riding through a dark lane, Manse Everard nearly rides down a pedestrian and apologizes but:

"'It is nothing, sir, nothing.' The man pulled his muck-spattered gown close about him and backed meekly off. Everard made out the beard, broad cap, yellow emblem. Yes, a Jew. Frederick had decreed that Jews wear distinct dress, with no man to shave, and a long list of other restrictions."
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 403.

However, I think that racism of skin color began as an ideological justification for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. (Slaves escape from the Southern States in one chapter of Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years.) In SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), two black characters discuss race relations in 1250 B.C. Alston says:

"'You go to Egypt as of 1250 B.C., you're just another nigger barbarian, as far as they're concerned, and so am I.'" (p. 255)

- but she adds:

"'Anyone who isn't an Egyptian is a nigger to them.'" (ibid.)

So skin color was not the issue.

Stirling's Draka take racism and slavery to new heights. Every human being who is not a Draka is a "serf," either feral or under the yoke. Unfortunately, our species is capable even of this. The Draka have not committed genocide only because they have not seen it as in their interests to do so.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Beneficial Effects Of Involuntary Pastward Time Travel

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), pp. 247-248.

Deprived of mass media, people get involved in:

guitar lessons
piano lessons
quilting bees
glee clubs
learn-how-to-make-it groups
debating societies
mushroom-collecting circles

Further, exercise, low-fat food, no cigarettes and little alcohol make them average ten pounds lighter.

Another form of entertainment would be for everyone to give a talk on his or her interests. I realized that I have four kinds of subjects that I know something about:

those that I have studied formally;
those that I have read up on out of interest;
those that I have had to read up on in order to teach about them;
those that I have learned something about through political involvement.

By contrast, Poul Anderson's Time Patrol Academy gives concentrated physical and mental training to recruits who will face challenging tasks in different historical periods.


SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

"There were a thousand deer on Nantucket, or had been when the island was covered in scrub and moorland. They had to go, now that it was to be farmland once more. Fencing was out of the question this year at least, and couldn't be deer-proof anyway.
"Besides, I crave red meat, Alston thought. Hunting was useful recreation..." (p. 238)

The land must be cleared for farming; venison is desirable; hunting is enjoyable. When David Crockett shot bears, he fed his family, protected his family, cleared the territory for later settlers and probably enjoyed it.

Another Meal
bowls of venison stew, including mushrooms, roots, wild mustard leaves and chives
bread hot from the oven
no butter
astringent red sassafras tea sweetened with honey

Time Patrol And Island In The Sea Of Time II

We already knew that Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series was a rich and dense work. Now I find that it generates endless quotations and comparisons when discussing SM Stirling's substantial time travel novel, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

" is another myth that primitive man lives in harmonious balance with the life around him." (Anderson, The Shield Of Time, p. 234)

"'...people have never lived in harmony with nature. Goats and axes and wooden plows can ruin countries every bit as surely as bulldozers and chemical plants; it just takes a little longer.'" (Island..., p. 244)

"'Earth was a planet fit for gods, unbelievable, before civilization mucked it up.'" (The Shield..., p. 100)

If we had a second chance, would we muck it up again? Arnstein, who said (above) that people have never lived in harmony with nature, continues:

"'We've got three thousand years of knowledge to apply to a fresh world. Let's do it right this time.'" (Island..., p. 244)

Stirling's characters debate the issue. When Arnstein argues that seven thousand people need trade, not just subsistence farming, to preserve civilization, Ms Lisketter replies:

"'There's nothing wrong with a simple life! We should all learn to lower our expectations and walk lightly on the earth, not kill its whales and cut down its trees and... We've got an opportunity to escape from a culture dominated by machines, and cultivate our skills and the spiritual -'
"A chorus of whistles, catcalls and boos shouted her down. 'I've had all the fucking simple-life blisters I want or need!' someone shouted, and there was a roar of approval." (pp. 242-243)

The debate continues. We need a culture that uses machines without being dominated by them.

A sufficiently small population of temporal exiles might have agreed to the collective discipline of not having children, thus:

enjoying life as long as they all shall live;
not having to make any provision for future generations;
minimizing their impact on the past.

However, in a population of seven thousand, human life continues. The debate is necessary.

Another Meal

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998). pp. 229-231.

Captain Alston serves dinner to friends:

bread-and-sage stuffing;
sea lettuce and pickerelweed salad;
cattail stacks, with a flavor like sweet corn;
spinach-like boiled dock;
light honey-brown fresh bread;
no butter because not enough cows yet.

The involuntary temporal exiles make do and improvise. Duck is a welcome change from the abundant seafood.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Alternative Histories In Fantasy And SF

An sf alternative history assumes the same physical laws as in our universe. Only the course of history has diverged, e.g., in Poul Anderson's "Eutopia" or his "The House of Sorrows."  However, these are two short stories. Anderson's four alternative history novels are set in universes where magic works and thus are fantasies, not sf. In the two further short stories that are set inside the inter-cosmic inn, the Old Phoenix, the inn is accessed by travelers from both kinds of universe, thus magic works in some of the universes although not in others.

SM Stirling's alternative history novels present entirely science fictional scenarios:

Nantucket 1998 A.D. changes places with Nantucket 1250 B.C.;

"On October 3, 1878, the first of a series of high-velocity heavenly bodies struck the earth." (The Peshawar Lancers, p. 459);

on April 17, 1946, the far wall of John Rolfe's basement was replaced by a rippling silver sheet...;

on July 1st, 2014, "The richest man in the world liked eating pastrami sandwiches in orbit..." (The Domination, p. 1);

on May 21, 442nd Year of the Final Society (2442 A.D.), "Gwendolyn Ingolfsson stood naked beside the stream.'" (Drakon, p. 1);

on Labor Day, 1962, sf writers at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago watched TV coverage of First Contact with Martians...

These are different timelines with three common features:

all emerge from the imagination of a single writer;
all are hard sf;
they could be incorporated into a single fictional multiverse.

Mistakes About The Past

"A Cro-Magnon guide went by across the snow-covered yard, a tall handsome fellow dressed rather like an Eskimo (why had romance never credited paleolithic man with enough sense to wear jacket, pants, and footgear in a glacial period?), his face painted, one of the steel knives he had earned at his belt. The Patrol could act quite freely, this far back in time; there was no danger of upsetting the past, for the metal would rust away and the strangers be forgotten in a few centuries."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 174.

A Few Points To Note
(i) A few centuries do not matter that far back.
(ii) If there is time travel, then maybe our remote descendants and ancestors know about it although we don't.
(iii) Those ancestors would have had enough sense to dress properly in cold weather.

In another fictional timeline, SM Stirling's characters, in Island In The Ocean Of Time, learn that ancient astrologers and mariners realized that the world was round but did not tell anyone else. The knowledge was either esoteric or a trade secret. Mariners in particular would see masts disappearing below the horizon. It was philosophers who first wanted to share and publish knowledge: Patet veritas omnibus, "Truth lies open to all."

Political Legitimacy In 1250 B.C.

See next week! My technical assistant, Ketlan, published Sean M Brooks' article with a future date so that it would remain at the top of the blog for longer.

SM Stirling's Nantucket 1250 B.C. must have the most legitimate government anywhen. The involuntary colony arrives B.C. with well established institutions of popular democracy. Every policy and practical measure is proposed and voted on in a Town Meeting, open to all. There is Athenian democracy without slaves and fully involving women, as partly anticipated by Plato:

"'It's a fine picture you have drawn of our Rulers, Socrates.'
"'And some of them will be women,' I reminded him."
-Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1974), p. 354.

Police Chief Cofflin is unanimously voted Chief Executive against his will and immediately stops wearing a uniform or carrying a gun: separation of powers. Father Gomez makes useful suggestions at meetings but makes no attempt to become either Chaplain to the Town Meeting or Head of an Established Church of Nantucket: church-state separation. Can Nantucket become:

" association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." ?
-copied from here.

What do we think of other fictional regimes? Stirling's Domination of the Draka is completely illegitimate and any attempt to overthrow it would be justified. I would even consider nuking its capital city, an act that I would usually consider anathema. Poul Anderson's Hans Moliror, a usurper (see comments), might claim the Mandate of Heaven.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Our Present Is Someone Else's Future

Poul Anderson has a Conquistador visiting a student's apartment in 1987:

"'So many books? You cannot be a cleric.'
"Why, I doubt if I have a hundred..."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 704.

SM Stirling has a Tartessian visiting the temporally displaced Nantucket:

"'A name for every street, and a number on every house,' he muttered to himself.
"Oh, he could see how useful that would be, but it was a bit daunting."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), p. 193.

In both cases, we get an intelligent man's perception of his future. I have quoted only one example from each work.

The Tartessian:

does not like to see a clock dividing his life up into seconds;
needs two days of close questioning before he understands that it is useful to have a mathematical symbol for nothing;
does not understand why there should be separate indoor latrines for men and women;
immediately sees the usefulness of placing a fire in a tiny alcove in the wall with a brick tunnel directing the smoke up out of the room;
knows that, to avoid killing trouble over women, it is necessary to understand not only the laws but also the ways that those are changed by unspoken taboos.

Pretty smart stuff.

Welcome Home Feast

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

Trestle tables on Main St, Nantucket:

mostly well prepared seafood;
roast goose;
roast duck;
roast plump chicken-like birds;
a butter sculpture of the returned ship;
a honey-glazed roast pig with an apple in its mouth on rice;
Nantucket wine;
caviar with crackers;
a three foot thick, ten foot long Connecticut River sturgeon on steamed seaweed;
instant mashed potatoes.

OK. We have to acknowledge that Stirling writes better food fiction than Poul Anderson despite Anderson's creation of the gourmets, van Rijn and Flandry.

Athenian Democracy

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

Martha commends Cofflin's handling of the Town Meeting as "'Very Athenian...'" (p. 172), then explains:

"'Aristotle thought about three thousand citizens was the largest number who could meet in assembly and decide issues...we're about the right size for his ideal city-state, aren't we?'
"'Greek to me,' Cofflin grinned." (pp. 172-173)

Poul Anderson's Ythrians, less talkative than mankind, use modern communications to extend direct democracy to a global scale and reach important decisions very quickly, even when they have admitted human beings to the choths.

I think that, with modern communications and education, human beings can move much further in that direction. At present, television merely reports politicians' speeches and opinion polls instead of directly involving the population in discussion and decision-making.

Spiritual Heroism

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

My admiration for Father Gomez is unstinting. Here is a man who seamlessly blends his spiritual and social commitments. Pastor Deubel had persuaded twenty people to try to burn down Nantucket. The Pastor and two of his congregation have committed suicide. What should the Town Meeting do with the remaining eighteen? It is distasteful to hang them and too expensive to imprison them.

Solution: exile them for at least a year to gather salt on Inagua, where their staple diet will be flamingo. See image. A ship will collect salt and leave supplies once a month. How will it be known whether or when the convicted arsonists are safe to rejoin civilized society? Father Gomez will go with them, leaving his Catholic parish in the care of Father Connor! Gomez will try to reason with the prisoners and will at least be able to judge whether they have changed their thinking.

But imagine spending a year or more in exile with eighteen people like that! They will probably reject Gomez's Catholic ministry so he will be without coreligionists for the entire period of his voluntary exile. I imagine that Poul Anderson's Wodenite Jerusalem Catholic priest, Father Axor, would be capable of making a similar commitment. I would do it maybe if the Town Meeting asked/delegated me to. After all, gathering salt and watching the prisoners are important tasks and there would be plenty of time for meditation on an island in the Bahamas.

Greek etc

The Tartessian merchant speaks:

whatever language is spoken by the natives of Britain in 1250 B.C.;

Iraiina, the language of the Aryan conquerors;

several Aryan dialects;


his own native Tartessian;


a Semitic language ancstral to Hebrew and probably also to Phoenician;

bits of others.

"Part of the cost of doing business for a Taretessian merchant, evidently."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), p. 154.

Indeed. He is a very useful business contact, slave trader and part-time pirate or no slave trader and part-time pirate.

"It's All Greek To Me!"

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

Although there is no Universal Translator and Stirling emphasizes the difficulties of communication, he is also able to assume some knowledge of Greek on the part of the historian, Ian Arnstein, who exclaims:

"'Captain, he speaks Greek! It's very archaic, and he's got a thick accent, but I can catch about one word in every two - more with a little practice.'" (p. 130)

In such circumstances, canny people like traders, learning to converse for practical purposes, would necessarily also learn fragments of each others' languages. After a while, the Greek-speaking Tartessian is able to say:

"'Hello...Ianarnstein. Msdoreenrosenthal.'" (p. 152)

Arnstein replies both "Hello" in English and "Rejoice...":

" his archaic, gutturally accented Greek." (ibid.)

Arnstein reflects:

"If [he] ever met a real Mycenaean, he was probably going to sound extremely Tartessian himself, but comprehension came easily to both of them after a week of practice. He wasn't doing as well with Iraiina, but Doreen had made some progress and was beginning to pick up a little of this Greek." (ibid.)

It is a big help learning with others. A Time Patrolman would have Temporal for conversing with other time travelers, artificially implanted knowledge of other languages needed for any given mission and mental training to learn yet other languages quickly.

I heard on BBC radio that Lenin spoke English with an accent peculiar to one district of Dublin. While in London, he advertised for English-Russian conversational practice and was answered by an Irishman - who, I think, was a relative of either James Connolly or Sean O'Casey. A Time Patrolman would reflect on the quirks of history.

Then and Now

I am sure that, if we were able to visit several widely separated pre-industrial periods, then we would recognize many common features differentiating such periods from ours.

In post-Roman Britain:

"Two guards lounged on the stairs, and snapped to alertness as the agents approached."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 36.

In Cyrus' Persia:

"Guards, lean lightly armed youths, squatted beneath on their heels because standing at attention had not yet been invented. They rose, nocking wary arrows, as Everard approached." (p. 68)

In the Roman Empire:

"Two sentries stood in the portico. Like those at the gate, they challenged the Patrolman..." (p. 601)

Now those guys were standing and maybe at attention - being Romans.

In Britain in 1250 B.C.:

"A few stood leaning on their spears in front of their leader's tent of striped canvas, standing to attention not having been invented yet."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), p. 151.

On the other hand, some human communication is non-liguistic and perennial:

"...others called invitations which Doreen needed no Tartessian to understand." (Island..., pp. 151-152)

Facial expressions, hand gestures and tones of voice would have sufficed. They fall silent when their leader emerges. This also is recognizable, millennia later.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Time Patrol And Island In The Sea Of Time

We already knew that Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series was a rich work. Additionally, I have been impressed by how often it has been appropriate to refer to the Time Patrol while discussing SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time without implying that Island... imitates Anderson's series.

The points of comparison have been:

the reality of the past;
the absence of coffee in the past;
how to deal with shamans;
battles of the gods;
attempts to prevent history from being changed;
dreams of horned men;
pre-Columbian North America;
small town American time travelers.

Far from the later work imitating the earlier work, both are, in the true sf tradition, different original answers to a common basic question: what are some of the imaginable consequences of time travel with causality violation?

Would time travelers find it necessary to organize a police force to prevent causality violations?
Suppose not just an individual time traveler but an entire town were to be transported into the prehistoric past.

Another comparison that has just hit me: James Blish has entire cities crossing interstellar distances faster than light.

One Mad Pastor And Two Wise Priests

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

Does Pastor Deubel, like Poul Anderson's Time Patrol, want to prevent any historical change? No. He only wants to preserve the Crucifixion. He does not mind if European explorers of North America find a burned village on the island of Nantucket... This guy might have risen to the status of on-going villain but maybe it is better for story purposes that he hanged himself.

By contrast, the Catholic priest, Father Gomez, is the kind of Christian minister that we can do business with:

recognizing the limits of his and our understanding;
able to discuss, instead of dogmatizing about, the theological implications of multiple worlds.

When time travelers arrive with twentieth century equipment, a local shaman might regard them as threatening his social/spiritual status. We remember that Time Patrol agents exploring Beringia had to avoid offending a shaman. In Island...:

"'...what powers did they have?' the Wise Man asked, leaning forward. His seamed face was calm, but his eyes glittered with interest." (p. 122)

However, when he has learned more and is asked his opinion:

"'I sense no great evil here,' he said. 'The Powers are at work, yes, but as likely to bless as to curse. Best I go to my tent, and ask of...others.'" (p. 123)

This man and Father Gomez might be able to communicate.

A Bronze Age Feast

Did the Aryans migrate into Britain? In SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), Aryan invaders of Britain welcome traders from Nantucket with a feast in their camp. The rahax (chief) sits on a throne, his guest of honor on a smaller chair, everyone else "...on blankets or furs over straw." (p. 132) They consume:

in hollow cowhorns, mead, sour beer or sweet wine;
in clay bowls, stews;
on basketwork platters -
- fresh tough dark bread;
steamed roots;
skewered pigeons and ducks;
roast pork;
roast beef;
roast mutton;
roast horse meat;
all seasoned with sage, dill, sorrel, fennel, basil, other herbs and salt;
for the guests, a welcome change from fish.

Men cut food with their knives, eat it with their fingers, wipe their mouths with bread, then either eat the bread or throw it to dogs. Many gifts are exchanged. Captain Alston is angered when the last gift to her is a bound, naked slave girl who is also a native princess. Distaste, of course, but why anger? Surely Alston understands that this is the kind of society that she is trying to trade with? She releases the slave at the first opportunity.

An Original Idea II: Responses To Deubel's Sermon


"'...just because something big falls on you doesn't mean there's an intention behind it. That's the pathetic fallacy, historical division. Mount St. Helen's didn't blow up because God was mad at the bears.'"
-SM Stirling, Island in The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), p. 102.

As often as I have mentioned the pathetic fallacy in relation to Poul Anderson's works, it is good to see it referenced here. Martha develops the idea slightly:

the fallacy usually refers to nature, not to history;
it is usually an implied parallel between natural phenomena and human emotions, not an explicit intention behind external events.


"God's not in time. God's outside time. He's eternal." (p. 103)

I used to believe that but what does it mean? The Biblical God definitely acts in time and even in history. Of course, He might be intervening from outside it. However, I suggest that a merely atemporal consciousness without any duration would be as impossible as a merely flat plane without any depth. But might the term "transtemporal" have some meaning? A solid incorporates planes so the transtemporal might incorporate times? The transcendent Hindu Brahman might be transtemporal in which case some lesser manifestation of His, or Its, might be acting in time? Fortunately, we can meditate and act while remaining agnostic on metaphysics.

An Original Idea

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

"'Well, that's original, at least,' Cofflin said quietly." (p. 103)

It certainly is, a genuine "Why didn't I think of that?" moment. We are familiar at least with the concepts of two kinds of conflict:

(i) Biblical God-Satan stuff, Armageddon etc;

(ii) time wars, i.e., conflicts between rival groups of time travelers, like Poul Anderson's Time Patrol and Exaltationists or his Wardens and Rangers.

Has anyone thought of linking these two kinds of conflict? A Time Patrol Academy trainer says:

"'As for Babylonians, time travel just wasn't in their world-picture. We had to give them a battle-of-the-gods routine.'"
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 14.

And we would like to read a story set inside the world-view of a Babylonian Time Patrol member. In Stirling's Island..., Nantucket has been transported to 1250 B.C., thus before not only the birth but also the crucifixion of Christ. Pastor Deubel (Devil?) preaches:

science cannot explain the Event, which is both purposive and evil;
it would be blasphemous to receive Communion before the Crucifixion;
Satan must intend to change history by preventing the birth of Christ!

Imagine a Newer Testament written by Deubel with Armageddon fought be time traveling angels and demons.

Martha Stoddard, the librarian responds correctly to Deubel's nonsense about "science." Science is not a body of doctrines opposed to Deubel's Christian doctrines. Scientists try to explain phenomena. Thus, at any time, there are two kinds of phenomena:

those that have been explained;
those that have not been explained yet.

Explanations can be revised. Some phenomena might never be explained but the only way to find out is to try to explain them - and, even then we might just have to say, "This has not been explained yet." An event is explained by demonstrating that it is an instance of a law. A law is explained by demonstrating that it is an instance of a more general law. Thus, at any time, the most general laws cannot be explained. Nor can merely unique events. Conceivably, there is a residue of inexplicable unique events. Science is valid if its laws explain most events and this is confirmed because technology works. One of my facebook correspondents used to use facebook to rubbish the supposed pretensions and dogmas of "scientists." I stopped corresponding with him.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Where Is My Universal Translator?

Ian Arnstein struggles to communicate:

"Damn, he thought. this was going to take a while. In most of the fiction he'd read, there was some ingenious way around language difficulties - a Universal Translator or a wizard with a spell, or the side effects of a dimensional gate.  Here he was, living it instead of reading it, and he'd have to trudge dismally through the basics instead. I should complain to the author."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), p. 91.

For the author, see the image. And what did we discuss recently here? Now I must stop posting and attend that meditation group I mentioned.

"Tea, Please!"

Since Romano-Britons figure prominently in some works by Poul Anderson, it may be relevant to make a few more remarks about British cultural references to tea. The British are sometimes commended for their humor. In a comedy film covering the Roman conquest of Britain (see image), a Roman military man says (quoting from memory), "I don't understand these Britons. One second, they're fighting like demons; the next, someone shouts, 'Tea up!' and they all disappear."

My paternal grandmother once said, 'Have you ever been in somebody's house in the afternoon and you've wanted them to offer you a cup of tea and they haven't? Ooh, it's awful!" - but would have been horrified at the suggestion that she was a drug addict. I had to get that out of my system. I do not share this national fascination with that beverage and have moved closer to Bond on this if on nothing else. But I really must get back on track with the Nantucketers crossing the Atlantic -

"Tea Or Coffee, Sir?"

If you travel too far into the past, you will have to do without coffee. When Manse Everard camps in A.D. 49, he plays host to Time Patrol colleague, Jens Ulstrup, who has been in place for twelve years:

"'Want some coffee? You can smell it's fresh.'
"'Coffee,' Ulstrup crooned. 'I often drink it in my dreams.'"
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 563.

When Time Patrol agent, Wanda Tamberly, is a guest in 1146 A.D., she is served:

"...the usual meager, coffeeless breakfast."
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 419.

In the 1250 B.C. of a different timeline:

"One of the watch handed Alston a cup of coffee; that was something she was going to miss when they ran out."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), pp. 82-83)

Alston asks Arnstein:

"'Is there anywhere we could expect to get coffee, here and now?'
" comes from Ethiopia, originally. Kaffa province, fairly far inland. It went from there to the Yemen, and from the Yemen to everywhere. The Arabs spread it.'
"'I don't suppose...'
"'Well, Captain, there's no mention of it for more than two thousand years after this date. Tea, maybe...'"
(Island..., p. 83)

Brits, Buddhists and Merseians (and here) drink tea. Brit or no Brit, the only place I drink tea now is in our meditation group. Buddhists find it keeps them awake. The Buddhist story is that Dogen, zealous to meditate, tore off his eyelids and threw them onto the ground where they grew into the first tea shrub. (One of our monks said, "I hope that's not true...") Anderson's Technic History somewhere tells us (later: Young Flandry, p. 295) that tea spread from the Terran Empire into the Merseian Roidhunate where it grows on many planets. And who better to adjudicate between tea and coffee than James Bond?

"'I don't drink tea. I hate it. It's mud. Moreover it's one of the main reasons for the downfall of the British Empire. Be a good girl and make me some coffee.'"
-Ian Fleming, Goldfinger (London, 1975), p. 42.

We have not had a food post for a while although I look forward to some Bronze Age feasts...

We have been told that:

"'Whale steak [is] sort of like beef, only fishy.'" (Island..., p. 65)

Horned Men

"'The Horned Men walk no more in my dreams,' replied the shaman..."
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 153.

"...the Horned Man ward the Night Ones from the paths of your dreams."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), p. 77.

Not really the same, are they? Just an echo or memory from one text to another. In Island..., the response:

"'And may the Lady of the Horses be gracious to you, chieftain...'" (ibid.) -

- reads like a literary reference and, sure enough, see here, except that the dates are wrong for Stirling to be referring to Judith Tarr.

In the Anderson and Stirling texts, a passage of prehistorical fiction forms part of a time travel novel. In Island..., the Aryans, "Iraiina," (ibid.) have arrived in the Mediterranean and dealt with the traders of Tartessos, kind of like an earlier Ys. The Tartessians have transported the Aryans to the White Island. "The white cliffs of Dover..."? Meanwhile, a trading ship from Nantucket approaches Europe...


Fiction writers can do a lot of different things with time apart from time travel:

time dilation
temporal stasis
suspended animation
alternative timelines
Gergory Benford's tachyonic communication
James Blish's Dirac transmitter
transtemporal communication in Poul Anderson's Starfarers
Fred Hoyle's October The First Is Too Late

When the focus is not just on time but more specifically on time travel, I think that the purest form of time travel fiction has to involve a single continuous timeline without any causality violations. We want to get into the past, not into something that looks like our past but that diverges from our timeline as soon as we intervene in it. Divergent timelines avoid contradictions but also evade the ingenuity which some writers - Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Tim Powers and Audrey Niffenegger - are able to deploy in order to fit the free movements of time travelers into a single temporal dimension.

SM Stirling specializes in alternative timelines. His Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998) begins with time travel but this immediately initiates a divergent alternative timeline:

"Of course, we could have wiped [our friends] all out by landing here, Ian thought. He kept that firmly to himself. Nobody wanted to think about that hypothesis. Better to believe the more comforting one, that they had simply started another branch of the tree of time." (p. 71)

These two hypotheses are what I call:

3. A Single Discontinuous Timeline.
4. Divergent Timelines. (see here)

Sunday, 24 July 2016


SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

With admirable technical expertise, Stirling's characters, "Cofflin's Council" (p. 45), discuss food production, machine engineering and other practical necessities for survival. Having always been entirely theoretical and impractical, I would be unable to contribute to such a discussion. However, I would not have to be coerced to contribute unskilled manual labor and would try to learn something useful. My ideal would be the restoration of a society in which it is possible to study something other than practical skills. I would prefer to visit Europe to study Bronze Age culture than as a deck hand - although we cannot always choose our economic status! And we can rarely influence the economic level of the society that we are living in.

An even higher ideal would be a civilization in which everyone has both practical and academic abilities, everyone enjoying the benefits of technology but also able to cope with a sudden loss of technology, everyone wealthy but also wise enough not to take their wealth for granted, everyone combining all the best qualities and none of the worst qualities of former aristocrats and laborers. That is what humanity is capable of (I think).

Two Timelines

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

It seems that Nantucket 1998 A.D. and Nantucket 1250 B.C. have changed places. However, the history (and prehistory) that generated Nantucket 1998 A.D. was one in which Nantucket 1250 B.C. was not replaced by Nantucket 1998 A.D. Thus, there are at least two timelines:

in timeline 1, Nantucket 1250 B.C. remains in place and, three thousand, two hundred and forty eight years later, has gradually metamorphosed into Nantucket 1998 A.D., which disappears;

in timeline 2, Nantucket 1998 A.D., having disappeared from timeline 1, appears in 1250 B.C., displacing Nantucket 1250 B.C. - three thousand, two hundred and forty eight years later, the temporally displaced Nantucket 1988 A.D. will have gradually metamorphosed into a Nantucket different from either Nantucket 1250 B.C. or Nantucket 1998 A.D.

So where does Nantucket 1250 B.C. go? To timeline 1? That seems to me like going in the wrong direction. The disappeared Nantucket 1998 A.D. could have left a vacuum. Nantucket 1250 B.C. could have gone to timeline 3, there to occupy the same space as whatever Nantucket exists in the equivalent of 1998 A.D. in that timeline, thus causing an explosion. I don't know, though.


To summarize theories of time travel:
1. The Logical Impossibility of Causality Violation in a Single Continuous Timeline
2. The Immutability of Past Events
3. A Single Discontinuous Timeline
4. Divergent Timelines
5. Disappearing Timelines
6. Parallel Timelines
7. Successive Timelines
8. A Mutable Timeline
9. Unwinding a Timeline
-copied from here.

In theory 7, Successive Timelines, timeline 3 would be identical with timeline 2 except for any changes made by time travelers. Thus, the displaced Nantucket 1250 B.C. would occupy the same space as whatever Nantucket had existed in the equivalent of 1998 A.D. in timeline 2.

Lost In Time

A small population is stranded in time and must pull together to survive. Which sf novel am I describing? In SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), Nantucket is transported to 1250 B.C., a one way trip to the prehistoric past. In Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, a relativistic spaceship endlessly accelerates, a one way trip to the cosmic future.

In Island..., Ian Arnstein, visitor to Nantucket, is a historian and a reader of "'...speculative fiction about things like this...'" (p. 38) He will have read Tau Zero.

"At this point in the type of novel that was his favorite reading the hero would be brimming with ideas, getting people moving, organizing things, providing some leadership.'" (p.34)

This happens in Tau Zero. Arnstein reflects:

"'The problem is...I couldn't lead three sailors into a whorehouse. Somebody else will have to do it.'" (ibid.)

Somebody else, Police Chief Cofflin, has to address the town meeting. However, as soon as that framework for discussion is in place, Arnstein gives the others the benefits of his thoughts.

"Cofflin was impressed. This one's a thinker, he decided." (p. 38)

Emergencies bring out the best or the worst in people. Here is the best. Arnstein proposes:

"'...Chief Cofflin as...ah, as chief executive officer for the duration of the emergency...'" (p. 40)

The town clerk seconds. It is carried by acclamation. Arnstein proposes that the newly elected chief executive officer appoints a council, with a legislature to be elected later. Cofflin immediately appoints to the council:

the town clerk
the Coast Guard captain
the astronomer
a local campaigner
the local farm owner
the rest of the selectmen

"Cofflin's Council..." (p. 45) soon also includes the town librarian, an amateur archaeologist. Stirling presents a competent cast of characters who will square up to the challenges ahead.

No sooner had I raised the question of the fate of the Indians (here), than the novel began to address it. I should have realized the significance of this minor detail: one of the team that visits the mainland has a cold. 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Not A Museum

What would it be like to visit pre-Columbian North America? First, the air would be fresher. Secondly, here is another difference:

"He picked up a flint scraper somebody had abandoned beside a raw deerhide. Not a museum piece, he realized suddenly. It was still warm from the hand of whoever had left it."
-SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), pp. 26-27.

This reminded me of:

"This was the first moment when the reality of time travel struck home to Everard...Now, clopping through a London he did not know in a hansom cab (not a tourist-trap anachronism, but a working machine, dusty and battered), breathing an air which held more smoke than a twentieth-century city but no gasoline fumes, seeing the crowds which milled past - gentlemen in bowlers and top hats, sooty navvies, long-skirted women, and not actors but real talking, perspiring, laughing and sombre human beings off on real business - it hit him with full force that he was here. At this moment his mother had not been born, his grandparents were young couples just getting settled to harness, Grover Cleveland was President of the United States and Victoria was Queen of England, Kipling was writing and the last Indian uprisings in America yet to come...It was like a blow on the head." (p. 24)
-copied from here.

The past was real so, if we went then, we would experience it as real.

Island..., Chapter One, ends with the suicide of the Executive Officer. His captain thinks:

"God damn you, Roysins...I needed you, dammit." (p. 32)

Never commit suicide. We always have responsibilities to someone else - even if it is just to whoever would have to clean up our mess.

Pre-Columbian North America

There are two ways to enter a North America unaffected by white men:

(i) travel far enough back in time;

(ii) travel sideways into a timeline where Europeans never crossed the Atlantic.

(i) Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series;
Anderson's There Will Be Time;
SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998);
many others.

(ii) Stirling's Conquistador.

Consequently, we should find some similarities between Stirling's Island... and Conquistador.

In Island..., the disclosure of the temporal transition is gradual. First, everything is as it should be. Ian Arnstein arrives at Nantucket by ferry but no one is contemplating a journey through time. Then strange electrical activity covers the sky. When the activity ceases, people start to notice that the sky is not as it should be in March 1998 A.D. There is radio silence except for contact with one nearby ship. Aerial surveillance  reveals that:

sea currents are disturbed;
nearly extinct whales are present in large numbers;
Cape Cod has neither roads nor houses;
dense forest grows to the water;
near the shore are a few people with crude shelters and log canoes.

When the astronomer, Doreen Rosenthal, explains to the pilot and a Coast Guard in the plane, we are not told what she says. At this point in a film, the camera would pull back to outside the plane so that we would merely see her speaking through a window - but we would be beginning to realize what had happened.

Some of the differences we realize we should have anticipated:

"The air was not only warm, it was fresh like nothing he'd ever smelled. Closer to the huts it wasn't as pleasant; evidently whoever lived there had never heard of latrines." (p. 26)

Where ancient Native Americans unhygienic? I suppose we don't know. Will these "Indians" suffer the same fate as those in Conquistador?

"He Looks Like..."

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998).

Police Chief Jared Cofflin meets Coast Guard Lieutenant William Walker and thinks:

"He looks like... what's that guy's name... Redford, yeah." (p. 23)

In a film proposal or screen treatment, to state that a character resembles a known actor is to suggest that that actor should play that character. Is that what is going on here?

Film Ideas
I previously discussed how to film particular works by Poul Anderson. How about SM Stirling's? Conquistador, The Peshawar Lancers and The Sky People would be spectacular. As with 1984, an authentic dramatization of the Draka History would be horrific. However, the series is a dystopia and dystopias are as valid as utopias, comedies, tragedies etc. I would not like to see all the torture and indeed think that it would be wrong to show it in graphic detail. However, we need to be informed that such things happen in fiction and in reality.

How did we get from Redford to the Draka? Let's get back to the temporally displaced Nantucket...

Nautical Terms II

Recently, I listed "Nautical Terms" in Poul Anderson's The Merman's Children. This is what I am learning from SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), pp. 12-13:

"Nor'easter at twenty knots."
mast captain
clew up
pinrail supervisor
the yards
sea furl
Benin bronze (not nautical)
yards sharp-braced
windjammer (see image)
main and foremasts
forward lookout
shoal water
wind southing
"Brace them sharp..."

Now I could google that entire list but why not let page viewers do that this time if they want to? Meanwhile, what is happening in the sky? We will get to that soon. Anyone else reading the novel right now will be way ahead of me.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Introductions Of Characters And Of A Scenario

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), pp. 10-11.

(The visuals of Nantucket will keep us supplied with images for a very long time.)

"Doreen Rosenthal pecked at her computer..." (p. 10)

We are all familiar with that these days. I am doing it now. Doreen is the viewpoint character on pp. 10-11, to be replaced by Police Chief Jared Cofflin on p. 11. He is followed by Captain Marian Alston on pp. 12-15. We are being introduced to the characters of a novel.

Doreen is a student intern filling an astronomy post with the Margaret Milson Association which is a fictitious organization. I deduce that from the fact that, when I google it, the only reference that I can find to it is in a later novel by SM Stirling. Doreen practices kata.

These characters gradually disclose the nature of a problem:

Ian Arnstein merely detected "...the tantalizing smells..." of a seafood dinner (p. 10);
however, Doreen "...realized what was happening in the sky..." (p. 11);
Jared, jarred, stands staring upward and hears screams (ibid.);
Marian on a sailing ship...

...well, I haven't read that far yet - but the plot definitely thickens.

Nantucket Sensory Impressions

SM Stirling, Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), pp. 9-11.

Ian Arnstein is a viewpoint character on pp. 9-10. Doreen Rosenthal takes over on pp. 10-11. How does Arnstein manage for sensory impressions? He sees fog, feels chill and smells a good seafood meal as he approaches John Cofflin House, a whaling magnate's mansion converted to an inn in the 1850s, which seems to be a fictional venue.

In fact, reflection on the sense of smell is used to make a keen historical observation. Although the place still looks the way it did when Melville etc knew it:

" probably smells a lot better these days. Must have reeked something fierce when the harborfront was lined with whale-oil refineries." (p. 10)

How many authors present the viewpoint character's thoughts in italics? I first became aware of this practice when reading Poul Anderson while still at school. I soon understand what Anderson was getting at. Italics without inverted commas meant our hero's thoughts. But another pupil had to ask me, "Who is saying this?"

So far, we have had an introduction to Nantucket but no indication as yet within the text that the characters or indeed the whole island are going to time travel - although the description of the town as frozen in time kind of leads into that idea. John Wyndham's "Stitch In Time" (see here) begins with the old woman sitting in a garden that is unchanged since her childhood...

Frozen In Time

SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998) is subtitled "A Novel of the Change." An evocative subtitle. Every novel is about changes in the lives of its characters. Some also describe historical changes. This one is about a change significant enough to be called "...the Change." It will be different from "the Fall" in the same author's The Peshawar Lancers. There is a Changes Trilogy in British juvenile fiction.

The text of Island... covers pp. 9-608 without any blank paper in between. It begins with CHAPTER ONE, March, 1998 A.D., and ends with EPILOGUE, March, Year 3 A.E. There are no Appendices, a frequent feature of this kind of fiction.

"The collapse of the whaling industry during the Civil War era had frozen Nantucket in time, down to the huge American elms along Main Street and the cobblestone alleys. The British travel writer Jan Morris had called it the most beautiful small town in the world, mellow brick and shingle in Federal or neoclassical style. A ferociously restrictive building code kept it that way, a place where Longfellow and Whittier would have felt at home and Melville would have taken a few minutes to notice the differences." (pp 9-10)

(For Nantucket Main Street, see the image.)

Which other North American author of nostalgic time travel fiction might have written that description of Main Street? Poul Anderson, certainly. A visit to Nantucket might suit either Manse Everard or Jack Havig, two time traveling small town Americans.

 "The Midwest of [Everard's] boyhood, before he went off to war in 1942, was like a dream, a world forever lost, already one with Troy and Carthage and the innocence of the Inuit. He had learned better than to return."
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 178.

However, the nostalgic time travel writer par excellence is Jack Finney. A Finney time traveler would find himself in the past merely by walking down that Main Street and would not need a time machine.