Saturday, 17 September 2016


Poul Anderson wrote historical fiction set on Earth and futuristic science fiction set on many planets. However, as Anderson always points out, each of those planets is a world with a history. What was happening on Merseia while the Roman Empire ruled on Earth? Sandra Miesel, drawing a historical comparison, says of the Persian Sassanid's that:

"Their obsession with hunting and their fiercely romantic masculinity were uncannily Merseian in flavor."
-Sandra Miesel, "Afterword: The Price of Buying Time" IN Poul Anderson, A Stone In Heaven (New York, 1979), pp. 237-251 AT p. 244.

There is a Star Trek episode where Enterprise crew members briefly time travel to a pre-industrial period on an extrasolar planet and hear local speech that is rendered in Shakespearean English. Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry, addressing Mersians, has the problem that his Eriau is two hundred years out of date:

"'I pray forgiveness, Hand, if perchance in mine ignorance I misuse thy...uh ...your tongue. Naught was intended save friendliness. Hither bring I news of peril impending, for the which ye must busk yourselves betimes lest ye lose everything ye possess. My folk would fain show your folk what to do. So vast is the striving needed, and so scant the time, that perforce you must take our counsel. Else we can be of no avail. But never will we act as conquerors. 'Twere not simply an evil deed, but 'twould boot us naught, whose trafficking is with many worlds. Nay, we would be brothers, come to help in a day of sore need.'" (David Falkayn: Star Trader), pp. 214-215. (Full reference here.)

Poul Anderson as always makes the English language do what he wants it to. In this passage, he bestows a sense of history on a fictitious future by carefully crafting Falkayn's speech which verges on the comical.

The Merseians accepting League help recall SM Stirling's Babylonians accepting an alliance with Nantucket - except that the Merseians resent and distrust any offer of help whereas the Babylonians are farsighted enough to be eager and enthusiastic.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

If I had to guess, I would say practically all of Merseia was still very primitive when the Roman Empire flourished. But there might have been analogs to Pharaohnic Egypt, Sumerian/Akkadian civilization, Achaean Greece, etc.

I agree with what you said about how Poul Anderson's skillful use of language was appropriate to what we see in "Day of Burning." Falkayn struggling with an archaic form of Eriau and Morruchan using a much more up to date version. And a comic touch was brought in when Falkayn bogged down on the impossibility of describing electronics based technology in the Eriau he knew.

I am not entirely sure I can agree with Sandra Miesel's comparing of Merseia with Sassanid Persia. But I would need to read up more about Sassanian Persia to decide either way.

Yes, many of the Merseian leaders in "Day of Burning" resented and distrusted the assistance offered by the Polesotechnic League. A resentment which had very important and long range consequences! I also agree the Babylonians showed greater foresight. However, don't forget how King Shagakti-Shuriash and his son Kashtiliash also kept in mind the prudent thought that Babylon's interests might not always march with those of Nantucket!