Tuesday, 11 October 2016

...And Lewis

I am still juggling with three Wells-Stapledon-Anderson parallels:

interplanetary invasion;
time travel;
future history.

Another relevant author is CS Lewis whose unique brand of theological sf is polemically anti-Wellsian and anti-Stapledonian whereas Poul Anderson, although he addresses some theological issues, primarily continues and extends the tradition of Wells and Stapledon. (A full list of other writers compared with Anderson on the blog is here.)

Interplanetary Invasion
Lewis inverts the interplanetary invasion idea. In his Trilogy, any extraterrestrial incursions are entirely benign. Planetary angels descend to empower the revived Merlinus Ambrosius who then inflicts demonically possessed scientists with the curse of Babel. An earlier benign incursion had been the birth of Maleldil as a hnau in Thulcandra - but I leave it to readers of the Trilogy to understand words in the Solar language. A space-faring scientist is the demonically possessed instrument of a literally diabolical assault on the Paradisal oceanic planet Venus. And here is another parallel because, in Anderson's "Sister Planet," an Earthman kills the peaceful inhabitants of an oceanic Venus.

Time Travel
Lewis' "The Dark Tower" is modeled on Wells' The Time Machine. Both works begin with a group of characters discussing the concept of time travel. On the basis of what I regard as a fallacious argument, Lewis' characters conclude that physical time travel is impossible. However, Lewis then introduces parallel Earths which tie in with Wells' Men Like Gods, with several works by Anderson and with major contributions by Harry Turtledove and SM Stirling.

Future History
Lewis did not write a future history but did ask: what kind of future do we want? In Wells' and Stapledon's future histories, mankind remakes itself with science. The concluding volume of Lewis' Trilogy expresses the antithetical view that any such project would in fact mean some men controlling others with science. Anderson mainly follows Wells and Stapledon by presenting anthropocentric futures although his character, Fr Axor, pursues a Lewisian program by seeking evidence for the Universal Incarnation. Anderson's later future histories go further by presenting Artificial Intelligences as displacing or even replacing mankind. I suspect that Lewis would have regarded AI as either impossible or diabolical.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I consider Anderson's "Sister Planet" to be one of the most powerful stories ever written by him (despite PA using the now discredited view of Venus as being oceanic). The story packed such intensity of emotion and thought alike into it that I could not bring myself to reread it again for years.

I recall how the scientific research station on Venus was explicitly compared to a monastery. And the scientists as the Brothers of Venus Station.

A special intensity of feeling came from how the narrator discovered that the dolphin like animals of Venus were not animals but intelligent beings and the danger they faced from Venus being made more like Earth. Extra intensity came from the other scientist who had worked out a practical means of making Venus more like Earth voluntarily destroying the records of his plans on being convinced the dolphin like animals were intelligent. That was not enough for the narrator, who destroyed both a city of the Venusians and his fellow scientists, so that Venus would be definitely saved.

I've read quite a few of C.S. Lewis' works, but I somehow missed his "The Dark Tower" (was the title inspired by his friend JRR Tolkien's use of "the Dark Tower" for the stronghold of Sauron in THE LORD OF THE RINGS?). I would be interested in reading the story to find out more about the argument against time travel that you thought unconvincing.

Also, the idea that Lewis' "The Dark Tower" "ties in" with various stories by Poul Anderson, Harry Turtledove, and S.M. Stirling is very interesting. Lewis died in 1963, some 16 years after Anderson started regularly writing, so I hope an SF fan like Lewis read a fair number of PA's earlier works. If so, what did Lewis think of them?

I see what you mean by Fr. Axor pursuing a "Lewisian" project, because Lewis did speculate about whether Our Lord became incarnate on other worlds. Lewis also wondered if UnFallen intelligent races would be endangered by a Fallen mankind--with them either corrupted by mankind of fending us off.

An important point to keep in mind about Anderson's HARVEST OF STARS books and GENESIS was not only the threat posed by AIs to mankind but also the ways to either defy or find ways around that threat.