Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Changing Past

Not only is the past unchangeable. It might even be defined as that which cannot be changed as opposed to the present which is changing and the future which is to be.

Two sf nightmares are SM Stirling's Draka, the survival of slave-owning society, and George Orwell's 1984 where, to paraphrase, it is said that:

the past exists only in memories and records;
the Party controls memories and records.

(Present reality will hit the Party hard when its power sources run out or a comet strikes the Earth.)

However, our knowledge, interpretation and understanding of the past continually change:

"New data and insights often cause us to revise our ideas about the past and even the present."
-Poul Anderson, Orion Shall Rise (London, 1988), Author's Note, p. vii.

A few passages in Poul Anderson's Technic Future History connect with his fictional works set in historical or prehistorical periods, e.g., here. Another is when van Rijn quotes:

"'Like they used to say in Old Norse and such places, 'Bare is brotherless back.'" (David Falkayn: Star Trader, p. 431)

I remember this phrase from somewhere in Anderson's historical fiction but does anyone know where?

When reminded that he is praying to a mythical figure, St George, van Rijn replies:

"'Bah,' said van Rijn loftily. 'They got no faith. I need a good fighting saint, who says God can't improve the past and make me one?'" (p. 393)

In his Introduction to "Death and the Knight," Anderson quoted St Thomas Aquinas as declaring that even God cannot change the past. However, Anderson himself could write different pasts - and, in some of them, gods and miracle-working saints do exist.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I would suggest that a nightmare society like that of the Draka will be far worse than most other societies which had slavery. Because, instead of slavery being mostly an accident of history being eroded away as time passed, the Draka worked out an entire IDEOLOGY to justify slavery. And that was one reason the Draka became increasingly hostile to Christianity, because of how Christians beliefs, taken seriously led to the erosion of slavery.

The Scandinavian/Eddaic saying "Bare is brotherless back" can be found in many of Poul Anderson's works. Most recently, I saw Holger Carlsen using it in THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS after meeting Sir Carahue.


David Birr said...

Sean beat me to it about the saying in *Three Hearts*. And I agree that it's likely to occur in several other of PA's stories.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

And I know I've seen PA quoting that saying in others of his works, such as HROLF KRAKI'S SAGA, THE LAST VIKING, WAR OF THE GODS, etc.