Thursday, 30 March 2017

Consequences Of War

An army in retreat should destroy bridges behind it. How destructive is war. How profitable for arms manufacturers and construction firms. After SM Stirling's Change, the Rangers sabotage a bridge about to be used by Protectorate troops. This is unfortunately necessary but think of the labor necessary to rebuild bridges post-Change. No more profitable construction contracts.

As soon as the Rangers attack the Protectorate troops, the collared laborers of the Protectorate immediately turn on the troops. This is sufficient proof that the Protectorate must be overthrown as quickly as possible. It is an enjoyable read but I hope to read further and reach narratives about the rebuilding of America after the worst dictators have been overthrown?

Definitely the last post for March, folks. I expect to read some comments on these last few posts.

Crossovers And Sequels?

(i) Manse Everard arrives in the Draka timeline. He must first prevent the Domination from acquiring his timecycle and secondly return pastward to delete that timeline.

(ii) Some of SM Stirling's Rangers meet some of Tolkien's Elves in Poul Anderson's Old Phoenix and learn that life in Middle Earth is not what they think it is.

(iii) Now that Aycharaych no longer has any reason to work for Merseia, and assuming that he survived the bombardment of Chereion, could he and Flandry become friends like Elliot S. Maggins' Superman and Luthor (see here) or is there too much bad blood after Aycharaych's subversion of Flandry's son and Flandry's destruction of Aycharaych's home planet? I would not feel safe befriending Aycharaych until I was sure that he had recanted his past actions.

(iv) Get this: imagine confessing to a telepathic priest.

(v) Some readers are now saying that I can keep these ideas to myself.

Nature Returns

Just north from here, there are narrow winding country roads with long grass, bushes and tree trunks on each side and branches meeting overhead. Driving there, I wonder how long it would take for nature to cover the roads if human beings withdrew from this island. This question applies to many post-catastrophe scenarios although not to all. A nuclear winter would kill every blade of grass.

I wonder if anyone still lives on Earth after Poul Anderson's Terran Empire has fallen and, if so, what shape they are in. Their urbanized planet would not have retained country roads in Cumbria - unless Britian was a noble's estate.

SM Stirling tells us what happens to a road after the Change:

a decade of neglect;
rushing water;
blocked culverts;
overflowing ditches;
saplings sprouting in potholes and cracks;
roots working at the road's foundations;
in a few human lifetimes (that long?), water and trees would make the road "...a memory and a faint trace through forest..." (A Meeting At Corvallis, Chapter Nine, p. 237)

Conceptual Sequels

We all know what a sequel is but is there another kind: a conceptual sequel?

A sequel, e.g., to The War Of The Worlds, assumes that the events of that novel occurred whereas a conceptual sequel is a work in which the characters have read the earlier novel and are able to discuss it and to base some of their actions upon it.


HG Wells' Star Begotten is a conceptual sequel to his The War Of The Worlds;

in SM Stirling's Change series, a group of characters take advantage of the post-technological conditions to base their life-style on Tolkien's fantasies, even referring to the post-Change era as the Fifth Age;

in Poul Anderson's There Will Be Time, one of the mutant time travellers sold the time travel idea to HG Wells;

also, Anderson's mutants, while time travelling, see their environment speeded up, as Wells' Time Traveller did.


I want to stay with the theme of the previous post.

A reputation can grow into a legend, even in the person's lifetime, and the legend can become a myth. For a living legend, see the Sean Connery film, Robin And Marion. (Connery and Robert Shaw play, respectively, Robin and the Sheriff in this film and also James Bond and Donovan Grant in From Russia, With Love. Legends indeed.) When I told someone that there is still a Sheriff of Nottingham and that he sometimes breaks strikes, my friend replied, "Legends live!" For a legend becoming a myth, see Elliot S. Maggin's Superman.

Poul And Karen reconstruct a legend in The King Of Ys.

Quiz questions: How often are van Rijn and Adzel referenced in the Flandry series and where?

Literary question: Is Flandry's Legacy an appropriate title for the concluding volume of Baen Books' Technic Civilization Saga?

Flandry's legacy is indeed that some planets are better prepared to survive during the Long Night. He rescued Vixen from alien conquest. Vixen founded New Vixen and a New Vixenite contacted descendants of rebels exiled by Flandry. Although the Terran Empire fell, the Merseian Roidhunate did not move in to occupy post-Imperial space. Flandry had done a lot to thwart the Merseians and maybe contribute to their decline.

Cairncross hoped to be remembered through the lifetime of the universe (see here): a truly mad wish.

A Man And His Rep

A reputation is a curious phenomenon. When a man gets one, he and it can part company or he can find himself in a time and place where his reputation is unknown so that he is back to being just a regular guy. If a series character routinely saves the world, or whatever they do, then later instalments should reflect his growing reputation among his equally fictitious contemporaries. We can illustrate this process by comparing:

Poul Anderson's Big Four (we know who they are by now - OK, they are van Rijn, Falkayn, Flandry and Everard);
James Blish's Kennedy/Ktendi;
Ian Fleming's James Bond;
Alan Moore's Evey Hammond;
Stieg Larsson's Mikael Blomkvist;
SM Stirling's Aylward the Archer.

I compare Anderson with a regular rota of other writers of rich texts.

To begin on a more modest scale, once when addressing a public meeting in Lancaster, I introduced myself, then added, "I am generally known around here as Aileen's dad, which gives me some street cred in Lancaster!" (Laughter.)

The narrator of "The Master Key" knows that Nicholas van Rijn is:

"...the single-handed conqueror of Borthu, Diomedes, and t'Kela!"
-Poul Anderson, "The Master Key" IN Anderson, David Falkayn: Star Trader (New York, 2010), pp. 275-327 AT p. 281 -

- and so do we if we have read the relevant three instalments.

David Falkayn becomes famous when he and his crew together with their employer, van Rijn, avert a threat to Technic civilisation but, later, when he is held prisoner in another planetary system, he is told that he is not famous in that volume of space.

The second time we meet Flandry in his original series he is rightly addressed as:

"'Dominic Flandry, the single-handed conqueror of Scothania...'"
-Poul Anderson, "Honorable Enemies" IN Anderson, Captain Flandry Defender Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2010), pp. 277-302 AT p. 280.

When Duke Edwin Cairncross meets Flandry, he says:

"'So this is the legendary Admiral Flandry.'"
-Poul Anderson, A Stone In Heaven IN Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), pp. 3-188 AT p. 37.

Flandry replies by distinguishing between the legend and the reality:

"'No, the objectively real, Admiral Flandry, I hope.'" (ibid.)

He hopes that he is the real Flandry, not a fictional one! Cairncross knows what Flandry achieved on Chereion even though this exploit has not been publicised.

A Time Patrol colleague tells Manse Everard:

"'Heard something about you at the school. Seems you led quite an adventurous life even before you joined. And afterward -'"
-Poul Anderson, "The Sorrow Of Odin The Goth" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), pp. 333-465 AT p. 353.

We know about the "afterward." We also gather, as the series progresses, that Everard gains an informal senior status even among his fellow Unattached agents.

James Blish's character, Kennedy:

The Night Shapes combines two Edgar Rice Burroughs themes: African adventure and living dinosaurs (Tarzan and The Land That Time Forgot). Its central character, Kit Kennedy, has a strange affinity not with apes but with snakes and is a living legend: Ktendi, Son of Wisdom, King of the Wassabi, Master of Serpents. One officious European, unaware that he is addressing the source of the legend, says:

“There’s no such thing as Ktendi…And, as for you, Mr Kennedy, why don’t you mind your own business?" 2
-copied from here.

James Bond is a secret agent but some of his exploits are publicised. A former friend and colleague then writes some inaccurate popular accounts.

Alan Moore's Evey assists the terrorist, V. She overhears one of her interrogators commenting, "So this scrawny specimen is the famous Evey Hammond!" He is simultaneously contrasting the reality with the legend and flattering her as "famous." (Quoting from memory rather than digging DC Comics V For Vendetta out of a box in the cellar.)

Mikael Blomkvist, journalist, exposes some bank robbers and is nicknamed "Kalle" after a fictitious character. Then he gets a rep as an investigative journalist and is much seen on TV.

When a messenger announces:

"'I'm looking for the First Armsman of Clan Mackenzie, Aylward the Archer...'"
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Nine, p. 221 -

and Sam replies:

"'That's me...'" (ibid.) -

he gets:

"...the expecting someone taller look he often did from those who knew him by reputation only." (ibid.) -

and responds:

"'Sorry if I don't live up to the stories.'" (ibid.)

I couldn't have put it better myself.

A Scandinavian Family

Many of Poul Anderson's characters are movers and shakers, men who make things happen. While reading Stieg Larsson's summary of the history of his fictional Vanger family, I was struck by parallels with several Andersonian scenarios and also with SM Stirling's Lorings:

Alexandre Vangeersad, a soldier, came from France to Sweden with King Jean Baptiste Bernadotte and, in 1818, was rewarded with an estate in Norrland where he also bought forested land;

his son, adminstering the estate, applied new European methods to farming and forestry and founded a pulp and paper mill;

his grandson, who shortened the surname to Vanger, developed trade with Russia, founded a merchant fleet that served Germany, the Baltics and the English steel industry and diversified into mining and metal industries;

although his two great-grandsons engaged in power struggles that threatened the survival of the company, they also laid the basis for the high-finance Vanger clan.

That story sounded familiar more than once.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

About Everything

Is science fiction about the future? No. It is about everything. In Poul Anderson's science fiction, it matters:

what happened at the Battle of Ticinus in the Second Punic War;
what would have happened if Cyrus the Great had been killed in infancy;
which Pope was born when during the European Middle Ages;
how the myth of Atlantis originated;
why past civilizations declined - because similar factors might influence future civilizations;
how life evolved - because this is relevant to how it might evolve elsewhere;
how the universe originated.

These are just seven of many possible examples.

In SM Stirling's science fiction, we need to know the names and dates of twentieth century British monarchs because Stirling creates, among several alternative timelines, two that diverge in 1878 and 1998, respectively. It matters what the world was like in 1250 BC if only because Stirling's time travelers will soon change that world out of all recognition.

Thus, knowledge of the past affects time travel fiction, alternative history fiction and futuristic science fiction.

Royalty In Fact And Fiction

In Britain, we have monarchs in history, in historical fiction and in contemporary society so how about science fiction?

In Our Timeline
1837-1901  Victoria
1901-1910  Edward VII
1910-1936  George V
1936           Edward VIII
1936-1952  George VI
1952-          Elizabeth II

In SM Stirling's Angrezi Raj Timeline
1837-1882  Victoria I
1882-1900  Edward
1900-1921  George IV
1921-1942  Victoria II
1942-1989  Albert I
1989-2005  Elizabeth II
2005-2025  John II
2025-          Charles III

In SM Stirling's Change Timeline
1952-1999  Elizabeth II
1999-          Charles III

And, in Poul Anderson's Technic History timeline, we theorize that the Terran Emperor appoints a descendant of the House of Windsor as the Mayor Palatine of Britain.

The Lady II

See here.

In an improvised soul-friendship oath ceremony, Rudi drinks from the cup that the Goddess offers to the Lord, then Mathilda drinks from the cup that Mary held for her son. I would think that this ceremony is valid in either tradition?

I attended a hand-fast where my Wiccan neighbor, who was not being hand-fasted, merely attending and participating, was surprised to find himself without any prior warning reading aloud a prayer invoking the Lord Jesus! Of course, the somewhat inept celebrant had failed to make clear from the outset that, since the bride was Christian, her deity had to be invoked as well. The first rule of effective ceremonial is no surprises.

Multi-faith events are meaningful if everyone knows what they are doing in the first place. At a ceremony for peace in the Catholic Cathedral, Lancaster, there was a sharing of scriptures from the Veda in Sanskrit, the Torah in Hebrew, John's Gospel in English and the Koran in Arabic.

The Lady

SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Eight, p. 186.

Mathilda wonders whether swearing soul-friendship with a Pagan would upset the Virgin.

"Rudi didn't say that no Aspect of the Lady would cry about people swearing friendship; it wouldn't be tactful." (p. 186)

But he does tell her that, in Ireland, people continued to swear the oath after they had become Christians. The tame Church of the Protectorate would probably oppose this friendship between heirs on merely political grounds.

Rudi has two bases for ecumenism: tact and the phrase, "the Lady." Wiccans say "Lady." Christians say "Our Lady." If everyone avoids the word "Goddess," then it might be possible to agree on Aspects of the Lady?

I am convinced that there is a reality that is described by myths and that we can see truth in each others' myths. When I visit a Church Hall where there are posters about God and sin, I think of oneness and alienation.


We want to know what happens afterwards:

Odin and Thor die at the Ragnark;
the Bible ends with a cosmic "afterwards";
King Arthur goes elsewhere;
Robin Hood shoots a last arrow;
Travers, Bowie and Crocket die at the Alamo;
Frank Miller's Dark Knight ends his career in a staged fight with Clark Kent;
van Rijn travels in Muddlin' Through, trying to hold the Polesotechnic League together, then leads an expedition outside known space;
David Falkayn leads the colonization of Avalon;
Adzel and Chee Lan stay in touch, preparing their people for what is to come;
Dominic Flandry becomes an informal Imperial adviser (I think he should become Emperor);
Manse Everard must soon move house but otherwise continues his indefinitely extended lifespan in the Patrol;
I do not yet know what becomes of SM Stirling's Sir Nigel Loring.

Liked Characters

When we turn a page and begin to read the next chapter of a novel or the next story in a collection, it is the job of the text to hold our attention. A familiar character's name helps: Sherlock Holmes if we were reading The Strand magazine. Poul Anderson's two main series are surely the Technic History and the Time Patrol and Anderson's four most prominent continuing characters appear in these two series: Nicholas van Rijn, David Falkayn and Dominic Flandry in the History and Manse Everard in the Patrol. The first three of these characters are named in titles and appear on covers.

In SM Stirling's Change series, I am delighted to turn a page and find a reference to Sir Nigel Loring, especially when it turns out that the old devil is about to propose shyly to Juniper Mackenzie. I was pleased to learn that he had not been killed at the end of the previous volume. See here. Sir Nigel described a Provisional IRA man that he had killed as  a "poor chap" and came into conflict with a King who would not call a Parliament. I am unlikely to come into contact with a baronet who is also an SAS colonel before the Change but would certainly appreciate his company after it.


Help me out here, guys. I remember a Poul Anderson story but not the title or which collection it is in. I could go and get all the collections from a bookshelf upstairs but don't want to disturb Sheila who is resting in that room. Lots of people pray for a sign and the Sun stands still for twenty four hours. I have discussed the story on the blog and, when I am reminded of the title, will link to the earlier posts. It is a rare example of an sf story featuring an intervention by a superior power.

(Addendum: The story is "A Chapter Of Revelation" (see here), an unmemorable title. I found it by experimentally searching the blog for the phrase, "The Sign.")

Three Other Examples
In The Inferno by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle, the galactic centre has become a quasar and the radiation reaches Earth, killing many and destroying civilization, driving the survivors back to earlier forms of social organization. Just before the radiation reached its lethal peak, there was a darkening which prevented sterilization of the Earth. Astronomers determine that that darkening was artificial. A higher power had intervened to save the little creatures of the universe.

SM Stirling has powerful beings terraforming Venus and Mars in one timeline and another (?) power sabotaging technology in another timeline. Although most of us are glad to have been born in technological civilization, Rudi Mackenzie is glad to live after the Change. He prefers fields and woods to cities. Did whoever caused the Change do humanity a favor? Would we have destroyed ourselves with technology if it had not been taken from us?


(There is a line of thought here...)

The villain in a novel by Dornford Yates was called "'Rose' Noble."

The James Bond villain, Mr Big, funded his operations with a pirate treasure that included coins called "Rose Nobles." (Thus I learned why Yates' character was nicknamed "Rose.")

Sf authors imagine future currencies. We mentioned Heinlein's "Imperials" here. Two other future historical currencies, including one of Poul Anderson's, are mentioned in the Comments.

SM Stirling's post-Change Protectorate practises many deliberate archaisms, including the reintroduction of the gold rose nobel coin.

(We got there in the end.)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017


SM Stirling's Rangers have made Tolkien's invented Sindarin a living language and have had to make up new words to fill the gaps. Stirling's Sir Nigel Loring learned Irish when he was an SAS man in Northern Ireland. (I am not sure whether any SAS men really did this?) Poul Anderson's Olaf Masgnusson can negotiate with the Merseians because he speaks not only Eriau but also two other Merseian languages. Today, I heard of an American actor who learned two Indian languages to make films for Bollywood. I cannot speak Irish, French, Latin or Esperanto despite having studied all four languages at different times.

I think that there are two problems:

a language has to be taught and/or learned properly;
it helps if the learner has some aptitude not only for learning one language in childhood but also for learning others later.

It can be done but not easily by everyone.

The Unambiguous

Posting here about ambiguity in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization recalls the unambiguity of EE Smith's Lensman series. I have read Lensman neither in its entirety nor recently so am unable to comment at length. I do remember a bar conversation between two incorruptible Lensmen and two immoral women. What was memorable about that passage was its unidimensional characterization. Apart from a shared spoken language, there was no common ground between the two pairs of characters. There is purity and there is depravity and never the twain shall meet.

Dominic Flandry would have been able to share the women's "immorality" while furthering his mission. Flandry is not only a believable character but also a different believable character from Nicholas van Rijn, David Falkayn and Manse Everard. A competent writer addresses moral issues without presenting stereotypes of morality and immortality. In particular, note David Falkayn's disgust at the ruthlessness of some League companies and what he does about it. Also, there is van Rijn's ability to resolve conflicts and to make peace for trade by addressing diverse interests. Falkayn practises "the van Rijn method" on Ikrananka when he points out that a displaced warrior caste can be employed as guards for caravans on the new trade routes. If you have to disrupt a society, then make sure that everyone involved has a stake in the new set-up. And don't just judge everyone as either good or bad.

Preparation For War II

In Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, the Terran Empire is right to prepare for war against barbarians and Merseians but the Avalonians and Freeholders are also right to prepare for war against the Terran Empire and what of the Ansans, Aeneans and Braeans who also resist Imperial annexation albeit unsuccessfully? The Braean case is particularly unjust.

Anderson's Technic History may be unique among future histories in presenting this degree of historical ambiguity. In my formative years, ambiguity was rare and shocking. In juvenile historical fiction, the English were good guys when fighting the French but became bad guys when fighting the Scots.

In three works by SM Stirling, the evil of the cannibal Russians, the slave-owning Draka and the neo-feudal Protectorate is unequivocal. There will never be a narrative in which their enemies are wrong to oppose them.

The War

When I was growing up in Britain in the 1950s, the War and the Coronation were major recent events. For how much longer will contemporary fiction continue to have characters who were alive during World War II? I will mention just three examples.

Poul Anderson's Manse Everard was born in 1924 (see here) so he was in the War. Recruited into the Time Patrol in 1954, Everard is then able to travel to the War and indeed to anywhen else but my immediate interest in Everard focuses merely on the fact that, having been born when he was, he lived through the War, and indeed participated in it, before he became a time traveler.

Ian Fleming's James Bond had been in the War although Fleming presents two contradictory accounts of this earlier period of Bond's life. In the 1960s, Bond works with the Head of the Japanese Secret Service, who had volunteered for kami-kaze.

Stieg Larsson's Henrik Vanger reaches his eighty-second birthday and shortly afterwards informs Mikael Blomkvist and thus us that he was born in 1920 - earlier than Everard! Thus, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, published in 2005, is set in 2002-'03. Fiction set in the twenty-first century would previously have been sf. And we are now in 2017 so, if a character in a novel set in this year was born in 1939, then he is now seventy-eight, ten years older than me. It can still be done but not for much longer.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Preparation For War

When I was an undergraduate, I was a "pacifist." Some of us labelled ourselves. Now my views are more considered but do not conform to those of my then elders. For example, I now say that:

in some circumstances, an armed population can resist a military coup whereas an unarmed population is defenceless;

when a minority is being persecuted, mere maintenance of order means continuation of the persecution... therefore, a collective right to self-defence comes on the agenda.

Some writers of "military sf" present scenarios where it is right to prepare for war:

against Merseia in Poul Anderson's Technic History;
against the Draka in SM Stirling's Draka series;
against the Protectorate in Stirling's Change series.

In real life, the distinction between defence and offence does not always seem that clearcut. I now think that:

every individual at least has a moral right to physical self-defence;

however, whether an empire or great power has a right to defend what its decision-makers regard as its economic or strategic interests in another continent is a different issue, to say the least;

a police marksman is right to put a bullet in the head of a terrorist holding hostages;

"defence" can never mean the use of nuclear devices against a population.

Anderson shows us a character, Gunnar Heim, waging war as a privateer in one situation but criticizing a later war as imperialistic. See here and here. Thus, Anderson presents more than one side of every question.

Robert Heinlein acknowledged that he glorified the military and he opposed conscription. Free men fight. When I opened a comic book adaptation of Starship Troopers and saw a panel in which a general demanded more conscription, I immediately closed it again.

Eating And Killing (Or Vice Versa)

SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Five, p. 115ff.

In the Bearkillers' embassy at Corvallis:

smoked salmon cooked in cream and dill;
crab stir-fried with scallions and ginger;
blue cheese with crackers;

The talk over the food is the familiar kind of discussion about the balance of forces and an imminent war - also how to flush out bandits. Casual killing of bandits seems a shame after the population has been reduced so drastically. However, the settled communities are thriving and reproducing. As the meal shows, there is plenty of wealth for bandits to steal. The crabs are brought inland by rail in saltwater tanks with the wheels working fans to circulate the water. Ingenious. And, of course, the sea is full of crabs. Former vegetarians eat meat - but not all have descended into cannibalism.

Preserving Civilization

After the Catastrophe, whichever catastrophe we imagine, we want not only to survive physically but also to remain civilized and indeed human.

In SM Stirling's Emberverse, a knight of the Protectorate regards a Benedictine and a Ranger as:

"'False priest and devil-worshipping whore...'"
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Four, p. 98.

The Protectorate has maintained social order but retrogressed culturally. By contrast, the Ranger invites the Benedictine to stay overnight and share:

roast boar;
scalloped potatoes;
cauliflower with cheese;
dried-blueberry tarts and whipped cream;
(For previous meals, see here.)

The Benedictine will also be able to administer confession and communion to some of the Rangers who are not "'...of the Old Religion.'" (p. 100)

He responds:

"'Most generous of you, my child.'" (ibid.)

This is civilization: difference without division; unity without uniformity.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

More On POVs

See POV and Narrative Points Of View.

Is there a moment in The King Of Ys when a viewpoint character leaves a room but we continue to be told what is happening in the room, thus raising a question about the status of the point of view (pov)? I remember posting about something like this but can't remember volume, chapter, details etc.

Poul Anderson's povs are usually tightly controlled. If a passage is narrated from the point of view of a character, then the omniscient narrator does not in that passage impart any information that is unknown to that character - unless anyone can find an example to the contrary?

I can illustrate what I mean by quoting from another author. At the end of Chapter 2 of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (London, 2008), Lisbeth Salander guesses that it was Blomkvist's infidelity with Berger that had ended his marriage to Abrahamsson. In Chapter 3, in a passage narrated from Blomkvist's pov, we read:

"...he was helplessly drawn to Berger. Just as Salander had guessed, it was his continual infidelity that drove his wife to leave." (p. 56)

The author and the reader know of Salander's guess but Blomkvist does not. In fact, we read:

"Blomkvist had never heard of Lisbeth Salander and was happily innocent of her report delivered earlier that day, but had he listened to it he would have nodded in agreement..." (p. 57)

Thus, the pov is now that of someone writing later with access to what Salander said and to what Blomkvist thought on that day.

In a later volume of Larsson's Trilogy, we are told that two characters each independently known to us are in the same cafe but unaware of each other. Thus, this information at least is not imparted from either of their povs. This might be regarded as corner cutting. Another approach, requiring more words, is two point of view passages such that we read of character x in the cafe at a certain time, then of character y in the cafe at that time and thus realize that both were there at the same time.

Does Poul Anderson ever cut across povs to impart information in the way that I have shown Larsson doing?

Friend Flandry

It might be thought that this post belongs on the Religion and Philosophy blog but I think that it belongs here.

Meditation cannot just be development of self. It also points towards a better relationship if not with one supreme person then at least with other finite persons. This relationship encompasses appreciation of fictional persons whom we share with their creators and with other readers. Friends and fictions are parts of us.

I could at this stage write a long list of characters created by Poul Anderson and by other writers discussed on this blog. However, this is unnecessary. We know what names belong on the list. Readers will produce different, although overlapping, lists.

This post is appropriately illustrated with an image of Dominic Flandry - even more appropriately in combat.

Religion In Practice

Adzel is a Buddhist but fights as necessary during the liberation of Hermes. Other examples of religious observance combined with pragmatic considerations in Poul Anderson's works?

Other authors -

In SM Stirling's A Meeting At Corvallis, a fighting priest offers confession to bandits before they are beheaded.

And a more benign consequence of religion:

"He thought about his own Muslim upbringing, which had taught him that it was his duty to God to help the outcasts. Of course he did not believe in God and had not been in a mosque since he was a teenager, but he recognized Lisbeth Salander as a person in resolute need of help."
-Stieg Larsson, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (London, 2008), Chapter 2, p. 37.

I do not believe in the Catholic or Muslim deity but I imagine that, if God exists, He:

respects Adzel's spriritual practice and moral decisions;
approves of His priest's activities;
is glad that an atheist brought up as a Muslim helps Lisbeth.

Social Movements II

See Social Movements.

In the above linked post, I did not do full justice to the works of Poul Anderson. First, I should have pointed out that the three works cited are installments of a single future history. Secondly, I should also have cited a longer list of installments. The theme is novels about living in troubled times -

Mirkheim: social change on Hermes and civil war in the Polesotechnic League;
The People Of The Wind: mobilization of a planetary population for war;
The Rebel Worlds: the McCormac Rebellion on Aeneas;
The Day Of Their Return: anti-Imperial Messianism on Aeneas;
A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows: near insurrection on Dennitza;
The Game Of Empire: popular support for an Admiral who defeats a Merseian attack, then declares himself Emperor.

Two works set in different periods before Flandry's life-time;
two centrally involving Flandry;
one not directly involving Flandry but set during his life-time;
one centrally involving Flandry's daughter, with appearances by him.

A comprehensive future history.

Saturday, 25 March 2017


I am thinking of rereading Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy yet again. I have previously found ways to discuss the Trilogy in relation to Poul Anderson's works (see here):

Swedish setting;
intelligence services;
political issues;
authentic characterization;
a monumental behind-the-scenes villain;
computer technology that would have been sf earlier in our lifetimes;
hypothetical crossovers, e.g., has the Time Patrol penetrated Swedish Intelligence?

Reopening Vol I, I find a purely formal parallel with some of Poul Anderson's novels: a brief background-establishing Prologue that can be skipped on rereading.

As Anderson's Time Patrol series progressed, its author adopted the practice of dating each new chapter or narrative passage. This is particularly helpful in time travel fiction. Larsson's Prologue is dated "A Friday in November." His Part 1 covers "20.xii-3.1" and his Chapter 1 is dated "20.xii." Thus, the chronological sequence is tightly controlled although we are not told what year(s). But the setting is very up-to-date.

On rereading, we can pause and appreciate details not noticed before or forgotten since, e.g.:

Anderson fans, what is Manse Everard's full name?
Larsson fans, what is Mikael Blomkvist's full name?

"The Hunter Shall Come"

Having shot some geese, a Wiccan acknowledges that:

"'...for us too the hour of the Hunter shall come.'"
-SM Stirling, A Meeing At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Three, p. 79.

That sounds remarkably like the Ythrian New Faith of God the Hunter in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization.

The Wiccan continues:

"'Guide them flying on winds of golden light to the Summerlands. Mother-of-All, let them be reborn through you.'" (ibid.)

I cannot buy this. All life is local temporary negative entropy. The entropy of the matter that was organized into geese has just returned to the positive. More matter will become geese but none of those newly hatched geese will be these individual geese reborn. An invocation to acknowledge the death of the geese is appropriate but not a fantasy about their continued existence.

Social Movements

This afternoon, some of us attended the Mechanics' Institute, Manchester, for a meeting on the significance of the Russian Revolution. Hence, this post.

Historical Texts
The History Of The Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky
Ten Days That Shook The World by John Reed

Fiction by HG Wells
The Shape Of Things To Come
The World Set Free

By Robert Heinlein
Revolt In 2100
Between Planets
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

By Poul Anderson 
The People Of The Wind
The Day Of Their Return
The Game Of Empire

Of these works, the historical, Wellsian and Heinleinian volumes describe completed revolutions although the Russian Revolution was soon reversed. Its purpose had not been to replace one dictator with another.

Trotsky and Reed describe mass movements with high hopes, not yet realized. Wells' fictional revolutions are historical turning points that remake the world. Heinlein's Second American Revolution leads to the Covenant, then, after further social troubles, to the first mature civilization.

Anderson captures the danger and excitement of living in troubled times:

the mass mobilization of the Avalonian population;
the militant Messianism on Aeneas;
the hopes raised, then dashed, by the Magnusson Rebellion.


Something Big happens that changes everything:

a nuclear war;
a cometary strike;
an Ice Age;
a global flood;
most people die;
intelligence increases;
Mars and Venus are habitable and inhabited;
technology stops working.


maybe the Ice Age is gradual, therefore doesn't quite fit with the others?;

the first five of these "changes" are generic;

the sixth is a Poul Anderson premise;

the seventh and eighth are SM Stirling premises;

Stirling's two premises require intervention by a superior technology.

Two Ravens

Busy today but let's make some notes over breakfast:

"A pair of ravens flew up from the gravestone, probably attracted by the offerings of milk and bread that some left there..."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Three, p. 73.

We know Who two ravens represent.

There is a good list of farmyard sounds and smells on p. 71.

The Wiccan High Priestess said:

"'When the student is ready, the teacher appears." (p. 64)

I first read that phrase in a book on Buddhism. This kind of interplay between traditions is healthy.


An Archer God

(The image shows the Marvel Comics Uller.)

The Change Series by SM Stirling.

Given the importance of archery post-Change, maybe the Wiccans need an archer god? Or they might deify their own Aylward the Archer who is also an expert bowyer although he denies that this is a master-craftsman's trade.

Names recall ancestral trades. In our local Telephone Directory, I have found:

23 Archers;
48 Bakers;
4 Bowyers;
17 Butchers;
9 Carpenters;
1 Cordiner;
8 Drivers;
6 Falconers;
5 Farmers;
uncountable Coopers, Fletchers, Masons, Millers, Palmers, Shepherds, Smiths, Taylors and Wrights;
20 Glovers;
Gardeners with different spellings;
1 Goldsmith;
1 Millner;
5 Painters;
5 Pipers;
1 Rimmer;
5 Sawyers;
1 Singer;
4 Wainwrights;
12 Wheelers;
1 Wrightson.

And there is a local Baker the Butcher.

Friday, 24 March 2017


SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Two, p. 60.

Aspects of the Wiccan God and Goddess:

the Green Man;
Arianrhod and Ogma;
Apollo and Athena;
Zeus and Hera;
Freya and Odin;
Sif and Thor.

Many of these figures, referenced before, can be found by searching the blog.
Here, all mythologies are regarded as manifesting the same male and female principles.
Odin and Thor, regarded as father and son in Norse mythology and in related fiction, e.g., by Poul Anderson, are also regarded as aspects of a single divinity.
We are used to different versions of a story. Here is another example.


Let us consider three religious traditions:

Mahayana Buddhism and Jerusalem Catholicism in Poul Anderson's Technic History;

Wicca in SM Stirling's Change series.

Declares an interest: I was educated in Roman Catholicism, practise Zen within the Mahayana and am friendly with Wiccans. Buddhas and gods coexist. (I do not think that they literally "exist." We need a better verb.)

Adzel converts to the Mahayana because he encounters Terrestrial religions when he comes to Earth as a student;

Axor converts to Catholicism because missionaries of the Galilean Order teach on Woden;

a post-Change community becomes Wiccan because it is led by a Wiccan.

In each case, a tradition plays a central role. A guy in a multi-faith discussion on British radio disagreed with the emphasis that the others placed on their respective "traditions." What mattered about Christianity for him was that he believed it, not just that one of a number of traditions taught it. However, I would reply, he believed as he did either because he had been brought up in a particular tradition or because he had converted to a belief that had been transmitted to him by a tradition. Either way, he would not have been Christian without the tradition. Only a tradition can link his belief now to Christ then. Axor would not have believed that God had been incarnate on Earth if he had not encountered a tradition that taught him that - unless he received it in a vision in which case he would then found a new tradition.

In this respect, the Buddhist tradition, at least theoretically, is less necessary. Adzel, or anyone else, could do now what the Buddha did then:

reflect on life;
analyze experience;
criticize received ideas;
experiment with life styles and spiritual practices;
find value in "just sitting" meditation;
identify a psychological cause of suffering;
end that cause within himself;
teach others a way to the end of suffering;
found a monastic community.

But, in practice, how many people can do all that? Traditions save us from reinventing the wheel. A meditative tradition can come from the Buddha, Patanjali or Lao Tzu.

Wicca claims to be an ancient tradition and instead plagiarizes other traditions. Why accept its version of a "Summerland" where souls rest before reincarnation? The Buddha's analysis of mental processes made him reject the idea of a permanent soul. He taught that actions have consequences - I agree - but added that these consequences include the "rebirth" in some later organism of each present being's karmic processes. This seems to me to be an unnecessary hangover from reincarnation of souls. Platonic immortality of, originally reincarnating, souls and Biblical resurrection of the body were synthesized in Catholic doctrine: both an immediate hereafter and an eventual resurrection.

Meanwhile, let's pray if we are theists and meditate if not.

Engineering And Tea

(The discerning reader will find images of blueberry tarts, pie and muffins on the blog. Search here.)

"...the heavy beams that secured the gates were pulled back, and a squeal of steel on steel as the great metal portals swung out, salvaged wheels from railcars running along track set into the concrete of the roadway. Winches grated as the portcullis was raised..."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Two, p. 52.


a lot of very hard work has been done in a very short time since the Change;
I would not have a clue how to do any of that;
if not for people like Arminger, such elaborate defences would be unnecessary (hot oil is kept permanently above the gates).

Elsewhere, Sir Nigel Loring consumes blueberry muffins ("quite good") and chamomile tea with honey. Of the tea, he thinks:

"It wasn't quite as vile when you got use to it..." (p. 53)

I am a coffee man, not a tea man, but, after the Change, we would have to take what we got. The honey would help. Morals: after the Change, work hard and make do. Some aspects of life are perennial:

"Flames played over the glowing coals, red and gold flickering in an endless dance." (ibid.)

Addendum: Two more points for the food thread:

blogging was interrupted by a visit to the Wolfhouse Gallery where I had porridge with banana, peanut butter and honey, toast and butter with seasonal jam, a peanut butter brownie and filter coffee with hot milk whereas Ketlan had leek and mustard croquettes, chestnut mushrooms and a fried egg and three lattes;

Lord Bear suggests cooking French-fries and onion rings in the hot oil above the gate.

Not Quite The Pathetic Fallacy

" that couldn't quite make up its mind between fog and drizzle and a possibility of snow."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Two, p. 42.

When I was somewhere between five and seven and the sun was almost hidden behind clouds, I heard one adult say to another, "It's trying to shine." I believed her. Because she said it, I thought that the sun was trying to shine. And I would have continued to believe that if I had grown up in a society where everyone attributed consciousness and motivations to natural phenomena because they had not yet found any other explanation for sunlight, fog, rain or snow. We understand not only the weather but also our ancestors' psychology.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

A Wandering Point Of View?

"Sandra smiled, very slightly, under an ironically crooked eyebrow. She'd found out..."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Two, p. 38.

In this passage, the first sentence tells us how Sandra's smile appeared to someone else whereas the second sentence tells us that she smiled because of something that she had found out so is the passage narrated from the point of view of another person observing Sandra or from Sandra's point of view? We have already been told what her husband, Arminger, is thinking. Therefore, the narration is from his pov. He sees that she smiles and how she smiles and knows why she smiles.

This conversation involves three other characters. The simplest dialogue would be between just two characters, therefore would involve two povs and could be narrated from either or even from each in turn in different passages. Is an objective narration possible? This would have to present neither pov. Nor would it be narrated from the pov of a third person observing the two conversants. It would simply have to describe what happened and what was said but not what either person thought or felt. It might say that one person sounded annoyed but nothing more than that. A play or film script might be an objective narration. It tells us what we would have seen and heard if we had spied on a conversation although the assumption is that no one is spying. This is not God's point of view but no one's.

An Understated British Resurrection? (And Another Meal)

On p. 583 of SM Stirling, The Protector's War (New York, 2006), Chapter Twenty-One:

the Protectorate man, Mack, strikes at Rudi Mackenzie with his greatsword;
Sir Nigel Loring leaps desperately forward;
Sir Nigel gets his shield above Rudi;
the greatsword cuts through the shield and breaks Sir Nigel's arm;
Mack stamps on and breaks Sir Nigel's sword;
he kicks Sir Nigel's helmet off;
Sir Nigel falls back, bleeding from eyes, nose and mouth, and stops moving.

I took this to mean that Sir Nigel had been killed. The course of the battle becomes somewhat confusing. Mack kills another character and then Sir Nigel's son, Alleyne, shouts, "'Father!'" (p. 584) Mack is killed but Sir Nigel is not mentioned again.

I was surprised and pleased to read:

"Nigel Loring was there at [Rudi's] mother's right side..."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter One, p. 20.

They are seated at table for a meal:

corned beef;
grilled venison in a garlic and yogurt sauce;
mashed potatoes with onion;
steamed kale;
boiled cabbage;
glazed carrots;
dried tomato and onion in vinegar;
fresh bread;
hot cheddar biscuits;
blueberry tarts with whipped cream and honey;
creamy milk;
red wine;
dark frothy beer.

More Kinds Of Interactions

See here.

The nature of an interaction may be ambiguous:

"Whether in superstition or in metaphor, Cerialis replied, surprisingly quietly, 'That will depend on the goddess, won't it?'"
-Poul Anderson, "Star of the Sea" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), pp. 467-640 AT p. 609.

Or theistic language may continue to be used when there is no longer any belief in it:

"A man had to take whatever the gods offered him, and they were a miserly lot."
-Poul Anderson, "Brave To Be A King" IN Time Patrol, pp. 55-112 AT p. 74 -

- especially when, as in this case, the individual is operating in an appropriate milieu.

Treating strangers as if they are gods or angels in disguise is good policy. Polytheism appeals to my imagination though not to my intellect. It would be good if invoking Neptune or St Nicholas before embarking on a sea voyage made a difference - but we can continue to appreciate the stories and imagery in any case. Presumably no one repeating the story of St Christopher believes that it is literally true?

Three Kinds Of Interactions With The Supernatural

Narratives in which:

the gods are real and come on stage, e.g., Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword;

the gods are real but remain off stage although their effects are felt, e.g., Poul and Karen Anderson's The King Of Ys;

the gods are real according to the characters, e.g.:

"...a stranger met might be anything from an outlaw to a wood-sprite or a godling in disguise."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter One, p. 15.

Norman Arminger role plays Norman brutality, complete with a tame Church, whereas the Dunedain role play Tolkien heroics, complete with references to that author's invented mythology. This plus Wicca make them "...Satan-worshippers...'" (p. 5), according to the "Normans."

Poul Anderson shows us Normans in Sicily, wrote Norse-derived heroic fantasy independently of Tolkien and also wrote some post-disaster fiction.


SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter One, p. 12.

After the Change, these school subjects are boring:

"'...all that hooey.'"

These subjects are more like real life:

King Arthur;
Robin Hood;
Niall of the Nine Hostages;
Thor's trip to Jotunheim;
A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Connections with Poul Anderson's works:

Niall of the Nine Hostages destroyed Ys;
the former King of Ys formed a defensive alliance with British leaders of the generation before Arthur;
an immortal met the original of Arthur;
Anderson's fantasies feature Thor and a trip to Jotunheim although not Thor's trip to Jotunheim;
A Midsummer Tempest is a sequel to A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest.

And why did Shakespeare not write a Robin Hood play, having mentioned Robin in As You like It?

Fiction And Reality II

Yesterday was a day of fiction-reality interaction on the blog:

Lancaster, with its rich and varied history and Asian and European immigrants, feels like a precursor of Poul Anderson's Terran Empire - but that is because fiction reflects reality, in this case with international and interracial relationships projected onto an interstellar and inter-species scale;

we enjoy sitting at home safely reading about the exploits of Dominic Flandry while the media reports wars waged by Parliaments and, yesterday, an attack on the British Parliament.

When we read science fiction in the twentieth century, 2017 was part of the future but now, in 2017, it is the present from which humanity might advance to a high tech future like Anderson's Technic History or regress to a post-technological future like SM Stirling's Emberverse. (Stirling's fictional premise is that technology simply stops working but we can imagine several other ways to lose technology either through natural events or through our own actions.)

Today, plans are changing but I might be out in the good weather and not blogging as much.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Fiction And Reality

Dominic Flandry and his fiancee, Kossara Vymezal, march with Merseians to the Dennitzan Parliament. When Kossara begins to address the Parliament, the building is attacked and she is murdered/martyred. The account of her death is fictional but harrowing so it is not inappropriate to compare it to the kind of real events that are reflected in fiction.

On Saturday, 30,000 people marched through London to Parliament Square where we were addressed by several Members of Parliament. Afterwards, some of us crossed Westminster Bridge to our parked coach. We saw armed police at an entrance to Parliament. Today we hear news reports of an attack on Parliament in which several people, including one policeman, were killed. Fortunately, this real attack was not on the scale of the fictional one.

We did not expect to blog about either slavery or terrorism but cannot always choose our agenda.


Although I concluded the previous post by imagining that the international interactions of Terrestrial history might be followed by something like the interstellar interactions of Poul Anderson's Technic History, I really think that the future history of Anderson's Genesis is much more plausible: post-human intelligences spreading at sub-light speeds through a mostly lifeless galaxy - or maybe through a galaxy where, although organic life is common, everything else - multi-cellularity, consciousness, intelligence, civilization and technology - is rare. All that life requires is energized complex molecules changing randomly until one of them becomes self-replicating. Everything else requires a great deal more.

However, here is a paradox. If a writer of fiction imagines space travellers crossing an immense distance, like to the galactic centre or to another galaxy, but confines his account of those remote regions to what is known about them at the time of writing, then he is definitely wrong. Merely by travelling that far, explorers will learn considerably more than is known at present. As yet, not a single living molecule has been detected off Earth - but extrasolar planets are being detected all the time whereas none were known to exist when I read about the universe in the 1960s. More will be learned but none of it will be anything like what has been imagined.

Lancaster Life And The Blog

The previous post was occasioned by the fact that I had just attended a history class on Lancaster and the slave trade in the Friendship Centre at the Baptist Church near the Town Hall. Lancaster was the fourth biggest English slave port after Liverpool, London and Bristol.

The Baptist Church is almost opposite a Polish language Catholic Church where Sheila taught English to Polish immigrants. We are always involved in international interactions and now look forward to interplanetary and interstellar interactions. Although it will not really happen like this, we meanwhile imagine Adzel converting to Mahayana Buddhism, Axor converting to Jerusalem Catholicism, human Avalonians joining Ythrian choths, Dennitzan children hearing Eriau lullabies etc.

Slaves And Immortals

Recurrent themes on the blog include:

slavery in the Roman Empire, the Terran Empire, the Confederate States and the Draka Domination;
parallels with Neil Gaiman;
quotations from James Elroy Flecker.

One work, The Sandman: The Wake, unites these themes:

it is written by Gaiman;
it begins by quoting Flecker and draws imagery from this poem;
in its Epilogue, a black American woman does not understand why her British boyfriend continually apologizes to her for the slave trade - she does not know that he is an immortal and was a slaver.

Immortals interact with Southern States slavery in Poul Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years. Boat is historical and speculative sf prose whereas Sandman is graphic fantasy. The Egyptian sun god is real in Sandman. Anderson's few immortals are mutants whereas Gaiman's single immortal has made a one-sided deal with Death just as Death's younger brother, Dream, has made a fairer deal with another Englishman, William Shakespeare, who wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest for Dream. Anderson wrote A Midsummer Tempest.

There are two kinds of fictional immortals: those who must move and change their identity every few decades to conceal their immortality (vampires are a sub-set) and those who can live openly in the future. Needless to say, the works of Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson include both kinds.

Four Reasons To Fight With Swords

Many fictional characters fight with swords because their stories are set in the past.

John Carter fights with a sword because ERB wanted to write "sword and science" sf whether or not this made sense.

Dominic Flandry is able to fight with a sword because the Terran nobility is decadent and therefore practises archaisms.

SM Stirling's Emberversers fight with swords because the premise of their series is that technology and gunpowder have stopped working.

Have I missed anyone? (Addendum: Yes, but I will let readers find it.)

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
Rogue Sword by Poul Anderson
"Swordsman of Lost Terra" by Poul Anderson (here)
Swords Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Sword Of The Lady by SM Stirling


Memory is conscious or unconscious. Apparently, every experience is recorded unconsciously. A finite brain cannot accumulate unconscious memories indefinitely. Would memory overload drive an immortal brain mad or would the brain merely stop recording? In Poul Anderson's World Without Stars, the memories of immortals are artificially edited whereas, in Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years, the handful of immortals learn within themselves how to cope with memory overload. Should we have been shown at least one who did not cope?

If an immortal being were to remain identical with his earlier self, then surely he would have to consciously remember earlier experiences some of the time? However, he would be able to remember any particular experience less and less often as he grew older. Thus, he would effectively become a different person, as if one had died and another had been born, but that is how life works in any case.

The Wild Hunt

"...some danced with spears flashing dully in the gray light, enacting the Wild Hunt."
-SM Stirling, The Protector's War (New York, 2006), Epilogue, p. 588.


The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt II

- and searching the blog for "The Wild Hunt" brings up some other references. However, I will now join not the Wild Hunt but the Lord Morpheus.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


I encountered the name, "Epona," in SM Stirling, The Protector's War (New York, 2006), Chapter Twenty, p. 563 and searched for it on this blog. See here.

In The Protector's War, Rudi, a future king, addresses an unruly horse as "Epona" in a voice like the wind, a harp or a trumpet, reveals his own Craft name and speaks as if they already know each other. Then he rides Epona safely. This is seen by some as an intervention by the Goddess. It happens at the horse fair, which is sacred to Epona.