Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Argens' Autobiography

In Poul Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966), originally serialized in Analog as The Ancient Gods:

Chapters I, VIII and XIV are narrated from a third person alien point of view;

Chapters II-VII, IX-XIII and XV-XVII are first person narrations by Guild Captain Felip Argens;

of Argen's chapters, all but XVII were part of his published autobiography;

XVII was found among his effects and added to a posthumous edition.

Chapter II begins:

"On another evening, very far away, I had heard another song. This was when I got back to City." (p. 7)

The chapter then describes the orbiting starport called City and Argens' meeting with the singer, Hugh Valland. Thus we never learn what evening or what song Argens had been describing before he turned his attention to City and Valland. These chapters can only be a short extract from the autobiography of a man who had lived for centuries.

"Hugh Valland" is a familar kind of name to us but not to Argens:

"I'm old enough to recognize that anyone bearing a name like his must be a great deal older." (pp. 10-11)

The novel is set at least two removes into the future: Argens has lived for centuries but Valland for millennia and the antithanatic will be developed in the latter's lifetime but in our future. Valland describes himself as "'...medieval...'" (p. 16)

"One thing we have all gained in our centuries is patience. Could be that Hugh Valland simply had a bit more than most." (p. 16)

Argens - or rather Anderson - skilfully tells us how immortality works while also hinting at details of the autobiography that we will never read. Referring to himself and his fellow immortals, Argens writes:

"Sometimes we're a bit crazy, even. We don't have the heart to edit certain things out of our memories, and so they grow in the psyche till we no longer have a sense of proportion about them. Take my own case - but no matter." (p. 16)

In one other work by Anderson, the first person narrator tells us his friend's story but merely hints darkly at his own:

"'I looked into the abyss once, and saw nothing, and haven't looked since. You keep looking. Which of us is the braver?'"
-Poul Anderson, "The Problem of Pain" IN Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009), pp. 103-134 AT p. 134.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

We don't know what or who it was Captain Argens was "crazy" about, but we do know who it could be said that Hugh Valland was "insane" about. I still remember how startled I was by the ending of WORLD WITHOUT STARS the first time I read it.

And the antithanatic of seen in WORLD WITHOUT STARS would soon be invented very soon according to OUR timeline.

Yes, it takes courage of a very special bur real kind to keep looking for the answers to the ultimate questions.