Friday, 20 April 2012

Ansa and Avalon

In a "future history," stories are set in successive periods so that the events of earlier stories inform the background of later stories. By this criterion, one small part of Poul Anderson's Technic History, just four stories and one novel, is a miniature future history: 

the planet Avalon is colonized in the late twenty fifth century;
the Terran Empire is founded near the end of the twenty sixth century;
the Empire annexes the colonized planet Ansa in the twenty eighth century
but fails to annex Avalon in the twenty ninth century.

Hence, a Hegelian triad:

thesis - colonial freedom;
antithesis - imperial annexation;
synthesis - settling of border disputes, later followed by continued trade and cultural influence.

Dates are given not in the stories but in a Chronology compiled by Sandra Miesel after consultation with Poul Anderson. At the very least, we should understand that several centuries elapse between the twentieth century and the Polesotechnic League and a comparable period between the League and the Empire, then several millennia before the Commonalty. Some dates seem arbitrary. Thus, Dominic Flandry is said to be born in 3000 so that he is a nineteen year old Ensign in Ensign Flandry, said to be set in 3019. Nine volumes of the History cover only forty five years, till Flandry meets his illegitimate daughter, but events important to the Empire, like civil war and usurpation, occur in this period. Works set during the post-Imperial "Long Night" have round number dates: 3600, 3900, 4000 and 7100. The Long Night, three stories and one novel, is a second miniature history.

Returning to the first mini-history, "Sargasso of Lost Starships," about Ansa, originally published in Planet Stories in 1952 but not included in an Anderson collection until 2009, is definitely part of the History because it refers to Manuel Argos who founded the Empire that same year in Planet Stories. It also includes alien races known to Flandry. One of the Terran ships attacking Avalon in the later novel is called Ansa. No future history has ever comprised its author's total sf output. However, a future history may contain stories of variable quality from different periods of its author's career. The fantastic and implausible space opera of "Sargasso of Lost Starships" contrasts sharply with the scientific and political realism of the Avalonian stories. All that matters for the Technic History is that the Empire forcibly annexed Ansa. Whether Terrans and Ansans then encountered psychically powerful humanoids in a "Black Nebula" is another matter. Baen Editor Hank Davis added a fictitious introduction suggesting that this part of the story is early Imperialist propaganda, thus a fiction within the fiction. (1) From its title, I had expected "Sargasso of Lost Starships" to be hard sf about abandoned spaceships orbiting together, not a fantasy with alien characters resembling ancient kings and queens.

Anderson had already presented "The Star Plunderer," about Manuel Argos, not as a straightforward, presumably accurate, narrative but as an excavated text that may be either "...a genuine record..." or "...historical fiction..." (2) The stories included in The Earthbook of Stormgate are retroactively presented as narratives published on Avalon that may or may not be true accounts of the events described. This recognition of the stories' textuality would have enabled Anderson to write, for example, a longer account of Manuel's career without any obligation to remain consistent with Admiral Reeve's account in "The Star Plunderer." The History gains authenticity from the fact that readers may regard some of its parts as inauthentic.

(1) Davis, Hank, Introduction IN Anderson, Poul, The Rise of the Terran Empire, Riverdale, NY, 2009, pp. 263-264.
(2) ibid, p. 235.

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