Saturday, 21 April 2012

A Missing Ancient Race

In some works of fiction, an older, wiser race intervenes benevolently in the destinies of less evolved beings.

(i) In EE Smith's badly written Lensman series, the Arisians organize the Galactic Patrol against the Eddorians.
(ii) In the Green Lantern comics, the Oans became the Guardians of the Universe who organize the Green Lantern Corps against the Qwardians.
(iii) In Julian May's Galactic Milieu Trilogy, the Lylmik organize the Galactic Milieu.
(iv) In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series, humanity will evolve into the Danellians who will organize the Time Patrol against Neldorians, Exaltationists and chaos.
(v) Isaac Asimov's humans only galaxy did not allow for any older race but the mentally powerful Second Foundation usurped its functions, guiding history to a greater goal.
(vi) In Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, many believe that the Ancients Went Beyond and Will Return.

However, Anderson maintains a credible ambiguity about the Ancients. Their expected Return is merely a belief, a fiction within the fiction. One version of the belief even divides the Foredwellers into consciousness-affirming Elders and entropy-embracing Others. But that is merely a ruse by an agent of a foreign imperialism who is trying to foment strife and even to incite an Empire-destroying jihad.

The agent, Aycharaych, is the last surviving member of an ancient race, the Chereionites, who, he privately claims, were indeed the Ancients whose ruins are found on many planets. It seems that they have departed not into transcendence but into extinction, leaving Aycharaych the sole heir of their technologically preserved heritage. But why should that have happened?

It seems that Anderson created Aycharaych as a telepathic opponent for Dominic Flandry merely to give Flandry the problem of how to lie to a telepath. However, Aycharaych, like Flandry himself, was a sufficiently interesting character that he returned several times. It became necessary to provide him with an origin and appropriate to locate that origin on an ancient, dying world. It was then logical to identify the ancient Chereionites with the Ancients. But that was sufficient for Anderson's story purposes. He did not present surviving Ancients secretly guiding or guarding galactic history. Instead, he left the idea of the Ancients as a myth in his characters' minds so that, in the last Flandry novel, a Wodenite convert to Jerusalem Catholicism seeks among Ancient inscriptions for evidence of an extraterrestrial Incarnation. We do not think that Fr Axor will find such evidence but it is plausible that he and others continue to look for it. While Flandry engages in Imperial conflict, his fellow beings continue to believe in Christianity and other religions. That is what we expect. This reads like real history.

Added, March 2012: 

There is always more to be said about Anderson. I am reminded that in "The Horn of Time the Hunter," a spaceship of the Kith interstellar traders travels at a relativistic sub-light speed ten thousand light years to the fringes of the galactic nucleus and back in search of "...the Elder Races that must dwell somewhere..." but does not find them. (1)

In Tau Zero, another relativistic spaceship, accelerating uncontrollably, survives this universe and settles on a planet in the next universe. A character comments:

"...I'd like us to become - oh, the elders. Not imperialists; that's ridiculous; but the people who were there from the beginning and know their way around, and are worth learning from. Never mind what physical shape the younger races have. Who cares? But let's make this, as nearly as possible, a human galaxy, in the widest sense of the word 'human.' Maybe even a human universe.
" I think we've earned that right." (2)

They have not. To me, "a human universe" does sound imperialistic. But here we see a potential Elder Race in an early universe.

(1) Poul Anderson, The Horn of Time, New Jersey, 1968, p. 16.
(2) Poul Anderson, Tau Zero, London, 1973, p. 186.

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