Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Bigger Than Heinlein...

In Robert Heinlein's Future History, the song "The Green Hills of Earth" expresses spacemen's nostalgia for their home planet as they travel further into the Solar System. The reference to terrestrial green is doubly poignant because the song is, fictitiously, written and sung by a man who was blinded by radiation in space: Jetman Rhysling, the Blind Singer of the Spaceways, not exactly a new Homer or Milton but the herald of a new age nevertheless.

In a later future history, a different timeline and another planetary system, Dominic Flandry visits a planet where vegetation is mostly blue but where he nevertheless sees:

"...the unexpected and stingingly Homelike splashes of green." (1)

Rereading this passage reminded me sharply how far we have come from the single short story about Rhysling in the early period of the original Future History to the long series about Flandry in the later period of Poul Anderson's mature future history.

In the Future History, interplanetary economic oppression in "Logic of Empire" was followed by American religious dictatorship in "If This Goes On -." In Anderson's Technic History, interstellar economic oppression in "Lodestar" and Mirkheim was followed by social collapse in "The Star Plunderer," then by interstellar imperialism in several stories and novels. Thus, Anderson continued the Heinleinian tradition but in a longer series and on a vaster spatiotemporal scale.

In Heinlein's History, successful revolution against religious dictatorship was followed by resumption of interplanetary travel in a prosperous post-revolutionary society but the first mature culture did not emerge until after a further crisis involving an interstellar round trip and the prolongation of human life. In the Technic History, the Fall of the Empire was followed by chaos, then by restoration of civilization and, later, a new form of interstellar organization that might have transcended crises and wars.

Thereafter, Heinlein's lengthy novels, whether in or out of his Future History, degenerated into long, turgid conversational passages that are not to be recommended whereas Anderson blazed new trails in long speculative novels presenting new visions of possible futures. Thus, Anderson followed but surpassed Heinlein.

(1) Anderson, Poul, A Circus Of Hells, London, 1978, p. 85.

23 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    First, I agree with what you said about how Anderson's Technic Civization stories eventually surpassed Heinlein's Future History. Secondly, however, I'm skeptical that the Commonalty we too briefly saw in "Starfog" will transcend wars and crises. We only got a glimpse of the Commonalty in its young and hopeful days. We don't know how it would handle serious internal and external crises.

    Sandra Miesel, who edited the unsatisfactorily titled THE LONG NIGHT, seems to share my skepticism. This is what she wrote at the end of "Starfog:" "And now a new cycle turns on Fortune's cosmic wheel. Another brilliant era races to its apogee. What hidden flaws will send the Commonalty spinning downward into darkness like the League and Empire before it?

    Sean

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, I was echoing Daven Laure's optimism but we don't really know. I meant that PA surpassed RH not only in the Technic History but also in the later novels. Compare THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS and HARVEST OF STARS with THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST etc!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Paul!

      I completely agree! The later works of Poul Anderson are vastly superior to the awful, pitiful final books of Heinlein.

      So bold, strange, and UNUSUAL were the ideas and themes used by PA in the "Anson Guthrie" series that I needed to read them twice before I could properly appreciate the books. Even in his final years, Anderson had more imagination and power in his writings than most writers only half his age.

      I would date Anderson's career into three phases like this: Early (1947 to 1958), Middle (1959 to 1988), and Late (1989 to 2001). With THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS starting his late phase.

      Sean

      Delete
  3. In BOAT, as in METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN, a small group has extended life spans, then longevity becomes more widely available.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Paul!

      One reason BOAT interests me is because of how Anderson sets parts of in contemporary, or near contemporary times. Not either the remote past or future, as was more usual for his work. I liked how Anderson was able to write a good story set in our times. Also, take a look at that rather nasty Massachusetts Senator Moriarty. Amderson admitted to me he based Moriarty on the late, infamous Edward Kennedy, a leftwing US poliician he especially detested. Amd "Moriarty" also reminded me of Sherlock Holmes archenemy of the same name.

      Sean

      Delete
  4. I thought about four pages of BOAT were unnecessary. The immortals rescued one of their number from a hospital by donning white coats etc. This could have happened off-stage if it even had to happen. PA liked action fiction so much that he included it where he didn't need to.

    The hero of BOAT triumphed over his opponents by out-living them. I think that terrestrial society in the concluding, futuristic, section of BOAT has advanced to production of abundance and away from distribution via the market? A decision has to be made about allocating resources to the interstellar mission that the immortals want and the decision is made in their favour.

    I think PA thought: liberal values are false; any successful politician is intelligent enough to realise this; therefore, any successful liberal politician has to be dishonest? If he did think this, I would feel that he underestimated the extent to which understandings can differ so that both parties to a fundamental disagreement can be equally honest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Paul!

      If your only complaint with BOAT was four possibly weak pages, then that would seem to me a fairly minor flaw. Also, American SF writers has been fonder of "action" than many UK science fiction writers seem to be. This might be a cultural thing, in other words.

      I would need to reread BOAT to be sure, but I don't think the futuristic society Anderson speculated about wholly abandoned market methods of distributing goods and services. Rather technology became so advanced that for most purposes of every day life, such goods and services became so cheap that things like scarcity and prices did not matter most times.

      Yes, and with no wish to offend you, I too (along with Poul Anderson) consider left wing ideas to be false. And my experience/observation in the US is that many left wing politicians either know their ideas and policies don't work or are simply using them as means to grasp at power.

      It won't surprise you, but I vote Republican (our analog of the UK Tories) here! (Smiles)

      Sean

      Delete
    2. Technology abolishing scarcity and making goods and services very cheap, then free: I think this is a realistic proposition, certainly in the further future but even sooner. Much of our productive capacity is wasted or destroyed, eg, in warfare, at present. I envisage a population not losing their reason to live or subordinate to AI's but engaged both in producing goods and services and in scientific research and creative work.

      I have just received my copy of Sandra Miesel's monograph so I will be commenting on that.

      Delete
    3. I have read the monograph but can't think of much to comment as yet. She refers to TWILIGHT WORLD as a "sequel" to TOMORROW'S CHILDREN but I don't think it's a sequel in a strong sense?

      Delete
    4. Hi, Paul!

      Thanks for your two comments, I'll comment on both here.

      First, I should have stressed that it's my view that only a free enterprise economy would allow the conditions and advances needed to bring about a society in which the goods and services of everyday life are cheap/almost free. Socialism, with its crushing despotism and cumbersome bureaucracy, would prevent such a society from existing at all.

      I'm glad you've read Sandra Miesel's monograph. I've enjoyed reading it--my only complaint being that it does not cover the works written by Anderson after 1978.

      I checked, and my copy of TWILIGHT WORLD is actually a collection of three linked stories: "Tomorrow's Children," "Clash of Logic," and "The Children of Fortune." With the second story originally published as "Logic" in 1947. So, I agree,"sequel" is not the correct word to have used.

      Sean

      Delete
    5. "Tomorrow's Children" is the first part of TWILIGHT WORLD! I didn't know that. Thought it was a separate work. I don't need to look for it, then.

      Of course I don't support despotism or bureaucracy. There is another alternative tradition of popular co-operative control of economic production. I tried to hint at this in "Issues in MIRKHEIM" but, of course, it needs lengthier discussion than is possible here.

      Delete
    6. Hi, Paul!

      If you have a copy of TWILIGHT WORLD, then you already have "Tomorrow's Children." Old as it is, TWILIGHT is still one of the best post nuclear holocaust books I've read. Frank Herbert's ALAS, BABYLON, is also good, but not as daring as TWILIGHT.

      While I agree that a comment box is not a satisfactory location for a discussion of socio political systems, I still disagree with what you've told me about "popular co-operative control of economic production" at other times. It still boils down to having the STATE control the economy. And that simply cannot be done without coercion and a massive bureaucracy.

      I must sound like a raving libertarian in UK terms! And I don't really consider myself a libertarian! (Smiles)

      Sean

      Delete
  5. I have just googled for an image of Merseians but not found one.

    The state is a body of armed men, an instrument of coercion, to be used by a social minority against the majority. There was a time before there were states, in hunting and gathering societies, and I think there can be a post-state society: a community controlling its own productive activities will be collectively free, not coerced by a minority, and can provide the basis for the free development of each of its members. That is the theory. It may be wrong but it does not involve the continued existence of a state.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Paul!

      Respectfully, I disagree with your view of the nature and origins of the state. The state has its ultimate origins in the family, clan, tribe, ancient city states, etc.

      I liked, and agreed with, how Poul Anderson desribed the state (or government) found in Chapter V of THE PEOPLE OF THE WIND:

      "What is a government?" asked Liaw, Wyvan of the High Khruath--how softly!
      "Why...well, legitimate authority--"
      "Yes. The legitimacy derives, ultimately, no matter by what formula, from tradition. The authority derives, no matter by what formula, from armed force. Government is that institution which is legitimized in its use of physical coercion on the people. Have I read your human philosophers and history aright, President Vickery?"

      While I might have some libertarian INCLINATIONS, I do not go so far as to deny the state, no matter what form it has, is necessary for preserving internal peace and external defense. I would simply to keep the state or government as minimal as possible.

      Sean

      Delete
    2. There seem to be 2 conceptions of a stateless society: (i) libertarian individualist and (ii) "communist" in the original, very different, meaning of that word. In the Acts of the Apostles, soon after Pentecost, members of the newly founded church held all things in common. Obviously, I think (ii) existed in primitive society and can exist, with sufficiently advanced technology, in a possible future society. My views on this are scattered around, where appropriate, on this and other blogs. I think my analysis of "Thulean Economics" in THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS sheds some new light here so I will get back to that now. I like the way in THERE WILL BE TIME Anderson acknowledges a debt to Wells thru the mouth of a character who disapproves of Wells' politics.

      Delete
    3. Hi,Paul!

      Respectfully, I remain skeptical and unconvinced there ever was, or can be, a "communist" society. It's been a long time since I last read BOAT, but my view is that "Thulean" economics could only work by a combination of free enterprise and advanced technology.

      As for the Acts of the Apostles text you referred to, the situation described therein worked only as long as Christians were FEW in numbers. That ideal, in time, was limited largely to monasteries where small groups of people agreed to hold their property in common in order to attain certain ends.

      The comment about THERE WILL BE TIME interested me because I don't recall the allusion to HG Wells. Which chapter was it in? I'm in s Wells phase, btw, reading a collection of his SF novels.

      Sean

      Delete
    4. I am in some haste now but will look up that THERE WILL BE TIME reference later. Basically, the "Sachem"(?), the founder of the Eyrie, tells Havig that he, the Sachem, consulted with a late 19th century writer (unnamed). The Sachem got some practical advice from the writer. In exchange, the writer was given the time travel idea and was able to make full use of it. The Sachem described the writer as "...a bit of a socialist" or some such phrase.

      Ancient and surviving hunting and gathering societies have no government, bureaucracy or body of armed men. They have individual members who give a lead to their activities but this kind of leadership is not rulership. Families and monasteries are small but I think modern education and communication could be used to extend communal decision-making as against our familiar top-down decision-making structures which only seem natural, I suggest, because we are used to them but which in fact fill the world with much danger and strife.

      Delete
    5. THERE WILL BE TIME, Chapter VII, p. 73 in the 1973 Signet paperback: "...a young Englishman in the'90's, starting out as an author, a gifted fellow even if he was kind of a socialist...I offered him more money but he said he'd rather have free use of that time travel idea instead."

      Delete
    6. Hi, Paul!

      Thanks for your two notes--both of which I will reply to here.

      But, I think your referring to the most primitive forms of human societies we know of, hunting/gatherers, does not support your argument. Because, once such a society learns things like agriculture, pottery making, literacy, etc., you will inevitably and rightly get social specialization and division of labor. Which means men and women in different professions and lines of work will not always agree with one another. That is why I don't believe any kind of "communism" will ever workable.

      Many thanks for tracking down the HG Wells allusion in THERE WILL BE TIME. I'll be looking it up. I have to admit I'm finding the "science" in Wells novels rather quaint and primitive. It would have been less primitive if both scientists and writers of the late 1800's hadn't ignored or dismissed Fr. Gregor Mendel's pioneering work in genetics.

      Sean

      Delete
    7. I have added point (xii) to "Thulean Economics".

      I agree that when society progressed from hunting and gathering, it necessarily divided. Apart from specialisation and division of labour, the surplus of storeable wealth generated was too small to share equally so had to be monopolised by a social minority some of whose members merely lived off the labour of others but others of whom administered society or developed the arts and sciences.

      An earlier division of labour had occurred. Pregnant or breast feeding women could not easily creep or run after meat animals so groups of women gathered the staple diet of fruit and nuts while groups of (relatively) expendable male hunters produced the occasional luxury of meat. Women producing babies and the staple diet would then have been regarded as equal or superior. Matrilineal descent because paternity not known.

      Now that the surplus of wealth is enormous, the standard of living and culture of the entire population would be significantly increased if wealth were shared equally and not wasted in conflict as indicated in "Thule".

      Delete
    8. Democracy can cope with disagreements about allocation of resources but not with conflicts of material interests caused by competitive hoarding of wealth, especially since sharing can now replace hoarding without anyone having to lose out?

      Delete
  6. Hi, Paul!

    I remain skeptical, no offense, of your preferred view of economics. It is my view that precisely that competitiveness you mentioned that will forever prevent the kind of "equal sharing" you advocate. To say nothing of how the sheer DIFFERENCES we see in the abilities, talents, energy, integrity, etc., of all human beings will also forever prevent a "communist" society from arising.

    And I looked up Chapter 7 of THERE WILL BE TIME to find the allusion to H.G. Wells. I'm chagrined that I did not realize Anderson had Wells in mind the last time I read the book. I can only excuse it by saying I was not greatly interesed in Wells at the time.

    Sean

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think some societies have been cooperative and that differences need not lead to inequalities. Individual consciousness is very much a product of different social conditionings or contexts. Our ancestors were, I suggest, social before they were human. I see individual thought as internalised language (which is social) and individual guilt as internalised shame (again social) so I am confident that a sufficiently changed society will generate significantly different individuals. It is our human potential to change our environments, natural and social, and thus to change ourselves in the process. Anderson shows this happening and also warns about ways it can go wrong. This discussion, deep and far ranging, arises naturally from reading his very different accounts of future societies.

    ReplyDelete