Saturday, 16 June 2012

Aldiss, Amis, Anderson, Asimov, Lewis

I list these names as an arresting alphabetical arrangement with curious conceptual connections. In book shop science fiction sections, I always look for Anderson, Poul but usually find instead Aldiss, Anderson, Kevin and (a lot of) Asimov.

A recorded discussion between Kingsley Amis, Brian Aldiss and CS Lewis was the Introduction to Kingsley Amis' and Robert Conquest's Spectrum IV science fiction anthology. Although well known as anything but "sf writers," both Amis and Lewis wrote some science fiction. Lewis also wrote a poem that could have been aimed directly at Asimov's Galactic Empire novels and Anderson's Terran Empire series:

"Why did you lure us on like this,
"Light-year on light-year, through the abyss,
"Building (as though we cared for size!)
"Empires that cover galaxies,
"If at journey's end we find
"The same old stuff we left behind,
"Well-worn Tellurian stories of
"Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love,
"Whose setting might as well have been
"The Bronx, Montmartre or Bethnal Green?

"Why should I leave this green-floored cell,
"Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell,
"Unless, outside its guarded gates,
"Long, long desired, the Unearthly waits..."

- as it does in Lewis' own interplanetary novels. (Lewis is a period piece, writing "Tellurian" rather than "Terrestrial" or "Terran.")

Finally, to complete this sequence, Brian Aldiss, in conversation at an sf convention, made precisely the same point as Lewis' poem and specifically about Anderson, saying, in effect, "Poul Anderson will tell you a dozen ways to get to another planet but what happens when we get there? The same things as on Earth!"

I think that this criticism is far more valid of Asimov than of Anderson. The latter's dozen different ways to get to another planet are scientifically informed and imaginative. Asimov merely invokes the cliche "hyperspace" whereas Anderson gives us a different and plausible interpretation of "hyperspace," among other means of interstellar travel.

Asimov wanted a humans-only Galactic Empire merely to give him a population big enough for Seldon's psychohistorical predictions to work whereas Anderson gives us a far more plausible and colorful declining interstellar empire. In an entire novel, The People Of The Wind, Anderson's colony planet Avalon successfully resists Terran imperial annexation. So far, then, Lewis' and Aldiss' criticism seems valid. However, the Avalonian environment and its non-human colonists are realized in detail. We are not still on Earth.

Anderson's Flandry series gives us "...spies, conspirators, or love..." in exotic settings. It has to be acknowledged that action fiction in extraterrestrial and futuristic settings was one appeal of Planet Stories sf. However, Anderson creates, and Flandry contends with, planetary environments like Talwin which are not the Bronx moved into space. And Anderson's later novels, like Genesis and Starfarers, venture into speculative futures going far beyond interstellar espionage or imperialism.

1 comment:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    C.S. Lewis and Brian Aldiss complained of how Anderson and Asimov allegedly gave us only "The same old stuff we left behind,/Well-worn Tellurian stories of/Crooks, spies, conspirators,or love." What they both seemed to have missed (surprisingly so, in Lewis' case) is what ELSE could you expect from people belonging to a FALLEN race like mankind (and every other known intelligent race in the Technic history)? Because we are fallen, imperfect, sinful, prone to error, etc., there WILL be strife, war, contending nations, etc.

    Btw, I rather like "Tellurian," to use alongside "Terran."