Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Further Future

Some science fiction novels are set on Earth in the far future without giving many details about what has happened between now and then, e.g.:

The Time Machine by HG Wells (802,701 AD, then the Further Vision);
Midsummer Century by James Blish (about 23,000 years hence);
The Winter Of The World by Poul Anderson (at least 10,000 years hence).

Of particular interest to sf readers is whether there has been any space travel, either interplanetary or interstellar, in that time.

However, a Dirac message transmitted in Midsummer Century is received many millennia earlier in Blish's interstellar novel, The Quincunx Of Time, so we know that there has been space travel in that timeline.

What happened between the 1890's and 802,701? Did anyone (re-)invent Cavorite and leave Earth to contend with Selenites or Martians? Wells mostly wrote one-off works and did not connect them into a series.

Decades ago, the Lancaster sf bookseller, Peter Pinto, told me that he thought that The Winter Of The World was set in Anderson's Technic Civilization timeline. On reflection, he added that it might just be that Anderson had got into writing about futures in a particular way so that there seemed to be a connection. If this novel is set in the Technic timeline, then its events occur long after the Fall of the Terran Empire but while human beings who have never seen Earth are still spreading through the galaxy.

The Winter Of The World is so named because an Ice Age has destroyed our civilisation. Mankind, with new racial distinctions, has thrived in various societies, including an Empire, mines metal from the sites of the former technological civilisation and has just re-invented telegraph.

Since I am currently rereading the novel, I will look out for any clues as to which timeline it belongs in but do not really expect to find any - although apparently Sandra Miesel persuaded Anderson that Planet Of No Return could fit into the Psychotechnic future history so it is always possible to re-assess connections between works.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    This note of yours calls for some comments. had not known Peter Pinto thought THE WINTER OF THE WORLD was set in Poul Anderson's Technic Civlization timeline, albeit LONG after the Terran Empire fell. In fact, if we take this idea seriously, I think it's very likely WINTER has to bet long after "Starfog," the latest story we have which is definitely in that timeline.

    However, based on my memories of WINTER, I have very strong doubts that is the case. First, I don't recall any of the characters in WINTER mentioning or even thinking of space travel. However, this can easily be refuted by simply pointing out that after 10,000 years of barbarism and slow recovery there would have been no memory of either space travel or an interstellar Empire.

    But more to the point, I don't recall in WINTER any mention of the PHYISCAL evidence a vast space faring civilization would have left. No ruins of space ships, space ports, records, space related monuments, etc. So, like you, I think it's simpler to say WINTER is a "one off" book Anderson did not connect to any of his timelines.

    The Wikipedia article on Poul Anderson included a point I thought is very true: Anderson's determination to be fair even to persons he might disagree with. Most often, in the conflicts he writes about, he does not show one side as villainous, even in cases where it's plain which side he favors. Most often, he shows such persons as being honorable and well meaning by their lights. The Ranger Braun in THE CORRIDORS OF TIME being an example of this.

    Moreover, both the Rahidian general Sidir and the Imperial viceroy for civil affairs Yurussun possess a tragic dignity in defeat which would not be apt were they truly evil. Again, Anderson shows them as honorable and upright by their lights.

    And, of course, a major idea of THE WINTER OF THE WORLD is how a mutation within a small, isolated population during the next Ice Age caused humanity to split into two genuinely different races, perhaps even species. That is, the "domesticated" humans we know of, and the "undomesticated," wild Northfolk.

    Putting aside issues of better or worse, I did wonder how LONG such a new race or species could last if it was both dependent on bison as the basic means of existing and genetically hard wired to be UNABLE to think and act in anything larger than single family groups. I think it's possible Anderson left this deliberately implicit (see Josserek Dermain's letter to Donya at the end of WINTER).


  2. I agree PA treated characters fairly, notably Strang who tries to revolutionise Hermes in MIRKHEIM - though that bureaucrat who is after van Rijn's blood gets short shrift!

    I am scanning WINTER for any hint that there had been space travel. Maybe just one point so far.

  3. Hi, Paul!

    I agree Poul Anderson treated even characters whom he plainly disliked in his books--such as Strang. Frankly, I too disliked Strang, just another increasingly cruel and ruthless despot in the Robespierre model.


  4. I thought some changes where necessary in Hermetian society, and some were happening anyway, but returning as part of an alien invasion and imposing a social revolution from the top down is not the way to do it! No surer way of uniting aristos and travaillers against you! PA did a very good job of showing a complicated society, how it had developed, how its various sectors interacted, what individual members of different classes thought about it etc.

    1. Hi, Paul!

      I agree Anderson was very good at realistically showing how a complex society deveoloped on Hermes. Far better than Isaac Asimov's attempt at such a thing in THE CURRENTS OF SPACE. And I'm glad you too agree that coercive top down attempts at social change (in the service of foreign/alien invaders to boot!) is not the way to do it. As you said, it merely united the aristocracy and travaillers against Strang and Babur.

      Social change, generally speaking, is best done gradually. If good, that gives them time to become rooted and accepted. If bad, that again gives time for them to be corrected cautiously and prudently.


  5. I am now writing a synopsis of Rogavikian society: so much detail that we miss if we just read thru the book to follow the plot.

  6. Sean M. Brooks wrote: "But more to the point, I don't recall in WINTER any mention of the PHYISCAL evidence a vast space faring civilization would have left. No ruins of space ships, space ports, records, space related monuments, etc. So, like you, I think it's simpler to say WINTER is a "one off" book Anderson did not connect to any of his timelines."

    I agree that it is probably intended to be a one-off book, but the lack of physical evidence doesn't prove that there were no spaceships or even hyperdrive starships in the distant past. WINTER takes place a long, long time in the future, and the people evidently have no memories or direct knowledge of our civilization; they only mine metal from the remains of Roong and perhaps other cities. There may have been a nuclear war, or perhaps a meteoric bombardment, or something. You could make it that the Merseians bombarded Earth, if you insist, but if WINTER is in the Polesotechnic timeline, I would think that the Earth of Josserek's day would have some introduced species, plants and animals brought back from more or less earthlike worlds of other stars. We don't see any evidence of such, and while that's not absolute proof of absence, the one-off book explanation seems most straightforward.

  7. Replies
    1. Kaor, Nicholas!

      I'm disgusted! I'm reading these interesting comments YEARS after you wrote them! Apologies for reading and commenting far sooner.

      I would argue, however, that at least in Arvanneth, where our New Orleans is located, SOME memories and knowledge of the ancient past was preserved, including even our civilization.

      Granted, if WINTER was set in the VERY remote future, it might still be in the timeline of the Technic Civilization series. But we do seem to agree that WINTER is best understood as a one off book by Anderson.


    2. Kaor, Nicholas!

      I meant to say I apologize for NOT reading and commenting on these remarks of yours far sooner!

      Regards! Sean