Sunday, 10 June 2012
Starfarers and Kith
When we see a name on an ancient monument, we know that the named person is dead but, when Kith traders see the names Jean Kilbirnie and Timothy Cleland on Monument Stone in the Kith village on the planet Harbor in the system of Tau Ceti, they know that Jean and Tim, unaged, are on a ten thousand year round trip, still alive but as inaccessible as if they were dead.
They are celebrated both because they were on the first expedition to Harbor, where the Kith meet and hold Fairs, and because they are of "...our future in the cosmos." (1) They literally will come again, not for a long time but, barring accidents, that time is known. Their contract stipulates five Earth years maximum at their destination before they return. Here, two temporal perspectives meet: the time since an ancient (dead) monument was erected and the time stipulated in a (living) contract.
The pre-Kithic text with its date in a long superceded calender is preserved unchanged although the bronze plate on which it is inscribed has had to be replaced. Experiencing change whenever they return to a familiar planet like Harbor, where machines tend their archaic properties, the Kith value their past and the traditions differentiating them from transient planet dwellers. Jean and Tim, major characters in the novel, are "starfarers" who departed long before, and will return long after, Kithhood but, by incorporating their names into this chapter which is a new story about the Kith, Anderson, with the literary economy that I have mentioned elsewhere, incorporates the entire Kith history into the longer story being told in Starfarers.
Addendum, 12/6/12: Those who have read further in the novel will know that Jean and Tim do not necessarily return after all but we are unaware of that when we read about Monument Stone. At this stage, their eventual return is still expected.
Addendum, 13/6/12: Later, a Kith crew names a newly discovered planet after Brent, another semi-mythical member of the Envoy crew. Their names live for millennia while mere months elapse for them.
(1) Anderson, Poul, Starfarers, New York, 1999, p. 124.