Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Winter of the World

In Poul Anderson's The Winter Of The World, the post-Ice Age economy is wind- and steam-powered. Seafolk Intelligence use radio and someone in the Empire has invented telegraph.

The main puzzle of the novel is the eccentric behaviour of the Rogaviki people. Hunters, not herders, capable both of civilised discourse and of berserk rage, they fanatically resist invasion but never invade, not even to counterattack, and resume friendly relations with former invaders as soon as the latter have been expelled.

In other works by Anderson, his characters must fathom the initially incomprehensible motivations either of extraterrestrials or of isolated extrasolar colonists but these mysterious beings are fellow terrestrials. However, like some of the societies that Anderson imagines as isolated on other planets, the Rogaviki have diverged evolutionarily. The explanation offered at the end of the novel is that they are a new fundamentally individualistic species with no social organisation larger than single families but with a very strong territorial imperative because each of them needs to be surrounded by open spaces, not by other people. They are adapted to post-Ice scarcity on the plains. As in a detective novel, earlier mysteries make sense when explained at the end.

 A question not asked in the novel but unavoidable for readers of science fiction is whether pre-Ice space travel left any colonies on other planets. It is stated that there was flight to the Moon but, since the novel was published in 1976, this was not then a science fictional proposition. Having so far reread to page 96 of 190, I have found only one clue. A character regards the "...bluish brilliance..." of Mars. (1) The reader thinks: Mars blue? We are immediately told that an astrologer had found ancient records of a red Mars so the author has not just got the colour of a planet wrong.

Has Mars been terraformed? Is the blue oceans? Are there people there now? We cannot help asking. The character who has looked at the blue Mars remarks that it was red before the Ice but quotes this only as evidence that "...nothing endures forever..." (2) He does not suspect colonisation.

Is the novel set in the timeline of Anderson's Technic History or any other series? During the League and Empire periods of the Technic History, Mars was red, inhabited by extrasolar aliens, but it could have been changed since then.

(1) Anderson, Poul, The Winter Of The World, New York, 1976, p. 78.
(2) ibid., p. 80.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Again, you make interesting comments about THE WINTER OF THE WORLD. I am especially chagrined how I missed the "blue Mars" references in my past readings of the book. References I'll be looking up.

Yes, the references you found leaves open the possibility there was some space travel at least to the Moon and Mars before the Ice Age began. But that alone does not mean WINTER belongs to the same time line as the Technic Civlization stories. It could merely mean Mars was settled by humans before the collapse of the pre Ice Age civlization.

I can't say I much like the Rogaviki as a people, however much some individuals may be likeable. The casual cruelty shown by them in discarding "mule" babies via exposure repelled me. And the Rogaviki refusal to take prisoners in times of war, massacring them instead, disgusted me.

And I still wonder how long a new species evolutionarily adapted only as hunters in single family units on the North American plains can last. It seems a narrow niche, at best. It does make me wonder if the Rogaviki are too rigid to adapt to any number of possible challenges I can think of!


Paul Shackley said...

I agree no evidence of Technic timeline so far.

ndrosen said...

Sean M. Brooks wrote, "I can't say I much like the Rogaviki as a people"

I take your point, but on those grounds, is Homo sapiens sapiens more likable than Homo sapiens rogavikius? The Rogaviki are short on altruism, and expose unwanted babies, but then, it's all too common for our kind of humans to kill babies by abortion or infanticide, as Josserek reflects. They torture prisoners for information, if necessary, and then kill them for convenience, or, as Josserek puts it, "for sheer lack of ability to imagine what else you might do with them." The Barommians, and presumably other nations and empires of their world, also commit slaughter and torture, and keep slaves. At least the Rogaviki don't wage aggressive war, and don't practice slavery.