Saturday, 28 July 2012

A Future History Or Not?

In "The Queen Of Air And Darkness" by Poul Anderson, human beings in slower than light spaceships have colonised several extrasolar planets, including Rustum, Beowulf and Roland. In "Home" by Anderson, human beings in slower than light spaceships have established but are now terminating scientific bases on several extrasolar planets, including Mithras.

These stories are the last two in Anderson's collection New America and the first two in his The Queen Of Air and Darkness and other stories. Anderson collections include redundancies that would have to be edited out of any Complete Works editions.

In New America, these two stories are preceded by four about the colonisation of Rustum. Those four in turn are sequels to the four Rustum History stories collected as Orbit Unlimited. In The Queen..., the two stories are followed by four others, all but one also featuring slower than light interstellar travel and extrasolar colonies.

Do these thirteen stories form a continuous sequence? Nine are definitely connected by common references to Rustum. Further, slower than light travel, extrasolar colonies and their related economic, political and ecological issues are strong common themes. However, the author's Foreword to The Queen... states that the stories in the book do not project a single future history. An italicised "Publisher's Note" in New America implies that both "The Queen Of Air And Darkness" (agree) and "Home" (disagree) fit into the Rustum History timeline. However:

in the Rustum series:
 there have been Atomic Wars;
Earth is ruled by a Federation;
there are enduring extrasolar colonies.

In "Home":
there has been a Solar War;
Earth is ruled by a Directorate;
there are terminated extrasolar bases.

These are different timelines. "Home" could have been called "Earthman, Come Home," which is the title of a James Blish collection. Anderson's characters reflect on history and argue about whether the terminated Mithran base should be turned into a colony. Would human beings expanding across the planet displace the pacific native Mithrans? In one chilling passage showing a Mithran point of view, we, though not the human characters, learn that if the human beings were to exceed certain limits, then a Mithran:

"...would be forced to kill. But he would continue to love as he did." (1)

Although "Home" is not consistent with Rustum, it might just form a very loose tetralogy with the three other interstellar stories in the collection. In "The Alien Enemy," the Directorate has a failed colony on Sibylla but surviving colonies on Zion, Atlas, Asgard and Lucifer. Did the Directors, after terminating bases, reverse their policy and initiate colonies?

"The Alien Enemy" has a remarkable surprise ending in which Anderson characters succeed against all the odds. Unable, with their limited resources, to survive on the inhospitable Sibylla, the colony's leaders had faked an alien attack in order to be recalled home. On Earth, they are given the challenge of developing the Sahara where, hardened by Sibylla, they succeed and, decades later, when a spaceman has returned from his next voyage, they are making a difference to Earth itself.

"The Faun" is set on Arcadia which could be another of the Directorate's colonies. "Time Lag" involves relativistic travel between Chertkoi and Vaynamo which could also have been colonized by the Directorate. I suggest that the nine Rustum History stories be collected in one volume and the "Home" four in another.

(1) Anderson, Poul, New America, New York, 1982, p. 253.

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