Tuesday, 11 September 2012

York Minster

Poul Anderson celebrates the English City of York twice:

York exists in an alternative timeline in Anderson's novel, Operation Luna (New York, 1999);

the York of 1900 in an alternative timeline is "emulated" by an an inorganic intelligence on a far future post-human Earth in Anderson's novel, Genesis (New York, 2000).

According to the narrator of Operation Luna, no town surpasses York in beauty and charm:

"Mellow gold-hued sandstone of ancient walls and towers, crooked narrow streets with names like Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate, half-timbered houses whose arcades line them and galleries lean over them...history reaching back beyond the Romans and not embalmed but alive, here all around you -" (Operation Luna, p. 196).

The church that the characters seek:

"...lay almost in the shadows of the Minster. That most glorious of churches rose above roofs like God's personal benediction." (p. 197)

They walk on the city wall at night:

"A staircase led onto the city wall. Most of the medieval circuit remains. The top has been paved for easy footing. We wandered...between battlements. Beneath us slept the town. Opposite gleamed the river, and outlying homes gave way to broad countryside. Steeples, portals, the strong delicate towers of the Minster reached for the stars...stillness and ghostly fragrances from gardens. The east had gone pale..." (pp. 202-203)

We deduce that Poul and Karen Anderson did this. Although this passage is set in an alternative timeline, it describes the York we know.

In Genesis, an "emulation" is an elaborate computer/artificial intelligence simulation in which the simulated inhabitants of York are conscious, perceive the city and believe that they are living in it. Two characters entering the emulation as a virtual reality visit York Minster because it was:

" '...one of the loveliest churches ever built, in the loveliest old town.' " (Genesis, p. 184)

- although it had been " '...in sad condition...' " when last seen in reality. (p. 184)

In this alternative 1900, there is a Latin Roman Catholic Mass in the Minster. Anderson describes the interior of the church. Outside, the characters admire:

"...the carven tawny limestone of the front...The delightful narrow 'gates', walled in with half-timbered houses..." (p. 185)

There is a steam train but no automobiles and vehicles are pulled by diapered horses. The flag is a St Andrew's cross with an eagle. Soldiers march through to orders in German.

In this emulated timeline, generated as of its fifteenth century, the conciliar movement reformed the church sufficiently to prevent the Protestant Reformation and absolute monarchies. Thus, however, Germany was unified and became dominant, provoked rebellions and decayed.

" 'This Europe went through less agony, and invented and discovered less.' " (p. 188)

Anderson imagines a timeline that was better but only for a while. Meanwhile, he twice celebrates the ancient but transient beauty of York.

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