Saturday, 30 March 2013

Cadet Loftus And Ensign Flandry

James Blish said that he wrote The Star Dwellers (London, 1979) as a reply to Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. The titles imply an antithesis at least in emphasis. Troopers kill whereas dwellers live.

Blish's juvenile hero, the seventeen year old Jack Loftus, senior foreign service cadet in the department of the Secretary for Space, also contrasts with Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry of Terrestrial Imperial Space Intelligence, especially since we first meet the latter as a nineteen year old Ensign.

Jack has read magazine fiction in which:

a terrestrial representative fights alien hordes with a hand gun;
space fleets fight between stars;
abduction, assassination and incitement to insurrect are regular tactics.

In other words, he seems to have read the Flandry series! In fact, it is possible that thirty seven years hence, Jack, due to be born in 2033, will read magazines of classic sf reprinting Poul Anderson.

Jack's temporary mentor, Dr Langer, comments, " 'Utter nonsense...' " (p. 49) and explains that:

space fleets would be unable to intercept each other or to fight if they met by chance but would each destroy the enemy's home planet, solving nothing;
" 'The essence of interstellar diplomacy is to make friends, not enemies.' " (p. 50)

This is indeed a direct reply to Heinlein but is also relevant to Flandry, though not, of course, to the entire range of Anderson's works.

Regular blog viewers might have noticed that I am trying simultaneously both to express my appreciation of James Blish's works and to hold the attention of those who prefer to read about Anderson! To me, it makes sense to read them together. Their main, though not their only, similarity is the precise combination of scientific information, extrapolation and speculation in their hard sf.

Also in their hard sf, each notably goes intergalactic for two volumes - Anderson, World Without Stars and Tau Zero; Blish, Earthman, Come Home and The Triumph Of Time.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Anderson Juveniles

The three Campbell future historians, Heinlein, Asimov and Blish, each wrote several juvenile sf novels:

Heinlein's Scribner Juveniles include what I call his "Juvenile Future History";

Asimov's Lucky Starr series, although internally inconsistent, shares some major features, extra-solar colonists and robots, with his future history;

Blish's five juvenile novels include one volume of his Cities In Flight future history and three "Haertel" novels, the latter comprising not a single linear sequence but several divergent narratives.

Poul Anderson, a later Campbell future historian and successor of Heinlein, excelled at writing future history series, among many other accomplishments, but did not follow suit with any series of juvenile novels. However, his complete works do include a few items for younger readers:

two short stories in his Technic Civilization future history;
one long story in his Time Patrol series;
I do not remember the title of a short story about a lunar rescue by a juvenile hero;
I have the idea that maybe Vault Of The Ages is a juvenile novel;
the Technic Civilization novel, The Game Of Empire, has a teenage heroine so that might count (although not necessarily).

Unlike his predecessors, Anderson did not emphasise juvenile fiction but he wrote it well, nevertheless.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Update

I have been away from this blog for a while, first posting on other blogs, then away from computers for most of a week. Rereading and blogging about Poul Anderson got me into rereading and blogging about James Blish and I am still currently focusing on Blish.

The newest post on the James Blish Appreciation blog, "Sequel, Serial, Series," compares Blish (quality), Anderson (both quality and quantity) and Star Trek (much greater quantity but at the expense of quality).

I will probably reread and comment on Blish's The Star Dwellers and Mission To The Heart Stars before returning to Anderson maybe with Twilight World.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Anderson And Blish

What Poul Anderson and James Blish have in common:

hard sf;
more than one future history series;
a major future history series based on a cyclical theory of history;
fantasy;
historical fiction.

Anderson, of course, shows us the rise and fall of the Polesotechnic League, the rise and fall of the Terran Empire and the rise of the Commonalty. This is all in many works that are collected in seven omnibus volumes.

Blish shows us the Fall of the West in one volume, the rise and fall of Okie society in two volumes and the end of two universes in one volume. This is all collected in a single omnibus volume. Blish's other trilogies and tetralogies plus related matter, including his other future historical works, would fit, I suggest, into another six omnibuses or collections.

Thus, merely in terms of word count, Anderson's longest future history is comparable to the totality of Blish's future histories and similar works. The main difference between these two writers is in quantity of output. Blish wrote one historical novel as against Anderson's five - or more, depending on how we classify those that include an element of historical fantasy without being primarily fantasies.

As previously indicated, I have become absorbed in rereading and blogging about Blish's Cities In Flight, in other words what I have been doing with Anderson for the past year though now with a different but similar author. There really is a lot more in this Blish Tetralogy than I would have thought from previous readings. If you have read all of Anderson and want to read something comparable, knowing that it is similar in quality although less in quantity, then please read some of the works of James Blish.

Memory And Patience

Copied from James Blish Appreciation:

In Poul Anderson's World Without Stars, the antithantic has ended aging and death by old age for all mankind. Many people trade and explore between galaxies. A spaceship can make an instantaneous jump to any other galaxy when it has accelerated to equalise velocities. Memories are periodically edited to prevent insanity through memory overload and people have learned patience.

In James Blish's Cities In Flight, the anti-agathics have ended aging and death by old age for the small minority who fly cities between stars faster than light. Immortals do not overload with memories because they leave the remembering of facts to computers. However, they have learned to see solutions to problems almost instantly and are impatient with those who don't.

Similar premises; different conclusions.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Structures Of Flandry And Okies

Original Series
Flandry: seven stories, collected in two volumes.
Okies: four stories, collected in one volume; Okie civilisation ends in the third so the fourth is an aftermath.

Works Written Later But Set Earlier
Flandry: three "Young Flandry" novels.
Okies: one prequel and one juvenile novel.

Works Set Later
Flandry: two later Flandry novels; one novel about his daughter; four works set after the Empire = one novel + one collection(?)
Okies: one novel about the end of the universe.

Related Works
Flandry: the earlier Technic History.
Okies: other series with related ideas.

Qualitatively though not quantitatively comparable.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Anderson-Blish Interaction

For a Poul Anderson fan who is also a James Blish fan, rereading Anderson's "Call Me Joe," set on Jupiter and Jupiter V, automatically led to rereading the "Jupiter V" chapters of Blish's They Shall Have Stars for comparison. This in turn led to rereading the "New York" chapters and "Washington" sections of They Shall Have Stars and the opening chapters of The Triumph Of Time so I am publishing some posts on the James Blish Appreciation blog.

The two novels mentioned are the opening and closing volumes of Blish's main future history which, considerably shorter than Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, is complete, with a beginning, a middle and an end, in just four volumes.

I recently posted remarks about Anderson's two intergalactic novels, Tau Zero and World Without Stars. Blish's equivalent, The Triumph Of Time, is set entirely outside the home galaxy. The flying city of New York has colonized the planet of New Earth in the Greater Magellanic Cloud and, from there, the New Earthmen, as they have become, have colonized other planets in the Cloud.

The moving planet of He leaves the Milky Way, crosses intergalactic space, passes through the Andromeda galaxy, then sets out to return to the Milky Way, passing through M-33 and both Magellanic Clouds en route. Meeting the New Earthmen, who advise them to avoid the home galaxy, now ruled by a new non-human empire, they propose to seek elsewhere for a solution to the problem that they had discovered in intergalactic space, " 'Nothing less...than the imminent coming to an end of time itself.' " (Blish, Cities In Flight, London, 1981, p. 505)

Mayor John Amalfi suggests making the million light year journey to NGC 6822 but a Hevian replies that:

" '...our ultimate destination must be the center of the metagalaxy, the hub of all the galaxies of space-time.'" (p. 508)

Only there can they hope to " '...escape or to modify the end...' " (p. 508)

Like World Without Stars, The Triumph Of Time postulates a faster than light means of intergalactic travel. Like Tau Zero, it presents human beings who survive until, then decide how to respond to, the end of the universe.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Blogs

A few people have told me that they enjoy reading this blog. I enjoy writing it or I would not continue to do so. Sometimes, when adding a new post, like the ones summarising the fictitious cosmologies of Tau Zero and World Without Stars, I think that really interesting and imaginative information is being added to the blog. However, I am able to do this only because Poul Anderson wrote so much and of such quality.

Many years ago, my number one science fiction writer was James Blish and I do have a James Blish Appreciation blog. There is more on the Anderson blog only because of the latter's greater output. In an ideal hereafter, Blish would complete King Log and The Breath Of Brahma and write more historical fiction, the Green Exarchy novel and the finite spinning universe theory of time travel novel. At least.

I used to think that Blish's Cities In Flight was better than either Robert Heinlein's Future History or Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and I still think that it is better than Foundation. However, my appreciation of the early Heinlein has increased. Further, Cities In Flight is not a future history on the Heinlein model: it is the one volume Okie quartet with a prequel, a sequel and a juvenile novel added. Heinlein presents not a linear sequence but several stories that are contemporary with each other and that provide common historical background references for other, organically linked, stories set further down his Time Chart.

Future histories in the Heinlein model are Anderson's Psychotechnic and Technic Histories and Larry Niven's Known Space. Just as it would be wrong to dismiss Heinlein's The Green Hills Of Earth as a collection of unrelated space age stories, it would be equally wrong to dismiss the Technic History as just the van Rijn series followed by the Flandry series with a few extras added to connect them together.

Joe On Jupiter And Others Elsewhere

If a neural pattern were to be duplicated in another brain, whether organic or artificial, then consciousness, memory and sense of identity would also be duplicated so that the copy would, at least initially, think that s/he was the original. In Poul Anderson's works, this happens in "Call Me Joe," the Harvest Of Stars Tetralogy and Genesis.

An Earthman remotely controls every waking moment of the central nervous system of the artificially grown Jovian organism, Joe, so that, when the Earthman dies and Joe wakes, the man's memories have been transferred to Joe's brain. Other Earthmen, near death, might regard transfer of their memories into a Jovian organism as an extension of life.

James Blish's "Bridge" parallels "Call Me Joe" in terms of subject matter: an Earthman on Jupiter V remotely perceives the Jovian environment. "Bridge" also parallels Anderson's "The Saturn Game" in that both describe interplanetary exploration preceding interstellar travel in a future history series.

Of the authors compared in an earlier post, Burroughs presents the bizarrest version of Jupiter whereas Blish's version is the most scientifically accurate. Blish seems to go along with the idea that Jupiter, like smaller planets, has a uniform solid surface that can be clearly distinguished from its gaseous atmosphere. After all, what else is the Bridge (one of the classic settings for an sf story) standing on? However, Blish goes on to reveal that anyone descending through the Jovian atmosphere would encounter only increasing density with denser material from further down sometimes forced upwards to form merely temporary continents on one of which the Bridge is built.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Three On Jupiter

I refer to three fictitious accounts of the exploration of Jupiter:

James Blish, Cities In Flight (London, 1981);
Clifford Simak, City (London, 1965);
Poul Anderson, "Call Me Joe," IN The Dark Between The Stars (New York, 1981).

In Blish, Robert Helmuth on Jupiter V dons a helmet and perceives the Jovian environment through instruments on a car that moves along the Bridge being built on the Jovian surface;

In Anderson, Edward Anglesey on Jupiter V dons a helmet and perceives the Jovian environment through the central nervous system of an artificially grown quadrupedal organism that has been sent to the Jovian surface;

In Simak, Kent Fowler in a dome on Jupiter is transformed into a quadrupedal organism and sent out onto the Jovian surface.

Thus, Anderson's account is intermediate between Blish's and Simak's. Anglesey and Fowler wind up happy in their Jovian bodies whereas Helmuth hates that environment and wants to get away from it. Blish told me that he could not have described Jupiter as a comfortable place. His "Bridge" came from an experience under a New York bridge that shook as a train passed overhead.

Winding Up On World Without Stars II

Poul Anderson's Tau Zero mentions planets of an intergalactic red dwarf and his World Without Stars is set on one. World Without Stars mentions the cosmic collapse and Tau Zero is about it.

"...must we kill through all time, until time ends when the disgusted universe collapses inward on us?" (World Without Stars, New York, 1966, pp. 115-116)

Thus, cosmic collapse is invoked in a comment on conflict but it also reminds us of the novel's cosmic context.

The wise and capable Hugh Valland, spaceman, singer and sometime soldier, shows us that an ancient and apparently impregnable empire might be ripe for overthrow:

" '...there can't be an awful lot of Herd soldiers. The downdevils never needed many, and won't have time to breed a horde - which they couldn't supply anyway.' " (p. 118)

This is realistic, practical and also inspiring thinking.

The spaceship is lit by "evershine[s]," (p. 31) a phrase simultaneously suggesting both a future advance in technology and a part of the environment that has been around for a long time, like evergreens.

Back on Earth, Argens visits a man who looks young but has the manner of age. That paradox would exist with the antithanatic.

Argens' rented flying "flitter," "...had bunk, bed and food facilities." (p. 124) Here is another example of advanced technology, in this case suggesting that, beyond a certain stage of technical development, it should be possible for anyone to go anywhere in comfort. He is even able, inside the flitter, to tune in to "...multisense programs..." but they "...were not for a spaceman..." so he prefers to go for a walk. (p. 124):

"This was Manhome. No matter how far we range, the salt and the rhythm of her tides will always be in our blood." (p. 124)

That passage could have appeared in any futuristic novel about space travel and is a good place for me to discontinue these concluding remarks.

Winding Up On World Without Stars

In Poul Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966), spaceman Felipe Argens might not see his City portwife Lute and their daughter Wenli again for another fifty years (p. 45). Because of the antithanatic, Lute and he will be physically unchanged but Wenli will have grown from small child to adult.

Although space jumps are instantaneous, a spaceship needs time to accelerate to the velocity of its destination spiral arm or galaxy and a large energy differential must be made up in stages - plus which, the company rotates personnel between stations.

However, half a century is little to an immortal. First, Argens has other portwives and Lute has other spacefaring husbands. Secondly, even within an unextended lifespan, each new year seems progressively shorter because it is a smaller proportion of the total to date. (CS Lewis argued that our surprise that "Time flies" shows that we belong in eternity but I think that the mathematical explanation just given sufficiently accounts for our sense of acceleration with age.)

Isaac Asimov's characters who live well into their second century count their age in decades without specifying which year in a decade just as we say, "I am sixty four," without adding, "...and two months." So Argens would view decades as we view years and years as we view months. I envy him and his fellow immortals their greater ability to "...set the years in perspective..." (p. 121).

Inner Conflict

In Poul Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966), the human characters, having "jumped" into intergalactic space, must now fight against natives armed with spears. However, greater issues are at stake. Like any reflective science fiction writer, Anderson, when comparing human beings with aliens, casually touches on important issues - and, I think, sets up a false dichotomy:

"In the Earth-days since he renounced his species, Rorn had improved his command of Yonder [an alien language] until he could readily use it; so much does the removal of inward conflict do for the mind, and you may decide for yourself whether it's worth the price." (p. 97)

The narrator, Argens, has answered his own question for us. Humanity as it is currently constituted is rightly preferred to a mere "...removal of inner conflict..." that would be part and parcel of a loss of individual freedom. However, by meditation and psychological understanding, human beings, without any alien input, can work towards a resolution of inward conflict not negating but enhancing individual freedom (I think).

The novel is, we understand, part of Argens' autobiography and indeed, he is the first person narrator of all but three of the chapters. Chapters I, VIII and XIV, however, are narrated in the third person and from the alien viewpoint of ya-Kela - so these chapters are fictionalised either by Argens or by the omniscient narrator who is otherwise absent. In Chapter XIV, ya-Kela hears without understanding human conversation, which  therefore is printed in italics. For example:

" 'Hugh,' said ya-Argens, 'I don't know whether to call you a hero or a devil.' " (p. 105)

I question whether ya-Kela would be able to discern and remember incomprehensible syllables.

Ya-Kela's people sit on their tails, like Anderson's Merseians, and the females are subordinate, as also among the Merseians, but the differences are greater.

Mentalics?

We would be duly impressed if we learned of a civilisation that was many times older than ours and that had mastered the science of mind. Isaac Asimov's Galactic Empire, over ten thousand years old, is the culmination of a much longer period of interstellar civilisation and its highest scientific achievement is Hari Seldon's mastery both of mass psychology and of individual "mentalics." The Second Empire is to be based on Seldon's "psychohistory."

Poul Anderson's fictitious species, the Ai Chun, confined to a single metal-poor but very old planet of an isolated red dwarf star in intergalactic space, rule an ancient empire based on selective breeding, mental control and telepathy. They have even bred intelligence in a subject species and believe that they themselves in previous incarnations created everything else.

In previous posts, I compared Asimov's Galactic Empire unfavourably with Anderson's Terran Empire and must now add that I regard Seldon's Second Foundation as a much less plausible ruling group than the Ai Chun. Reading Anderson's works, I am reminded of Asimov's Foundation Series but always feel that Anderson's scenarios are more substantially based both in scientific understanding and in creative imagination.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Sorting Series

Maurai and Kith, Poul Anderson collection, three "Maurai" stories, two "Kith" stories, sea people and star people, not successive periods but alternative futures, two (very short) "future histories." Third Kith story, set between the first two, written later. Maurai And Kith (five stories) could split into Maurai (three stories) and Kith (three stories)?

The Maurai stories are followed by Orion Shall Rise and There Will Be Time. The first and third written Kith stories are incorporated into Starfarers, to which the remaining story could be appended. Thus, four volumes where there was one.

The High Crusade acquired a sequel, "Quest," which could be appended to the novel. Tau Zero acquired a prequel, "Pride," which adds a lot and could be included as Prologue. "Death And The Knight" follows The Shield Of Time, the Time Patrol novel, so should be appended to it, not to Time Patrol, the Time Patrol omnibus collection.

There are two (or three?) stories about a character called "Wing Alar" that could be collected together. I will have to reread to confirm but I think that "A Bicycle Built For Brew" and "Captive of the Centaurianess," and maybe some other early stories, share background details? There are probably other connections that I do not know about.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Cosmic Dust

What Poul Anderson in "Pride" (Space Folk, New York, 1989) calls a "brown dwarf" (p. 8) and describes as a "half-star" (p. 1) or "sub-sun" (p. 20), James Blish in Mission To The Heart Stars (London, 1980) calls a "grey ghost" and describes as "a dwarf semi-star" (p. 92).

Anderson describes space travellers exploring new environments, therefore encountering as yet unexplained phenomena like:

" 'Those white clouds blanketing most of the surface [of the brown dwarf]...What are they?'" (Space Folk, p. 16)

When a pilot sets off on a solitary mission, it is entirely expectable that something will disable her spacecraft. When a second pilot sets off to rescue her and to complete her mission, it is even more expectable that he will succeed. These are the kinds of things that happen in this kind of story. What is of interest is the nature of the obstacle that she had encountered:

" 'The whitish material in the atmosphere and in the plume she encountered, it's dust...mostly fine silicate particles...cosmic dust that the Solar System condensed out of.' " (p. 23)

This solid material was incorporated into the bodies of smaller planets and the cores of gas giants and was vaporized in the Sun but the heat of the brown dwarf kept it suspended in the lower atmosphere from where it is cast into space whenever the dwarf temporarily ignites.

Thus, the space explorers are encountering that primordial dust from which their planetary system was formed. What more dramatic discovery could they have made two light years from home on the fringe of the Solar System?

Cosmic Histories

Olaf Stapledon wrote:

a future history, Last And First Men;
a futuristic perspective on past history, Last Men In London;
an unfinished cosmic history, Nebula Maker;
a completed cosmic history, Star Maker;
a contemporary science fiction (sf) novel linked to Last Men and Star Maker, Odd John;
a short story set in one of the sonic universes created by the experimenting Star Maker, "A World of Sound."

Martians invade Earth. Terrestrials invade Venus and Neptune where they become Venerians and Neptunians, respectively. Neptunians mentally time travel. The Solar System is a different place after the catastrophe that led to the colonization of Neptune. The galactic mind briefly reviews Solar history, then merges into the cosmic mind which glimpses the Star Maker and his ultimate cosmos to which ours is related as a single particle.

Stapledon presents four Wellsian themes, time travel, space travel, Martian invasion and future history, in the first Last Men volume. Further, his fictitious history summarizes the entire human future whereas his predecessor, Wells, had initiated future histories by recounting two centuries including a major turning point. Stapledon, the ultimate sf writer according to Brian Aldiss, and also in my opinion, was at home in places that most people do not know about.

In my experience of reading sf, Stapledon's main successor is Poul Anderson. Readers of more recent cosmic-scale authors will have to tell me whether they think that those authors write as well as Wells, Stapledon or Anderson.

Anderson's much greater body of work includes several future histories. An outline of a cosmic history emerges from his Tau Zero, with significant input from "Pride" (IN Anderson, Space Folk, New York, 1989):

Sol's brown dwarf ("half-star" (p. 1); "sub-sun" (p. 20)) companion, Nemesis, has several large planets, one bearing life;
Nemesis' orbit intersects the Oort cloud, disrupting cometary orbits, thus causing some comets to fall towards the Sun;
cometary impacts kill many Terrestrial species, including dinosaurs, ammonites and Miocene mammals;
homo sapiens becomes dominant on Earth;
there are nuclear wars in the late twentieth century;
entrusted with maintaining world peace, Sweden becomes the single super power for at least two centuries;
Antarctica, the Moon and Mars are colonized;
a Bussard spaceship, Anna Lovinda, makes the four light year round trip to Nemesis, thus establishing that the four light year one way trip to Alpha Centauri is feasible;
Bussard spaceship crews explore and colonie several extrasolar planets;
one spaceship, Leonora Christine, accelerates uncontrollably until the universe contracts and re-expands;
the Leonora Christine crew colonizes a terrestroid planet in the new universe;
their descendants might become the Elder Race of that universe.

Anderson has no Stapledonian observer overseeing cosmic history but does present a continuous narrative from Nemesis in the far past to a human universe in an immeasurable future.

Despite the conceptual link between them, Anderson's Tau Zero and World Without Stars cannot occupy the same timeline because, in the latter novel, the early twenty first century is dominated not by Sweden in the aftermath of nuclear warfare but by the imminent production of the antithanatic. In any case, Tau Zero presents a relativistic universe where one character dismisses the notion of faster than light travel as a fantasy whereas a premise of World Without Stars is the possibility of instantaneous intergalactic jumps. These are two different and independent cosmic novels.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Pride

Early references to spacemen of different nationalities speaking Swedish, to Stockholm as their capital city and to the Control Authority keeping world peace establish that Poul Anderson's "Pride" (IN Anderson, Space Folk, New York, 1989, pp. 1-28) is set in the same future timeline as his Tau Zero. Otherwise, "Pride" would have been simply an independent story of space exploration. I suppose that any number of stories set in space could be linked into a radial series if their texts were to incorporate such common background references.

The spaceship Anna Lovinda has two purposes:

to test the Bussard drive that might be used for interstellar journeys - and is in Tau Zero;
to investigate "Nemesis, long-unseen companion of Sol..." (p. 5), a "brown dwarf" (intermediate in mass between a star and a planet), and even to land smaller craft on some of its planet-sized satellites.

Nemesis is so called because it is the body whose passage through the Oort cloud disturbs the comets so that some fall towards Sol with catastrophic consequences if they hit the inhabited inner planet. James Blish's unfinished novel King Log features Beta Solis, the long unseen white dwarf companion of Sol, and its planets, including one that is inhabited.

My Anderson agenda has become:

to finish rereading "Pride" because of its connection to Tau Zero and because it is interesting in itself;
to return to rereading the fascinating World Without Stars, which is a companion volume to Tau Zero since both are transgalactic in scope;
to reread "Call Me Joe" because it is a further Anderson work set on Jupiter;
maybe to reread "A Bicycle Built For Brew" and one or two other early works with common backgrounds.

Rereading just became more complicated.

Jupiter

Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison edited Farewell, Fantastic Venus, containing "The Big Rain," from the Psychotechnic future history, and "Sister Planet," a non-series story, by Poul Anderson. Logically, this anthology should also have contained "Logic of Empire" by Robert Heinlein but Aldiss, in a bar conversation at an sf con forty three years ago, quoted Heinlein as saying, "You can't have 'Logic of Empire.' It's part of my Future History!'"

There could be a similar, though perhaps shorter, anthology for Jupiter, containing at least:

"Bridge" by James Blish, part of the Cities In Flight future history;
"Desertion" by Clifford Simak, part of the City future history;
"Skeleton Men of Jupiter" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, part of the John Carter series;
"Call Me Joe" by Poul Anderson, non-series.

Arthur C Clarke wrote a short story about a cyborg exploring a gas giant but I cannot remember what it was called, where it was published or which gas giant it was.

Anderson also touched on Jupiter in:

"Hunters of the Sky Cave," part of the Technic Civilization future history;
"Que Donn'rez Vous?," part of the Flying Mountains future history;
Three Worlds To Conquer, non-series -

- so an Anderson Jupiter collection could be compiled from these works.

It is on my agenda to reread "Call Me Joe." "Desertion" is similar but lacks Anderson's grasp of science. Simak's characters can transform a human body into a Jovian body and back again, which can only mean destroying a human body, creating a Jovian body with the human body's memories, then reversing the process. If they command that much knowledge and energy, then surely they do not need to send transformed beings to explore the Jovian environment?

Ya-Kela

Like several of Poul Anderson's Prologues, Forewords or opening chapters, Chapter I of World Without Stars (New York, 1966) introduces a setting that will reappear later in the novel and presents statements that will not make sense until later.

The viewpoint character, ya-Kela, the One of the Pack, is alien, with "...webs and tail..." (p. 6) His society is hunter-gatherer and is active at night whereas their enemies, the downdevils and Herd, are active during the day.

Creatures came from the sky long ago so we expect to read about human beings or other space travelers visiting ya-Kela's planet. Like some other Anderson aliens, the Pack are monotheists. Ya-Kela, standing "...his watch of homage on behalf of the whole folk...," sings the Welcome, the Praise and the Strength to God. (pp. 5-6)

This does not surprise us. What is unusual is that ya-Kela sees God "...rising in the west..." (p. 5) First, the fingers of God's forearm appeared, then "...His entire self was revealed." (p. 5) Later, after sunset, "..God, the angels, and three planets..." are in the sky. (p. 6) God is revered because He " '...casteth out the sun...'" (p. 6)

We might guess, helped by the cover illustration of this edition, that "God" is our galaxy seen from a planet in intergalactic space but that is not disclosed in Chapter I.

The Meteor Crew

In "Remote Galaxies," I summarized what Chapters III and IV of Poul Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966) tell us about the crew of the spaceship Meteor. Chapter V completes the picture.

Bren and Galmer are pilots. The two crew members who were unnamed earlier are the engineers Morn Krisnan and Roli Blax but both of them die when the ship crashes and they are soon joined by Smeth.

The crew will later also lose Rorn. Thus, only Argens, Valland, Bren, Galmer and Urduga will make it back to Earth after four decades marooned on the wrong planet in intergalactic space.

Valland, because of his long experience, is the one who has the presence of mind to shout:

" 'Pilots! For God's sake, reverse us and blast!' " (p. 29)

- when the jump ends too near a planet instead of safely out in space. That rouses Captain Argens who then issues orders but it is Valland who leads when the survivors must wage a war and organize the building of a spaceboat.

Three millennia of experience must count for something even though most of it is not consciously remembered.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The High Sierra

There is an extremely evocative passage just over a page in length on pp. 110-111 of Poul Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966). It is very difficult to quote any of it without wanting to quote all of it. It is impossible to find any sentence or two that are the core of the passage. They are all core.

First, Hugh Valland, nearly three thousand years old, remembers being young.

" 'Oh Lord, but we were young!' " (p. 111)

He refers to himself and Mary O'Meara.

Secondly, they were young at a very special time. Wordsworth wrote of the French Revolution, "Bliss was it to be alive that day, and to be young was very heaven." Valland and Mary were young when it was known that the antithanatic would " '...soon be in production.' " (p. 110) Thus, they were at the dawn of a biological revolution that would affect everyone. " 'Nobody who was alive would have to grow old.' " (p. 110) There would be no more fear of old age. Valland spells this out by contrasting a child like Argens' young daughter with a pre-antithanatic grandmother. The former would eventually become the latter " '...in less'n a century...'" (p. 110)

Thirdly, he tells us how the whole world population was responding to this imminent change. " 'The world had grown so quiet.' " (p. 110) Partly, people became cautious now having so much to lose and, partly, they just " '...needed a while to get used to the idea.' " (p. 110)

" 'It was an air...while the human race waited, it felt kind of like wakin' after a fever had broken.' " (p. 110)

Having described people who have become used to their immortality, Anderson now asks us to imagine those who were waiting for it.

Fourthly, though, Valland and Mary, being young, " '...couldn't sit still...' " (pp. 110-111) They had to do something to prove to themselves that they " '...were alive enough to rate immortality...' " so they backpacked in the High Sierras (p. 111). Valland explains to Argens that this was a mountainous region partly "'...kept as wilderness.'" (p. 110)

Fifthly, moreover, they did it to remember those who had loved the Sierras but had died and would never come back.

" 'We swore to each other we'd always remember our dead.' " (p. 111)

As we learn later, that is what he is doing for her. She died aged nineteen.

Sixthly, he recalls that most people eventually agreed with him and Mary that immortality would be useless if it just meant centuries of " '...bein' careful...' " so they " '...went to the stars.'" (p. 111)

And that ties in with Earth being quiet and depopulated in the concluding chapter.

I have tried not to quote too much but every short quotation has been apt and my attempted summary is about as long as the passage that I set out to summarise.

Earth In World Without Stars

The concluding chapter of Poul Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966) is described as an addition to the posthumous edition of Guild Captain Felipe Argens' autobiography so, despite the antithanatic, the Captain has died after we do not know how many centuries of life.

He describes Earth/Manhome:

it is depopulated and quiet;
great forests have returned;
spacemen find enjoyment in the starport towns;
youth from every part of the galaxy attend the educational centres;
arts, science and scholarship flourish;
nothing new is built - the old is preserved;
a spaceman can find his robotically protected property and its surroundings unchanged after five hundred years;
Argens reports to his employers and to the Universarium of Nordamerik;
in Niyork, there is little traffic while ivy and lichen grow on the tall, mostly empty, towers;
to visit Hugh Valland, Argens rents a flying vehicle called a "flitter" and parks it "...on an otherwise deserted carfield..." at a small Maine village (p. 123);
in Maine, there are forests and a peak-roofed, shingle-walled, seaside village of two hundred people, "...those curious, clannish folk who - even more than on places like Landomar - are not interested in worlds out yonder, who use their immortality to sink deeper roots into Earth" (p. 123);
the civil monitor of the village smokes a pipe on a rocking chair on his porch while his one wife prepares dinner;
Argens finds a gravestone inscribed "Mary O'Meara, 2018-2037";
Mary's contemporary, Valland, is nearly three thousand so the novel is set about 5018.

(Mary will be born five years hence in the year of James Blish's They Shall Have Stars/Year 2018!)

Friday, 8 March 2013

Landomar

In Poul Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966), occasionally a group of people still wants to live on and belong to one stretch of a planetary surface at the bottom of a gravity well. They want land, "...nature and elbow room..." so they find and claim:

"...a habitable uninhabited world (statistically rare, but consider how many stars the universe holds)..." (p. 7)

Many science fiction readers will accept and pass over that statement but just think about what it implies. To find a suitable planet, the land claimers must travel to another star. We are used to that, in fiction. However, in the Terran Empire period of Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, extra-solar colonies are, with one exception, confined to a single spatial volume of a single spiral arm of the home galaxy. Later, mankind spreads through several spiral arms but that is as far as we see them go.

Here, on the first page of this novel, Anderson makes it clear that would-be colonists can search the universe for a star with a habitable uninhabited planet. As noted in earlier posts, when a spaceship has, by stages if necessary, matched its velocity to that of another galaxy, any other galaxy, then it can instantaneously jump to a predetermined point within that galaxy. That is a whole different ball game from mere interstellar travel, even when the latter is faster than light. And, as has also been noted, lifespans are indefinitely prolonged, ending only by accident or violence.

Either breeding reinforces the instinct to live on the land or "...the original parents remain culturally dominant over the centuries." (p. 7) The result is a scattered population of villagers and farmers who conserve their forests and oceans and who, in the case of Landomar, agree to a starport, called City, being built in orbit because they do not want one on the ground. The elders welcome the money of spacemen, who visit to hunt and sail, but dislike it when their youngsters visit and start to work in City. However, sociodynamicists extrapolate that, apart from the development of a few "...small space-oriented service enterprises...," the presence of City:

"...would never really affect their own timeless oneness with the planet." (p. 8)

Another planet, Awry, is described as:

"...a bucolic patriarchal settlement like Landomar." (p. 23)

One spaceman has a young daughter in City and a thirty year old from Awry becomes a spaceman. So, after three millennia of the antithanatic, people are still being born yet the population of Landomar remains "...scattered...," inhabiting farms and villages, not planetary cities (p. 7). Either the antithanatic reduces fertility or other measures are taken.

How many people would want to remain forever on one patch of land with the entire universe to explore? Some but not many, apparently.

Evolutionary Changes?

Hard sf writers scientifically rationalise FTL, time travel, immortality, telepathy, teleportation etc. James Blish's They Shall Have Stars is an extended rationale for antia-gathics and antigravity, the twin premises of his Cities In Flight Tetralogy. This blog recently listed three of Poul Anderson's rationalisations for FTL and his one explanation of instantaneous space jumps.

Let us consider immortality. Blish's anti-agathics are a range of drugs that counteract the various aspects of the aging process. Heinlein's Howard Families breed for longevity. Others, wanting to emulate the Howards, find a way to prolong life by renewing blood. In one of Larry Niven's futures, the chemicals associated with aging can be teleported out of the body. That is neat.

(This is one exercise in imagination: combine two basic sf premises and see what results. In this case, the instant elsewhere is a young forever. Another example, in Anderson's There Will Be Time, is the equation: STL + time travel = FTL.)

In Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966), the antithanatic is a synthetic virus that destroys any cells "...that do not quite conform to the host's genetic code." (p. 20)

I agree with correspondent Sean's comment that this would tend to prevent evolutionary changes in humanity - but there are other factors. In the orbiting starport, City, Argens' portwife, Lute "...lives in high-weight, overlooking space itself. That's expensive..." (p. 9) Thus, physically, other port dwellers must live permanently in lower weight. That will affect their body size and shape.

Mentally, regular contact with other races must change perspectives. There are "...the usual linguistic problems..." which are greater than usual with the intergalactics because " '...they came from such an alien environment.'" (p. 21) Nevertheless, conversation is established so a multi-species worldview will eventually emerge.

Indefinitely prolonged life-spans, although they prevent physical mutations, must also affect perspectives.

"One thing that we have all gained in our centuries is patience." (p. 16)

Memories must be regularly edited and this would change perspectives even more. How much sense of identity would a man retain with his earlier life? How will he regard current experiences when he knows that, years or decades hence, he will edit most of his memories although he himself, barring accidents, will continue to live for centuries and millennia? Death will not come from old age but can come unexpectedly at any time. Instead of working, saving and retiring, an individual will work, save, spend time between jobs, then work again, indefinitely. Fortunately, there is a universe to explore although a few prefer "...timeless oneness with the planet." (p. 8) These sound like major psychological and social changes to mankind.

Remote Galaxies II

A brief observation over breakfast before walking to the gym this morning:

Because, for bodies with a rest mass, c is an endlessly approachable but never attainable limit and because a moving body contracts in the direction of its motion relative to a stationary observer, a finite expanding universe could have an infinity of galaxies between any observer and its receding unattainable rim. In that case, even with the antithanatic, no spaceman would be able to visit every galaxy.

On the other hand, if the original exploding monobloc had finite mass and volume, then it cannot have generated an infinity of galaxies?

Lacking knowledge of physics, I am unable to comment further. It is unfortunate that Poul Anderson did not write more about the fictional universe of World Without Stars.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Time Travelling And Space Jumps

" 'The peculiar risk lay in the possibility of my finding some substance in the space which I, or the machine, occupied...the jamming of myself, molecule by molecule, into whatever lay in my way...bringing my atoms into such intimate contact with those of the obstacle that a profound chemical reaction - possibly a far-reaching explosion - would result, and blow myself and my apparatus out of all possible dimensions - into the Unknown.'" (HG Wells, The Time Machine, London, 1973, p. 26)

"What a spaceship captain fears most...is arriving in the same place as a solid body. Then atoms jam together and the ship goes out in a massive explosion." (Poul Anderson, World Without Stars, New York, 1966, p. 27)

Wells' "fantastic and imaginative romances" were the forerunners of much later science fiction. In these extracts, both Wells and Anderson allude to an explosion, "...far-reaching..." or "...massive...," caused by the jamming together of particles. Anderson's account is briefer, more direct and prosaic. Wells' account of "time travelling" combines Bradbury-like poetic prose with Andersonian scientific rationalization.

I think Dr Who's TARDIS once occupied the same space as another body and was blown onto a blank screen where the Time Lord met the god of time, Chronos? Wells merely hints with his suggestion of going outside all possible dimensions "...into the Unknown."

Remote Galaxies

We are used to interplanetary or interstellar travel in science fiction. In Tau Zero, Poul Anderson, defining "families" as clusters of galaxies and "clans" as clusters of clusters, presents both inter-family and inter-clan travel at relativistic speeds. In World Without Stars (New York, 1966), he presents intergalactic travel by instantaneous jumps.

A remote galaxy is said to have a relative velocity that is "...a goodly fraction of c." (p. 7) Surely even remoter galaxies have relative velocities just under c? A ship in galaxy 1 accelerates to the relative velocity of galaxy 2, then jumps to galaxy 2 where it can rest and resupply in a starport. From this base of observation, it can establish the position and relative velocity of galaxy 3, then accelerate enough to jump to galaxy 3. Thus, the entire universe is accessible. With aging ended by the antithanatic, a spaceman might visit every galaxy? Unfortunately, Anderson does not develop this idea further, writing only this one novel about an expedition to a planet in intergalactic space.

The crew of the Meteor (as identified in Chapters III and IV):

Felipe Argens, captain;
Hugh Valland, gunner, second deck officer;
Yo Rorn, electronician;
Enver Smeth, chemist;
Alen Galmer;
Chu Bren;
Galt Urduga;
two others.

Like Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long, Valland is probably the oldest member of the human race. Like Heinlein's Jetman Rhysling, he is both a spaceman and a singer. He discloses that, five centuries previously, he had composed a song that is known to Argens. Differences from Rhysling: Valland is not blind and plays an "omnisonor," not an accordion. Cover artists have depicted the omnisonor.

Unfortunately, Heinlein went on to write hundreds of pages of drivel about Long. Also unfortunately, Anderson wrote nothing more about Valland, although he did give us another immortal, Hanno, in The Boat Of A Million Years. Hanno crosses interstellar distances at relativistic speeds and agrees to meet fellow immortals again in another million years. Even Anderson was not able to envisage such a meeting.

Appreciating Details

I have come to think that posting brief blog notes about Poul Anderson's works while rereading them is the best way to appreciate many details that otherwise would be missed or quickly forgotten. In recent posts, I have highlighted what I think are some of his most imaginative and evocative passages:

the long space journeys in "Starfog" and Tau Zero;
significant references to Eve and Embla as a cosmic cycle nears its end in Tau Zero;
the three thousand year old Hugh Valland, who had shipped in the first star ship, viewing the galaxy from a porch on an orbiting starport in World Without Stars.

Earlier highlights included:

many successive future periods visited by time travelers in "Flight to Forever";
many exotic cosmic locations visited by space-time travelers in The Avatar;
the chronological history of the Time Patrol;
time travelers rendezvousing in Jerusalem on the presumed day of the Crucifixion in There Will Be Time;
a mythical cosmology in which a ship leaves Midgard not by ascending into space but by sailing north to Jotunheim in The Broken Sword;
a historical novel in which a ship sailing north encounters icebergs and a whale in The Last Viking trilogy;
the city of York in a historical past, an alternative past and a parallel present in three different works;
artificially preserved personalities and conscious computer "emulations" in a remote, post-human future in Genesis;
Dominic Flandry's raid on the planet Chereion in A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows.

But this list could be extended indefinitely. Anderson, like Olaf Stapledon before him, is at home in realms that many others do not know about.

I am pausing to ponder past posts instead of continuing to comment on World Without Stars because, as on a few previous occasions, I have been diverted into reading something else. A family day trip to Liverpool means eating in a vegetarian cafe, meditating in the Anglican Cathedral and browsing or purchasing in Forbidden Planet. Thus, I am taking a rest from Anderson by reading Vicious Circle, a Felix Castor novel by Mike Carey. (Carey, Castor and (John) Constantine, whom Carey has also written, all come from Liverpool.) Since Castor deals with ghosts, werebeasts and demons, he is not far from some of Anderson's territory.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Through Space

Very often in science fiction, interesting events occur on another planet and space is merely the distance that has had to be traveled, or the void that has had to be traversed, in order to reach that planet. If events do occur en route, then they usually occur entirely within the closed environment of the spaceship. It is rare that space itself is presented as an environment where events can occur or where there is the equivalent of a landscape with distinctive features that can be discovered by traveling between them.

As can be expected, Poul Anderson does more than once focus on what space travelers see and fly past outside their ship while they are traveling. In "Starfog," we learn that, millennia earlier, a ship fleeing from a conflict had traversed two spiral arms and passed through a dark nebula before colonizing a planet in a bright opaque cluster. Descendants of those colonists, traveling in an experimental interstellar ship, emerge from their cluster into what is to them the unfamiliar environment of dark space where stars are distant points light years instead of light months apart.

Remembering legendary accounts of space as dark and sighting the distant Dragon's Head nebula, they reason that their ancestors might have passed through such an even darker region in order to evade pursuit so they steer towards and through the nebula. There, on the far side of the nebula, they locate an industrialized colony planet by detecting its neutrino emissions and manage to reach it before running out of fuel. Thus, the journey itself has involved passing through physically different regions and steering by the landmark of the nebula.

In Tau Zero, a spaceship making an interstellar journey but accelerating uncontrollably must fly into the space between clusters of galaxies to attempt repairs but must then fly between clusters of clusters to effect the repairs, steers across a hundred million light years of dark and empty space to the next "clan" (cluster of clusters) but, unable to stop, keeps going between and through clans until the universe contracts at which point the ship orbits around the new monobloc until that explodes into a new universe.

The ship's crew colonizes a planet in the new universe but, obviously, the main point of the story has been how they got there.

Stars Between Galaxies

In Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, a spaceship crossing intergalactic space passes a red dwarf star with planets. The astronomer on the ship does not know whether the red dwarf had originated in the normal way within a galaxy or in some unknown way between galaxies.

Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966) answers this question:

hydrogen clouds condensed into galaxies;
smaller condensations became intergalactic star clusters which, however, did not endure because

(i) their giants went supernova,
(ii) cosmic expansion dispersed matter, thus preventing any further star formation,
(iii) galactic gravitation broke the clusters up;

thus, only the long living red dwarfs were left.

Captain Argens, en route to a planet of such a star, explains all this to his two new crew members and thus to us. I thought that two spacemen would not need to be told how stars formed. Sure enough, Rorn complains:

" 'Please...Valland and I do know elementary astrophysics.' " (p. 19)

Valland agrees that he does but is beginning to realise the implications in intergalactic space: old stars and planets that are metal-poor because supernova enrichment stopped early but with lighter elements and life, including intelligent races that might have needed millions of years to industrialise and therefore have learned different things along the way.

These Yonderfolk can travel only to the galactic rim and then only with heavy radiation screening because the radiation level within any galaxy would kill them. Valland wonders whether they have natural immortality but Argens points out that quantum processes, viruses and chemicals can also mutate cells. Valland's speculation echoes Anderson's story "What Shall It Profit?" in which a man is made immortal by shielding him from all radiation in a very restricted environment deep underground. He is physically immortal but mentally undeveloped, an experimental dead end.

In Space

This is an old question: can human beings leave Earth, cross space and colonise other planetary surfaces, whether solar or extra-solar? A lot of science fiction (sf) just assumes the answer "yes" although Poul Anderson at least questions whether it will be a straightforward matter to breathe the air, drink the water, eat the food etc on any terrestroid planet.

Here are some variations on the question. Might people instead colonise the Asteroid Belt, as they do in sf series by Poul Anderson and Larry Niven? Or might they just construct self-sustaining habitats in space itself as in another series by Anderson? Certainly, any group that crosses an interstellar distance at sub-light speeds must take its environment with it and therefore need not depend on the extreme improbability of finding a habitable environment awaiting them on arrival.

In Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966), humanity has undergone three transformations.

(i) A spaceship can make a series of instantaneous interstellar or intergalactic jumps. Humanity is expanding, exploring, trading and regularly contacting other races.

(ii) Anithanatic prevents aging. People die only by accident or violence. Living indefinitely, they remain sane by allowing a machine to edit their memories. Thus, a man who has lived for thousands of years consciously remembers only several decades' worth of experience and must consult records about the rest of his past life.

(iii) They mostly live in space.

"...I suppose that a gene complex still crops up occasionally which makes the owner want to belong to a specific patch of earth." (p. 7)

Colonizers of planets:

"...wanted nature and elbow room. There is no other good reason for planting yourself at the bottom of a gravity well. The reason is not quite logical - after all, most of us can satisfy our ape instincts with an occasional groundside visit somewhere, or just with a multisense tape..." (p. 7)

So where do most of them live? The narrator, Captain Felipe Argens, describes the satellite starport called "City", which has grown over several centuries. Approaching it in a space boat, he sees:

"...towers rocketing from parapets, domes and ports glowing brighter than stars, the Ramakan memorial rakish across the galactic clouds; I could see ships in dock and boats aswarm; and as nearly as any spaceman (except Hugh Valland) ever does, I felt I was at home." (p. 9)

Argens is at home in City but has wives in several ports and each of them has several space travelling husbands who rarely meet each other.

He also describes the view from his wife Lute's porch:

"Space dropped dizzily from the viewport, thin starred black here on the rim. Huge and shapeless - we still being more or less within it - the galaxy streamed past and was lost to sight; we looked towards remoteness." (p. 12)

Here are true space dwellers. And Argens' guest, Hugh Valland, nearly three thousand years old, had "'...shipped on the first star craft.'" (p. 16)

After all these changes, can they still be human beings? Anderson describes them as such but he acknowledged elsewhere that a fiction set in the far future has to be regarded as a translation from a different language and worldview. And how long can they remain what we would recognise as human beings? A sequel set later might have shown greater physical and mental adaptations in these immortal space-dwelling organisms.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Hugh Valland

Rereading a novel involves noticing details that were meaningful to the author and to some of the characters though not to the reader on a first reading. This instance is particularly poignant. In Poul Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966), three thousand year old Hugh Valland, who travels between stars and galaxies, explains why he is content to visit his Mary O'Meara only occasionally on Earth.

" 'Earth's no place for a live man to live any more. Fine for Mary, not for me. It's not unfair to either of us. We get together often enough, considerin' that we'll never grow old. Between whiles, I can remember...' " (p. 16)

Earth is no place for the living but fine for Mary because Mary is dead. They'll never grow old because he has the antithanatic and she has died. Valland visits a grave. He remembers all the time.

The narrator of the novel did not know this when he conversed with Valland but does know it when he narrates. Like the author, he keeps the surprise till the end. And we forget this early conversation unless and until we reread the novel.

Anderson readers, reread! You have nothing to lose but insufficient appreciation of well-crafted stories and novels.

World Without Stars

Thematically, Poul Anderson's World Without Stars is like a detail from his Tau Zero. In the latter novel, a spaceship on a cosmic journey flashes past a solitary star with planets in intergalactic space. The main action of the former is set on a planet of such a star.

Conceptually, the two novels are set in different universes. Tau Zero is entirely relativistic whereas World Without Stars is yet another faster than light (FTL) scenario. It has to be to allow its protagonists to travel from their civilisation to intergalactic space and back again in a reasonable time. The STL ship of Tau Zero simply never returns home.

Recently, this blog noted three different Andersonian rationalisations of FTL:

the many instantaneous quantum jumps of the Technic History;
the closed spatial curve allowing limitless acceleration in The Star Fox/Fire Time series (for which I suggest the title Star Time);
the interference fringes of standing waves in After Doomsday.

Now we have:

gravity is too weak and slow to explain cosmic cohesion;
every point is equivalent to every other in the intrinsic unity of space;
locations are distinguished only by the coordinates of the mass present in them;
matter-energy field configurations described by these coordinates can be altered artificially;
then the mass instantaneously jumps to the other location;
it retains its momentum plus or minus the difference in gravitational potential;
energy differentials must be made up in stages;
hence the need for time-consuming spatial journeys between jumps;
but really remote galaxies can be accessed by a series of jumps.

As I said about After Doomsday, it is a pity that there is not an entire series set in this scenario.

Myth And Science

Life is:

beginnings, endings and new beginnings;
birth, growth, death and regrowth.

Myths reflect life:

Ginnungagap and Ragnarok;
death and renewal;
a new heaven and a new earth;
old gods and new gods.

Science confirms cosmic beginnings and endings:

monobloc and heat death;
between them, stellar condensations and destruction;
second generation stars and planets, including life on Earth reflected in myths.

Thus, myths are a major part of human life which is a very small part of the cosmic process.

Science fiction generates modern myths out of a scientific worldview. In the Preface to what science fiction readers call his "future history," Last And First Men (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1972), Olaf Stapledon writes that this novel is neither prophecy nor futuristic historiography, nor does he aim merely "...to create aesthetically admirable fiction." (p. 11) Instead, the book "...is an essay in myth creation." (p. 12)

"A true myth is one which, within the universe of a certain culture (living or dead), expresses richly, and often perhaps tragically, the highest admirations possible within that culture." (p. 11)

Several of Poul Anderson's works are Stapledonian in their scale and scope:

" 'The universe - the whole universe - it's dying.' " (Tau Zero, London, 1973, p. 170)

" 'I propose we go on to the next cycle of the cosmos.' " (ibid, p. 174)

Here is the ultimate death and renewal. The child born in "...the ship of man..." will not be called Eve or Embla because her parents do not want her to be a symbol but, by mentioning these names at this crucial point, Anderson closes the circle between the old myths and this new story. (pp. 180, 181)

Tau Zero: The Successive Crises

Perceiving the cosmos from a vaster perspective than before, the crew of the uncontrollably accelerating Bussard ramjet spaceship Leonora Christine in Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973) coin a new terminology. Knowing already that "...a cluster or family of galaxies like our local group..." belongs to a larger association, they decided to call such  larger associations "...clans..." rather than "Superfamilies -," now that they are about to fly between them. (p. 129)

 A later passage:

" '...we can pick the clan, family, cluster, and individual galaxy we want to make our destination...'" (p. 184)

- confusingly implies that a "family" is not a cluster but a grouping intermediate between a "clan" and a cluster.

The successive crises that the crew members encounter and address are:

(i) the interstellar and even intergalactic mediums are too dense to allow repair of the decelerators so it is necessary to plunge through the galactic center, a passage taking over a hundred millennia, in order to accelerate into inter-cluster space;

(ii) but the inter-cluster medium is still too dense so it becomes necessary to plunge through a galaxy, then through what had become their target cluster, in order to accelerate into inter-clan space where the decelerators can be repaired hundreds of millions of years later;

(iii) but now the ship is moving so fast that its target clan is unable to brake its velocity so it continues to accelerate through and between clans, which are separated from each other by hundred million light-year stretches of dark and empty space, hoping to find a large clan, a group of clans or a rapidly moving clan that can brake the ship's velocity;

(iv) however, the universe ages, dims and contracts so that the ship must now orbit around the newly forming monobloc in the outer layer of its hydrogen envelope that is not too hot, radiant or dense, in order to survive into the next cosmic cycle. At last, this works.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Tau Zero, Chapters 11-23

In Chapter 13 of Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973), another crew member of the spaceship Leonora Christine is identified: cook Michael O'Donnell. We now know the names of just over half the crew.

Earlier, in Chapter 11, cosmologist Chidambaran had commented on the idea of a faster than light (FTL) drive:

" 'That fantasy! If you want to rewrite everything we have learned since Einstein - no, since Aristotle, considering the logical contradiction involved in a signal without a limiting velocity - proceed.' " (p. 97)

I have studied philosophy and logic but not physics. The proposition, "This vehicle can move faster than light," is not logically contradictory. Of course it contradicts "Nothing can move faster than light," so that, if the latter is true, then the former is false. Does FTL entail "a signal without a limiting velocity"? Does that mean an instantaneous signal? Why is that contradictory? There is no verbal contradiction between "The signal was transmitted at time t1" and "The signal was received at time t1" or indeed between the former and "The signal was received at time t-1."

Time travel is logically possible but illogical conclusions are often drawn from it, eg, that, if a time traveller prevents his parents from meeting and thus prevents his own conception, then he will cease to exist. Whatever else preventing someone's conception entails, it cannot possibly entail that he somehow exists into adulthood and then ceases to exist. Why am I discussing time travel again? Because it is a sharp way to clarify the distinctive nature of logical im/possibilities.

The Constable has not only deputies but even secret deputies and eventually might include everyone in the system! It is necessary to devise new instruments to detect habitable environments from a distance while travelling at relativistic speeds. Such projects serve the secondary purpose of keeping crew members busy, focused and sane.

Leonora Christine passes an old red dwarf with planets, and thus possibly with life, in intergalactic space. An inhabited planet of a star in intergalactic space is the setting of Anderson's World Without Stars, which I will reread next.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Tau Zero, Chapters 11-12

In Chapter 11 of Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973), we learn that:

Foxe-Jameson's first name is Malcolm;
he is an astrophysicist and an ex-Protestant agnostic;
there is a pilot called Matyas Lenkei;
Reymont organizes the crew to survive psychologically - the captain should withdraw to preserve his mystique, the chef should invent new dishes, the single swordsman should train others, personal relationships should stabilize;
among fifty crew members, there are small congregations for several of the world faiths, including Protestantism led by the captain;
beyond the Sagittarian nebulae, astronomers expect old stars in clear space;
crossing the gas-envelope of a giant new sun, the ship's tau approaches "...asymptotic zero." (p. 101)

Thus, human and cosmic stories progress. We receive more information about Foxe-Jameson but learn only one new crew member name so we still know less than half the total.

Chapter 12 reveals that there is a  Pedro Barrias. That brings the known names to twenty five.

Tau Zero, Chapters 3-10

(Neat. This edition has the value of Tau on the cover.)

Have I correctly understood the Bussard ramjet and other cosmic events in Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973)?

Ion drive moves the spaceship Leonora Christine out of Earth orbit. She starts to leave the Solar System in free fall. Spacemen detach the Bussard module from the back of the vessel so that it trails on a cable and stays on the same orbit as the vessel when the cable is reeled back in. The spacemen return to the vessel, which extends scoopfield webs and activates scoopfield generators. The webs deploy, across thousands of kilometers, magnetohydrodynamic force fields that lock the Bussard module into position. The star-drive engine starts.

The fields deflect dust and all gasses except hydrogen which they force around the vessel to the Bussard engine whose electromagnetic vortex fuses the hydrogen into a laser effect that moves the ship, which will accelerate away from Sol, then decelerate towards Beta Virginis.

Passage through a small nebula damages the decelerators which cease to function so that the ship accelerates uncontrollably. Spacemen can go outside to try to repair the decelerators. However, if the accelerators are not turned off, then their radiation will kill the spacemen and, if they are turned off, then radiation from the impact of interstellar particles, otherwise deflected by the fields, will kill them.

There are two possible responses to this situation:

(i) circle around within the galaxy for an estimated fifty years until the last crew member dies;
(ii) leave the galaxy.

To implement (ii), the ship will:

widen scoopfields and plunge through matter-dense galactic regions;
gain enough mass to utilize denser regions instead of being damaged by them;
spiral through the thirty thousand light year distant galactic centre and back out again into intergalactic space;
leave the local galactic cluster of Milky Way, Magellanic Clouds, Andromeda galaxy and thirteen other galaxies;
in inter-cluster space, where gas is almost nonexistent, switch off accelerators and hopefully repair decelerators;
travel to the forty million light year distant Virgo galactic cluster;
colonise a suitable planet in a galaxy of that cluster.

The discussions in Chapters 9 and 10 add no new crew member names but do mention M'Botu and Iwamoto who are as yet mere names.

Tau Zero, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 of Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973) comprises dialogue of just over two pages and omniscient narration of cosmic events for just over one page.

If a passage of dialogue is confined mainly to the words spoken, like the script for a play, then it is possible to avoid narrating from the point of view of either speaker. This passage alternates.

"Taken aback, he had no reply ready." (pp. 73-74)

- suggests that the point of view is that of the male speaker but:

"She could hear the difficulty he had in saying it." (p. 74)

- is definitely narrated from the female character's perspective.

Reymont says:

" 'I've scant use for those types whose chief interest is their grubby little personal neuroses. Not in a universe as rich as this.' " (p. 74)

Are there such people? I suppose there are. Zen meditation is about openness to the universe while letting the "neuroses" etc rise into consciousness at their own rate so that it is possible to see, understand and let go of them, not cling to them indefinitely! Greater self-awareness would have helped Reymont to cope better with a personal relationship earlier in the novel.

There are hints of a much more detailed back story for the social set up that the characters have irrevocably left behind them in the Solar System. Despite the Control Authority, Reymont speaks of local bosses in Antarctica, war lords in China and " '...the Leopards on Mars before fighting got provoked.'" (p. 74) We had been told earlier that he fought with the Zebras on Mars.

The cosmic passage describes the ship striking and passing through the nebulina, where, because of relative velocities, dust motes are as massive as meteoroids and the small nebula itself is "...a well-nigh solid wall." (p. 76) If the nebula was a proto-star, then that star with its planetary system will now never form. What a thought! We who are born and die are a minority, chosen by chance from among an infinite (?) number of potential beings. Here, an entire potential planetary system was prevented by an accidental collision that the planners of the expedition had calculated to be of negligibly low probability.

Quite a lot of food for thought in just under four pages.

Tau Zero, Chapter 7

In Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973), Chapter 7 introduces no new characters but does inform us that the interstellar spaceship Leonora Christine is about to strike a small nebula or "nebulina."

The captain thinks that the options are either the ship survives the collision or it does not whereas the constable thinks of a third possibility, that the ship survives but badly damaged in an unforeseeable way. The captain refuses to order the recruitment of a police reserve so the constable plans to ask for volunteers.

Thus, we know that something bad is coming down and that the constable, like the mechanical engineer who becomes captain of another spaceship in After Doomsday, is the sort of Andersonian hero who both sees what needs to be done and has the determination to do it.

Chapter 8 will presumably describe the collision and might initiate that uncontrollable acceleration of a relativistic spaceship that is the central notion of the novel. This is not quite a future history and not quite a generation ship story but has elements of both.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Tau Zero, Chapter 6

In Chapter 6 of Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973), we learn that:

the chef on the interstellar spaceship Leonora Christine is called Carducci;
the crew also includes Iwamoto Tetsuo, Hussein Sadek, Yeshu ben-Zvi, Mohandas Chidambaran, Phra Takh, Kato M'Botu, Olga Sobieski, Foxe-Jameson and Maria Toomajian.

Thus, we now know twenty three names although this is still less than half of the total.

It would be easy to misremember Tau Zero as presenting the first extra-solar expedition. However, it informs us that there have already been at least four to:

Alpha Centauri;
Epsioln Eridani;
Tau Ceti;
Delta Pavonis.

I am beginning to see Bob Shaw's point about the cosmic passages not being integrated into the novel. Anderson simply directly informs or lectures the reader on relativistic flight and, simplified though they are, I do not always follow his explanations. Anderson usually dramatizes such information by having one of his characters explain it to another character and thus also to the reader, although sometimes such conversations are too obviously contrived for this purpose.

Every member of the Leonora Christine will already be familiar with the fascinating value of tau: the square root of {one minus (the speed of the ship (v) squared divided by the speed of light (c) squared)}. Thus, as v approaches c, tau approaches zero. This novel is based on and named after that equation: as James Blish commented, "the ultimate hard sf novel."

The crew celebrates Christmas/Chanukah/solstice/New Year. The ship flies normally through Chapter 6 but, at the very end of that chapter, the omniscient narrator informs the reader that "grief" will come in the next chapter (p. 63).

The Crew Of Leonora Christine II

In Chapter 5 of Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973), we learn that:

Chief Engineer Boris Fedoroff, who is also communications officer, had previously been to Delta Pavonis and had had trouble adjusting to social changes on Earth during the forty three years of his absence;
Auguste Boudreau is Navigation Officer;
the Biosystems Chief is called Pereira;
the Medical officer is called Latvala.

Thus, we learn more about Federoff and add three more names to the crew list. As with Beta Virginis, where Leonora Christine is bound, probe data had indicated an Earth-like planet at Delta Pavonis but the reality had proved to be too unlike to colonize, hence that ship's return.

Chapter 5 is short and entirely people oriented.

The Crew Of Leonora Christine I

Let's keep track of the crew of the interstellar spaceship Leonora Christine in Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973) and see whether we meet all fifty before the end of the novel. By the end of Chapter 4, of 23, we have met:

Charles Reymont, constable;
Ingrid Lindgren, first officer;
Lars Talender, captain;
Norbert Williams, chemist;
Chi-Yuen Ai-Ling, planetologist;
Jane Sadler, biotechnician;
Boris Fedoroff, chief engineer;
Emma Glassgold, molecular biologist;
Elof Nilsson, astronomer;
Johann Freiwald, machinist.

Bob Shaw once commented that, in Tau Zero, the cosmic passages are not integrated with character interaction passages but it is difficult to see how else Anderson could have written the novel.

One cosmic passage begins:

"Consider: a single light-year is an inconceivable abyss." (p. 38)

Here, the omniscient narrator of the cosmic passages directly addresses the reader with the imperative verb "Consider..." I think that on this occasion the narrative voice becomes too obtrusive. The text should remain as detached and impersonal as possible with the illusion that the cosmic facts are transparent to the reader without requiring any mediating narrative voice.

Tau Zero, Chapters 3 and 4

The spaceship Leonora Christine leaves Earth orbit at the beginning of Chapter 3 of Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (London, 1973) and starts to leave the Solar System at the end of Chapter 3.

By the end of Chapter 4, we have met ten of the fifty crew members, including Nilsson who has proved the oscillating universe, which will be crucial to the novel, and Williams who had conspired against the Covenant.

Reymont, whose opinions we respect, had said earlier that the peace of Stockholm has granted stability but not progress and, of course, will not last. For once, though, we will not see what happens to society because we will be entirely concerned about what is happening to the cosmos.