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;
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.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    Actually, we never see the Fall of the Terran Empire in Anderson's Technic History books. THE GAME OF EMPIRE ends with Flandry hoping the Terran Empire still had several centuries of existence left. And post Imperial stories such as "A Tragedy of Errors, THE NIGHT FACE, "The Sharing of Flesh, etc., are placed centuries after the Empire fell. We don't see the final struggles to survive, disasters like civil wars or invasions by barbarians or hostile powers, then the final disintegration, etc.

    "Starfog", of course, is set millennia after the Empire fell and does not really belong to either the Long Night or the early post Long Night periods.


  2. True enough. I should say that the series presents historical cycles by showing us the rise and decline of the Empire, then later letting us know that it has fallen. Historical cycles are common to Anderson and Blish although Blish's are Spenglerian.

  3. Hi, Paul!

    And Poul Anderson was esp. influenced in his view of history not only by Spengler but by the work of John K. Hord. As summarized by Anderson himself in his essay "Concerning Future Histories," I found Hord's views more plausible than Spengler.

    Other writers have tried their hand at showing the rise and fall of civlizations in SF. One example being the Co-Dominium series by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (and S.M. Stirling).