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 seventeen 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.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    I am not all sure James Blish's fictional Dr. Langer is right to dismiss as utter nonsense combat in space between rival navies. It's my view that Poul Anderson described very plausibly how real space navies will someday fight in books like ENSIGN FLANDRY and THE GAME OF EMPIRE.

    What is the function of any kind of navy? To both defend the heartland and to carry the war to the enemy. Also, a space navy can't just go plundering and ravaging at will. A fleet needs a constant stream of personnel (human or non human), spare parts, supplies of all kinds, whole new ships to replace losses, etc. IOW, it can't just ignore LOGISTICS. Issues like that would play a big role in where a fleet can realistically go. Therefore, it would still make sense to seek out and destroy a hostile fleet before trying to conquer that fleet's territory.

    Additionally, the most advanced or important worlds of an interstellar realm would have defenses to help fend off enemy attacks. Military satellites, laser cannon, space warships tasked with defense of a planet, etc. We see how Poul Anderson worked out such ideas in THE PEOPLE OF THE WIND.

    So, while we certainly do need diplomats to try resolving quarrels between powers, the hard fact remains that diplomacy will not always work. In fact, diplomacy wrongly carried out can lead to war. Or be used by one power to help bring on war. See how Merseia was manipulating Lord Hauksberg's mission for reasons like that in ENSIGN FLANDRY.


  2. Thank you. That is just the sort of debate that we need to continue the "dialogue" between Anderson's and Blish's characters.

    1. Kaor, Paul!

      Also, I would like to make an additional point which I think needs thinking about. Opposing fleets and armies will need to, even WANT to get to grips with each other in times of war. Because that would be the only way a war could be brought to a conclusion. Unless side or the other is so disproportionately weaker than the other that it can't afford a stand up fight. In that case, the weaker party might resort to guerrilla war.