Monday, 11 March 2013

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.

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