Monday, 5 August 2013


The background details of Poul Anderson's "Epilogue" (Explorations, New York, 1981) include three ingredients that seem very familiar to regular Anderson readers:

a global conflict, this time with "Panasia" instead of with "Unasia";
fifty scientifically trained couples leaving Earth to colonize Tau Ceti II;
a malfunction in their faster than light (FTL) spaceship, the Traveler.

Because of the malfunction, the Traveler returns to Earth three billion years later but with an unaged crew, a time dilation effect although in what was meant to have been an FTL ship. (Correction, 6/8/13: This was meant to have been a NAFAL, nearly as fast as light, ship.)

Then the story starts. It is told in seven sections -

I, viewpoint character: a being called "Zero";
II and III, viewpoint character: Hugh Darkington of the Traveler;
IV, Zero;
V, Darkington;
VI, Zero;
VII, Darkington.

Zero's real name is"...a set of radio pulses..." that would be " ugly squawk..." as sound so the omniscient narrator decrees that he be called "Zero" because, like every conscious being, he is "...the center of his own coordinate system..." (p. 177). Thereafter, others of his kind are given, purely for the reader's benefit, numbers from One to Hundred.

Although the Traveler crew needs most of the story to deduce what has happened, it soon becomes clear to the reader that Zero and the like are conscious robots surrounded by inorganic, metallic equivalents of trees, flowers, insects, birds etc - a "mechology"?

Metal shafts rising from sand and supporting girders bearing solar energy accumulators have replaced tree trunks rising from soil, supporting green leaves;
crystalline growths containing wires, coils or transistors have replaced smaller plants;
fliers have replaced birds;
"aquamotiles" have replaced fish.

In Anderson's Technic Civilization History, Dominic Flandry once met predatory robotic animals but those had been designed as a pass-time by a consciousness-level computer whereas these have evolved by natural selection from originals constructed by now extinct Terrestrial humanity. Zero and co transmit sense impressions and share rituals, science, poetry etc, so they do more than merely survive. Since Earth is now theirs, the returned human beings must go elsewhere.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Yes, I found "Epilogue" an esp. interesting and fascinating story. The self aware robots even had some beliefs about God existing. This bit from the end of Section VI comes to mind: "After he [Zero]roused her, she--who had been awake when the world was broken and refashioned--could not understand why he led her outside to pray that they be granted mercy, now and in the hour of their dissolution."

The allusion to the Pater Noster is obvious!


Paul Shackley said...


More of an allusion to the Ave Maria?

There was an error in this post but it has been corrected. I hope that page viewers will point out any similar mistakes?


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Oops and drat! You are right! Poul Anderson was alluding to the Ave Maria, not the Our Father! I feel foolish! Those two prayers are so commonly used by Catholics: "...pray for us sinnners now and at the hour of our death."