Monday, 26 August 2013

Horse Trader

I have argued in previous posts that the genres written by Poul Anderson include "historical science fiction." This is further exemplified by the italicized opening passage of his short story, "Horse Trader." (Space Folk, New York, 1989)

The first paragraph, dated AD 250, informs us of a turbine in the temple of Alexandria and of propellers on ships on an Earth-like planet elsewhere in the universe.

In the second paragraph, dated AD 1495, Leonardo da Vinci has made an airplane model but has no way to power it while beings on a planet of another star have built internal-combustion engines but have not thought of flying.

Next, in AD 1942, the Allies need to be able to detect submarines but are unable to develop ultrasonics while the people of Sumanor on Urish know about ultrasonics but "...had never heard of submarines." (p. 262)

Thus, each of these paragraphs presents a historical period with a science fictional perspective.

The action of the story starts in AD 2275 when, thanks to the null-null drive (we have met this before), interstellar journeys can be made at near light speed so that it becomes possible for rational species from different planetary systems to meet and to trade knowledge. No one can do everything well. Those who have developed science and technology in certain directions have not developed them in other directions but now all the discoveries can be exchanged and the first species to travel between stars in this volume of space, humanity, is able to profit by arranging the exchanges.

By coincidence, I had read Anderson's much earlier and very different story, "Captive of the Centaurianess," immediately before starting to read "Horse Trader." I therefore noticed that the Centaurianess is from Alpha Centauri A III and also that the new director of the Bureau of Intercultural Exchange, Technical Division, the "horse traders," was appointed because of his experience with the native civilization of Alpha Centauri A III. In the latter story, Anderson, perhaps deliberately, does not describe this Centaurian race, leaving us free to imagine that they are the large warrior women of the earlier story although this is extremely unlikely.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    Your comments about how Poul Anderson included a paragraph dated 1495 on Leonardo Da Vinci in "Horse "Trader" reminded me of how that protean genius seems to have interested Anderson. I searched out and reread the 1957 story called "The Light" (collected in PAST TIMES), which also features Leonaro. Needless to say, that artist/inventor is also prominent in "House Rule."

    "The Light" interested me because of how Anderson had the "first" men to land on the Moon discovering they were not first, that someone had, somehow landed on the Moon without the painfully accumulated knowledge of physics, chemistry, and metallurgy the "first" men had needed to reach the Moon. There was some speculation about an anti gravity device of some sort being used.

    I was interested in how Anderson had the narrator of "The Light" coming to realize just WHO had been first to the Moon by pondering the kind and quality of LIGHT he observed on the Moon, and why it seemed familiar. And realizing it came from one of Leonardo's paintings of the Virgin and Child.

    "The Light" also interested me in how seriously and respectfully the agnostic Anderson took Christianity. This is what the narrator found as he was quickly investigating Leonardo's campsite on the Moon: "The rock was sleet-colored in the Earthlight. It had one flat surface facing my planet, and there was a cross hacked into the stone."

    It was the combination both of the Moon light being somehow familiar and discovering the cross which caused the narrator to realize just who it was had reached the Moon. Leonardo was a Catholic, after all.

    "The Light" is a very interesting story. The narrator and a historian his superiors had recruited were assigned to tracking down and studying Leonardo's papers and notes in an effort to discover just HOW he had reached the Moon. It's well known, of course, that Leonardo was a voluminous note taker and that he wrote in cyphers. So, who knows what might be found?

    Might an anti gravity device be discovered in actuality if scientists deliberately studied the problem with the idea it can be done?


  2. Sean,
    A post could be written about Leonardo's appearances in Anderson's works, maybe also mentioning that, in Robert Heinlein's THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, he might be Leonard Vincent, time traveler.
    Trying to slow down, I will in the next few days draft one or two posts to be published early in Sept.

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Been a very long time since I read any of Heinlein's earlier, pre STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND works. Not sure I've read THE DOOR INTO SUMMER. But I'll look over the Heinlein books I have. The idea that RAH had a "Leonardo" character in DOOR interests me.

      I quite understand why you want to take a break from blogging! But I will read with interest any thoughts you care to make about Leonardo.


  3. Sean,
    THE DOOR INTO SUMMER is a good circular causality novel but not historical. Leonard/Leonardo is only mentioned briefly.
    When I said, "A post could be written...", I didn't necessarily envisage me as writing it!