Wednesday, 4 September 2013
Three points about Poul Anderson's introduction to his short story, "Epilogue," in his capstone collection, Going For Infinity (New York, 2002) -
(i) Anderson informs us that the self-maintaining, self-replicating sea rafts in this story were based on a suggestion, in Scientific American, by John von Neumann, which may in turn have been the first appearance of the von Neumann machine idea, later applied by its conceptualizer to the notion of interstellar probes, as discussed in Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years and, I think also, Starfarers. This is one of the many cases where a little background information enhances appreciation of a story.
(ii) John Campbell accepted the story despite arguing at length "...that things couldn't work out that way." (p. 254) I would like to read Campbell's letter. I also thought that, although self-replicating machines, left to themselves and with their programs "mutated" by radiation, would evolve, they would not exactly parallel biological evolution even down to males impregnating females and the latter giving birth. They already have a much simpler, more straightforward, mechanism for self-replication.
(iii) Anderson rightly points out that, when the story was written, "girl" was an acceptable term for "young woman." Linguistic usages change in our lifetimes. I have noticed the term "Negro" when reading a few Anderson stories recently.
(Words change and new coinages are included in every new edition of any comprehensive dictionary. I was amused this week by news coverage of a new coinage: "selfie.")