Friday, 13 September 2013

Escape From Orbit

As its title suggests, Poul Anderson's "Escape from Orbit" (Time And Stars, London, 1970) is hard sf, in fact about a spaceship in lunar orbit. However, it begins with a dream. Dreams are universally experienced so it makes sense that they be described in fiction. This dream includes fantasy: a horse leaps off the Earth. Anderson readers must be alert to which genre they are reading. It is not always clear in an opening paragraph. Magic can work in a dream in a hard sf story.

The dream is interrupted and the viewpoint character, Wister, woken by a phone call in the middle of the night. He had dreamed of the "...tinge of Julie's hair..." but wakes beside Florence (p. 81). The ringing cuts through the dream like a saw. This reminded me of a peculiar experience: I needed to make a phone call and was surrounded by half a dozen public phones not enclosed but displayed on shelves or pedestals but they were just out of reach and far too big to be picked up - an Alice in Wonderland scenario.

Then I awoke in our attic in the middle of the night to hear the phone ringing two floors below. An acquaintance, dealing with what she regarded as an emergency, had rung at that time and had kept ringing until I answered. My sleeping brain had reversed the facts: in the dream, I was not being rung but needed to ring; I was not hearing one persistent phone but seeing several giant phones. That memory has endured.

At a residential College, someone spoke of hearing an owl during the night. Deciding to describe my giant phones, I began, "Talking about noises heard at night...," then saw the looks of horror on the faces of the guy in the next room and his girlfriend - but, instead of breaking off, I continued with the story, I suppose to their relief.

OK, the point is to read "Escape from Orbit" and to stay with the plot next time.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    Interesting, the little story you gave about you dreaming of giant phones. And how it had an actual basis in fact due to a concerned friend calling you. Reminded me, in a way, of Anderson's story "Dead Phone."


  2. Sean,
    Right. And it was a concrete example of the brain unconsciously interpreting input. The external sound and the dreamed image were connected by the concept "phone."

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Since I have very bad hearing, I doubt any of my dreams were affected or influenced by noises or sounds. I've also long believed that the process of dreaming is how the sleeping brain thinks about or remembers things.

      "The Visitor" is another story written by Anderson about dreams. In this case, how a man with perhaps a touch of telepathy entered the dreams of a comatose child. A very sad, but interesting story.