Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Infinite Possibilities

In Poul Anderson's The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975), set five thousand years in the future, a historian says:

"'...man in the known universe has exhausted the possibilities of his own culture. You wouldn't expect them to be infinite, after all. There are only so many shapes into which you can carve a block of marble; once the sculptors have made the best ones, their successors face a choice between dull imitation and puerile experiment. The same applies to all the arts, the sciences, and the permutations of human relationships.'" (p. 152)

Anderson did not believe that but was showing us a static, decadent civilization. I would say the exact opposite of this historian. The contemporary culture has limited possibilities but humanity has not. The number of shapes into which a block of marble can be carved is, if not infinite, then far greater than we will ever know. Some are considered the "best" in a particular culture but this shows the limitations of that culture. The same applies to all art, science and human relationships? Of course not! Does he advocate mass suicide?

The number of words in any language is finite, although there are always new coinages, but each of us every day utters new sentences that have never been spoken before and will never be spoken again so that every conversation is creative. We do not notice this because we look beyond everyday conversation to new texts expressing both knowledge and fiction.

As always, Anderson applies historical knowledge to future scenarios. Norwegian outcasts colonized Iceland, founded a republic, wrote fine literature and tried to colonize both Greenland and North America. Religious dissidents, deported criminals, impoverished immigrants and a few liberals founded the United States. So, in the fictitious future of this novel, what might be expected from the lost interstellar colonies?

No comments: