Monday, 2 September 2013


Poul Anderson's short story, "SOS" (Dialogue With Darkness, New York, 1985), first published in 1970, begins with two quotations. The first, dated 1 June, 1966, is presumably the scientific report predicting a magnetic field reversal 2000 years hence that it looks like. The second, dated 13 Heros 4127 and attributed to the Archives of the Astromilitary Institue, is, of course, science fiction.

From the quotations, we go straight to viewpoint character Ing Jans climbing Mount Einstein on Lunar Farside. Googling discloses that there is a Mount Einstein in Alaska but I could not find one on the Moon. The Russians photographed Farside in 1959, bestowing place names like the Sea of Moscow. Anderson must have imagined a further round of naming or renaming by the Western power, the Westrealm, which, in 4127, has built a station on Farside.

Jans sees clearly in the light of the crowded stars, the Milky Way, the nebulae, Jupiter and Saturn, the two outer planets bright enough to cast shadows. I would not have expected that but I trust Anderson. There is nothing artificial on Farside but the station, the road to it and the microwave relay towers by the road. The station, mostly underground, has a radio telescope, an optical observatory and a particle beam. There are busier centers on Nearside. Jans observes and/or reflects on all this, then sees landing spaceships bearing the Sun and Man emblem of Great Asia. The Asians have been described as "Autarchists" but is there also a Mithraist element in their emblem (although no Bull)?

Jans had earlier reflected on an ironical parallel between the rival social systems:

"In Great Asia they allocate spaceship passages by official assignment, in the Westrealm they do it by letting the price of the ticket soar beyond reach of whoever had not the backing of a Kinhouse. For both, the effect is the same." (p. 196)

I have read only to the end of section I (of III) and see that section II presents an Asian viewpoint character. However, my reading of this story has been interrupted by the arrival from the US of my copy of Anderson's Going For Infinity. Although most of the story titles are familiar, I gather that they are accompanied by substantial autobiographical introductions and commentaries so it might be a while before I return to the stories in Dialogue with Darkness.

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