Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Mountain

"...it was like trying to knock down a mountain. You beat on its rocky flanks till your hands were bloody, and still the mountain stood there, sunlight on its high snow fields and in the forests that rustled up its slopes, and it did not really notice you. You were a brief, thin buzz between two long nights, but the mountain was forever."

- Poul Anderson, "The Chapter Ends" IN Starship (New York, 1982), pp. 253-281 AT p. 253.

I quote this passage at some length for several reasons.

(i) Anderson incorporates one of his vivid descriptions of natural beauty into an extended metaphor for a civilized man's frustration at trying to persuade a peasant.

(ii) Although the description of a snow-covered, wooded mountain is metaphorical, it simultaneously sets the scene for the depopulated future Earth where the two men are conversing.

(iii) The mountain metaphor incorporates a sonic metaphor for human life, "...a brief, thin buzz..."

(iv) This story describes the end of human occupation of Earth while the phrase, "...long nights...", echoes the concluding period of Anderson's later, longer future history.

(v) Anderson knows that nothing is forever but, at the end of this comparison, he allows himself to write poetically or impressionistically. In human experience, mountains seem to be forever.

Jorun, a Galactic, is trying to persuade Kormt of Huerdar, Gerlaug's son, Speaker for Solis Township, to leave Earth with everyone else. Jorun reflects:

"There was no real talking to these peasants; too many millennia lay between, and you couldn't shout across that gulf." (p. 254)

Millennia? If, as we are asked to accept, "The Chapter Ends" is set in the Psychotechnic History timeline, then Earth was technologically civilized without any peasantry less than one millennium previously. It is a puzzle why this story has been accepted as belonging to this series.

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