Monday, 25 November 2013

Anderson And Wellsianity

Associative processes are spiral, not linear. Setting out to reread The War Of Two Worlds by Poul Anderson, I instead began to read for the first time Threshold Of Eternity by John Brunner, published in the same Ace Double volume. Noticing, so to say, the obvious "Wellsianity" of both novels, I then reflected more generally on Wells and his successors.

Thus, this post belongs more appropriately on the Science Fiction blog and will be copied there. However, most page viewers visit Poul Anderson Appreciation. Further, Wells and other sf writers are discussed here not in their own right but to compare them with Anderson.

CS Lewis referred to:

"...what we may loosely call the Scientific Outlook, the picture of Mr. Wells and the rest." ("Is Theology Poetry?" IN Lewis, Screwtape Proposes A Toast and Other Pieces (London, 1965), pp. 41-58 AT pp. 45-46)

Lewis acknowledges that practising scientists as a whole do not accept this "Scientific Outlook" and concedes that "...the delightful name 'Wellsianity'...," (p. 46) suggested by another member of the Socratic Club, would have been more appropriate.

Wells' works, both fiction and non-fiction, express Wellsianity as Lewis' express Christianity. Wells' science fiction pioneers four themes:

space travel;
time travel;
interplanetary invasion;
future history.

Wells has many successors, including Anderson and Brunner, and one main opponent. I have argued on the Science Fiction blog that Lewis' Ransom novels are a systematic reply to the four Wellsian themes.

Wells is content to describe:

a single journey to the Moon in the Cavorite sphere, which is lost at the end of the novel;
a single journey to the future on the Time Machine, which is lost at the end of the novel;
a single attack by Martians, who are killed by Terrestrial microbes;
a single historical turning point in the next two hundred years - although, as against this, the Time Traveller's journey to the further future shows him the devolution of mankind and the end of life on Earth.

Wells' successors describe regular space travel, time travel and alien contact and write longer future histories. Anderson's The War Of Two Worlds, like Wells' The War Of The Worlds, describes a war between Earth and Mars and Anderson went on to write many other accounts of interplanetary conflicts. Brunner's Threshold Of Eternity, like Wells' The Time Machine, describes time travel but, in this case, such travel has become routine and indeed a means of conflict.

I have argued previously that Olaf Stapledon and Poul Anderson are major successors of Wells.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Since I've not read Brunner's THRESHOLD OF ETERNITY, it would be foolish of me to comment on it. I'll only argue that in Anderson's THE CORRIDORS OF TIME we see time travel being used as the means for carrying out a conflict between rival powers.


Paul Shackley said...

Do you have the Ace Double that I am referring to? If so, then you will be able to read THRESHOLD now even if, like me, you only read the Anderson novel when you bought the book.
Yes, CORRIDORS has an excellent time war, I think far better than Brunner's although I have not finished reading THRESHOLD yet.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

No, I don't have the Ace double containing the Anderson and Brunner books. The first time I read THE WAR OF TWO WORLDS was close to forty years ago in a paperback containing WAR and WORLD WITHOUT STARS. Then sometime around 1979 I apparently supplemented that paperback with one of those quite nice Dobson SF hard back books.

And I look forward to you comparing the Brunner book to Anderson's time travel books. Perhaps THE CORRIDORS OF TIME is the closest analog?

I used to have a collection of Brunner stories, of which one item has stuck in my mind: "An Elixir for the Emperor."