Thursday, 14 November 2013

Connections With Fiction

In Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Poul Anderson discusses an idea for terraforming Venus that was suggested by Carl Sagan and that Anderson himself dramatizes in his sf story, "The Big Rain."

He also points out that probably more than half of the stars are double or triple and that such systems are unlikely either to generate or to retain Earth-like planets. However, they could contain large, superjovian, planets which, in their turn, could have Earth-like moons - such as the colonized moon, Atlantis, in Anderson's Virgin Planet. Atlantis is indeed a terrestroid satellite of a gas giant in a double star system.

"The Big Rain" belongs to the early interplanetary period of Anderson's Psychotechnic History whereas Virgin Planet belongs to the later interstellar period of that same future history. Thus, this series gains immeasurably in scientific plausibility when we realize that these two fictional settings are grounded in serious hypotheses.

I have already argued that the Psychotechnic History, like Robert Heinlein's Future History on which it is modeled, is more substantial than might appear after a cursory reading of individual stories. In his Postscript, "Concerning Stories Never Written," Heinlein discusses not only three unwritten stories but also the first three volumes of his Future History, in the process clarifying the unity and continuity of that History. Anderson does much the same in an Afterword to Virgin Planet, effectively divulging the contents of "unwritten stories" about other regions of Atlantis and periods of its history.

The history of the colonization of Atlantis links the colony back to a previous period when some of the earliest interstellar spaceships were being lost and the story of the discovery of the isolated Atlantean colony refers both to another colonized planet and to an organization that feature elsewhere in the series. On top of all this, we now learn that the fantastic celestial mechanics of the Atlantean sky with the enormous gas giant permanently visible above the colonized hemisphere and with two suns and four other moons moving about is based not only in Anderson's imagination but also in legitimate speculations about diverse planetary systems.

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