Sunday, 10 November 2013

Non-Fiction

It is always a pleasure to read Poul Anderson's non-fiction as well as his fiction. There is more of this than you might think because there are introductions, afterwords and occasional articles in some of the many volumes of fiction and there is also a fascinating article on future histories in a SFWA Bulletin. Having just read the non-fiction Thermonuclear Warfare, I hope soon to receive a copy of Is There Life On Other Worlds?

In non-fiction, the author addresses his readers directly as if in conversation whereas, in a work of fiction, the same auctorial voice is mediated through characters in imaginary scenarios. Thus, in Thermonuclear Warfare, Poul Anderson responds to Soviet aggression whereas, in the Technic History, the Marchwardens of Avalon respond to Terran aggression and, later, Max Abrams and Dominic Flandry respond to Merseian aggression.

In Is There Life On Other Worlds?, I hope to gain some insight into the likelihood or otherwise of Merseians, Ythrians etc. The vast majority of Anderson's aliens are bipedal with arms and a head displaying an immediately recognizable face: two eyes above a mouth maybe with a nose between and ears at the sides. How likely is this? If, as I suspect, Terrestrial animals have arbitrarily inherited these facial features from our earliest marine ancestors, then there is no necessity for them to be endlessly duplicated elsewhere. For example, if Larry Niven's tripedal, two-headed Pierrson's Puppeteers write science fiction, then they probably model all unHearthly intelligences on themselves.

10 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    I'm glad you hope to soon acquire a copy of Poul Anderson's IS THERE LIFE ON OTHER WORLDS?. I look forward to whatever comments you make about that book--and possibly critiquing some of them. I would like to both reread IS THERE LIFE ON OTHER WORLDS? and compare it to later books on the same topics that work discusses.

    And how did you manage to track down Poul Anderson's invaluable essay on fictional future histories published 34 years ago in the BULLETIN OF THE SFWA?

    I do think you were too dismissive of the possibility that non human races on other worlds might also have a "humaoid" form. That is, two legs, two arms, and a head. I would argue that it makes sense to think evolution would favor many species using two legs for moving about and freeing up the forelimbs to use for grasping, manipulating, making tools/weapons, etc.

    This does not mean I don't also think it's possible races as strange looking as Larry Niven's Pierson's Puppeteers may also exist. It's my view that Poul Anderson was better than many other SF writers in writing speculative descriptions of what non human rational beings are like, both in body and mind. And that he could invent very plausible non humanoid aliens. One example being the Baburites we see in MIRKHEIM.

    I see you have been discussing Heinlein in this blog. I really should reread his THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON, THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH, and REVOLT IN 2100, which covers much of his "Future History." But what do you think of non series Heinlein books such as DOUBLE STAR or THE PUPPET MASTERS? Last, I think we both still agree that most of the books Heinlein wrote beginning with STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND onwards was, alas, dreck. His later works shows a pathetic and tragic decline in the quality of his writing.

    Sean

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  2. Sean,
    A former sf retailer gave me the SFWA Bulletin.
    I am sceptical that so many aliens will have recognizable faces on the terrestrial model.
    It is amazing how Heinlein threw away everything that he previously knew about how to write fiction. He just let his characters spout their views to each other forever. Bob Shaw, a British sf writer, said, "I never finished STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. That is how out of touch I am with Heinlein." I had to say, "You haven't missed anything."
    The 2 books you mention were ok but it's a while since I read them.
    Paul.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Understood, how you came across Anderson's essay in that issue of the BULLETIN OF THE SFWA. My dreamed of COMPLETE COLLECTED WORKS OF POUL ANDERSON will need several volumes for his non fictional essays.

      I still think it makes sense to think some, not all, non human races to have heads/faces. It would make sense for evolution to have organs like sight, smell, and hearing (plus orifices for eating) in a head. And it would also seem to make sense to have the brain placed near those ogans, for quicker and "nearer" processing of the data given by those organs.

      I agree, beginning with STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, Heinlein became a bore, esp. about sex and incest, in his later books. I thought only THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS was of any interest, when it came to his later works. And I esp. liked the neat plot twist in DOUBLE STAR.

      Sean

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    2. Hi, Paul!

      I forgot to add in my previous note some interesting comments John C. Wright said about the later works of Heinlein, Asimov, and Sir Arthur Clark. Briefly, he thinks they became too famous, successful, and BIG for editors to get tough with. They got lazy and just coasted on the momentum their earlier successes had given them.

      Wright believes this did not happen to Poul Anderson because he never became as big and famous as the three writers listed above. Thus Anderson had less incentive to become lazy as a writer. Wright also considers Anderson a great man and genius--and thus, IMO, less likely to become so bad a writer as Heinlein, Asimov, and Clark became.

      Sean

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    3. On this, I am at one with Wright.

      I discuss Heinlein (also Wells, Stapledon, Asimov, Blish and Niven) here but only to compare them with Anderson since this remains an Anderson Appreciation blog.

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    4. Hi, Paul!

      I'm glad you feel able to agree with Mr. Wright on some things! He even expanded one of his essays to discuss in more detail Anderson's HARVEST OF STARS books because of some comments I made. I'll look that up and send it to you in case you have not seen it.

      And comparing the works of other writers to those of Anderson is a good way of keeping this blog active.

      Sean

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  3. But there need not be 2 eyes above a nose above a mouth with an ear at each side.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Hmmm, true! But you do concede that evolution on TERRESTROID worlds might PARALLEL how evolution turned out on our Earth?

      Sean

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  4. Might parallel? Of course. We have examples of that on Earth. Sight and flight at least have evolved separately more than once.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Then we agree! Evolution on other worlds might parallel some of the things we see on Earth.

      Sean

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