Monday, 18 November 2013

Strangers

One of Poul Anderson's collections is Strangers From Earth. One of Robert Silverberg's anthologies is Earthmen And Strangers. Silverberg argues that sf stories about human beings meeting aliens are really about the human need to cope with meeting strangers.

The nine stories in Earthmen And Strangers include "Life Cycle" by Poul Anderson and "Out of the Sun" by Arthur C Clarke. Both of these stories are set in the twilight zone of a Mercury still believed to turn only one side towards the Sun but also to librate, thus causing a local sunrise and sunset. Anderson's characters encounter Mercurian life whereas Clarke's encounter Solar life. Anderson's Terrestrial characters are accompanied by a feathered, owl-faced Martian who sounds familiar from other Anderson works.

Anderson devises an ingenious life cycle in which hive-minded Mercurian females inhabit the Twilight Zone but must risk the dangerous heat of Dayside in order to be fertilized, as they believe, by their gods. Since females past the age of fertility return to Dayside to die, it does not take long for the Earthmen to deduce that the females apparently going to their deaths are in fact going to be transformed by the heat into the males of their species.

There is an eerie moment when the Earthmen, disguised as females, having entered the Dayside temple, see the gods approach:

"...tall lizardlike forms, in burnished coppery scales, wreathed in silvery vapor - they glowed, walking dragons, but they did not burn. They advanced...Their beaks gaped..."

- Poul Anderson, "Life Cycle" in Robert Silverberg, Ed., Earthmen And Strangers (New York, 1966), pp. 91-116 AT p. 111.

Having visited Greystoke and Hadrian's wall yesterday, today we visited the Lake District town of Keswick where I bought Earthmen And Strangers as a second hand paperback in a charity shop.

6 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    Now that sounds like a very interesting Anderson story! I've never read "Life Cycle," so I need to watch out for that piece.

    Never read as much of Silverberg's work as I should have. Mostly the first three of his Majipoor books: LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE, MAJIPOOR CHRONICLES, and VALENTINE PONTIFEX.

    Sean

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  2. I have read half a dozen time travel novels by Silverberg, all to me disappointing, and UP THE LINE terrible. But his telepathy novel DYING INSIDE is superb.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Yes, I have seen enthusiastic recommendations of DYING INSIDE. And another online friend greatly likes Silverberg's ACROSS A BILLION YEARS. Which means I should read both these books.

      How would you compare DYING INSIDE to Anderson's short telepathy story "Journeys End"? Making due allowances for the former being a novel, of course.

      Sean

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  3. Both Silverberg's novel and Anderson's story give the impression that this must be what life is like for a telepath. I remember the novel for many powerful passages whereas the story left a nasty taste in the mouth because of its unpleasant concluding passage!

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  4. Hi, Paul!

    Since I've not read DYING INSIDE, I can't comment on it. But I thought Anderon's "Journeys End" very plausibly realistic. I don't think many many many people would care to have their most intimate thoughts and wishes, including degrading and nasty ones, exposed or revealed to anyone. That was why the two telepaths in Anderson's story were so quickly repelled by each other. The story fits in with ACTUAL human nature.

    Sean

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