Thursday, 28 February 2013

Contrasts And Comparisons

Poul Anderson's After Doomsday assumes FTL and contact with many alien races and describes the destruction of all life on Earth. The same author's Tau Zero assumes STL and contact with no alien races and describes the end of the universe. Thus, opposite premises and two very different "end of the world" scenarios, although both are scientifically based.

(F/STL= faster/slower than light interstellar travel.)

What have these novels in common? Each takes a simple science fictional premise and explores its unexpected possibilities:

what if an interstellar expedition returned to find that all life on Earth had been destroyed in its absence?;

what if an STL spaceship accelerated indefinitely so that its crew aged only months while their ship passed between clusters of clusters of galaxies and oulasted the universe?

In both novels, the hero must lead what may be the last remnant of humanity, must keep himself and his fellow human beings sane, must motivate them to do whatever it takes to survive and must look towards a better future even when there might not be one. Heroism indeed. These two central characters have much in common.


Let us try to summarize the recent history of our immediate civilization-cluster since, in Poul Anderson's After Doomsday (St Albans, 1975), that is the only possible kind of galactic history.

On Kandemir, vast, fertile plains enabled nomads to domesticate animals, to sustain government, literacy and technology and to dominate the cities, where subject races labor in immobile industries like mining. T'sjudan space travelers arrived and began to trade. Kandemirian nomadism became an interstellar empire subordinating even T'sjuda but opposed by a coalition led by the Dragar of Vorlak, a warrior class who had displaced the Vorlakka imperium when space travelers reached Vorlak.

Monwaing which has spread through space by peaceful colonization, not by military aggression, supports the coalition but without joining the war. Other space-traveling races in the civilization-cluster are too weak to intervene. Like the Chereionites in Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, Monwaingi are descended from flightless birds but the latter are more avian in appearance, with beaks and feathers. I am reminded of Tomar Re in the Green Lantern Corps. Monwaingi introduce Terrestrials to space travel, then Earth is destroyed and Kandemir is suspected.

While American men fight for Vorlak against Kandemir, European women found Terran Traders, Inc. on Zatlokopa in a capitalist civilization-cluster. By the end of the novel, Terrestrials will have upset the balance of power in both civilization-clusters but, of course, the estimated million other civilization-clusters in the galaxy will not be affected.

Another Means Of FTL

We have seen hyperspace as a series of quantum jumps in the History of Technic Civilization and have encountered the Mach hypothesis in The Star Fox/Fire Time. See here. Now, in After Doomsday (St Albans, Herts, 1975), we have a third means of faster than light travel (FTL).

The superlight drive is based on:

"The mathematical depiction of space as having a structure equivalent to a set of standing waves in an n-dimensional continuum." (p. 29)

(The "Standing Wave" is one of James Blish's means of FTL along with his Haertel overdrive, Arpe Drive and Imaginary Drive. Blish preferred to avoid the cliche of "hyperspace.")

In After Doomsday, where the waves interfere, a spaceship can move between them. In interstellar space, where gravitational distortion is minimal, interference fringes are sufficiently close that spaceships can skip most of the straight-line distance to their destination. Whereas galaxies recede as intergalactic space is generated, a superlight ship exploits zones where space is cancelled out - except that the field physicist winces at this summary by a mechanical engineer.

More interesting is the kind of interstellar society that Anderson imagines in this, and only this, novel. It is not known whether superlight ships were invented once or more than once. Explorers found primitives, civilizations not interested in space travel or those that were able to learn and apply superlight, which thus spread not like a cone of light but like dandelion seeds. Each space-traveling species deals regularly only with other species in its own civilization-cluster because there are too many for regular contact elsewhere. The galaxy is too big for any single Federation or Empire. No one can have an overview or know the full history. This makes sense and would have been a perfect premise for a series of novels.

After Doomsday

The premise of Poul Anderson's After Doomsday (St Albans, Herts, 1975) is that an American spaceship crew returns from interstellar exploration to find that Earth has been sterilised in their absence. Anderson is well up to the tasks of describing both the murdered Earth and the crew members' responses.

On Earth:

the crust shook;
mountains broke;
volcanoes were born;
oceans cooled back down from boiling;
winds swept " stone continents which had lately run molten..." (p. 7);
ash, smoke, acid rain, sulphurous clouds, lightning.

Of the crew:

the field physicist/detector officer ran to the far end of the ship, hitting bulkheads en route;
the executive officer lay on the deck, drew up his knees and covered his face;
the astronomer and the planetographer concentrated on their instruments as if trying to find a malfunction;
the captain went into a trance;
the mechanical engineer kept his head and eventually had to replace the captain.

As usual, Anderson excels both at physical descriptions and at characterisation.

The Ballad Of Brandobar

I envisage at least three passages by Poul Anderson adapted to screen:

the opening section of "The Game of Glory" (see an earlier post);
the introduction and conclusion of The Earthbook Of Stormgate;
the Ballad of Brandobar from After Doomsday (St Albans, Herts, 1975, pp. 127-135).

James Blish commended how, having built up to a major space battle, Anderson then described that battle in a ballad written after the event.

The ballad comprises thirty five quatrains, rhyming abcb. Thus, the opening quatrain reads:

"Three kings rode out on the way of war
"(The stars burn bitterly clear):
"Three in league against Tarkamat
"Master of Kandemir." (p. 127)

(The ballad of John Barleycorn begins with "Three kings...")

The second line of each quatrain in the Ballad of Brandobar is:

"(The stars burn bitterly clear):",
"(The stormwinds clamour their grief)",
"(A bugle: the gods defied!)",
"(New centuries scream in birth)"

- or, in the concluding quatrain:

"(New centuries sing in birth)" (p. 133)

Anderson gives us the "Annotated English version" since the original was in Uru. The annotations are explanatory prose passages inserted between some of the quatrains, e.g.:

"Militechnicians can see from the phrasing alone..." (p. 129)

"The reference here is, of course, to the highly developed interferometric paragravity detectors..." (p. 130) etc.

Thus, I think there should be three voices:

one chanting the first, third and fourth line of each quatrain;
a second interrupting with each second line;
a third solemnly intoning the annotations.

We need sound effects for stormwinds, bugle, screaming and singing, visuals for "stars" and for the narrative, I think static graphics or brief animations to illustrate the story which includes:

"For the world called Earth was horribly slain..." (p. 128)

- and ends with:

" 'Have done, have done; make an end of war
" (New centuries sing in birth)
"And an end of woe and of tyrant rule -
"In the name of living Earth!' " (p. 133)

How dramatic is that?

The first quatrain is preceded by two paragraphs explaining that the ballad is "...the first important work of art...composed in Uru." (p. 127) Previously, this interstellar language had been use only for "...factual records, scientific treaties, or translations from planetary languages..." (p. 127) Should that have read, "...factual records, scientific treatises, political treaties, or translations..."? (I have noticed quite a few typos in my edition of After Doomsday.)

Asteroid Economics

 In the Asteroid Republic of Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984):

" '...the government is committed to noninterference in private enterprise; most transactions are not a matter of public record.' " (p. 279)

Thus, fraud and theft that could well have sabotaged the first interstellar spaceship might have gone undetected.

Can the asteroid economy:

avoid a boom-slump cycle;
continue to employ the skills of all the asterites;
continue to raise standards of living across the Belt and back on Earth;
avoid further wars?

If so, then it will indeed be one version of "Utopia" (p. 271). Our present global economic system generates vast wealth but also concentrates it in fewer hands, thus paradoxically generating both wealth and poverty, production and destruction, simultaneously. Starvation coexists with technological warfare. Can this system resolve its internal contradictions simply by moving into space? I think not but would welcome the opportunity for mankind to answer this question either way in practice instead of just in the pages of speculative fiction.

We need some self-sustaining space colonies in case destruction overcomes production on Earth, or indeed in case a comet or asteroid sends us the way of the dinosaurs. Any organised society, whether on or off Earth, is preferable to barbarism or extinction. I say "any organised society" because even a despotism, which is certainly not advocated either by Anderson or by me, would eventually fall or be overthrown.

Judgement And Doomsday II

Having compared titles, let us also compare opening sentences.

"The fall of God put Theron Ware in a peculiarly unenviable position, though he was hardly alone." (James Blish, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement, London, 1981, p. 119)

" 'Earth is dead. They murdered our Earth!' " (Poul Anderson, After Doomsday, Frogmore, St Albans, Herts, 1975, p. 7)

The Day After Judgement is a sequel so it can begin with a casual reference to the death of God which had been announced by a demon at the end of Black Easter. The real existence of supernatural beings, God, angels and demons, makes these works fantasies.

After Doomsday is a single novel with a dramatic opening sentence. If "...our Earth..." is dead, then how can one of its inhabitants know this? He is in a spaceship that has just returned from outside the Solar System so this is a work of science fiction (sf).

A friend who borrowed my copy of After Doomsday thought it was bad but I cannot help agreeing with James Blish and the Lancaster sf bookseller Pete Pinto both of whom said effectively that something about it makes it a complete novel. Pete used the phrase "complete novel" and Jim Blish said much the same. I will elaborate in later posts. Like two other Anderson novels, Tau Zero and World Without Stars, After Doomsday starts with a very basic sf premise and derives what reads like a comprehensive set of consequences from that premise. Like many of Anderson's works, it could have initiated a series. I will shortly reread After Doomsday and comment further.

Judgement And Doomsday

Two titles, The Day After Judgement by James Blish and After Doomsday by Poul Anderson, sound almost interchangeable. However, Blish's "Judgement" is spiritual and supernatural, a literal Armageddon, whereas Anderson's "Doomsday" is secular and scientific, the sterilisation of Earth by aliens. In other words, Blish's novel is fantasy whereas Anderson's is science fiction (sf).

CS Lewis begins Perelandra by pointing out that we imagine non-human intelligences as either supernatural or extraterrestrial, then informs us that his character, Ransom, met on Mars beings that were both. That shook me when I read it.

A few other sf writers have had similar ideas. In two of Heinlein's novels, the Martian "Old Ones" are ghosts. In Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Martian "Old Ones" are spiritually evolved Martians. In Brian Aldiss's Helliconia Trilogy, Helliconians have contact with their hereafter which contrasts strangely with the Terrestrial observation station in orbit above their planet. (When, in that station, orderly life broke down, Aldiss wrote an italicised descriptive passage including this marvelous sentence: "Everything depraved flourished.")

Starting with a reflection on two superficially similar but essentially contrasting titles, I have managed to draw a few parallels between six great names in sf: Blish; Anderson; Lewis; Heinlein; Bradbury; Aldiss. 

Recruiting Nation

In Brian Aldiss' one volume future history, Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand, individual short stories set in successive future epochs are linked by italicized interstitial passages bridging the temporal gaps between the stories.

In Poul Anderson's one volume future history, Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984), individual short stories set during successive decades and generations of the colonization of the asteroids are linked by conversational passages set inside the first interstellar spaceship. (Another good conversationally linked series is Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Worlds' End but that is not a linear history, more of a multitemporal cosmography.)

Anderson's cosy conversations sometimes serve the same purpose as Aldiss' cosmic commentaries. One of the speakers in Interlude 6 informs us that Earth became:

" '...steadily more comfortable, as material resources flowed in from space...The average Earthling took advantage of this opportunity to relax, to enjoy more leisure and security.' " (p. 250)

That is a relief. Until now, in this volume, the picture has been of Terrestrial resources strained by unemployed masses voting for expensive social welfare, then demonstrating and rioting if their standard of living is threatened.

The seventh story, "Recruiting Nation," confirms the rosier picture of a further future and even uses the term "Utopia," which is then explained as follows:

" 'Everywhere on Earth you can enjoy economic as well as physical security, a peaceful, orderly existence. If that starts feeling too stuffy, you can move into space. There the boom guarantees you can find work at high pay...' " (p. 272)

Terraformed asteroids have even become comfortable enough to breed "'...loafers...wastrels...'" (p. 273)!

Appropriately, this last story is set on the interstellar spaceship while it is being readied for flight. The narrator of the Prologue and Interludes, Winston P. Sanders, comes to the ship to solve a technical problem that turns out to have been a human problem (parts are not failing but the chief engineer is pretending that they are so that he can steal and sell them) and stays for the flight (as the new chief engineer). He ends the story in conversation with the man who is to become president of the civil government within the ship, Amspaugh. He and Amspaugh have been in the spaceship conversation from the Prologue so the flashbacks of the stories have at last caught up with the on-going narrative of the Interludes and the last story flows easily into the Epilogue. This is a very well crafted future history.


The sixth story in Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984), "Sunjammer," is yet another technical problem item. This time, the technicalities obtruded and I did not understand very well what was going on. As in "Ramble With A Gamblin' Man" and "Que Donn'rez Vous?," there was a moment when one of the characters suddenly realized the solution to the current problem although this was not divulged to the reader until nearer the end of the story.

The characters are asterite, British and American and there is lingering hostility from the revolutionary war, at least between the asterites and the Americans. The asterite Storrs thinks:

"There isn't a government of any importance anywhere on Earth these days that isn't based on some version of  'social justice.' So of course independent thinking, conscientiousness, ordinary competence have gone by the board." (p. 215)

That is a strong statement. The character, and behind him the author, disagrees with government policies so all government officials have become dependent, unconscientious and incompetent? This is to some extent counterbalanced by the British character West thinking:

"That's another thing I don't like about the Republic. They can brag as much as they want about free enterprise, but it still amounts to the rawest, most cold-blooded kind of capitalism. Maybe the welfare states on Earth have gotten stuffy and overbureaucratized - nevertheless, we don't let the devil take the hindmost!" (p. 220)

Here, the character is definitely not a mouthpiece for the author and does acknowledge some qualification of his own point of view. There is a brief political exchange between Storrs and West. When Storrs speaks disrespectfully of an American official, West remarks:

" 'Don't be too hard on the man...When a world gets as crowded as that one there, you have to operate by a rigid system.' " (p. 221)

Do you? Greater participative democracy might generate new solutions, including how to reduce the crowding?

West continues:

" 'Within the system, I presume he's doing his best.' " (p. 221)

- to which Storrs replies:

" 'A machine is judged by its output. How's your precious system performing in this mess?' " (p. 221)

- but West has the last word with:

" 'Oh, forget the political arguments. There's England [seen from space].' " (p. 221)

West thinks of "...the little house in Kent..." (p. 221) Anderson's characters remain first and foremost human beings, not sloganeering stereotypes. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Que Donn'rez Vous?

In "Que Donn'rez Vous?" (Poul Anderson, Tales Of The Flying Mountains, New York, 1984), a spaceship engine has failed; the ship, with its single occupant, is sinking into the Jovian atmosphere.

A rescue attempt would:

almost certainly fail;
endanger the lives of the rescue team;
be prohibitively expensive in terms of resources.

Thus, the problem is technical, human and economic. A fellow pilot devises a way to reduce the danger to the rescuers: technical problem solved. The rescue attempt succeeds: human problem solved. By examining the recovered ship, the Chief Engineer discovers the cause of the engine failure. Thus, similar costly failures can be prevented in future: economic problem solved.

Neat, maybe too neat? We know that everything does not work out for the best every time. And Anderson certainly knows this. He emphasises the risks taken by the asterites, asteroid dwellers, to survive. But a skilful writer can tie all the threads together at the end of a story and it is enjoyable to read: enjoyable though not humourous like some earlier stories in the collection. The cause of the engine failure is extremely technical and could only have been written by a scientifically trained sf author.

This leaves just two more stories to reread in the collection.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Must Reads

When I was a teenager in the 1960's, I wanted to read everything by Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Robert Heinlein and Clifford Simak. (Heinlein had not yet completely degenerated.) I caught up with Simak, read his, at that time, most recent publication and then forgot about him although he continued churning out novels, probably as many again after that. I thought that he had become repetitive and self-parodying. James Blish, whom I continued to revere, disliked Simak's three instances of talking dogs.

Poul Anderson was not then among my Must Reads. I read some of his works but not others. Now, of the writers mentioned so far, only Blish and Anderson are Must Reads and Anderson, because of his volume and range, is the only one about whom I can blog indefinitely.

After the 1960's, he wrote a lot more and my respect for what he had written increased. Once, when I browsed a novel of his, the blurb described an interstellar spaceship crew returning to Earth to discover that a Social Welfare Party had gained office in their absence. To me at the time, this did not sound sufficiently new so I returned it to the bookshop shelf. Let me end with a question: can any reader of this blog identify that novel from the description given here? Or maybe I am mistaken and it was not an Anderson novel? 

Comparing Histories

Robert Heinlein's Future History presents, among other things:

the first Moon landing in The Man Who Sold The Moon;
interplanetary travel in The Green Hills Of Earth;
a future revolution in Revolt In 2100;
interstellar travel in Methuselah's Children and Orphans Of The Sky.

One of Poul Anderson's short future histories, Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984), presents interplanetary travel, a future revolution and interstellar travel in a single volume of seven stories, six Interludes, a Prologue and an Epilogue.

Heinlein's interplanetary travelers colonize the Moon, Mars and Venus and, after the revolution, move an asteroid. Anderson's colonize the Asteroid Belt, descend into the Jovian atmosphere and, after their revolution, also move an asteroid.

Heinlein shows us the first two interstellar spaceships and two extrasolar planets whereas Anderson, on this occasion, shows us only the first interstellar spaceship still in flight - although he more than compensates for this in many other works.

Surprisingly, Isaac Asimov's equivalent volume is I, Robot, with experimental robots on Mercury, a space station and the asteroids and a first interstellar spaceship. Larry Niven's early Known Space stories catalogue the exploration of Mercury, Venus, Pluto and Mars and the colonization of the Belt; interstellar travel comes later.

The fifth story in Tales Of The Flying Mountains, "Que Donn'rez Vous?," presents a technical problem, how to rescue a man whose spaceship is sinking into the Jovian atmosphere. In each of the preceding stories, there was a technical problem that was also political or military whereas this one is merely human. I will have to read on to learn the solution.

"Jupiter's surface was warm enough to have oceans like Earth's." (p. 177)

As I commented on Anderson's earlier novel, Three Worlds To Conquer, I understand that more recent data paint a different picture, i.e., that Jupiter is now thought to have no solid surface. Instead, there may or may not be a dense solid core. Above the core, if there is one, are an inner liquid layer and an outer gaseous one although with no definite boundary between them. The gas just gets denser with increasing depth. Not really a planet as we think of them. Perhaps more like a star though not as hot. 

Ramble With A Gamblin' Man II

In "Ramble With A Gambling Man" (Tales Of The Flying Mountains, New York, 1984), Poul Anderson shows us an asterite (asteroid-dwelling) business man running a palatial household with several domestic servants, then explains how this archaic-seeming social arrangement might develop.

The earliest asteroid colonists often had to work manually and also had to be both self-reliant and mutually helpful for survival so they developed the idea that the economically successful were morally obliged to employ the less successful and that domestic service was not degrading whereas not to contribute would be.

As usual, the technical/political solution to the problem in the story is neat and occurs to one of the central characters in a moment of inspiration while discussing the problem. In order to cooperate more effectively with the interfering North American government, an asteroid must be moved gyrogravitically to a more accessible orbit. However, as had been carefully explained earlier in the story, asteroids were legally defined by their orbits. Thus, when the asteroid has changed its orbit and thus its legal status, an Asteroid Republican spaceship protected by warcraft, after secret collusion with the magnates of the asteroid, lands and claims sovereignty. Further, the asteroid's population votes overwhelmingly for the Republic. The North American government is diplomatically persuaded to accept a fait accompli.

Finally, moving such a large but terraformed and inhabited object proves that interstellar travel is possible. Thus, two strands of the history, greater independence from Earth and extrasolar colonisation, have been advanced simultaneously but the latter by accident.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Ramble With A Gamblin' Man

Two surprises in the fourth of the seven stories in Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984):

for the first time in the series, there is a second appearance by a character who had first appeared in an earlier story - the woman who did not get the man in the second story returns, now married to someone else and with a ten year old son but living in another part of the Belt;

unexpectedly to the reader, this part of the Belt, one of the Jovian Trojan clusters, stayed with Earth instead of going to the new Asteroid Republic after the war and therefore is still subject to unwelcome governmental attention from the mother planet - which will be dealt with how? By another revolution or by some other clever outwitting of the bureaucrats?

I will read on to find out and will probably realise at the end of the story that the nature of the solution had been implied from the beginning. The preceding Interlude had ended by implying that the characters in the story will turn out not to have been in control of events, thus that their solution had been fortuitous, and secondly that the outcome whatever it is had led to the first interstellar expedition which is the setting of the Interludes where the historical events described in the stories are discussed and analysed.

We have already come a long way from the beginning of the first story, set on Earth, in which gyrogravitics had been nothing more than a crank theory but we are still merely at the half way point with Earth-Belt issues not yet entirely resolved and the launching of the interstellar expedition as yet three stories in the future.

For the first time in the series, we see the surface of a gyrogravitically terraformed asteroid: there is Earth gravity and atmosphere with plants and water but the horizon remains close; in addition, the Sun is remote and the atmosphere, although dense enough at the surface, is too shallow to prevent the sky from being dark with some stars visible. Would you like to live there? Anderson's characters like it because it gives them freedoms that they can no longer have on Earth. 

Say It With Flowers

OK. The third story in Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984), "Say It With Flowers," describes an incident during the revolutionary war and ends after the Asteroid Republic has won its independence.

 "Interlude 3" informs us that after that the asterites made great advances in " 'Invention, exploration, construction...' " and that " '...the Republic saw a brilliant era.' " (pp. 127, 128) So the fourth story, "Ramble with a Gamblin' Man," this one written for the collection, will show us something of that. As I said, a systematic future history.

So far, appropriately, there has been no continuity of characters between the stories. The hero is history.

PS. Retroactively, we realize that the title of this story had told us what really happened in it.

The Rogue

In Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984), "The Rogue," the second of the seven stories, describes only the first of the incidents that led to the Asteroid Revolution so it looks like there are more to come. The story contains technical, military, economic and political complexities so I was right to delay reading it until I had started to feel a bit better.

Gyrogravitics, whose role is minimal in this story, is the only technological innovation here. It is a means of gravitational control - the equivalent of Well's Cavorite, Blish's graviton polarity generators ("spindizzies") or the "gravitrons" in another Anderson series. (While we are on the subject of fictional technologies, "3V" is mentioned as a background detail as it was in the last couple of Anderson works that I read.) Apart from the "geegees," or "Emetts" (named after their inventor), all the technology in the story is feasible as of the time of writing, as far as I can tell, not being scientifically educated.

A couple of political issues are mentioned but this is the decisive one for the Revolution:

" 'What the new government wants is something like the eighteenth-century English policy toward America. Keep the colonies as a source of raw materials and as a market for manufactured goods, but don't let them develop a domestic industry.' " (p. 85)

OK. I support the Revolution.

Use of spaceships loaded with dense Jovian atmosphere as a weapon is familiar from Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer and I forgot to mention when discussing that novel that a spaceship functioning like a bathysphere in the Jovian atmosphere was familiar from "Brake" in the Psychotechnic History. This is not to say that Anderson repeats himself ad nauseam. Far from it. Related ideas are put to different good effect in each new work.

The end of "The Rogue" makes us think that its viewpoint character wound up with one of the women in the story whereas, at the end of "Interlude 2," we realize that he wound up with the other one.

Colonising The Belt

"Oregon was long behind him...the coasts where he had fished and the woods where he had tramped. No loss. There'd always been too many tourists. You couldn't escape from people on Earth. Cold and vacuum raw rock and everything, the Belt was better." (Poul Anderson, Tales Of The Flying Mountains, New York, 1984, p. 47)

Despite cold, vacuum and raw rock, the Belt was better than coasts and woods? Really? Some science fiction assumes that, given the chance, a significant number of people will willingly colonise the Moon or the Asteroids. Those celestial bodies will be good places for people with the right skills and aptitudes to explore and exploit but to live among cold, vacuum and raw rock?

As it happens, we know that these Asterites are possessed of a technology that will enable them to terraform even the most inhospitable lump of rock so their prospects are not uniformly bleak. Otherwise, if I had to live off Earth, I would want it to be inside a spacious orbiting habitat with plants, water and recycled atmosphere.

In Anderson's later Harvest Of Stars future history, the Selenarchs are at home in artificial environments on the Moon and in the Outer Solar System but that is because they are genetically adapted to live in lunar gravity plus which their knowledge, technology, energy sources, creativity and ingenuity enable them to transform their enclosed low gravity environments into places of wonder with open spaces, plants, birds and fountains.  

Health Report

Thank you for all the page views, over a hundred a day recently, and sorry that I am not able to generate a daily post for the blog. I have been laid up with a cold for two days and needing easier entertainment, so I have watched three Smallville TV episodes, started rereading a Smallville novel and posted on the Comics Appreciation blog. In the image, you behold Lancaster Castle and Priory Church, just above Blades St where I live.

Rereading Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains, I had arrived at the eve of the Asteroid Revolution and felt unable, with a bad cold, to cope with the military and political complexities of the situation but will return to it soon. After that, there are five remaining stories in the collection and I have no memory, after all this time, of what happens in them. A welcome extra dimension is provided by the Interludes in which an Advisory Committee of extrasolar colonists discusses how to teach Asteroid history to succeeding generations. This single volume is the most systematically conceived and executed of Anderson's nine future history series.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Flying Mountains IV

In Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984), having been told about the Terrestrial politics that led to the gyrogravitic technology that led to asteroid colonisation, we will now be told about the revolution that established the Asteroid Republic and will thus return to politics, now interplanetary. This is a very systematic future history.

That it is a future history, not just a futuristic series, is established when the narrator informs us:

"Thanks to antisenescence, we have a number of persons aboard who experienced those days of more than a hundred years ago." (p. 43)

Thus, the series covers more time than a single normal lifespan.

("Antisenescence" also occurs in Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, which covers thousands of years although no one in it lives that long.)

The narrator refers to the spaceship Tyrfing, obviously a Norse name, incorporating Tyr, the war god. Thinking that Tyrfing sounded familiar and wanting to check its source, I googled "Poul Anderson Tyrfing" and was referred to my own article, "Tyrfing," on this blog, September 2012. The cursed sword Tyrfing featured in an Eddaic poem, in a Saga and in Anderson's heroic fantasy novel, The Broken Sword. Now, a spaceship is named after it in Anderson's sf series, Flying Mountains.

A character refers to "Mohammedanism" (p. 15) whereas Muslims of course prefer "Islam."

Humor III

OK. The humor in Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984) loses me when it talks about street battles between the People's Union for Righteous Excellence and the Friends Upholding Closer Kinship. But something else has been at the corner of my attention from the beginning of the first story, "Nothing Succeeds Like Failure," and has just come to the foreground.

Junius Harleman, chief of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, wants to prolong the life of NASA just long enough for him to have time to get the directorship of a more viable agency so he accepts the proposal for a low budget gyrogravitics project which, against all expectation, does open up the Solar System for colonization. In Robert Heinlein's Future History, the "Man who sold the Moon," DD Harriman, is an entrepreneur who invests his money, time and energy into getting mankind onto the Moon and into space.

So Harriman gets mankind out into the Solar System by his personal efforts whereas Harleman gets mankind out there by accident and the similarity between their names cannot be a coincidence. The joke continues as the gyrogravitics team is assembled:

sceptical specialists welcoming the opportunity to use expensive equipment for basic research;
"...graduate students desperate for thesis material..." (p. 30);
engineers unable to hold down better jobs.

And yet: "Harleman felt rather proud when he had finished rounding up that crew. It hadn't been easy..."! (p. 30)

Humor II

In Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984):

"Carter sneered, 'And you'll make your spaceships weightless and float them right off Earth, eh?' "(p. 29)

We are still at the Congressional Committee meeting and Carter, having echoed ER Burroughs, is now effectively sneering at HG Wells - but Anderson is not sneering. As CS Lewis explained in a note to one volume of his Ransom Trilogy, superficially disparaging references to literary predecessors like Wells are in fact complementary acknowledgements. (Another example is a time travel story pointing out that time machines are unlikely to be invented nowadays but they could be here now if they have come from the future.)

Greek dramatists incorporated into their scripts criticisms of their predecessors; sf writers can do likewise. Anderson can give us a more detailed rationale of anti-gravity than Wells did. Now that we have reached it, let's summarize the rationale. We need to bear in mind that there is an element of humor here because a crank theory is being presented as a way to extend NASA funding for a little longer without any suspicion that the theory is going to work.

A generator will create gravitational fields by means of nuclear resonance rotations. The "gyrogravitic" drive will react against the entire mass of the ambient (?) universe. Hovering will be almost free. Accelerating or maneuvering will require minimal power from any energy source. Ships will be silent and unpolluting with interior gyrogravitic fields providing weight and cushioning against pressure while shielding from particles and meteors. And the cost is modest so the overall NASA budget can be significantly reduced...


I knew that Poul Anderson occasionally dabbled in humor but I have been surprised to find some in Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984). The director of NASA, addressing a Congressional Committee says:

" ' would appear evident to my perception of the situation that the aegis of this distinguished group is superimposed on the intricacy of era-characteristic fields of inquiry falling more under the rubric of basic philosophical justifications, while simultaneously concerning ourselves not to lose sight of the over-all necessity for action-oriented orchestration of innovative inputs.' " (p. 26)

There is plenty more like this but I limited myself to quoting a single sentence. John Wither, the very distinguished and gentlemanly Deputy Director of the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments in CS Lewis' That Hideous Strength was a master of such discourse and would have felt very much at home at such a Committee meeting.

Secondly, the Committee includes a "Carter of Virginia." (p. 27) Science fiction readers remember the Virginian John Carter who traveled to Mars by astral projection in novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And the next thing that Committee member Carter says is:

" 'Anitigravity belongs with witches on broom-sticks. I could reach Mars easier astral projection.'" (pp. 27-28)

- so, if we were in any doubt about what Anderson meant by "Carter of Virginia," our doubt is dispelled!

Flying Mountains III

Two points to note so far. (I have started to reread Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984) and have also looked ahead a bit.) Winston P Sanders is a joke pen name that Anderson used now and again, for example on four of these stories when they appeared in Analog. Correct me if I am wrong but I think Sanders was quoted as an authority in Fire Time? (And, similarly, a "Pander Oulson" was referred to somewhere in the Dune series.)

Surprisingly, Sanders comes on stage as the first person narrator of the Prologue and presumably also of the remaining interstitial material in this collection/novelization. As a new member of the Advisory Council on the spaceship Astra, just leaving the Solar System for Alpha Centauri at sub-light speed, he is a convenient foil for the older and established Council members. They can explain their situation and dilemmas to us through him. The Prologue is eight pages long. Thus, it and the remaining add-ons form a substantial part of the text.

Secondly, the first story, "Nothing Succeeds Like Failure," is one of the three that had not been published before. Like the Prologue, it has been written for the book. In fact, it is also a prologue since, set on Earth, it recounts both the science and the politics behind the colonization of the asteroids. Therefore, only six of the seven stories are going to be set in the Asteroid Republic. As in Anderson's Rustum History and his The Star Fox, we have to be told how it all began so the first story in the series precedes the events that the series is about, just as James Blish, after writing a series about flying cities, then wrote the prequel, a short novel describing the two discoveries, antigravity and anti-agathics, that had enabled cities to fly between the stars.

Neat Ending

I just finished rereading Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966). The ending is a neat solution to two problems. On Ganymede, a space battleship loyal to an overthrown Terrestrial dictatorship has secretly taken over the colony where its commander plans to manufacture weapons before re-attacking Earth. On Jupiter, Theor, friend of the Ganymedean colonists, leads an army that is about to be overwhelmed by invaders.

How to solve both problems? Mark Fraser, Ganymedean colonist, hijacks an as yet unflown ship designed to land on Jupiter. Chased by a missile, he descends into the Jovian atmosphere and bounces along a denser atmospheric layer that destroys the missile. Then he simply lands on the invaders.

Next, he returns to Ganymede, pretending to surrender, and exits the hijacked ship, having set the autopilot to fly the ship, its hold now full of dense and explosive Jovian atmosphere, straight at the battleship. Solution to second problem and end of novel. As I say, neat.

Ironically, Mark had thought, "Life isn't a story book...There are no happy endings. It just goes on." (p. 136) For the reader, the story does end happily. For Mark, life goes on. He returns to his wife and family while the woman with whom he has shared the Jovian adventure feels it is better that she return to Earth.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Flying Mountains II

I am trying to finish rereading Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer and to start rereading his Tales Of The Flying Mountains (New York, 1984) but am surrounded by the interruptions of life like helping a friend to move house, venturing into the cold to buy a takeaway meal for my family and watching bizarre events at home and abroad on the television news.

Flying Mountains I really have read only once maybe twenty nine years ago. Looking ahead, I note that it has an elaborate structure with perhaps three layers of narrative. It contains seven stories of which we are informed that four had previously "...appeared, in somewhat different Analog..." (p. 4). This suggests that maybe the remaining three were written for the book? These seven are about asteroid colonization.

There are also a Prologue, an Epilogue and six numbered Interludes, making eight shorter passages in addition to the seven stories. In these shorter passages, extrasolar colonists discuss how to teach the history of the asteroid colonies to their children.

In Larry Niven's Known Space future history, the Asteroid Belt, called simply "the Belt," is colonized entirely with technology that could be envisaged when the stories were written, e.g., a hollowed out asteroid is spun to generate centrifugal force in place of gravity. Anderson's extrasolar colonists are still en route at sub-light speed. My point is that Flying Mountains need not have involved any technological innovations, just the application of existing space technology on a larger scale.

However, as I remember it, the asteroids are colonized by using some sort of gravity control involving the artificial generation of terrestroid gravitational fields on asteroidal surfaces. Although not FTL, gravity control is a very big premise indeed. I will reread with interest both Anderson's rationale for "...gyrogravitics..." and his colonists discussions of how to teach history as well as the seven individual stories (p. 29).

Flying Mountains

When I remarked a few posts ago that I had almost exhausted Poul Anderson's series for rereading purposes, I was temporarily forgetting Tales Of The Flying Mountains, which I will tackle next if I can find my copy which should be shelved in a room where my granddaughter, Yossi, is currently exercising.

I remarked much earlier that Anderson's future histories form a conceptual sequence that sounds like a single series although it is in fact eight (I would now say nine) distinct series. Slightly revising my earlier characterization of this sequence, its constituent series are:

The Psychotechnic History: stories set in successive periods of a time chart of future civilizations;
The History of Technic Civilisation: stories showing the rise and fall of future civilizations;
Maurai: post-nuclear Earth;
Flying Mountains: asteroid colonization as recorded by the first extrasolar colonists;
Rustum and Directorate: extrasolar colonization;
Kith: interstellar trade and galactic exploration;
Harvest of Stars: artificial intelligence conflicting with extrasolar colonists;
Genesis: artificial intelligence exploring the galaxy and recreating extinct humanity. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Jovian Epic

In Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966), the Jovian Theor makes an epic journey. Fleeing from enemies who are of a different species, he climbs a mountain, attaches himself to a parachute-like plant and flies a mile up, above the clouds, not only seeing the sun for the first time ever but also encountering, also for the first time, the legendary Hidden Folk.

Winged, bipedal, beaked, tool-using, dwelling only in the upper atmosphere and absorbing ammonia either from food or from clouds, this very different but also intelligent branch of Jovian evolution with only animalcules as common ancestors has built a town of nests on a vast mass of bubbles that are probably plant bladders.

With linguistic communication impossible, Theor negotiates by signs passage to the top of a volcano in exchange for his knife. The encounter begins and ends in only one of the nineteen chapters of the novel. I have tried to summarise the essential points briefly here in order to convey something of the economy with which Anderson describes this imaginative odyssey. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


In science fiction, some items of futuristic technology become taken-for-granted background cliches:

flying cars;
hand weapons called "blasters;"
force screens;
three dimensional TV called "3V;"
an interrogation device called either a "hypnoprobe" or "psychoprobe."

(I think this list should be longer but I can't think of any other examples right now.)

Asimov's Galactic Imperials use psychoprobes; Anderson's Terran Imperials use hypno-. Both devises extract the truth and can destroy the mind if misused. Either we are not told exactly how they work or the explanation is fairly low key but we get an idea of what they are from how they are referred to.

Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966) is set in a nearer future and a different timeline than his Terran Empire. Nevertheless, one character says:

" 'They don't have psychoprobe equipment, or I'd never have fooled them. But they do have a couple of tough political officers who know how to, to interrogate.' " (p. 80)

Here, Anderson uses the Asimovian term. This signals to the reader that the character is referring to something much like a hypnoprobe but not in the same timeline as the Terran Empire. There is an underlying assumption that such technology will be developed in future. But, if the interrogators have not brought such equipment with them, then why mention it? Assumptions need to be challenged, especially in sf. The development of background cliches, including even the term "Terran" (not used outside sf) instead of "Terrestrial," contributed to making sf a literary ghetto with regular readers who knew the lingo and occasional or would-be readers maybe repelled by it.

Having said that, I love Anderson's Terran Empire as a fictional setting and the hypnoprobing of Dominic Flandry's son contributes to the dramatic climax of A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows. Anderson is one writer who could usually make cliches work for instead of against him. But he did not need the reference to "psychoprobe" in Three Worlds To Conquer.

Ammonia Glaciers

In Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966), after describing oceans of ammonia on Jupiter, Poul Anderson presents some more information about this fictitious Jovian environment but I cannot fully picture what he says:

when air masses are pushed down from the poles, the surface becomes so cold that ammonia freezes;
such glaziers flow quickly in Jovian gravity;
denser than liquid, they break up and sink on reaching the sea;
in shallow ammonia, the broken glazier chunks melt quickly;
therefore, a torrent pours from the fjord where Theor, paddling on flotsam, had hoped to land so he is unable to enter;
however, by lying flat on a smaller piece of flotsam, he manages to mount a wave and surfboard to shore.

So a torrent prevents him from paddling to shore but a wave carries him there? This sounds contradictory to me but maybe some surfboarders among Anderson fans can explain how it works?

Sea Ammonia

This is the sort of detail that we read Poul Anderson for. Sea water contains too much salt for us to drink it but, in Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966), "...the mineral content of sea ammonia..." is too little to prevent Jovians from drinking it. (p. 72)

In fact, there is even a little nourishment in sea ammonia, although not enough to live on. In the upper atmosphere, sunlight irradiates methane and ammonia, forming amino acids and other organic materials which descend to below the level where ultraviolet radiation would break them down. Some even enter the sea where they support microbes that Jovians can digest.

Incredible. Anderson casually tells us this after describing a battle in which our Jovian viewpoint character, by striking with a pike, kills one of the great sea beasts commanded by his enemies. Anyone dismissing Anderson as merely a blood and thunder man is missing the scientific content permeating his action-adventure fiction.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Three Worlds

I feel obliged to post again because page views today are already 80, twice as many as yesterday. However, I have not much to add at present. Today, I have revised Latin, performed chores, walked, meditated, eaten, watched a Smallville TV episode and reread to the mid point of Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966).

Human beings fight on Ganymede while Jovians fight on Jupiter. Anderson always describes combat well. There is one big surprise: a Jovian defensive fleet learns in battle that the invaders of a different species command large sea beasts which attack, destroy ships and slaughter those trying to swim to shore. Imagine what that would look like on screen.

The three worlds of the title must be Earth, Ganymede and Jupiter. The battle on Ganymede may settle whether a counterrevolution will succeed on Earth.

The Jovian Theor conversing with the Ganymedean Mark through a communicator hanging from his neck is like someone whose lucky charm really does give him access to another world. Theor is a Reeve whose people are free and need not heed him. Hearing that the government on Earth had been overthrown, he asks:

" 'How could a leadership maintain itself in the first instance when not to the benefit of the people?' " (p. 39)

- and does not understand when he is told that some Terrestrials value security higher than freedom. Like Jonathan Swift, who imagined fantastic islands rather than other planets, Anderson uses an alien perspective to comment on human affairs.

Addendum, just after midnight: 85 page views yesterday and one already today. Thank you for all the interest.

12.30: 17 page views in half an hour. I need to turn in.

Theor POV

Chapter 5 of Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966) is narrated from the point of view of the Jovian, Theor:

"Theor looked across long gray waves to the shore." (p. 36)

However, some of what he sees is directly described by the omniscient narrator to a Terrestrial reader. We are informed that the baggage animals, "kanniks," are "...vaguely like six-legged, squamous tapirs..." (p. 36) Obviously, this is not Theor's description of them.

How do Theor's Jupiter and the real Jupiter differ from Earth? Earth has an oxygen atmosphere, a solid surface much of it covered by liquid water and a dense molten core. Theor's Jupiter has a "...monstrous atmospheric ocean - mostly hydrogen..." in which he rides a beast that flies or swims, turbulent elements, a "...queasy...surface..." much of it covered by liquid ammonia, and, presumably, a dense core of some kind. (pp. 21, 36)

My layman's impression of current scientific understanding is that Jupiter comprises turbulent gasses increasing in density all the way down to a very dense core but without any solid surface on which masses of liquid could congregate? Thus, life, if there is any, would float, fly or swim through the "atmospheric ocean" but would not have legs with which to walk on a (nonexistent) surface?

Sunday, 17 February 2013


How alien are the Jovians in Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966)?

(i) Beneath the hydrogen-helium atmosphere, the only humanly visible illumination is frequent lightning flashes revealing mile-high cloud banks but Jovian eyes, three times as wide as a man's, see by infrared and the longest red wavelengths.

(ii) Reeves are primarily not priests, magicians, judges or generals but master engineers protecting civilisation from wind, rain, hail, lightning, quake, flood, geyser, firespout and stone-crush.

(iii) The Reeveling Theor stands on the back of a flying/swimming, mantis-like forgar, his four feet held by stirrups.

(iv) Theor, male, is fifty inches high, naked, hairless, red, tailed, striped, three-toed, four-fingered, with a comb, a mouth for eating and drinking, a pouch of vibrating muscles for speech, slits for breathing hydrogen and chemo-sensor antennae.

(v) A demimale has physical differences and wears gaudy clothes.

(vi) The three sexes are equal in Nyarr but not among the Ulunt-Khazul.

(vii) Increased genetic diversity compensates for lower irradiation.

(viii) A Jovian ocean is thousands of miles of storm-swept liquid ammonia.

(ix) Jovians can see neither their moons nor the sun.

(x) Houses are pits with thin inner walls that will not crush dwellers during quakes, with roofs of living plants dense enough to resist weather but yielding to wind and "...lit by phosphorescent blossoms..." (p. 27)

Ganymede And Jupiter

In Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966):

"Someday we'll warm [Ganymedean] rock with nuclear energy, and crush it into soil, and blanket it with atmosphere, and turn this whole world green." (p. 13)

So terraforming is still in the future for Anderson's colonists whereas Heinlein's, in Farmer In The Sky, can be farmers because they are also terraformers.

When probes to the Jovian surface establish that there is intelligent life, further devices are sent to:

"...start with arithmetic sums in beeps and end with a verbal language." (p. 18)

Carl Sagan in Contact makes it seem easy to start with arithmetic - transmit:

a single beep;
an arbitrary symbol;
a second single beep;
a second arbitrary symbol;
two beeps.

Having thus taught someone your symbols for "plus" and "equals," you can then transmit the rest of mathematics, followed by engineering instructions but how quickly can you proceed to " Esperanto for the two races..."? (p. 18) The fact that Terrestrials and Jovians cannot pronounce each others' speech is the least of the problems. I think that conceptual differences would be more problematic. However, Mark Fraser  and Theor of Nyarr converse as easily as two human beings.

Remembering that Theor had said (something like):

" 'Two different breeds of thinking animal have met.' " (p. 19)

- I had envisaged independent evolutions on different Jovian continents. However, the truth was less spectacular. Fraser " '...suspect[s] you're of the same genus.' " (p. 19)

It scarcely matters that this novel is "confined," so to say, to the Solar System because these Jovians are at least as imaginative as any of the same author's extrasolar species. Having said that, all that I can specifically remember after all this time is that they are tri-sexual: female must be impregnated by demi-male soon after male. Jovian society has parallels with Terrestrial: receiving the communication device -

" '...changed the nature of the Reeveship, back toward the ancient function of conductor in magical rites...'" (p. 19)

Chapters 1 and 2 are narrated from Mark Fraser's point of view but I am about to reread Chapter 3 which is Theor pov.

Social Complexity

It is illuminating to read some history in parallel with science fiction. For example, reading about the liberation of Italy in World War II shows that the complexity of society is reflected in the complexity of any struggle for its future.

How many factions:

collaborated with the Nazis;
cooperated with the Allies;
advocated merely awaiting the arrival of the Allies;
worked for national liberation independently of the Allies?

How many conflicts were there between all these groups? There were not simply two sides in the conflict.

Next, we need to reflect that a similar complexity would necessarily exist in any fictitious future society where similar struggles are shown to occur. Early in Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966), we are told that an Army of Liberation led by a group called the "Sam Halls" has overthrown a dictatorship in the United States back on Earth. (Our perspective is that of the colonists on Ganymede, at least one of whom had supported the dictatorship although most had gone there to get away from it.)

How many other groups were involved in the conflict on Earth and with what conflicting aims?

Robert Heinlein shows some of this complexity in Revolt In 2100. When the Cabal has overthrown the Angels of the Lord, the Onward Christian Soldiers express their disagreement with the timing of the Revolution and the Federation, which does not automatically recognise the new regime, will not authorise the use of nuclear weapons to settle a civil war. Willingly suspending disbelief, we are able to imagine that we are reading some real history.

Echoes Of Heinlein II

In Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966):

" 'If the Sam Halls really can establish the kind of cooperative peace authority they promise, why, that solves the whole problem...' " (p. 11)

A cooperative peace authority preventing nuclear war would be the equivalent of the Space Patrol in Robert Heinlein's "The Long Watch," part of his Future History, and Space Cadet, part of his Juvenile Future History.

The Histories share:

the Patrol and its hero, John Ezra Dahlquist;
Rhysling, the Blind Singer of the Spaceways, author of "The Green Hills of Earth";
a lunar family called Stone;
frog-like Venerians;
contemplative Martians.

The concern about how to prevent nuclear war was an issue when these works were written. (Since then, the issue has become how to prevent Iran or North Korea from following the example of the Great Powers by acquiring nuclear weapons.) In these works, sf writers were addressing the issue of already existing nuclear weapons and thus were not, on this occasion, extrapolating future technology. However, both Wells and Heinlein had projected nuclear weaponry before it existed. In "Solution Unsatisfactory," not part of any series, Heinlein predicted a nuclear stand-off and could offer no solution to it. Maybe it is significant that this story did not have a sequel.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Echoes Of Heinlein

Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966) features a colony on Ganymede like Robert Heinlein's Farmer In The Sky and a successful revolution against an American dictatorship like Heinlein's Revolt In 2100.

After twelve years on Ganymede, Anderson's Mark Fraser considers returning to Earth but then is unsure because:

"...if Ganymede's rock and ice were hard to strike roots in, they gripped those roots all the more tightly." (pp. 8-9)

This echoes Heinlein's story, "It's Great To Be Back!" A young couple reach the end of their contracted time in the lunar colony and thankfully return to Earth only to find that they are no longer at home there so, at the end of the story, they are back on the Moon, saying, "It's great to be back!"

Having as yet reread Three Worlds To Conquer only as far as p. 11, I will now watch out for any other Heinlein parallels. Another such could be that there are Jovians, inhabitants of Jupiter, both in this Anderson novel and in Heinlein's Future History. However, Anderson's Jovians are major characters whereas the Future History Jovians are merely mentioned.

"It's Great to be Back!" and Revolt In 2100 belong to the Future History whereas Farmer In The Sky belongs to Heinlein's alternative or juvenile Future History along with Red Planet, Space Cadet, The Rolling Stones and Time For The Stars. As I remarked previously, Anderson's History of Technic Civilisation parallels the Future History but on a vaster spatiotemporal scale.

Three Worlds To Conquer

I am starting to reread Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966) by Poul Anderson. My copy is a Mayflower-Dell paperback that cost three shillings and six pence. I have not found its cover on the Internet.

p. 1, an extract;
p. 2, titles of two other Mayflower-Dell paperbacks by Anderson;
p. 3, title page;
p. 4, publishing details;
p. 5, dedication to Gordon Dickson;
p. 6, blank;
pp. 7-142, the novel;
pp. 143-144, other books published by Mayflower-Dell.

Page 7 establishes that the novel features interplanetary but not interstellar travel. Glimpsing the stars while approaching Ganymede, the viewpoint character thinks:

"...I'd like to know what's out yonder. But he wouldn't live that long. And it didn't matter. There was sufficient mystery in the Solar System for a lot of human lifetimes yet..." (p. 7)
It is also soon established that a dictatorship has just been overthrown back in the United States so that Anderson's characters are in a similar situation to Robert Heinlein's at the end of his Revolt In 2100. We are about to read about the effects of Terrestrial politics in the Outer Solar System. Since I have previously read this novel perhaps once decades ago, I must read on to learn more...

Star Time

Poul Anderson's The Star Fox and Fire Time are not quite a future history but they are a futuristic sf series with three installments in the first volume and a single novel as the second. What would be an appropriate overall title for the two volumes considered as a unit?

They are not a Gunnar Heim series because Heim, although the hero of the first volume, merely cameos in the second. FTL in both works is based on the theory of a man called Mach but, unlike James Blish's theoretical genius, Adolph Haertel, Mach does not appear and is barely mentioned so this is not a "Mach series."

Not Fire Fox. Star Time? The latter suggestion combines the two most significant words used in sf titles. An Anderson collection is called Time And Stars and one of Robert Heinlein's Scribner Juveniles is called Time For The Stars.

I have just finished rereading Fire Time (London, 1977). Just as Guion, the guardian of the history of the Time Patrol, appears only in the brief introductory or intermediate sections of The Shield Of Time, Tribunal president Daniel Espina appears only in the Foreword and Afterword of Fire Time. He is one of Anderson's canny statesman characters. The point of The Star Fox is that some wars are necessary to prevent continued aggression whereas one point of Fire Time is that other wars can be, as Espina says:

" '...senseless, bootless, justiceless, finishless...' " (p. 252)

Here is one freaky detail. At Espina's house:

"The door opened to show an attendant, live and nonhuman." (p. 7)

This abrupt appearance of a nonhuman being is one of the details that quickly establishes, on the first page of the text, that we are reading a futuristic science fiction novel. There have already been references to a vehicle called a flyer, to a guardian satellite and to Earth as "'s mother planet..." (p. 7)

The nonhuman attendant, having been introduced, is twice referred to as "...the being..." but not described (pp. 7,8). What does it look like? Is it even humanoid? (Three species of non-humanoid extraterrestrials occur later in the novel.)

We barely notice because our attention is focused on what is happening to the human characters. But mentioning a nonhuman being and leaving it undescribed can be a technique in horror fiction: let the reader imagine the worst. If Fire Time were to be adapted into a visual medium, then something would have to be done about the appearance of this "being" - and the director or author would have complete freedom since Anderson gives them nothing to work on.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Short Stories Or Novels?

Like some other people that I have met, I prefer novels and series to single short stories or collections, especially, in the case of Poul Anderson, since my main impression of his collections is that their contents overlap far too much.

Stories can be collected on almost any basis:

(i) a still living author's newest or most recently published stories;
(ii) a representative sample of his stories;
(iii) some editor's idea of his "Best";
(iv) award winners;
(v) stories that have been voted on in some way;
(vi) some publisher's idea for a new collection of old stories;
(vii) stories that form a series;
(viii) thematically related stories on time travel, interstellar travel, alien contact, future warfare etc.


items published under (i) can reappear anywhere under (ii) to (viii);
for at least one sf author, James Blish, there are two versions of his "Best" (iii);
I prefer series (vii);
a single story might appear in more than one theme collection (viii);
theme collections can be "samey";
a critic could read a theme collection in order to assess how each of the stories addresses their common theme;
however, following my own line of least resistance, I am likely to continue rereading Anderson's novels for a while longer.

I have almost come to the end of his series. (I am not much interested in "Hoka.") A while back, I did comment on four "past" short stories, two prehistorical and two historical, because I imagined these as being collected together in some future Complete Works edition.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Second World War

This blog is about me reading or rereading Poul Anderson's works but I sometimes read other stuff and mention it here to compare it with Anderson. I have just attended a book launch for A People's History of the Second World War by Donny Gluckstein.

Anderson's fiction is full of history though usually further back than WWII. However, some Time Patrolmen visit London in 1944 and another reflects on how easy it would be for a time traveler to delete that war from the timeline by preventing the conception of Adolf Hitler. (Stephen Fry wrote a novel about this but, as usually happens, I disagreed with his logic of time travel.)

The first thing to say is that words, whether historical or fictional or both historical and fictional, are abstractions and simplifications from a concrete and complex reality. "Concrete" does not mean "solid." Reality as experienced comprises solids, liquids, gasses, energy and mental states. These last, even if grounded in mass-energy and organism-environment interactions, have distinct properties and can be imagined, even if not experienced, as existing separately.

"Redness," a single property abstracted from many objects, is an abstraction whereas an object, comprising a totality of properties, is concrete. The "concrete" object might be a particle whose properties do not include that directly perceived tangibility and impenetrability that we call solidity. Also, objects of experience include mirages, holograms and imaginings and thus are a broader category than material objects.

To verbalize any aspect of reality is to abstract some of its properties as against others and is thus also to simplify but we know this and should not be misled, especially not by basing our understanding of the War on reading a single book which, in any case, necessarily quotes from many others. Anderson's fictional accounts of wars convey something of their horror and complexity. His characters sometimes die horribly while also continuing to have different perspectives on conflict.

According to this new book by Gluckstein, there were effectively two Second World Wars. Politicians and generals fought to maintain the social status quo (Churchill wanted a thousand year Empire!) and afterwards to redivide the world among the newly dominant powers (no longer including Britain after all) whereas many people on the ground, for example in the resistance movements, fought for a better world, in fact achieving for example an end to colonialism and a British National Health Service (with Churchill out of office). European Communist Party members schizophrenically fought both Wars, expressing the aspirations of their people while serving the cynical power politics of Stalin's foreign policy.

Combining Anderson and Gluckstein, I envisage a group of time travelers doing more than merely preventing Hitler. Let us imagine:

an early defeat of the pre-Nazi Freikorps by their political opponents;
continued social transformation in Germany;
fewer hostile military interventions destroying the already small industrial base of the new Russian Republic;
German support for that Republic;
preservation of democracy combined with social transformation in Russia;
no Naziism, Second World War, holocaust, nuclear weapons, Middle Eastern conflicts, local dictatorships strategically supported by contending superpowers or Russian bureaucracy destroying democracy to re-industrialize but bankrupting itself with the arms race;
no subsequent War on Terror;
thus, a peaceful twentieth century (after the Great War).

But, having failed to achieve global peace in the twentieth century, let us build it in the twenty first!

Monday, 11 February 2013


What would an intelligent being do with a tail? Poul Anderson presents at least three answers. His Merseians sit on theirs and touch them as a greeting. When Dominic Flandry meets his opposite number, they shake hands in the Terran fashion but Flandry lacks a tail...

In Anderson's Fire Time (London, 1977), about his "Ishtarians":

"...legionaries and porters lay thoughtful, only switching their tails in the male sign for 'Thank you.'" (p. 152)

It makes sense that tail movements would be adapted as signs. Each Ishtarian has not only a tail but also a face and six limbs so their bodies can be very expressive and we are in fact informed that their art, including dance, is more subtle and complex than ours.

As quadrupeds, they effortlessly trot or run and can thus spread their activities over a far wider geographical area than human beings. Having imagined a differently shaped body, Anderson carefully works out all the consequent psychological and social differences.

More On Ishtarian Religion And Society

In Poul Anderson's Fire Time (London, 1977), the main hall of an Ishtarian farm has "...a shrine of She and He...," kept out of respect for tradition although most of the family are Triadists and their help represent many other cults. (p. 138)

My Pagan friends would recognise the Wiccan God and Goddess or Lord and Lady in "She and He."

A Triadic blessing:

" 'May the Twain be kind to you, and the Rover do no harm.' " (p. 202)

Anderson works hard to imagine alien social systems. Ishtarian barbarians have "...voluntary feudalism." (p. 188) Lesser families can pledge services and obedience in exchange for protection and food in hard times to an Overling who:

dominates a region;
leads warriors in battle;
leads workers in civil emergency;
tries lawsuits on request;
officiates at major religious rites.

So far, this is recognisably feudal, although Christendom distinguished between lords spiritual and temporal, but, on Ishtar, the contract is voluntary, can be annulled by either party and does not bind the next generation. A rugged individuality transcends any social arrangements.

There are stranger arrangements:

a franchise annually alternating between males and females;
population control by mortal combat;
scheduled changing of spouses to combine all possible couples;
public issues settled by random bone tossing.

Anderson also contrives a scientific basis for apparently supernatural beings who, moreover, are genuinely non-humanoid and even non-quadrupedal. The "dauri":

" '...are beings, creatures, not mortal. They are believed to have powers, and many folk set out small sacrifices, like a bowl of food, when a daur has been glimpsed. But that is seldom.' " (p. 196)

The speaker has great prestige because, uniquely, he has met and established regular discourse with these mysterious beings, even giving them metal tools designed to be held by their differently shaped hands. But they are mortal and cannot eat food left for them. They have evolved from extra-planetary microbes, possibly even from a failed interstellar expedition, thus are a completely independent evolution, dominating the unexplored part of Ishtar. They have five limbs and no head, indeed an upper limb bearing some sense-organs in place of a head, and eyes in the body. They have given their proto-Ishtarian contact an artefact which seems to confirm that their ancestors were civilised. All I can say to this is, "What an imagination!"

War And Different Perspectives II

In Poul Anderson's Fire Time (London, 1977), does the World Federation Space Navy wage:

"...crusades for rescuing gallant pioneers threatened by monstrous aliens and securing mankind's future among the stars..."? (p. 165)

Air corpsman Ensign Donald Conway assures himself that he had never been that naive, "...yet he had pictured himself as a kind of legionary...," on the Ishtarian model. (p. 165)

Anderson shows us that the alien Naqsans did look monstrous. His Excellency Tollog-a-Ektrush, Ambassador General of the League of Naqsa to the World Federation looked like this:

"{A blubbery-looking mass, bilious yellow spotted green and wetly shining in its nudity, short fluke-footed legs, membranes up to the knobbly elbows, head suggestive of a catfish...The hologram does not convey the odour, but audio brings the mushy voice, irritatingly hard for human ears to follow...]" (p. 99)

However, he spoke like this:

" ' gratewul we are wor all we hawe learned w'rom you...I cannot welieve that Eart'h, Eart'h that we lowe, will really condone, let alone assist, the desowlation and wereawement uw harmless weings in their homes...' " (pp. 99-100)

So clearly we must ask, "Who are the monstrous aliens here?"

War And Different Perspectives

In Poul Anderson's Fire Time (London, 1977), Chapter XIV describes a sea battle waged with arrows, spears and a few imported firearms whereas Chapter XV describes both a space battle and an air battle, two very different experiences of war. By the very nature of conflict, there are at least two perspectives on any battle. Shakespeare's Witches could say, "...when the battle's lost and won..." but, to a participant, any battle is lost or won. (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1) Anderson scrupulously presents every perspective.

First, the sea battle is described not from the point of view of the single human being present, Jill Conway, but from that of the Ishtarian, Arnanak. Secondly, Arnanak leads the "enemy," the barbarian alliance that is attacking the friends of the human colonists. Jill, whom the reader soon recognizes, is described only as seen by Arnanak:

"What was that form which came from a deck house? Two legs, no body-barrel whatsoever, wrapped in cloths though long yellow-brown strands fluttered from beneath a head-band -

" 'We fight!' Arnanak bellowed...' Hark , they bear a human among them. Can we capture it, who knows what it might tell us...' " (p. 162)

The sea battle is between Gathering and barbarian Ishtarians with Jill, the only human being present, fighting effectively whereas the space and air battles are between Naqsans and human beings with Jill's brother, Don, among the combatants. During the Naqsan attack in space:

"...the air corpsmen had nothing to do but crouch jammed together between blank bulwarks." (p. 166)

- not the same experience as leaping onto an enemy deck at sea. Afterwards, Don remembers his human relatives and native friends on Ishtar. Down on the disputed planet, he takes out an enemy flyer, whoops his joy, but loses a young married friend and wonders whether the Naqsan pilot had been married too.

A human colonists calls the Naqsans who had killed his brother-in-law, " 'Filthy terrorists...,'" to which Don replies:

" 'You call your men in Hat'hara guerrillas.' " (p. 170)

- and is asked where his sympathies lie.

His perspective is that of a Terrestrial combat flyer, not of an (imperialistic?) Eluetherian. The Chapter ends with the democracy of death:

"KILLED IN ACTION: Lt Cmdr Jan H. Barneveldt, Ens. Donald R. Conway, Ens. James L. Kamekona...

"MOURN FOR: Keh't'hiw-a-Suq of Dzuag, Whiccor the Bold, Nowa Rachari's Son..." (p. 174)