Monday, 30 September 2013

The Remaining Challenges

Nordberg, eating nuts: eliminates Rance, who is allergic to nuts;
Nordberg (second challenge), Maths: eliminates Shaddock.

Remaining contestants: Nordberg and Petrie, who must still make a challenge.

Remaining problems:
Flagler, who shot Cruz for Nordberg;
Thayer, who is an accessory to murder.

Possible outcomes:
Flagler kills Petrie and her partner, Rance;
Flagler and Thayer blackmail Nordberg;
He pays someone else to kill them.

Haverner and Samael seem pleased that the contestants are degenerating into violence. Has the purpose been to use greed and conflict to strip away civilization and reveal barbarism?

Still 45 pages to read but it is time to turn in.

Cruz And Norberg

Poul Anderson displays the innermost thoughts of the seven contestants in The Devil's Game (New York, 1980), including a fascinating contrast between Orestes Cruz and Ellis Nordberg.

The murdered Communist, Cruz, is a far more sympathetic character than his Christian murderer, Nordberg. Anderson, a political conservative, shows us why some men have become Communists. He often wrote with sympathetic understanding of religion in general and Christianity in particular but also understood the inhumane mindsets of some Christian traditions.

Some of Cruz's teeth rotted in childhood; others were "'...knocked out in prison...'" (p. 33)

"' brothers are being shot, flogged, clubbed in the testicles, left starving among lice and cockroaches...I am going to spend the money on guns and propaganda and liaison with my brothers in Cuba, Africa, around the world.'" (ibid.)

We each make our own response to Cruz's speech but it is to Anderson's credit that he gives us that speech and then later writes Nordberg's self-serving prayers:

"'You want me to prosper, for an example of your mercy and to become able to do your work in this world.'" (p. 191)

Well, Nordberg wants Nordberg to prosper so, of course, the Lord must want this as well.

Of Haverner, who offers the prize of a million dollars, Nordberg thinks:

"I gather he's not a Christian. Nevertheless the Lord has seen fit to make him mighty upon the earth, even as Cyrus was made mighty to free Israel, as Augustus was so there'd be a Roman peace wherein the words of our Saviour could be heard. My Cyrus, my Augustus." (p. 194)

Thus, Nordberg modestly compares himself both to Israel and to the Savior! I find that first sentence irritating. Everyone must first be classified as to whether they are "a Christian" or "not a Christian." That makes about as much sense as classifying every science fiction writer as either "Poul Anderson" or "not Poul Anderson."

(For Cyrus, see Anderson's Time Patrol story, "Brave To Be A King"; for Augustus, see Neil Gaiman's Sandman story, "August".)

Nordberg wonders how someone:

"(...can be religious and not rejoice that we're afflicted with one less godless Communist.)" (p. 195)

The subject of this wonderment is one of the servants whom Cruz had gone out of his way to befriend.

Of Cruz, he thinks:

"(...I hope you enjoy yourself, Orestes Cruz, looking up from hell)." (p. 194)

I have encountered this in some Evangelicals, genuine gloating at the supposed future damnation of their opponents. I was indoctrinated in an admittedly different Christian tradition where we were told that we must "judge not." We do not know how anyone else stood with God and cannot say where they are in the hereafter.

According to Nordberg, an adulteress is:

"That whore, that slut, that bitch, that tramp, that abomination in the sight of the Lord." (p. 200)

No, man, she is just an adulteress. However, she, another of the contestants, shows every sign of being as manipulative and self-seeking as Nordberg himself. Hence, his antipathy towards her. Bizarrely, he even imagines forcing sex on her as a way of bringing down her pride and showing her that she " less than dust in the sight of the Lord." (p. 197) And one reason for deciding against this is that he might suffer the embarrassment of impotence. (Anderson has created an extraordinarily complicated character.)

That "It is a sin" is another reason against (ibid.) But not a big reason. As I understand this version of Christianity, a man, once saved, cannot be lost. He will, of course, be punished by being made to feel bad about his "sins" but that is as far as it goes.

I could write even more about Nordberg's mental contortions but that is plenty. By contrast, the "godless" Cruz is refreshingly straightforward and honest.

POV And Death

In Poul Anderson's The Devil's Game (New York, 1980), I have read as far as p. 155 (of 255), a turning point. So far, four contestants have offered five challenges. I list below the contestant, the challenge and the outcome -

Rance, swimming: eliminated none;
Thayer, sitting: eliminated none, but she failed it;
Shaddock, climbing: cliff eliminated Thayer, tree eliminated Flagler, which means he can't make a challenge although I see that he nevertheless has a chapter later;
Cruz, sun-bathing (sitting naked all day in the lethal sun): should eliminate all except Cruz, the only black man present, but the challenge is ended early by his murder.

Unrealistically, Cruz not only, like the others, narrates his own challenge chapter in first person, present tense but also continues narrating until the moment of his death:

"Yankee, go home, and I say this not in hatred but in love, because crash..." (p. 155)

Interval Six, Part One, back to third person, past tense explains the crash, a bullet to the brain. If Cruz's entire chapter is narrated by him, then he hears the crash. Or are we to understand that crash is the sound of the impact that ends his consciousness so that the last word narrated by him is "...because..."?

Point of view matters and here Anderson, like CS Lewis in That Hideous Strength, stretches it to and beyond its limit.

A murder should end the game but Haverner has said that he is above the law on his island.

Imagination And Reality

Occasionally, I broaden blog perspective by referring to other works being read at the same time. Often, accident determines what we read or reread. To draft a talk on Zen, I bought an A4 pad, then, to write on the pad, I rested it on a large format hardback volume. Then, since the volume in question was The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, I began to reread it. Graphic fiction can be a welcome break from prose fiction, currently The Devil's Game by Poul Anderson.

Moore and O'Neill synthesize every kind of fiction and incorporate many actual fictions: Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain climb the thirty nine steps to Greyfriars School where corpulent caretaker William recalls the schooldays of Alexander Waverly, Harry Lime, Big Brother, Quentin "Q" Quelch etc. We know them all. Well, we might not all of us recognize all of those names but we get the idea: a fictional world where all of the fictions are real.

Moore also argues that fiction is a necessary part of humanity, therefore is, in that sense, as real as we are. There would be no Sherlock Holmes if no one had imagined Holmes but, equally, we would not be who or what we are if we did not imagine fictitious characters like Sherlock Holmes. If Holmes had not caught our imagination, then someone else would have caught it and we would now be, to that extent, different people with a different history. We and our heroes are like hands drawing each other.

Conscious beings with no imagination or capacity for fiction would certainly not be human and probably not even rational. To think about what is is implicitly to think about what is not and about what might be. Myth and magic necessarily preceded science and then came to be valued as such. Thus, we now appreciate not one but many flood myths as well as scientific explanations of past cataclysms.

The common ground with Poul Anderson is considerable:

both Anderson and Moore are comprehensive writers of imaginative fiction;
Holmesianism - The League, like Anderson's works, refers creatively to Moriarty, Mycroft and, of course, the Great Detective;
Shakespearianism - the concluding speech of The Black Dossier with the line, "Two sketching hands, each one the other draws...," is delivered by the Duke of Milan, whom we know from Shakespeare's The Tempest and from Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest.

Valti, Desai And Seldon

In "Marius," the first story in Poul Anderson's Psychtechnic History, Professor Eino Valti:

uses sociosymbolic logic to plan the strategy for the liberation of Europe from Red Army occupation after World War III;
shows that a military leader turned politician would be a disaster for Europe as Marius had been for the Roman Republic;
predicts a second nuclear war fifty years after the first unless society changes direction - which, fortunately, it does, under his reforms as chairman of the Council, after the overthrow of "Marius";
remains off-stage and is merely referred to by the participants.

Since one difference between the timelines of the Psychotechnic History and of Anderson's independent novel, Planet Of No Return, is that the latter includes a World War IV, maybe Valti's timely intervention is what makes the difference?

Anderson's Eino Valti and Isaac Asimov's Hari Seldon have much in common:

each is mentioned at the start of a future history (the prequels in which Seldon appears were written later);
each applies mathematics to society and makes testable predictions;
thus, each helps to avert worse disasters later.

But Anderson's account is less implausible. Valti's science of society works within limits but does not prevent technological unemployment, a Humanist Revolt and the subsequent banning of psychotechnics itself. Apparently, the science is then misused in "The Snows of Ganymede," which I have yet to read.

Anderson's other social theoretician is Chunderban Desai in the History of Technic Civilization. Desai, applying not mathematical analysis but historical knowledge, predicts the Fall of the Terran Empire just as Seldon predicts the Fall of the Galactic Empire. Unlike Seldon, Desai cannot manipulate the course of future events but does warn Flandry and probably also others who are able to ensure that some colonies remain strong enough to preserve planetary civilization after the Long Night has ended interstellar contact.

So the Psychotechnic and Technic Histories each have their own, far more credible, counterpart to the Foundation's psychohistorian, Hari Seldon.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

SF Premises

undersea, air, space and time vehicles;
alien contact;
heat ray, poison gas, tanks, aerial warfare and atomic bombs;
social revolutions;
two centuries of future history;
a parallel universe.

(I know it was Verne that had the submarine but Wells had a bathysphere that, appropriately, went straight down to find intelligent bipeds on the sea floor just as the Cavorite sphere went straight up to find Selenites in the Moon. Edgar Rice Burroughs' mole machine went straight down to find people living beneath the central sun on the inner surface of the hollow Earth, which was also accessed through the North Polar opening by Tarzan and others in a balloon! - so ERB, and some others, including Roger Bacon, add underground vehicles, "subterrenes", to the list.)

extrasensory perception;
indefinite longevity;
artificial intelligence;
interstellar civilization (hinted at near the end of The War Of The Worlds);
a predictive, mathematical science of society;
time travel organizations;
many millennia of future history;
regular travel between parallel universes.

The post-Wellsian themes encapsulate Isaac Asimov's major contributions whereas Poul Anderson covers these and more.

A Science of Society
Governments know that unpopular measures will be opposed but not by how many. Anti-government campaigners know that they will be supported but not by how many. Imagine a science accurately predicting the outcomes both of new government measures and of opposition to them. But is this even theoretically possible?

A Gripping Psychological Novel

I had misunderstood the rules of The Devil's Game (New York, 1980). Each contestant is not limited to presenting only a single challenge. S/he can present any number of different challenges between sunrise and sunset of his/her day although, in fact, the first two contenders, Larry Rance and Gayle Thayer, do each present only one. Neither of their challenges has eliminated any of the seven.

Rance could have eliminated three contestants but decided against it. Thayer fails her own challenge, to sit entirely still all day, but, as the one who brought the challenge, she can end it at any time. Thayer's chapter confirms that, so far, each contestant narrates his/her chapter in the present tense. Sitting still, she thinks a lot, thus informing the reader about her life.

During Interval Three, Haverner presents an excellently accurate character dissection of the contestant, Ellis Nordberg, ending:

"'I could go on, but no need. Either you do or you do not have a capacity for self-examination.'" (p. 88)

Samael appears in different ways. The first time, Haverner saw his own reflection moving independently and addressing him. During Interval Four, words appear on a screen. When the words refuse to provide requested information, Haverner speculates:

"' could not exist, Samael, except in a hidden part of my own brain, and be unwilling to admit it...'" (p. 112)

Samael replies that, if the words on the screen come from outside Haverner, then they are being recorded and can be played back or printed out. Haverner erases whatever was on the disc. Bad move, Haverner. Don't you want to know?

Mermaids And Larry Rance

"Your [Caribbean] Islandman has seen, or has heard of and accepted, many things beyond explaining. Masterman York, who has the sawmill, is known with certainty to be descended from a mermaid."

- Poul Anderson, The Devil's Game (New York, 1980), p. 57.

The phrase, "...with certainty...," is ironic, especially since the quoted passage is immediately followed by:

"On his mother's side.
"She was a Philpotts." (ibid.)

However, Anderson readers can make another connection. The same author's historical fantasy novel, The Merman's Children, ends when merpeople driven from Europe by Christian exorcists in the fourteenth century set out to cross the Atlantic...

In The Devil's Game, seven characters have gathered on a Caribbean island to play Follow the Leader for the prize of a million dollars tax free. The first of the seven, Larry Rance, wanting to build a schooner and cruise the world, decrees that he and his fellow contestants will swim two miles through water that might contain sharks or barracuda. Thus, both his ambition and his challenge are closely linked to the merman theme.

The chapter about the swimming competition, an endurance test, not a race, is headed LARRY RANCE and is unexpectedly narrated in the present tense by Larry himself. I have to read on to learn the course and outcome of this contest and also whether each of the contestants in turn narrates the chapter about his or her challenge. However, since the time here is now 12.20 am, the book will wait faithfully until some time tomorrow when my other planned activities include driving my son-in-law to his doctor and exercising in the gym.

"They couldn't bear to stop being rich."

On facebook, for International Book Week, someone said:

pick up the closest book to you;
open it to page 52;
read the fifth sentence on that page;
post that sentence on facebook without revealing the title.

My sentence was:

"They couldn't bear to stop being rich."

So does any Poul Anderson fan know which book that is from?

I am rereading The Devil's Game and, as usual with Poul Anderson's works, finding more in it than I had expected. We have just ordered The Snows Of Ganymede on Amazon. It is an Anderson Double so I was hoping to read another early work for the first time. However, googling discloses that the other novel in the volume is War Of The Wing Men aka The Man Who Counts, the first Nicholas van Rijn novel.

Thus, one short Psychotechnic Institute novel and one Technic Civilization/Polesotechnic League novel are collected in a single volume. Confusing but worth reading. "Psychotechnic" and "Technic" are earlier and later future histories, the first emphasizing the need for social control, or "coordination", the second emphasizing freedom, as represented by the pre-Imperial Polesotechnic League period and the post-Imperial Commonalty period.


In Poul Anderson's The Devil's Game (New York, 1980), what does the "demon", Samael, want?

When Haverner asks this question, Samael's answer is:

"'An associate who can act for me and with me in the human world."(p. 46)

How does Haverner, by enriching himself, act for Samael? Maybe Samael is studying humanity, particularly in the psychological tests that Haverner, when he has acquired sufficient resources, conducts?

What is Samael? Every possible answer is considered:

a demon;
a magical being;
an extraterrestrial;
a time traveler from the future;
part of Haverner's mind.

Thus, the novel may be fantasy, science fiction or psychological fiction. Samael does not act like a traditional demon. He:

does not require that Haverner sign away his soul;
even questions whether Haverner has a soul, thus implying his own agnosticism about the supernatural;
does not object to Haverner taking religious precautions against demonic influence;
is not adversely affected by hearing the divine name.

He does seem to "'...have knowledge of the minds as well as the doings of men...'" (p. 49)

- so maybe his Haverner's ESP personified?

Two Contemporay Novels

Poul Anderson's first contemporary mystery novel, Perish By The Sword, has just (26 Sept) arrived by post but meanwhile I had started to reread his contemporary fantasy novel, or contemporary novel with a fantasy element, The Devil's Game (New York, 1980).

In ...Game, an old, rich guy, Sunderland Haverner, has had a life long deal either with a literal demon or with a demon-like being that goes by the name of Samael. (In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Lucifer's name before he fell.)

Haverner, inspired by his demon, induces seven disparate characters, all badly needing money, to play Follow the Leader, the winner or winners to receive one million dollars, tax free thanks to an ingenious legal loophole. The reader has to keep track of eight major human characters plus the supporting cast of Haverner's servants.

As far as I remember, from having read the novel only once when bought, the seven interact without any demonic influence so that the central narrative is not fantasy. Perhaps the Haverner-Samael dialogues are the framing device? The game is designed to draw out the worst from its contestants so that some unpleasant passages are to be expected. The chapters are unnumbered but not innominate:


This structure is unusually elaborate, with a three-part Interval Six and the two parts of Interval Seven separated by the sixth of the seven contestants. As expected, Samael and Haverner bracket the contestants. 

Planet Of No Return: Conclusion

Poul Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971) evokes an extremely primitive fear - imagine that a small group of human beings, you and your friends, find yourselves surrounded by a community of non-human beings who treat you as guests but who, you begin to suspect, do not intend to let you leave alive?

"...every now and then one of the aliens gave him a sidelong look which might mean nothing or might mean death." (p. 102)

This sounds like prime material for childhood nightmares. We might even remember some such. Of course, as soon as their suspicions have been confirmed, Anderson's adult characters take decisive measures to extract themselves from the danger zone. Moreover, this novel is science fiction, not horror fiction.

Thus, the real climax of the novel is not the night time gun fight with the aliens but the final argument with the human psychman who has been cooperating with the aliens to confine the human race to the Solar System. The psychocrats want a thousand years to make society and all its members sane before, they think, mankind will be fit to go into the galaxy. Needless to say, Andersonian heroes do not accept any social engineering and instead value freedom, diversity and interstellar freedom of movement now.

In Anderson's Psychotechnic History, the Psychotechnic Institute is banned in 2170 and the FTL hyperdrive is invented in 2784 whereas, in Planet Of No Return, psychocrats are not due to be removed from office until some time after the invention and use of the FTL warp drive. This is another indication that, despite their similarities, this novel does not fit into this future history.

Aliens And Souls

In Poul Anderson's The Merman's Children, merfolk are rational beings without souls because this novel is a historical fantasy based on medieval Catholicism.

In Anderson's The High Crusade, space-traveling medieval Christians convert aliens to the Faith and take this as proof that these beings do have souls.

In Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971), Thornton, a Dissenter, wondering whether to kill the alien "Rorvan," thinks:

"...the Rorvan were not human; the Noachian dominies doubted that any aliens even had souls, and in all events they were surely heathen..." (p. 82)

(To kill mere heathens would be a lesser evil, of course.) This is another example of Poul Anderson considering every possibility or, at least in this case, allowing his characters to consider them. I was indoctrinated in the belief that intellect and will were the two faculties of an immaterial soul. Therefore, by definition, any animal capable of thought and volition has a soul so the dominies must have some other definition of "soul."


"...some sick corner of [Thornton] laughed and said that maybe the Almighty was tired of man, maybe these were his new chosen people who would scourge a sinful humanity out of creation and down into hell." (p. 85)

Thornton himself recognizes this speculation as "sick" but, nevertheless, it shows how his mind works. We know that he does see God as punishing populations by visiting wars upon them. God "tired of man" at the Flood. It is possible that a bad experience in space would send a deranged Thornton back to the Solar System preaching that God has now chosen the Rorvan and disowned humanity.

Later again, Thornton, grateful that the Rorvan have not killed but rescued him:

"...was now brooding over the theological problem of whether or not they had souls; he felt they did, but how to prove it?" (p. 88)

Convert them to Reformism? He needs to establish communication with the Rorvan in order to find out what they believe, if indeed their inner processes include what we call "belief," then to compare the Rorvan beliefs/ideas/opinions/theories with human worldviews. Instead, he merely speculates within the limits of his own preconceptions. Fortunately, he is the only Dissenter on the expedition.

Believers And Reasonable Men

In Poul Anderson's Planet of No Return (London, 1971), the viewpoint character, Lorenzen, acknowledges that:

"Whether you agreed with the Dissenters or not, it was undeniable that they had worked and fought like heroes..." (p. 65)

- to colonize Mars, and goes on to reflect that:

"There was a vitality to the believer type - whether he called himself Christian, Zionist, Communist, or any of a hundred other faiths which had shaken history. It was too bad that the reasonable man didn't share that devotion. But then, he wouldn't be reasonable if he did." (ibid.)

I think that this sets up a false dichotomy. Most people do reason not only about everyday matters but also about their beliefs although, in the latter case, they reason from different premises to different conclusions, not always remaining logical en route! Conditioning, prejudice, emotion, wishful thinking, logical fallacies, fear of elders or peers, ignorance of alternatives etc intervene but often there is at least  attempted rationality which, on reflection, is not always the same as "reasonableness."

The Dissenter, Thornton, offers to "'...discuss [religion] on a reasonable basis, like any other subject.'" (ibid.)
Lorenzen refuses on the ground that, "'We'd never agree...Waste of time.'" (ibid.) They probably would not agree but discussion clarifies beliefs and influences future rationalizations so I think that Lorenzen is wrong to refuse unless he has already experienced impasse with Dissenters.

Jehovah's Witnesses are perfectly rational. I just do not accept their reasons for theism or their premise of scriptural authority but it is possible to have an informed discussion with a Witness. Evangelical Christians are completely irrational. They simply do not understand that there is any difference between someone who does not believe that God exists and someone who has knowingly and culpably refused an offer of salvation from God - who must therefore, of course, be presumed to exist. Evangelicals address us on the implicit assumption that we already share their belief which, further, they offer no reasons for. Lorenzen's refusal to discuss would, unfortunately, make sense when dealing with this kind of Evangelical.

According to the completely different Christian tradition in which I was indoctrinated, philosophical reasoning could prove theism and historical evidence could prove revelation. Years later, when my father was being instructed before his conversion to the Faith, he was apparently told that divine existence could not be proved... A friend who had been brought up as a Catholic divided his former co-religionists, like Gaul, into three parts: devout; indifferent; intelligent. None of these is quite the "believer type" to which Lorenzen referred. That would be a fourth type, which also exists, the zealot.

However, the human race has built civilization sometimes because "believer types" have fought like heroes but sometimes also because "reasonable men" have had to make a living and some of them wanted to learn more about the world around them.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


In Poul Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971), Joab Thornton is a Martian physicist and a Dissenter.

The Dissenters:

have colonized and terraformed Mars, "...made it blossom..." (p. 65);
sent "...psalm-chanting armored battalions..." to defeat the Mongku Empire (ibid.);
fought Venus to a standstill just before the Solar System was united.

So were the Dissenters the "theocrats" who, we are told, ruled North America during the conflict with the Mongkuans? An entire future history waits to be written here.

Looking back to an earlier chapter, I see that I was mistaken.  Thornton says:

"'The New Christians forced us to migrate to Mars when they were in power...It was they who engineered our war with Venus.'" (p. 15)

Since the war with Venus occurred after the overthrow of the Mongkuans, it was the New Christians who ruled the North American theocracy from before the Dissenter colonization of Mars until at least the beginning of the Mars-Venus war. Maybe Anderson compiled an unpublished time chart to keep this implicit future history straight?

Thornton is prepared to work with "'...Jews, Catholics, Moslems, unbelievers, collectivists, Sebastianists...'" but not with a single New Christian (ibid.). When asked to say a few words at the grave of a Catholic, "...papist...", crew member, he says only:

"'...he wasn't of my faith...we haven't any of his along. I will only say that he was a good man.'" (p. 69)

But that is plenty! Thornton does not need to make an issue of their different (Christian) faiths.

There are different ways to interpret the Bible. Thornton thinks that an extended period of wars:

"'...shows how the Lord  chastises a people who forget him.'" (p. 65)

- and even the Dissenters may not be safe:

"'The Lord may see fit to punish us too.'" (ibid.)

Really? An entire civilization is less devout and Law-observant, more secularist and this-worldly, than a Biblical deity would like so he takes it out on the enlisted men, non-combatants and children who suffer and die as a result of technological warfare?

I was brought up in a Christian tradition but always thought that God dealt with individuals, including, among others, both good atheists and bad theists, not with societies. The government of a single country, or planet, necessarily negotiates with the representatives of another government but an omnipresent deity has a direct line to every citizen on both sides. I think that the Second Isaiah says something about the new Covenant being written on men's hearts? But proof-texting is no use when talking to someone like Thornton.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Past And Future Posts

This is the 110th post for this month and the 700th this year. In the interests of continuing to work with round numbers, I will now refrain from posting again until 1 October at the earliest. From 4 to 14 October, I will be abroad without a laptop, probably not frequenting Internet Cafes.

Yet To Come
(i) To finish rereading the fascinating Planet Of No Return.
(ii) Anderson's first mystery novel should be in the post.
(iii)-(iv) His second and third to be acquired.
(v) The Snows Of Ganymede to be acquired.
(vi)-(viii) I have The Devil's Game and two Hoka volumes.
(ix) Multiverse, when it is published.
(x) To round up any remaining stories in the collections in my possession.
(xi) Maybe to acquire some other collections.
(xii) Maybe to reread some of the works discussed earlier.

By that stage, we might at last have crossed the summit of Mount Anderson? But it remains to be seen how it pans out.

Question And Answer

Question And Answer is an alternative title of Planet Of No Return (London, 1971) by Poul Anderson. According to the Wikipedia article on Question And Answer, in this novel, the Soviet Union conquers North America after World War III. The novel does refer to a period of ideologically blinkered commissars, so, if this passage refers to events in North America, not in the world at large, then, yes, we can infer that the Soviet Union conquers North America.

For this next remark, I depend on memory alone. I think that I found, but did not buy, a copy of Question And Answer with an Introduction by Sandra Miesel in which she said that she had persuaded Anderson that this novel could fit into his Psychotechnic future history. It is important that someone tells me if this is wrong.

The Psychotechnic series has a Chronology from 1958 to post-4000 whereas Question..., set centuries in the future, refers to several undated historical events. Both fictitious histories have two events in common: World War III, dated 1958 in the Psychotechnic Chronology, and the unification of the Solar System, dated 2105.

However, the intervening events and the interval of time necessary for such events to occur differ as between the two accounts. The Psychotechnic History has:

1958 Soviet Union destroyed in World War III
1964 Valti formulates psychodynamic theorems
1965 UN becomes world government
1975 Psychotechnic Institute established; Venus, Mars exploration/colonization
2035 Venus breaks from Earth
2105 Solar Union founded

As indicated in the previous post, Question... has more and different events, including a World War IV, with psychodynamics developed later.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Science Of Man

In Poul Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971), when Avery the psychomed remarks that applied psychodynamics often involves conformal mapping in several dimensions with non-Cartesian coordinates, Lorenzen the astronomer remembers that the modern science of human behaviour "...used more para-mathematical symbols than his own" (p. 39), and asks how precise a science it is, adding that popular articles are unhelpfully vague.

We might learn something about this science from Avery's response.

(i) It has been rigorously proved that, in the new science, the observer effect is an uncertainty principle preventing the precision of the physical sciences.

(ii) There have been advances in neurology, known to biologists.

(iii) The military used games theory before World War III.

(iv) Big computers provided theoretical analyses of complex phenomena like business, thus generating some understanding of economics.

(v) Communications theory is applicable to symbolizing animals.

(vi) "'The least effort axiom was useful.'" (p. 40) (When I googled "least effort axiom," only two things came up: this Anderson passage and a definition - people try to get difficult and boring tasks over with as soon as possible.)

(vii) Elements of a mathematical and paramathematical system correspond to observable phenomena, enabling the derivation of theorems.

(viii) Data confirm present theories, e. g., economic cycles are often predicted with high precision.

(ix) On the other hand, conditions in the Solar System remain confused after wars and tyrannies and, of course, controlled experiments are impossible.

(x) Earlier propagandists and admen were so primitive that they often provoked a reaction against them while commissars were ideologically blinkered.

(xi) The warlords of the Interregnum had psychomilitary analysts, with original work done in Brazil.

(xii) The first politicomathematical analyses were performed under the theocracy when research was encouraged in response to the challenge of the Mongku Empire.

(xiii) When Venus took over, thorough research began, leading to formulated psychodynamics with the field and tensor approach.

(xiv) The completed science was used to initiate the Mars-Venus war and to unify the Solar System.

(xv) Although the science is still being developed, its results already include:

control of the economic cycle;
the most efficient distribution of cities;
currency stabilization;
the beginning of an advance from barbarism towards a mature civilization of sane individuals (it is claimed).

Summarizing the development of this science has required references to several stages of an implicit future history:

World Wars III and IV;
Mongku Empire versus American theocracy;
Venerian takeover;
Solar unification.

Although the implicit future history of Planet Of No Return is thematically similar to Anderson's Psychotechnic History, I do not think that this novel can be fitted into the Chronology of that History.

Fifty Men

I am not sure of the point of a Cast of Characters for a novel, especially when it is incomplete. In Poul Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971), the Cast lists seven members of the crew of the Spaceship Henry Hudson.

However, Chapter 4:

informs us that the crew comprises fifty "...spacers and scientists..." (p. 25);
introduces the remaining two from the seven listed on p. 6 - Miguel Fernandez, Uruguayan geologist, and Friedrich von Osten, German mercenary soldier;
but also introduces Captain Hamilton.

Further, Chapter 5 introduces Christopher Umfanduma, African biologist. So, by p. 36, we have fifty men of whom we know nine. Thus, the Cast of Characters is so incomplete that it is misleading.

Meanwhile, we have learned some interesting future history:

World War IV sank the Japanese islands;
Mars shattered the Monkgu Empire;
the current Solar government is (seen as) the only alternative to anarchy and tyranny.


"Warp drive" and "hyperdrive" are two science fiction (sf) cliches for faster than light interstellar travel (FTL). These terms may be used interchangeably, if, for example, interstellar journeys are made through a "warp" in "hyperspace." Poul Anderson is always careful to clarify what he means by such terminology and also to differentiate between the means of FTL used in different fictitious scenarios.

Thus, in his Technic Civilization History, "hyperspace" is not a fourth spatial dimension but a series of instantaneous quantum jumps through three dimensional space. Disappearing at point A and re-appearing at Point B, a ship does not move between A and B and therefore is not limited to light speed but instead has a much greater "psuedo-velocity."

The warp drive in his Planet Of No Return (London, 1971) differs from this.

(i) "It does not take appreciably more time and energy to go 100,000 light-years than to go one." (p. 20) Consequently, interesting but distant stars are investigated before nearer but ordinary ones.

(ii) Going into warp involves the ship's engines roaring as they approach "...the potentials beyond which the omega effect set[s] in." (p. 25) The crew feels dizzy as the ship leaves "...normal energy levels..." and as atoms readjust in non-Dirac matrices.

(iii) There is complete blackness outside the viewports.

(iv) The ship, now irrelevant to the universe, has nothing to accelerate or spin in relation to, but centrifugal force is generated by rotating the inner hull in relation to the outer.

(v) Anderson writes that:

"It was like an endless falling through nullity." (ibid.)

But surely there is nothing to fall in relation to? Except that the ship and its contents were in free fall in relation to each other until centrifugal force was generated?

The first page of Chapter 4, having described "warp", introduces the fifth of the seven human "Cast of Characters," Tetsuo Hideki, Manchurian organic chemist.

Planet Of No Return II

Poul Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971) is a science fiction novel in which the "sciences" are both psychological and physical. Chapter 2 lists five flaws in human thinking:

contradictory beliefs;
inadequate thinking;
surface thinking;
conditioned reflexes;
rationalized emotions.

Chapter 3 lists five requirements for a habitable planet:

radiation level;

Miners, penal colonists and refugees have colonized Mars, Venus and the Jovian moons with domes and tank food but, for extra-solar colonization, terrestroid planets are sought and not found.

Atmosphere needs oxygen and other gasses, none of them poisonous. Gravity must be great enough to retain the atmosphere but "...not so great as to throw the human body fluid adjustment out of kilter." (p. 21) Edible plants and animals need bacteria, saprophytes and earthworms that in turn require an entire ecology. Separate evolution has probably produced inedible or poisonous organisms and cannot have duplicated all the vitamins.

An astronomical expedition has detected the first ever terrestroid extra-solar planet in the Lagrange system, so, at the beginning of the novel, a Lagrange Expedition II is being organized, Expedition I having disappeared. At first, I found the reference to "Lagrange" confusing because the term is applied to orbital points within the Solar System but here it is the name of a star.

The Byworlder: Conclusion

When discussing Poul Anderson's later novel, For Love And Glory, I drew attention to a literary technique deployed quite often in that work. The concluding sentence or phrase of a chapter would indicate what was going to happen next: things were due to turn bad later etc. These anticipations encourage us to continue reading even though we usually forget them almost immediately.

The technique is used once in The Byworlder (London, 1974):

"...until the hour came when everything was ruined." (p. 162)

We empathize with the characters and vicariously enjoy their breakthrough in communicating with the alien so it is disturbing to be informed that everything is going to be ruined - and it is quite a long time before this happens.

As a result of violence in the spaceship, the Sigman and the Chinaman wind up dead. This leaves the potentially destructive ship under the sole control of a Byworlder, who does not turn it over to any Terrestrial government but instead monopolizes it for peaceful scientific exploration. Thus, a Byworlder saves the world, not from any external threat but only from itself. As I said a few posts ago, in a Poul Anderson novel, we can trust individuals, not governments, to make the right decisions. The death of the peaceful, beauty-seeking alien at the hands of an agent of the Chinese government is indeed ruinous but, even despite that, an ultimately satisfactory conclusion is reached.

When the Chinaman refers to the US government as "'...the fascists...'" (p. 180), the Byworlder replies:

"'You're supposed to be a semanticist. How can you think a swear word like 'fascist' means anything, or using it solves anything?'" (p. 181)

He is right. "Fascist" had a precise meaning in its original context but has become a swear word when extracted from that context and used in Chinese government propaganda.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Planet Of No Return

The "CAST OF CHARACTERS" of Poul Anderson's Planet Of No Return (London, 1971) presents seven members of the crew of the spaceship Henry Hudson, each identified by name, nationality and profession.

The four pages of Chapter 1 introduce the first, Kemal Gummus-Lugil, Turkish rocket engineer. The eight and a half pages of Chapter 2 introduce the next three in conversation with each other:

John Lorenzen, Lunarian astronomer;
Ed Avery, North American psychomed;
Joab Thornton, Martian physicist.

As always, Anderson addresses profound issues with apparently casual confidence. When Thornton has left, Lorenzen comments on the apparent contradiction between the former's scientific brilliance and his religious beliefs. Avery replies that they are "'...finally getting a science of man...'" (p. 17) but that, for the time being, most people remain irrational:

believing contradictions;
not really learning how to think;
thinking "'...only with the surface of their minds...'" (p. 16);
responding with conditioned reflex;
rationalizing fears and hates.

This novel is not only about space travel but also about sanity and whether a science of man is possible.  

More Evolutionary Differences

In The Byworlder (London, 1974), Poul Anderson imagines an extra-terrestrial that is genuinely alien, both physically and psychologically. The Sigmans:

"...swam in an ocean of sense data and responded to nuances on almost the molecular level." (p. 161)

A single individual Sigman can make a slower than light interstellar journey and spend years exploring the Solar System because its many interacting subpersonalities are never isolated in the midst of the cosmos. Curiosity, which is thought to have called forth intelligence in human beings, is a lesser motivation for Sigmans because their sensory apparatus already makes them fully open to, and intensely aware of, their environment. However, within this wealth of perception, they might have been driven to find, then make, "...harmonious conditions of life." (ibid.) Harmony is an aesthetic value.

Scientific method has two outcomes: knowledge and elegant resolutions of apparent chaos. Human beings and Sigmans value both of these outcomes but human beings emphasize knowledge where Sigmans emphasize elegance, an aesthetic criterion that prevents them from either waging war or polluting their environment, even when scientific discoveries have made possible potentially destructive technology. Anderson did imagine some man-like aliens but this is not one of them. From cells to soul, Sigmans are dissimilar.

This novel, set in the early twenty first century, was originally serialized in 1971, thirty years before 2001. Yvonne asks Skip:

"'Do you remember the turn of the century?'" (p. 165)

Readers can now answer, "Yes!" However, Yvonne goes on to contrast the optimism of the new millennium with the new hope offered by contact with the Sigman:

"'This is the same. Only it's not a youthful illusion now, it's real. It's forever!'" (p. 166)

Grand Tour

In Poul Anderson's The Byworlder (London, 1974), the extra-solar visitor and his three human passengers make an aesthetic (not scientific) Grand Tour of the Solar System. Thus, they experience, first, the alien spaceship which is like:

"...a plant-animal symbiosis, drawing energy from its private thermonuclear sun, nourishment from the gas and stones of space." (pp. 149-150)

The ever-changing interior contains:

rich, strange odors;
complex patterns of resonant, sibilant tones;
alternating breezes and calm, dimness and brightness;
rippling, waste-absorbing decks;
labyrinthine corridors;
passages expandable as rooms with temporarily grown furniture.

Outside the ship, the travelers see:

the "...hundred different umbers and rust-reds..." of Mars (p. 151);
"Jupiter, imperial world..." described in a poetic paragraph (p. 156);
the "...gigantic rainbows..." of Saturn's rings seen from below (p. 163);
Mercury, "...crags and craters under a black sky...pools of molten metal..." (p. 172);
"Sunward of unutterable white splendour..." (p. 174);
"(...[the Sigman] found Venus as unattractive at close quarters as men did.)" (p. 166)

The Sigmans have neither waged wars nor polluted their environment. The visiting Sigman seems to assume that humanity is as innocent as the few other races with atomic power that it has encountered. Has it found only innocent races because others have destroyed themselves? How will Sigman technology affect human society? I have yet to reread to the end of the novel...

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Five Sisters

(This is the 100th post for September. The theory is that I now take a break or draft some notes to be posted early in October. However, practice can diverge from theory.)

Page 143 of Poul Anderson's The Byworlder (London, 1974) has an intriguing misprint:

"...they were coming to know one who fared between the stairs."

Obviously, the alien fares between the stars. However, this is a fortuitous error. I am sure that either Neil Gaiman, author of Neverwhere, featuring London Below, or China Mieville, author of Un Lon Don, would be able to write a juvenile fantasy about "One Who Fared Between The Stairs." That phrase should be able to inspire a novel - how many worlds might be concealed between the stairs from the front hall to the first landing? - although I am not able to write it.

Recently, as I mentioned at the time, we visited York and I meditated in the Minster. I noted references to York in Poul Anderson's novels. Here is another such reference. In The Byworlder, the alien "Sigman" has come to the Solar System in search of artistic inspiration. Terrestrials mistakenly tried to communicate with words instead of with shared art. Having realized their error, they now show him a large and varied selection of works of art, including the Five Sisters windows in York Minster. See attached image.

Sharing beauty from different periods and cultures kind of puts the political rivalries between the US and China into a different perspective. Hopefully, the novel approaches a happy resolution although, at least in his short stories, Anderson sometimes gave us anything but a happy ending.

The Underworld

In Poul Anderson's The Byworlder (London, 1974), early twenty first century society has divided into Orthos, Byworlders and Underworlders. To us, "organized crime" means illegal activities like protection and prostitution run by large criminal organizations sometimes, especially in the Italian tradition, controlled by powerful families. Anderson's "Underworld" seems to take organized crime to a new level, an entire social subculture, although we are not told many of the details.

When the heroine of the novel is professionally kidnapped by a man with faked Secret Service ID, the hero, putting his personal knowledge of the local Underworld to good use, tortures a knowledgeable consultant clairvoyant, thus learning some addresses to which he directs the FBI, who indeed then rescue the kidnap victim from an address on the list. Too easy? Implausible?

This part of the novel contains little science fiction except that:

the success of the hero's ploy seems to depend on a greater degree of "Underworld" cohesion than existed in the period when the novel was written;

a technological innovation enables him to smuggle a weapon into the clairvoyant's presence despite being searched by a bodyguard.

The kidnapping, and before that a murder attempt, make sense, in terms of the plot of the novel, because the heroine has made a breakthrough in communicating with the orbiting alien whose technology had better not be acquired by any one Terrestrial nation. The Chinese are clearly bad news although the heroine's opposite number among their scientist is a good guy. The Americans are also trying to get a monopoly on alien knowledge so is their government acting for the best?

In a Poul Anderson novel, we can depend on individuals to make the right decisions.

Maury Station

In Poul Anderson's The Byworlder (London, 1974), Maury Station, staffed by respectable, conventional scientists, must be Ortho, not Byworld? pp. 100-104 present some minimal information about the Station. Still rereading the novel with 80 pages left, I cannot remember whether there is more about sea life later.

The purpose of summarizing interesting details from Anderson's novels is to convey an appreciation of the imaginative depth and wealth crowded into each work.

Fifty kilometers from the Oregan coast, platforms with projecting piers support buildings, machinery and a shaft with an elevator descending fifty fathoms to the central undersea dome which is surrounded by a ring of others kept at ambient pressure and connected by tunnels. Laboratory experiments include producing alcohol from plankton. When the Viking fleet delivers a cargo of refined metals, its flag ship, too large to dock, anchors at a safe distance while the concentrator ship lays alongside a pier.

"McPherson 'gills'..." (p. 103) extract oxygen for the artificially generated merfolk who are evolving dialects appropriate to the high-pitched speech caused by the helium content of the air in the decompression chambers joining to the tunnels to the main dome. In the water, a man directs an orca. I think that there were earlier references to cetacean speech although I cannot find them looking back. There are transparent submarines. Soon, there will be a new undersea civilization. The oceans cover what, two thirds of the Earth's surface?

That is it. In mid-paragraph, the viewpoint characters who have visited the Station are back with the Viking fleet. I am sure that Anderson would have worked out a lot more detail for Maury Station and there might be more of it later in the book.

Terrestrial And Sigman Metazoans

Stages of Terrestrial Evolution
protozoa, some swimming with cilia;
a clump of aggregated cells;
a hollow sphere;
two concentric spheres;
spheres with specialized inner and outer walls and an opening at either end for intake and excretion;
colonies like sponges and corals;
cells joined end to end as segmented worms;
complex organisms retaining bilateral symmetry and an oral-digestive-anal tract;
branched-off organs like heart and lungs adopting the canal principle.

Stages of Sigman Evolution
spheroidal, not flat, protozoans with universally spaced cilia for swimming and whipping food towards the animalcule which is permeable, without orifices;
cells joined by linking cilia which became tubes for support and fluid conveyance;
complex organisms comprising spheroids connected by rods with axial or radial, not bilateral, symmetry and permeable skin;
possibly sensing and thinking with the whole body, not needing a brain, thinking more slowly but also more deeply.

Human beings have a lot to learn from the disgusting looking alien.


I have been reading Poul Anderson since the 1960's. In those days, I also read American comic books. I got back into comics twenty years later. Usually, the only graphic element in a novel or short story collection is the cover illustration -  although some hard back editions do not have one. Novels republished several times over the decades can have a few different covers whereas later novels, even when reprinted, tend to stay with a single cover.

In Poul Anderson's The Byworlder (London, 1974), the character Skip takes two pages to describe a mural of the Revelation of St John the Divine that he himself had painted on the walls and floor of a Bible-belt diner during a week when it was closed. Any screen adaptation of the novel would have to show this mural even though it is described only in a flash-back. The graphic content is vivid and cannot be reproduced here except by quoting the entire passage which I am not about to do.

However, the main highlights are:

the Father's face "'...was half human, half lion'" (p. 87) (this connects with CS Lewis and Hinduism);
"'...his long white hair and beard tossed in the storm of destruction...'" (ibid.);
Gabriel was a jazz trumpeter;
the floor underfoot was Earth with tombstones falling and graves opening everywhere since, by the time of Judgment Day, bodies have been buried everywhere;
different stages of the reconstitution of resurrecting bodies;
"'...a distant view of burning cities, floods, earthquakes...a lightning bolt...'" (p. 88);
the saved "'...whirling upward like dry leaves in a cyclonic wind...'", all naked (ibid.);
the damned falling and starting to burn;
Satan making a defiant, offensive hand gesture towards God;
"'...the number of the beast in binary'" (p. 89) (?);
the Great Whore of Babylon glad-eyeing the Antichrist...'" (ibid.).

Skip, not a believer, had enjoyed literally interpreting Revelation and had been so engrossed in creativity that it had not occurred to him that the locals would not appreciate it. But they need to ask themselves whether this is what they believe.

A comic script writer would verbally instruct his penciller, inker, colorist and letterer whereas Anderson, a prose novelist, verbally addresses his readers. I am sadly lacking in visual imagination but I expect that most readers can visualize Skip's apocalyptic mural to some extent.

Friday, 20 September 2013


In Poul Anderson's The Byworlder (London, 1974), "Byworlders" live alternatives life styles to that of "Orthodox" society but what is the latter like?

Orthos are called "georges," staid taxpayer types (p. 10). Skip, a sigaroon, contrasts the Viking sea gypsies with Orthos:

"The average upper-class Orthian was doubtless more hard-driving, well informed, thoroughly trained, including in the new mental disciplines which could evoke effective genius from ordinary cerebral endowment; but he was also anomic, chronically anxious, inwardly alone: a sane and realistic logician, emotionally crazy as a hoot owl.
"The oldest Viking kept youthful spirits." (p. 80)

It sounds as if these two cultures need to be synthesized: the Ortho new mental disciplines with the Viking youthful spirits. The idea of genius-evoking disciplines is relevant to Anderson's The Long Way Home in which apologists for the computer-run Technate society dismiss their Commoners as having hopelessly low IQ's, even though the Technate meanwhile uses genetic engineering to ensure a high average IQ among its Ministerial class.

In view of changes made so far, I think that no part of the human condition should be regarded as unchangeable. Better diet, medicine, educational input and, if they are to be found, " mental disciplines...", like the training received by Anderson's Time Patrolmen, can draw out and enhance existing intellectual, practical or creative abilities that were previously left undeveloped in those who were thought not to need them.


In the early twenty first century -

leave "Ortho" society not to join the organized crime of the Underworld but to found diverse sub-cultures like -

an eclectic religious community.

drifters, migratory workers;
do odd jobs and provide personal services or entertainment;
ostracize any of their number who beg, bully or steal;
can exercise a right to a public works billet, doing, e. g., clean-up work.
Skip, a sigaroon (interior decorator, carpenter, mechanic, repairman, singer and story-teller) spends time with Theontologists and sea gypsies.

Sea Gypsies:
sail international waters indefinitely in nuclear-powered ships;
use material re-use equipment developed for the Moon and Mars;
fish, harvest plankton, process water for minerals, process sea weed for food and fabrics, prospect for ore or oil, carry cargo and employ land-based brokers.
The Viking fleet preserves Northern virtues.
The fleet flag ship carries four thousand people with command posts, offices, electronic communications, schools, hospital, culture, recreation and private enterprises.
The other ships include a service vessel with machine shops, a mineral-extractor craft, a trawler, a submarine and a factory ship processing harvested kelp.

I expect to learn about several more Byworlder cultures while rereading Poul Anderson's The Byworlder. So far, by page 79, of 190, we have met these three groups.

The Sigman

OK. That last post quoted an example of characteristically flamboyant Andersonian characterization from The Long Way Home. Now let's get down with summarizing the description of the physically nauseating alien "Sigman" in Andersion's The Byworlder (London, 1974):

a 3 meter long, 130 centimeter wide, spongy black, flexible ellipsoid, covered by three layers of golden-brown plates independently mounted on muscular stalks, permanently glistening with moisture and excreted slime, occasionally revealing the black inner sponginess when the Sigman stretches;

four legs near the middle, two arms at each end, four claws each surrounded by six tentacle fingers, several tendrils with sensors including four eyes;

no front or back;

claws macerate food, then hold it against the spongy surface of the sheathed arms where digestive juices break it down until it is absorbed up the arms;

a booming voice from vibrating tympani;

many human observers are physically sickened.

Like Larry Niven's Pierson's Puppeteers, a laudable attempt to envisage a non-human alien, although not one that we would like to meet. I have yet to reread far enough to learn anything about Sigman psychology.

Another Detail

I have known for a long time that Poul Anderson's writings are extremely rich but I keep re-surprising myself with this discovery. I had thought that The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975) was not among his best works and was even a bit disjointed with all its disparate elements. A careful rereading shows that it all hangs together.

The means of interstellar travel used is not FTL but is unique in sf and contributes significantly to the plot, allowing the characters to cross many light years in zero subjective time.

Chapter One is unambiguous hard sf with interstellar explorers returning to the Solar System. Chapter Two begins:

"Lord Brannoch dhu Crombar, Tertiary Admiral of the Fleet, High Noble of Thor, ambassador of the League of Alpha Centauri to the Solar Technate, did not look like a dignitary of any civilized power." (p. 17)

Brannoch is six foot six, wide shouldered, yellow maned, blue eyed and scarfaced and wears jewelled ear rings. If not for the references to Alpha Centauri and Sol, we might have been reading heroic fantasy. "Thor" turns out to be a planet, not the god. Even more strangely, Brannoch talks to alien monsters concealed in the wall of his apartment.

The first three Chapters feel like mixed up information overload but I hope to have shown in earlier posts that this complicated account of future civilizations is not only coherent but also addresses fundamental issues for any organized society or intelligent life.

The Long Way Home Revisited II

In Poul Anderson's The Long Way Home, the way the Technate limits the social use of technology is shown by the fact that Ministers can descend by gravity shaft from the moving belts of their bridgeways to the low-level where it is necessary to walk because there are no slideways although, obviously, these could have been installed.

I am reminded of an Englishman who objected to the introduction of railways because he saw no reason why the lower orders should wander aimlessly around the country. But, of course, the more they are free to travel and learn, the less they are describable as "lower." Rulers throughout the ages have justified keeping the people down because the people are down. However, rulers themselves have only been with us for the few thousand years since the beginning of civilization. Before that, society would have had leaders, those who led activities from time to time, but there was not as yet any economic surplus to be monopolized and controlled by a class of administrators becoming rulers.

My example of moral leadership, clearly distinguishable from any kind of rulership, is this. A line of people waiting for a bus witness an act of cruelty on the other side of a busy road. They hesitate to intervene, to risk the traffic or to miss their bus, which they see approaching. One steps forward. Some follow the one. More follow the some. The rest follow the more. The one gave a lead. He could not coerce the others. They need not and might not have followed his lead.

So down with rulers and up with leaders!

Knowledge Of Knowledge Of

"Science" means (Latin) knowledge.
"Theology" means (Greek) knowledge of (Greek) God.
"Scientology" means (Latin) knowledge of (Greek) knowledge!
"Theontology", coined by Poul Anderson in The Byworlder (London, 1974, p. 5), would mean what? (Greek) knowledge of (Latin) knowledge of (Greek) God?

Theontologists seek the divine through diverse sub-cults of Spirit, Jesus, Brahma, Amida Butsu, Snake or Oracle. If I were being brought up in a Theontologist community, then I would want to practice in a Zen cult but otherwise let's just stick with Zen as taught by a Buddhist lineage.

The Byworlder introduces a genuinely non-humanoid extra-solar alien, the Sigman (plural: Sigmans), who has entered Earth orbit after approaching the Solar System in a Bussard ramjet from the direction of Sigma Draconis. An entire page is necessary to describe this creature. The way he moves is fairly sickening and that comes through in the description. The problem of devising a mutually comprehensible pidgin language is also recounted in the necessary detail.

The Chinese rulers who have to cooperate with the Americans and others in communicating with the Sigman are absurdly sure, first, that they represent "the people" and, secondly, that, if they get the chance to tell the alien the facts about American imperialism, then he will support the cause of the people. (Hopefully, he will indeed support the people, not their rulers.)

Terrestrial society has divided into sub-cultures. Our first viewpoint character belongs to a sub-culture that does not settle down and live in a house with a steady job but travels around, for example, by staying as a guest of Theontologists. However, far from being parasitical, he is a migrant worker with an amazing range of practical skills to offer. There is a, to Anderson readers, now familiar moment when, speculating about the Sigman's motives, he realizes something, breaks off with open mouth and yells but does not immediately divulge what he has realized. We have to read on.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Long Way Home Revisited

Recently, when discussing Poul Anderson's The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975), I argued that a massive IQ difference between two classes of a single society seemed implausible. I had forgotten that that society practices genetic engineering.

When Langley, an astronaut from 2047, which is now five thousand years in the past, remarks:

"'Where I come from...we'd learned better than to leave leadership to chance - and heredity is mighty chancy.'" (p. 32)

- he is reminded that the society that he is criticizing has genetic engineering. Thus, the hereditary Ministerial class is artificially selected for high IQ. But that makes nonsense of another claim made by apologists for the Technate social system. The abysmally low average IQ of Commoners is cited as an insuperable obstacle either to giving them the vote or to using technology to liberate them from work. They are supposed to be incapable either of participation in public policy making or of creative use of leisure. But we are to understand that the intelligence levels of future generations is something that can be controlled.

We are used to thinking that a ruling class will maintain its rule and will use any idea, including even the alleged stupidity of the Commons, to justify that continued rule. However, there is a difference in the Technate, where ultimate decision making has been handed over to an incorruptible computer, the Technon. Ministers implement the Technon's basic policies and make only the lesser day to day decisions themselves.
So why does the Technon not implement the greater good of humanity by liberating the population while raising its intelligence level? Because it has been programmed to maintain stability, not to liberate or improve humanity.

However, an external enemy has learned to manipulate the Technon's decisions by controlling the data inputted to the Technon so why have none of the Ministers learned to do this? Or have they and we just don't know about it?

We are assured that the Technon is "...a robot, a super-computer...", not "...a conscious brain..." or an artificially duplicated mind but we are also told that, within its limits, it thinks, reasons, exercises "[s]ome equivalent of creative imagination..." and is comparable to a child (p. 157). I am not sure that all of this language is fully consistent. An equivalent of creative imagination is not creative imagination but thought and childhood imply consciousness.

Sf authors are used to writing about, and we are used to reading about, a kind of future society that reflects historical and contemporary societies in which a technologically powerful elite rules a vigorous although subjugated subordinate class. The Long Way Home contains hints that something qualitatively different and better is possible.

There is a prayer, "Give me the courage to change what can be changed, the patience to accept what cannot be changed and the wisdom to know the difference." Technate society counts the nature of human beings among the "cannot be changed" although it contradicts this with genetic engineering. I count our nature among the "can be changed" - we exist as a species only because our pre-human ancestors began the task of changing their environment with hands and brain and changed themselves in the process. Thus, our "nature" is change, not anything unchanging.

An Astronaut Returns

An astronaut returns to Earth centuries or millennia after his departure. Everyone he knew is dead. Suddenly he sees, or catches a glimpse of, a woman who closely resembles his former wife or fiancee. Can she possibly have survived unchanged? But, if so, how? And, if not, then what is the explanation?

I have encountered this intriguing idea twice: in a Buck Rogers TV episode and in Poul Anderson's The Long Way Home. In both of these cases, a woman's appearance had been changed for our hero's benefit. However, there is potentially a different story here - a long search for the mysterious, occasionally glimpsed, woman, ending with either an enlightening explanation or an extended enigma. I cannot tell this story but someone else would be able to.

Meanwhile, in the last forty eight hours, I have attended a picket line, a Hindu Temple and a funeral and have responded to correspondence concerning the commencement of my state pension, so there is plenty of life, change and death still in the real world outside the pages of science fiction novels. I have also realized that I missed a point in my most recent critique of the society described in The Long Way Home - this is the sort of point that I hope that page viewers will be able to spot for me - so I must soon return yet again to that novel before starting to comment on The Byworlder.

Fair winds forever!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Etie Town

Poul Anderson's The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975) is also good on Terrestrial-ET relations:

"The spacemen accepted [a new alien] almost casually, they were used to non-human intelligence." (p. 122)

It is worth making this point instead of simply showing the characters coping with a new kind of intelligent being as if he (this one is male) were just another human being.

"A huge shape came around a corner. It had four legs, a torso with arms, a nonhuman head. Langley hailed it...The alien looked blankly at him and moved on...Etie Town, the section reserved for visitors of other races, was somewhere around here...most of the compartments would be sealed off, their interiors poisonous to him." (p. 71)

So, again, aliens, even a large quadruped, are taken for granted although precautions must be taken against poisonous atmospheres.

Later, Langley does visit Etie Town. Outworlders employ human servants for prestige and must pay them high salaries. Terrestrials practice slavery but do not allow aliens to own human beings. A Slimer (a merchant from Srinis) employs a cook, a maid and a formidable butler, who must work in greenish yellow light and a thick, damp mist.

These imaginative details in just a few passages increase the richness of the book. In Etie Town:

"They went down a broad street full of strangeness." (p. 166)

- but, this time, the "strangeness" is not described so the reader gets to exercise some imagination.

During Langley's visit to Etie Town, I do not understand the reference to "...the Private Eye school..." (ibid.)

Recurrent Issues II

"'...why not give the Commoners a break? Why should they spend their lives down on low-level?'"

- Poul Anderson, The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975), p. 152.

A very good question but what do we think of the answer given?

"'My dear romantic friend, what else can they do? Do you think they're fit to share administrative responsibilities? The average IQ of the Commons is about 90, the average for the Ministerial class is closer to automating all operations, it would be possible for every man in the Solar System to quit work: all his needs would be supplied free. But what, then, is your IQ-90 Commoner going to do with himself? Play chess and write epic poems?'" (ibid.)

Two issues: IQ and abundance.

IQ: I question whether any civilization could ever become so stratified and polarized that aristocrats were that much more intelligent than commoners. Both classes remain members of a single genetically diverse species (although Wells imagined two social classes becoming different biological species: Morlocks and Eloi.) Surely such a discrepancy would mean that what the IQ questionnaires were testing for was a set of skills that were socially learned in one class and not in the other: a difference between social cultures, not in average individual intelligence? We are told that the Commoners receive a minimal education, including hypnotic indoctrination. Thus, they are prevented from realizing any inherent intelligence or creativity that they might have had.

Abundance: Surely an economy of work, trade and free enterprise would not be maintained as a sort of game if it had become unnecessary? Economics is driven by necessity and competitive pressure, not by a belief that, without it, people would have nothing to do! Some low-IQ Commoners would play chess and write poetry, even if not epic. Others would play football and watch dramatized epics. But, within a generation, a comprehensive education newly open to all would create a population with a completely different outlook.

Some would not adjust but others would. Humanity changes its environment and adapts.

"'Even as things are, there isn't enough work to go around for the Ministers. That's why you see so many wastrels and so much politicking among them.'" (ibid.)

So even the high-IQ Ministers need an alternative. At least some members of that class would seek common cause with able Commoners to propose a different form of social organization and a different use of technology. Of course, we are to understand that the Technon has stabilized society for two millennia and that to overthrow it now would be to invite regression, not progress.

"'As for politics, our civilization today may be ossified, but it is at least stable, and the majority are content that it remain so. For the ordinary man, instability - change - means dislocation, war, uncertainty, misery, and death.'" (pp. 152-153)

The ordinary man thinks that if that is what he has been taught. But, if, as we are told, there is potential production of abundance, then there is no longer any reason why instability and change should mean war and misery - in fact the contrary.

"'Ruthless use of strength is the law of nature.'" (p. 65)

This sounds like 1984: "The purpose of power is power."

There would be no need to use strength if all needs were supplied free, any more than we currently fight for the air we breathe - but might if we were in a space station with only one oxygen cylinder left.

Recurrent Issues

Despite a recent post entitled "The Long Way Home: Conclusion", I find that I am still responding to this very rich novel by Poul Anderson. Having reread the novel to its conclusion, I understand why correspondent Sean Brooks regards it as an early approach to issues later addressed in Anderson's Harvest Of Stars.

One passage is similar to Isaac Asimov's The Caves Of Steel. The city Lora is "...a single integrated unit..." (The Long Way Home, St Albans, Herts, 1975, p. 61), all buildings connected and lower levels roofed over. Two thousand feet below the high towers and moving bridgeways of the Ministerial level, Commoners inhabit sunless, skyless metal corridors lacking slideways.

(Differences from The Caves Of Steel: all inhabitants of Asimov's Cities live entirely enclosed from birth to death, travel on moving "strips" and would experience agoraphobia if transported to the open countryside of robotic farms.)

Anderson conveys the confusion of an Asian city in Lora's lower levels:

air is fresh but pumping sounds are constant;
naked children run through the crowd;
booths sell cheap pottery and jewelry;
a porter carries machine parts;
two men play dice in the middle of the traffic;
there is a tavern and a sprawling drunk;
members of rival, uniformed guilds fight with their fists;
a streetwalker approaches a laborer;
a Ganymedean merchant talks to a local buyer;
servants clear a way for a rich man riding a small vehicle;
an apprentice carries a tool box behind his master;
a masked, knife-bearing assassins' guild member (!) passes;
a vendor pushing a food cart cries his wares.

But why must the Commoners spend their lives here? That question is discussed later in the novel.


"It was like a dream, he was carried wildlessly along between phantoms in black..."

- Poul Anderson, The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975), p. 69.

I have commented several times on the need for a dictionary when reading Poul Anderson. Because of Anderson's rich and extensive vocabulary, I cannot be sure whether a word like "...wildlessly..." is a misprint - but, if so, for what? - or is just another unusual word.

I cannot find it in Chamber Dictionary. Googling has produced some instances of its use, including someone else querying whether it is a word, so I am not much wiser.

After further time with Chambers Dictionary: Alright, I have got it. "Wild" is an obsolete form of "wield". "Wieldless" means "unmanageable". Therefore, "wildlessly" could mean "unmanageably".

The Long Way Home: Conclusion

(A new record for page views yesterday: 339.)

In Poul Anderson's The  Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975):

(i) That phrase, "...a wilderness of stars...", again, on p. 184.

(ii) We do not, after all, see the Technon, the ruling computer, but are definitely told that it is not conscious. It is a super-computer, not a duplicated mind (p. 157).

(iii) Secretiveness facilitates subversion: the Technon runs the supposedly independent Commercial Society and the Centaurian Jovoids have gained partial control of the Technon!

(iv) In Alan Moore's Watchmen, a faked alien threat unites mankind; in this Anderson novel, a proved alien threat unites mankind.

(v) The superdrive crosses n light-years in n years of objective time but zero subjective time so it is a bit like FTL and a bit like time dilation. In the last sentence, the characters make one interstellar jump and plan more. They do not intend to return to the Solar System but, if they did, then thousands more years would have passed and they would hardly return to the same political situation.

(vi) Telepathy is well explained as sensitivity to nervous impulses. A telepath reads subvocalizations, suppressed motor impulses from brain to throat, and can therefore be foxed by another language.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Infinite Possibilities

In Poul Anderson's The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975), set five thousand years in the future, a historian says:

"' in the known universe has exhausted the possibilities of his own culture. You wouldn't expect them to be infinite, after all. There are only so many shapes into which you can carve a block of marble; once the sculptors have made the best ones, their successors face a choice between dull imitation and puerile experiment. The same applies to all the arts, the sciences, and the permutations of human relationships.'" (p. 152)

Anderson did not believe that but was showing us a static, decadent civilization. I would say the exact opposite of this historian. The contemporary culture has limited possibilities but humanity has not. The number of shapes into which a block of marble can be carved is, if not infinite, then far greater than we will ever know. Some are considered the "best" in a particular culture but this shows the limitations of that culture. The same applies to all art, science and human relationships? Of course not! Does he advocate mass suicide?

The number of words in any language is finite, although there are always new coinages, but each of us every day utters new sentences that have never been spoken before and will never be spoken again so that every conversation is creative. We do not notice this because we look beyond everyday conversation to new texts expressing both knowledge and fiction.

As always, Anderson applies historical knowledge to future scenarios. Norwegian outcasts colonized Iceland, founded a republic, wrote fine literature and tried to colonize both Greenland and North America. Religious dissidents, deported criminals, impoverished immigrants and a few liberals founded the United States. So, in the fictitious future of this novel, what might be expected from the lost interstellar colonies?