Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Sound And The Furry

The mentally protean Hokas would make excellent galactic spies and infiltrators were it not for their embarrassing, and frankly unbelievable, shape but this, of course, is part of the comic absurdity of the series as when:

"Holmes himself dropped into an armchair so overstuffed that he almost disappeared from sight. The two humans found themselves confronting a short pair of legs beyond which a button nose twinkled and a pipe fumed."

- Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), p. 101.

The button nose, like the elsewhere mentioned beady eyes, make it difficult to avoid the impression that the Hokas are not just small and bear-like but really are animated toy teddy bears.

Anderson and Dickson reasoning logically from their own premises have invented an original crime, if not an Original Sin: smuggling historical novels to Toka! As the series proceeds, it does address some of the potential practical problems implied by its own premises. For example:

"...imposed cultural patterns were always modified so as to exclude violence." (p. 126)

Jones, the plenipotentiary, has to control the input. Thus, Hokas are able to read about bloodthirsty pirates only when inappropriate material has been smuggled in to them but then two dozen ships turn pirate, head for the Spanish Main and can be expected, irresponsibly, to attack Bermuda, "[n]ot really realizing it'll mean bloodshed. They'll be awfully sorry later." (p. 127)

Not realizing? Sorry later? That does raise some questions about their supposed intelligence.

When I asked in an earlier post whether Caesar would accept assassination etc, there was one such question that could have been answered affirmatively: would Dick Turpin accept being hanged? Tanni thinks that the Hokas have turned violent when she reads that they have hanged Dick Turpin but they do it every week: Hokas cannot be harmed by hanging them because "Their neck musculature is too strong in proportion to their weight." (p. 126)

Time Is Passing

(I accidentally published some posts instead of saving them so Onward, Earthlings!)

The framing sequences and character continuity in Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979) are provided by Alexander Jones who:

(i) visits Toka as an ensign in "The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch";
(ii) is visited by his fiance, Tanni, while hosting Hokas on Earth in "Don Jones";
(iii) accompanied by his wife, Tanni, is plenipotentiary to Toka in "In Hoka Signo Vinces";
(iv) has been plenipotentiary for nearly ten years in "The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound";
(v) mentions the birth of their child in a letter appearing as an interlude between "The Adventure..." and "Yo Ho Hoka!"

I will look out for further such marks of the passage of time while reading the series.

In Isaac Asimov's Robot stories, character continuity is provided not by any of the robots but only by the woman and men (robopsychologist, trouble shooters, US Robots executives and representatives etc) dealing with the robots. Jones performs exactly this role with the Hokas, heading off trouble or dealing with it when it arises.

In fact, he shows that he is aware of the potential dangers to which I alluded in the immediately preceding post:

"Can you imagine what would happen if I admitted a band of preachers who not only read from the Old Testament - and won't give our local rabbis a chance to explain the details - but hand out illustrated biographies of Oliver Cromwell?" (p. 123)

Yea, verily. Exactly so. Jones' job is to prevent disasters and to keep the series on the comic level.

Hokas are protean, not physically but mentally. They have no language, traditions, stories or world-view of their own that they want to preserve. They must have had something originally but they don't want to preserve it. Instead, they eagerly, energetically embrace and live whatever myth, fiction or drama they receive from human beings, even including the English language suitably adapted to different contexts.

I wanted to read more about Holmesian London but that is not the point of the series. When Jones, still within the Hokan "England," goes to Plymouth, he is about to encounter pre-Holmesian pirates.

How Serious Could This Get?

How far would Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hokas take their role play?

Would Socrates drink the hemlock?
Would Caesar accept assassination?
Would Jesus accept crucifixion - and expect resurrection?
Would Charles I accept execution?
Would Czar Nicholas and Lenin persuade the population of a large country to reenact the Russin Revolution with the same outcomes?
Would Trotsky accept the ice pick?
Need I go on?

One response to such questions could be, "This is only humor!" Of course. And I expect that the three Hoka volumes, which I have yet to read in full, will remain on that level. But questions can always be asked.

Alan Moore has shown that extremely powerful dramatic effects can be achieved by taking joke characters seriously and asking, "What would follow if this were true?" Young Billy Batson was tied up and gagged so often to prevent him from saying, "Shazam!", that the adult Batson might have developed a fixation about being tied up and gagged? And a super-strong villain moving at super-speed would be able to commit in a few hours atrocities far worse than any in history so should a visual medium not show such atrocities in graphic detail?

Nowadays, one question in my mind when reading lighter fiction is often: what might an Alan Moore treatment of these premises look like?

Another Science Of Mind

One science fiction idea is that a science of mind will be developed in future. In some of Poul Anderson's works, such a science is called "psychotechnics" or "psychodynamics" but here is another version:

"The [Hokas] were linguistic adepts, and between their natural abilities and modern psychography had learned English in a matter of days."
- Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), pp. 17-18.

This tells us only that the science is called "psychography," that it speeds learning and that it works on other species as well as on humanity but that is quite a lot to be told in a single sentence. The role of the new mental science in this narrative is merely to rationalize how one previous expedition from Earth has enabled an entire planetary population to speak fluent English in diverse dialects by the time our hero arrives with the second expedition.

Therefore, we hear no more about psychography, at least not in the parts of the series that I have read so far - the first four of the six stories in the first of the three volumes. It would have been interesting to learn more about the psychographic study of the Hokas since this species combines the strength and intelligence of human adults with the imaginative playfulness of human children. This contrast combined with the Hoka's resemblance to animated teddy bears is deployed for comic effect but could potentially have been the basis for a more serious treatment of alien psychology.

Anderson's "The Saturn Game" presents adult human beings immersing themselves in a psychodrama until, to ensure their own physical survival, they must imagine the deaths of their assumed characters.

An Elder Race Of Great Galactics

When authors turn to humor, ideas that are usually presented seriously are recycled for comic effect. The idea of an Elder Race, an older and wiser civilized species, occurs several times in Poul Anderson's works. Usually, the Elder Race exists just as an idea in the minds of his characters although, with characteristic Andersonian thoroughness, we also encounter a real such  race in The Avatar.

But to return to the Elder Race as a mere idea, there is no Space Patrol in known space but nevertheless a potentially imperialistic race reports that its new space battleship was devastatingly attacked by a smaller ship of the Space Patrol. Alexander Jones must suppress the fact that that was his ship hijacked by Hokas enacting a TV space opera. One possibility suggested by Jones is that:

"...the affair is a case of mistaken identity, possibly involving some as yet unknown race."

- Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), p. 90.

This suggestion is enthusiastically endorsed and extended by Jones' bureaucratic superior. The Council of the Interbeing League is informed that an undiscovered alien race knows English and possesses a Space Patrol whose observed actions have been beneficial. A search begins for these aliens provisionally regarded as "...an elder race of Great Galactics..." (p. 91) whose Observers maintain the Space Patrol and who will be able to teach the League much.

Thus is born a major myth...

Laugh Out Loud Moments

(The 100th post this month! Preferring to work in round numbers, I will save any more written today until tomorrow.)

(You folks out there have been great with page views recently: 190 yesterday; 125 by 11.10 am today. Maybe everyone who views can comment just once to tell us who and where they are?)

One, not the only, laugh out loud moment - an Interstellar Bureau of Investigation agent, responding to a role-playing Hoka:

"...caught on and nodded as if it hurt him. 'Of course,' he said in a strangled voice. 'I would be the last to compare myself with Mr. Holmes.'"

- Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), p. 98.

Jones and the IBI man have flown to the Tokan island of England and landed in Victorian London with its peaked roofs, winding cobbled streets, River Thames, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, St Paul's still being built, fog, gas lamps, Scotland Yard, cockney policeman referring to "...'Er Majesty...'" (p. 97), Inspector Lestrade, hansom cabs pulled by large reptiles, 221-B Baker Street, Mrs Hudson and, of course...

Elementary...

"Through a great thundering mist, Alexander Jones heard THE WORDS.
"'Not at all. Elementary, my dear Watson!'"

- Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), p. 121.

It had to happen.

People rightly say that Holmes never said that. But then why is it attributed to him? There are reasons why I think that it is a legitimate quotation. It would be more accurate if it were punctuated, "Elementary...my dear Watson!" but that is grammatically awkward.

(i) Holmes does say, "Elementary."
(ii) He does say, "My dear Watson."
(iii) Once, and I am not going to look it up now, he says both in quick succession in the course of a single conversation over two or three pages.

Therefore, it is legitimate to:

infer that Holmes would have said THE WORDS at some time in an off-stage conversation;
attribute THE WORDS to him in some of the many sequels and adaptations.

In Casablanca: I think that the line "Play it again," is addressed to a character called Sam, hence that other spurious quotation, "Play it again, Sam."

York And New York

After a visit to York earlier this year, I listed here appearances of that city in Poul Anderson's works so I need not repeat that now but here is another thought. I often mention New York on this blog if only as the place of publication of Anderson's works.

When we hear or read the phrase "New York," we think of that place across the Atlantic with all the skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty. We do not think, "a new city of York," although that is what the phrase originally meant.

York and New York are simply different places with distinct, indeed opposite, identities. There is even a chain of "New York Italian Restaurants" in Britain! And there might even be one of those in old York... Can anyone out there, on this side of the Atlantic, confirm that?

Addendum, 30 Nov: I googled. There are two New York Italian Restaurants in old York.

A Few Miscellaneous Remarks

In Poul Anderson's and Gordon Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979) -

"The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch" (1951) shows Jones arriving on Toka as an ensign whereas "In Hoc Signo Vinces" (1953) shows him installed as plenipotentiary to that planet. "Don Jones" (1957), apparently written for the collection, fills in the gap by describing the Hokas' visit to Earth and Jones' appointment as plenipotentiary.

When the narrative refers to the "...beady eyes..." (p. 20) of a Hoka, it is difficult to avoid the impression that Jones is conversing with animated toys, literal "teddy bears," rather than with organisms.

"In Hoc Signo Vinces" (1953) shares some features with Anderson's The High Crusade: because they do not know any better, primitives defeat an interstellar imperial power.

"The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound" (1953) advances the story by showing Jones after nearly ten years as plenipotentiary to Toka.

"'...the leader, known as Number Ten...'

"'Why not Number One?' asked Alex.

"'Ppusjans count rank from the bottom up.'" (p. 94)

This could be a comment on British political procedures. The Prime Minister, head of the government, always lives in 10, Downing St, London, near Parliament. Thus, the phrase "Number Ten" can, in appropriate contexts, mean the office of the person who is currently the Queen's first minister - not the tenth!

I look forward to reading the rest of this Holmesian story about the "Misplaced Hound." 

Friday, 29 November 2013

"It Comes To The Same Thing"

Tired after a round trip to York but I managed to read some of Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979) over coffee in Ye Olde Starre Inne:

"'Haven't you read the preliminary psychological reports? It seems that Hokas have a hitherto unknown type of mind - given to accepting any colorful fantasy as if it were real...nobody knows, yet, whether they actually and literally believe it at the time, or just play a role to the hilt, but it comes to the same thing.'" (p. 43)

It comes to the same thing!

Every being that is both social and individually self-conscious, i. e., on Earth, every human being, soon learns to play the role of a named person with a specific set of inner recollections and outer interactions. We need not identify completely with this role but must maintain it for practical purposes, e. g., I must remember and answer to my name, not to anyone else's. But I can also change my name to express an altered perception or understanding of the self, its relationships and responsibilities.

To take a new name in religion is not just to change the label on a parcel but also to express a new understanding of the contents. Each of us is a currently conscious organism that is more than the sum total either of its memories or of others' perceptions. I am now. Either in spontaneous awareness or in disciplined meditation, I can transcend that social/psychological construct called "Paul" or (fill in the blank).

We can be like a Hoka between roles.

(There is more on the Hoka stories but it will have to wait till tomorrow or the day after.)

Earthman's Burden II

A quick post before driving to York for the day.

Ensign Dominic Flandry works for the Terrestrial Imperial Space Navy, with headquarters in Archopolis in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth, and we first meet Flandry when he has crash landed on the extra-Solar planet, Starkad, named from Terrestrial mythology.

Ensign Alexander Jones works for the Terrestrial Interstellar Survey Service, with headquarters in League City, New Zealand, and we first meet Jones when he has crash landed on the extra-Solar planet, Toka, named from a native word for "earth."

How is it that Jones experiences no language problem when he meets his first Tokans? There was one previous expedition from Earth and the natives are extremely imitative, even down to exactly mimicking, in this case, English as supposedly spoken in the American Old West...

Maybe I can hold onto my sanity by continually remembering parallels with Anderson's other fictitious futures?

Addendum: Another similarity - both heroes must trek across part of the planet to rejoin their comrades who are based elsewhere and must get involved in local conflicts en route.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Earthman's Burden

OK. I am starting to read Earthman's Burden by Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson (New York, 1979). I have owned copies of this book and of its companion volume, Hoka (New York, 1985), for a very long time but do not think that I have read either of them right through.

Hoka's Prologue is presented as an excerpt from the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica, although this is presumably not the Encyclopedia of that name that was published on the planet Terminus during the decline of Isaac Asimov's Galactic Empire. In Anderson's and Dickson's fictitious future, there is not a human Empire but an Interbeing League. The excerpt contains the kind of planetary information that forms the background of sf works of this sort.

Thus, the planet Toka, Brackney's Star III, about 503 light years from Sol, is superficially Earth-like but with three small moons and two intelligent species, quasi-mammalian ursoid Hokas and reptiloid Slissii. However, the latter leave Toka to become interstellar wanderers as soon as the opportunity arises with the arrival of human explorers and thus also of League influence.

"...the Hokas are the most imaginative race of beings in known space, and doubtless in unknown space too." (Hoka, p. 8)

The phrase "known space" is used here, in Anderson's Technic Civilization future history and in Larry Niven's Known Space future history. I do not know where it appeared first.

Hokas not only play roles individually and collectively but also stay in role to the extent of creating "...an implausible kaleidoscope of harlequin societies..." (op. cit., p. 9)

Whether I am about to enjoy reading about these "...demon teddy bears..." (ibid.) remains to be seen.

The War Of Two Worlds: Concluding Remarks

Poul Anderson's The War of Two Worlds (New York, 1959) describes a war that is of two worlds, Earth and Mars, but with three sides, Earthmen, Martians and extra-Solars. Thus, the title informs us that the book has a similar theme to one by Wells but also misleads us as to its contents and the existence of the third side is revealed gradually.

The Martian, Regelin dzu Coruthan, reflecting that victory over Earth has cost his people a quarter of their small population and impoverished the rest, remarks, "Oh, a cold victory!" (p. 31) The phrase "Cold Victory," applied in a different context, is the title of a pivotal story in Anderson's Psychotechnic History.

Even in the midst of Anderson's action-adventure fiction, we enjoy his descriptions of natural scenes:

"Sunrise came in a shout of light. The long grass outside was one glitter from dew, and the lake rippled and flashed beyond a screen of spruce and beech and sumac. It smelled of growth here, green leaves, needles and forest mould, water and sunlight." (p. 90)

- a full circle from "Sunrise" to "sunlight."

"It is late as I write these final lines. Outside, there is the cool northern night, and the shimmer on the lake and the whisper of trees." (p. 103)

We have been led to believe that the narrator, Arnfeld, and his Martian ally, Regelin, die shortly after Arnfeld completes his manuscript but there is a clever surprise ending. The leader of the metamorphs thought that they were dead because he saw the bodies of two of his own people who had been tricked into masquerading as Arnfeld and Regelin and had then been killed!

At the end, Intelligence Prime "...pleaded for the life of his people." (p. 108) They should be spared and have much to teach but should have come in peace in the first place.

Disintegrators

Another common sf prop is a disintegrating gun. Again, Poul Anderson, in The War Of Two Worlds (New York, 1959), makes this cliche real by going into detail: a dense force-field, generated and projected in a tight beam without noise or recoil, then encountering matter, reacts with intermolecular forces and yields its energy to the molecules, forcing them to fly apart, reducing the object not to single particles, because the molecular bonds are too strong, but certainly into separate chunks.

The gun, charged by an alloy in a metastable energy state, can be adjusted so that a wide beam kills a man "...noiselessly by disrupting cell nuclei..." (p. 93) whereas a narrow beam blows a thin segment to atoms at greater range. And the principle has many peaceful applications although weapons were invented first.

Metamorphs

Metamorphs, or shape-changers, are a familiar sf concept. Poul Anderson, as always, does not merely accept the idea but reasons about it logically. In his The War Of Two Worlds (New York, 1959), no such beings have evolved naturally but one Sirian race, having mastered biology, uses manipulation of individual genes and forced growth to develop artificial mutations as metamorphic spies and infiltrators with:

pigmentation cells;
flexible tissue;
a calcium system able to grow bones and teeth in seconds probably around a cartilaginous base;
a nervous system able to control these many intricate details;
an equilibrium that can be upset only be electric shocks because nerve currents are electrical.

Thus, Anderson not only rationalizes protean powers but also extrapolates a logical weakness for such organisms. And he addresses not only their biology but also their sociology. Having helped their creators to conquer the Sirian system, they are feared, ostracized and forbidden to breed so they steal a spaceship and set out to colonize the Solar System, replacing high officials of Earth and Mars and their families, then engineering a war that weakens both planets.

As with Frankenstein, we are shown a monster, then made to feel sorry for it.

Probabilitas?

(We are near the end of November and this is the ninetieth post of the month so it might be the last till December. We have another day long trip from Lancaster to York, for a Winter Fair, scheduled for tomorrow.)

I remember from school that one standard of Classical drama was probabilitas, meaning, in this context, "plausibility" or "credibility" rather than "probability." So how plausible is Poul Anderson's The War Of Two Worlds (New York, 1959)?

The introductory passage makes two significant statements about the "...lord of the Solar System..." (p. 5):

he thinks that Earth is "[a] lovely world...a broad fair planet...one to fight for, to seize and hold like a beloved mate..." (ibid.), whereas the Martians, suffering in thick atmosphere and high gravity, occupy Earth only as a military necessity;

he has a "...great crested head..." (p. 6) whereas the Martians each have only two small antennae (p. 23).

These are early clues that the real controllers of the Solar System are not the natives of Mars and conquerors of Earth. But this is where the plausibility questions begin. A massive, outrageous deception is being perpetrated on an interplanetary scale yet is quite casually penetrated. Then the handful of characters who have learned the truth survive indefinitely as hunted fugitives. Like all good Andersonian heroes, they are able to knock aside the gun of a state trooper and make their escape.

Still, it is always good to see former enemies, in this case Earthmen and Martians, united against a common enemy. Solarians, unite.

Martians

How many fictional races of Martians are there? I have lost count of Poul Anderson's although he surely has over half a dozen. One of his sets of "Martians" comprises extra-Solar colonists although they share certain physical characteristics with an indigenous Martian race in another story.

The "Marshies" of his The War Of Two Worlds (New York, 1959) sound like cartoon Martians:

seven feet tall;
long straight legs;
lean waist and arms;
large chest and shoulders;
hairless brown skin;
high cheekbones;
domed forehead;
narrow chin;
long pointed ears;
small flat nose;
mobile mouth;
large slanted golden eyes, protected by additional transparent eyelids from Terrestrial sunlight;
small antennae;
black uniforms;
able to live, uncomfortably, in Terrestrial atmosphere and gravity, unlike men on Mars;
huge spongy lungs drawing oxygen from food as well as from air by "...symbiosis with anaerobic bacteria." (p. 26)

This description has three features:

some logical extrapolations about what bipedal life should look like on Mars;
a few cartoonish elements;
recognizably characteristic Andersonian speculation about alternative life forms.

The Martian conquerors are polite like the Chinese. Thus, life on occupied Earth is not very different from being ruled by human beings of a different nationality. There is nothing really alien or unEarthly, as there was under Wells' very different Martians.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The War Of Two Worlds II

Rereading Poul Anderson's The War Of Two Worlds (New York, 1959) is slowed by other activities. For example, we have just watched a BBC program about the life of CS Lewis. However, it is alright for rereading to be slowed. There is no hurry to find out how the story ends and there is time to appreciate descriptive passages. Chapter I begins:

"Sundown was brief, night came swiftly out of the Atlantic and flowed across the world. A few lamps blinked on in the city, but most of it lay in darkness; there was more light overhead, as the stars came out." (p. 5)

I have realized only now that I should have asked: why is the city dark? This is explained later.

Many works of fiction describe Terrestrial sunsets but science fiction also describes scenes elsewhere in the Solar System:

"The asteroid spun swiftly through a great cold dark, between a million frosty stars and the glittering belt of the Milky Way. The sun was remote, a tiny heartless disc whose light was pale on the cruel jagged rocks." (p. 10)

Two very different views of the Sun.

A third quotation indirectly links the first two as a spaceman returned from the asteroid looks across a city:

"They'd told me New York had had it bad, but I never realized it would be like this.

"The haughty skyline of Manhattan was a jumble of steel skeletons, stripped, snapped off, and stark against the sky." (p. 15)

(Some of the buildings had also melted.) Quoting this single sentence, I have just noticed its alliteration: sky, steel, skeletons, stripped, snapped, stark, sky - and listing the "s" words highlights the sky "sandwich".

That third quotation answers the question raised by the first. Cities are dark because Earth has been hit hard in a space war. The first time reader reads on to find out what happens next...

A straightforward pulp sf plot but with well-observed details elevating Anderson's writing above the pulp level.

Loyalty

In Poul Anderson's The War Of Two Worlds (New York, 1959), after twenty years of war, Mars has captured Luna and defeated Earth. Under the terms of the armistice, the Earth space service must yield Pallas Base in good condition to the Marshies. The executive officer on Pallas, David Arnfeld, intends to obey that order and therefore must carpet an engineer who sets out to wreck safety controls so that the main power pile will blow up some time.

The engineer's loyalty is to his race. Arnfeld's is to the Earth HQ that issues his orders. Arnfeld can also point out first that the Terrestrial population will suffer if the armistice is broken - here, loyalty to family is invoked - and secondly that:

"Maybe we can get our revenge later, but that won't be for a long time yet." (p. 10)

So, fellow Terrestrials, which of them is right: Arnfeld or the engineer?

The War Of Two Worlds

The text of Poul Anderson's The War Of Two Worlds (New York, 1959) comprises:

an introductory passage without a heading;
Chapters I-XI;
an Epilogue.

In the unentitled introductory passage, "...Intelligence Prime, lord of the Solar System..." (p. 5), described as possessing  a "...great crested head..." (p. 6), starts to read a text hand-written by a now dead Earthman called David Arnfeld.

It is a safe bet that Chapters I-XI are narrated by Arnfeld and that the Epilogue returns to Intelligence Prime's pov.

Prime's people have conquered Earth and Mars. He refers to "...the Exodus..." (p. 6) and aspires to "...know peace under friendly stars..." (p. 5) so the conquerors seem to have crossed an interstellar distance. Although he is "lord," he operates in secret:

"It was not risky for him to appear at the window. His secret office was so high above darkened Sao Paulo..." (p. 5)

Contradiction?

Arnfeld's text, dated 2043, gives his birth year as 2017, just four years from now and five years before the start of a war. He entered Lunar Academy at the age of twelve and was exec of Pallas Base at twenty five so his twenty first century has more interplanetary capacity than ours has had so far.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Threshold Of Eternity: Conclusion

OK. I have struggled to the end of John Brunner's Threshold Of Eternity (New York, 1959). I now think that this work is a text book example of how not to write about time travel. Both the narrative and the dialogue present a series of statements that are at at best incomprehensible and at worst incoherent with an apparent assumption that all such statements are clear and unproblematic for the reader.

For example:

"'Assume that the universe has a strong tendency to remain unified. Our original researches into four-dimensional existence suggested that probability. Then my going-double might have been firmly under the impression that he had remained in his own present and was giving information to the [another character] of his own present. However, if that information had been acted upon, it would have ironed out one of the distinctions between the two time-streams. Follow me?'

"'I do indeed...'" (p. 118)

Do you?

I was going to check how Brunner described his characters visiting a historical period. Not as well as Anderson. Brunner's characters dip in and out of the seventeenth century and quickly return to their preferred environment of spaceship interiors. Anderson often evokes the feel of an era by listing the sights, sounds and smells encountered by a time traveler on entering an ancient city. Brunner approaches this in just one paragraph about The Hague:

"Passing men laden with goods, men selling fresh water from barrels, itinerant vendors of needles, distinguished citizens with attendants, rough artisans, slatternly women, they were predominantly conscious of one thing - a stink which was almost nauseating...from upper story windows maidservants were casually tossing night slops into the streets, horses padded through the muddy pools leaving the inevitable signs of their passage..." (p. 85)

But we need far more than this to give us any sense of people, including visiting time travelers, living in that period.

Also, as I suspected, the men of different epochs fighting the space-time war on planets of different cultures exist only in the blurb and not in the text.

Threshold Of Eternity Update

Usually to review a book we need to finish reading it first but, when blogging, we can do as we please: fac quod vis. In fact, I find it convenient to comment on a book while still reading it. So far this week, other activities have prevented me from  finishing John Brunner's Threshold Of Eternity (New York, 1959), the point being to compare this Brunner novel with Poul Anderson's time travel fiction first because the blog's title is "Poul Anderson Appreciation" and secondly because Anderson's carefully constructed time travel narratives set a standard that is difficult to match.

In Threshold, time travelling spacecraft fight within sight of twentieth century Earth. However, one ship stationed between the battle and Earth converts radiant energy into high energy particles so that Terrestrial astronomers notice nothing more than increased cosmic radiation - a neat solution, worthy of Anderson's Time Patrol.

However, time travel technical terms like "Anchor team..." and "...temporal surge..." (p. 10) and, later, "...temporal interference..." (p. 78) are newly invented and repeatedly used with little or no explanation. If any reader who is swept along by the narrative thinks that he does know what these words mean, then I would be interested in an explanation.

At one point in the narrative, a war party from the twenty-third century Crocerauninan Empire is displaced to 1957 when it fights Russian forces before responsible time travelers intervene to remove the intruders. One time traveler explains that the Empire grew from the wreckage of China and Mongolia, retaining some science but treating it as magic. This reminds us of several Anderson works in which war destroys civilization but new societies emerge from the ruins.

One of the many strengths of Anderson's time travel fiction is his ability to write authentic historical fiction and to integrate such passages into time travel scenarios. Thus, he does not merely inform us that his characters have traveled into the past but shows us ancient Tyre and Persia, barbarian Germania, a battle in the Second Punic War etc. As I read, Brunner's characters have just entered the mid-seventeenth century...

Monday, 25 November 2013

Space Time Wars

Although a war fought throughout space and time sounds like a straightforward idea, it is anything but. Doctor Who would have us believe that the Doctor is the last surviving Time Lord with no access to fellow Time Lords since they all died in a Time War. However, if they all died at a particular time, then surely he is able to travel to before they died? And, before dying, some of them would surely have traveled into their future? Therefore, some may exist now or, failing that, will in a while? And, if, as its name suggests, the Time War is fought at various times, then some of it is happening now or will in the future? Thus, even if all the Time Lords are to die in that war, they need not be all dead yet and, even if they were, a time traveler could still have access to them?

I am reading John Brunner's Threshold Of Eternity and expect some surprises before the end. The blurb informs us that:

"...there was a war going on throughout space and time. A war fought by men of different epochs, on planets of different cultures..." (Threshold Of Eternity, New York, 1959, p. 1)

So far in the text, however, the war, in our future, is only against an alien enemy in space. The time element consists of the fact that a battling spaceship can suffer a "...temporal surge..." that scatters its crew throughout history although they have a mechanism by which they can instantly return to their present (pp. 10-11). I expect that there is going to be more to it than that but I wonder if the "...men of different epochs, on planets of different cultures..." exist only in the blurb? (I will soon find out.)

As always, Poul Anderson comes to the rescue. His time travelers move through real history, not through abstract "space and time." In his The Corridors Of Time, rival human powers on a future Earth dispatch agents throughout history and prehistory. Unable to change events, they nevertheless recruit supporters and try to influence long term historical tendencies in order to determine an outcome in their future from which both sides are barred by their successors who, we learn, have transcended the conflict.

That really is a war fought throughout space and time.

Anderson And Wellsianity

Associative processes are spiral, not linear. Setting out to reread The War Of Two Worlds by Poul Anderson, I instead began to read for the first time Threshold Of Eternity by John Brunner, published in the same Ace Double volume. Noticing, so to say, the obvious "Wellsianity" of both novels, I then reflected more generally on Wells and his successors.

Thus, this post belongs more appropriately on the Science Fiction blog and will be copied there. However, most page viewers visit Poul Anderson Appreciation. Further, Wells and other sf writers are discussed here not in their own right but to compare them with Anderson.

CS Lewis referred to:

"...what we may loosely call the Scientific Outlook, the picture of Mr. Wells and the rest." ("Is Theology Poetry?" IN Lewis, Screwtape Proposes A Toast and Other Pieces (London, 1965), pp. 41-58 AT pp. 45-46)

Lewis acknowledges that practising scientists as a whole do not accept this "Scientific Outlook" and concedes that "...the delightful name 'Wellsianity'...", (p. 46) suggested by another member of the Socratic Club, would have been more appropriate.

Wells' works, both fiction and non-fiction, express Wellsianity as Lewis' express Christianity. Wells' science fiction pioneers four themes:

space travel;
time travel;
interplanetary invasion;
future history.

Wells has many successors, including Anderson and Brunner, and one main opponent. I have argued on the Science Fiction blog that Lewis' Ransom novels are a systematic reply to the four Wellsian themes.

Wells is content to describe:

a single journey to the Moon in the Cavorite sphere, which is lost at the end of the novel;
a single journey to the future on the Time Machine, which is lost at the end of the novel;
a single attack by Martians, who are killed by Terrestrial microbes;
a single historical turning point in the next two hundred years - although, as against this, the Time Traveller's journey to the further future shows him the devolution of mankind and the end of life on Earth.

Wells' successors describe regular space travel, time travel and alien contact and write longer future histories. Anderson's The War Of Two Worlds, like Wells' The War Of The Worlds, describes a war between Earth and Mars and Anderson went on to write many other accounts of interplanetary conflicts. Brunner's Threshold Of Eternity, like Wells' The Time Machine, describes time travel but, in this case, such travel has become routine and indeed a means of conflict.

I have argued previously that Olaf Stapledon and Poul Anderson are major successors of Wells.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Now

Places coexist. Thus, someone who has traveled from place 1 to place 2 can then ask, "What is happening now at place 1?" However, times, e. g., 4.00 am and 4.00 pm, do not coexist but precede and succeed each other. Thus, someone who has either lived or "time traveled" from 4.00 am to 4.00 pm cannot then meaningfully ask, "What is happening now at 4.00 am?"

However, HG Wells writes, of his Time Traveller:

"He may even now - if I may use the phrase - be wandering on some plesiosaurus-haunted Oolitic coral reef..." (The Time Machine, London, 1973, p. 101)

- and John Brunner writes of men affected by an as yet unexplained "temporal surge":

"Now - if one could say such a thing - they were scattered across history..." (Threshold Of Eternity, New York, 1959, p. 11).

It would be interesting to know if Brunner realized as he wrote that he was echoing Wells on this precise point. However, Poul Anderson, who wrote three independent novels, one long series and several short stories about time travel, never made the mistake of referring to different times as if they were different places existing at the same time.

Addendum: In a film adaptation of The Time Machine, after the model time machine has disappeared, the Time Traveller says that by now it may be several years in the future.

Another Ace Double

I have in my possession an Ace Double book published in New York in 1959. On one side is The War Of Two Worlds by Poul Anderson, described on the cover as a "Complete Novel." Additional cover blurb declares, "Earth Must Choose - The Martians Or The Monsters!" The cover illustration shows four streamlined air- or spacecraft, two flying past, one being shot down by an Earthman with a futuristic hand weapon, the fourth already crashed on the rocky terrain.

Inside the cover:

p. 1 summarizes the plot and advises "Turn this book over for second complete novel";
p. 2 is a "CAST OF CHARACTERS";
p. 3 is the title page for The War Of Two Worlds;
p. 4 is the publishing details;
pp. 5-108 are the text of novel.

Thus, this novel fills 104 pages. A novel is a long prose fiction. My rule of thumb for a novel is 100+ pages so this work qualifies. I read it once on purchase years ago and will reread it to blog.

On the other side is Threshold Of Eternity by John Brunner, "Complete & Unabridged." Cover blurb informs us that "All Time And Space Was Their Battlefield." The cover shows a giant in a gas mask tearing through a wall, knocking over machines and threatening four space-suited men, two of them armed.

p. 1 summarizes the plot and advises "Turn this book over for second complete novel";
p. 2 presents information about the author;
p. 3 is the title page;
p. 4 is the publishing details;
pp. 5-148 are the text.

I have not read Threshold Of Eternity but will because:

I have not read much Brunner but know that he could write well;
I am particularly interested in time travel although I found Brunner's Times Without Number disappointingly incoherent (about a time travel organization but in no way comparable to Anderson's Time Patrol series);
I will compare Threshold Of Eternity with Anderson's works about conflicts through time and comment either here or on the Logic of Time Travel blog.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The End Of The Week

Today, Friday, we were in the 1496 Inn on Kirkstone Pass between Lakes Windermere and Ullswater.

Tomorrow, Saturday, we return to the historic city of Lancaster.

On Sunday, my daughter Aileen and I will attend an anti-fascist campaign event in Liverpool.

Monday should be a return to life as normal which, for me, could mean gym, Zen group and starting to reread another Poul Anderson volume or maybe reading a Hoka book for the first time.

Tuesday afternoon will be Latin class. Hannibal has crossed the Alps and is fighting a Roman army but I need to read more of Livy's account.

Wednesday evening should be the Uncanny League of Astonishing Amazers, a comics fan group into which an sf fan splinter group has merged.

Thursday evening will be a political meeting in the city of Preston, that ancient hotbed of Catholicism, "priest town," still full of Roman schools, churches, colleges, convents and a religious order's retreat house, with a haloed Lamb and Cross on the city logo, but now also the setting for mosques, a mandir (Hindu temple), a Gurdwara (Sikh temple), a Buddhist Centre and pagan moots (meetings). When in Preston during the day, I meditate in a city centre Catholic church and visit the mandir.

On Friday, the last working day of the month, my pension should arrive to help pay for these activities.

A Slow Boat To Alpha Centauri

In Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Poul Anderson imagines a ship or fleet "...bound for Alpha Centauri at one-tenth light speed..." (p. 170):

the journey will take more than forty three years;
families will embark but only the children and grandchildren will arrive;
the self-supporting ships will recycle all organic matter and grow tanked plants or algae;
scientists exploring hostile Solar planets will have perfected these techniques;
after acceleration, the ships will be rotated to simulate gravity;
compatible, self-disciplined crews will have interesting work, libraries, theaters, gyms, gardens and emotion-regulating drugs.

"Some writers have suggested that voyages will be undertaken that last many generations. This is possible, I suppose, but does not look very probable." (p. 172).

But it is how we imagine science fiction "generation ships," i. e., slower than light multi-generation interstellar spaceships:

in Robert Heinlein's generation ship story, part of his Future History, the crew mutinies, destroying organized society within the ship;
in Poul Anderson's generation ship story, part of his Psychotechnic History, psychotechnicians manage ship society, containing conflicts and preventing an ultimately destructive mutiny;
in Clifford Simak's generation ship story, social engineering keeps the crew in line by inculcating religious fervor, e.g., for holy pictures of a House, a Tree and the Wind That You Cannot See But Know Is There.

These three stories form a conceptual sequence in which Heinlein adumbrates a problem to which both Anderson and Simak then respond.

Subjovians And Superterrestrials

The subjovian planets, Uranus and Neptune, are intermediate in mass between jovians and hypothetical superterrestrials. Not large enough to retain jovian quantities of hydrogen or helium, they instead have stone and metal cores, atmospheric methane and probably also solid ammonia. If such a planet received more solar heat, either in a closer orbit or from a hotter sun, then it would lose even more hydrogen and helium, retaining an atmosphere of hydrogen, methane, ammonia and inert gasses.

Poul Anderson argues in Is there Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963) that on such a planet, i. e., a hot subjovian, organic compounds should form and become more complex although the remaining excess of hydrogen would prevent the formation of any cellular chlorophyll plus which, if any oxygen were released, then it would combine with the hydrogen to form water, thus circumventing an Earth-like plant-animal system - although not necessarily preventing the evolution of other kinds of complex organisms. In fact, Anderson argues later in the book that hydrogen-breathers are possible and even probable.

It is important to read this passage carefully because its conclusion:

"...subjovians at reasonably high temperatures seem very likely to be inhabited..." (p. 87)

refers not, as I initially thought, to Uranus or Neptune, but instead to hypothetical hotter subjovians in other planetary systems.

A superterrestrial:

would have higher gravity, therefore a thicker atmosphere with a stronger greenhouse effect;
thus, would be like Venus if near its sun but cooler further out;
should in the latter case have photosynthesis and an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere but with more concentrated pre-biological matter leading to faster evolution, also air that would both burn and poison human beings;
but, if smaller, might have habitable mountaintops, like Anderson's Rustum or Niven's Plateau.

(A week away with only one Anderson book means not less blogging but more blogging about a single text. However, this one nonfiction work contains a lot of concentrated information.)

With my granddaughter, who is of Jewish descent through her father, I have just watched Fiddler On The Roof which ends with Russian Jews about to embark for New York where Anderson's works were published...

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Superjovian Planets

When Poul Anderson's There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963) was published, it was known that there were extra-Solar planets sixteen times as massive as Jupiter. The size of superjovians would vary from just sub-stellar to just super-Jovian.

Superjovians that had formed either before or outside of metal-rich galactic regions would be solid hydrogen with enormous hydrogen-helium atmospheres. If superjovians, like the large Solar planets, rotate fast, then they are flattened at the poles. Although massive, they might be no bigger than Uranus because gravity should compress their cores, reducing even the size of their atoms. They can be closer to their suns than Jupiter because, if the latter were too close, then Solar heat would boil away its hydrogen.

Hydrogen and helium would fatally dilute any prebiological compounds, like methane or ammonia, in a superjovian atmosphere. However, multiple star systems can contain superjovians whose moons could be big enough to be terrestroid. Thus, although terrestroid planets are unlikely either to form or to retain stable orbits in a multiple system, terrestroid moons might, and since:

"Probably more than half the stars are double or triple..." (p. 86)

Anderson argues that this capacity of superjovians to support terrrestroid moons in multiple star systems significantly increases the likelihood of life. I had known that terrestroid planets were unlikely to form or to survive in multiple systems but not that terrestroid moons could do so. Thus, this fact, highlighted by Anderson, is indeed significant.

Further, Hal Clement suggests fictionally in Mission Of Gravity that oil- or fat-based life might exist in liquid methane on superjovians. 

Two Influences Of Christianity?

In different works, Poul Anderson suggests two possible influences of Christianity on science. First, in Is There Life On Other Worlds?, he suggests that the close reasoning applied to supernatural entities in theology was later re-applied to natural processes and technology because simultaneous social developments made that re-application possible. If so, then the simultaneity of theological disputes and technological developments was coincidental.

Secondly, he suggests, in "Delenda Est", that the belief that a single deity had created an ordered cosmos encouraged the scientific search for cosmic order. If so, then I suggest that the idea of such a creator can now be regarded as a discarded scientific theory. Organisms look as if they have been designed to survive and to procreate but natural selection is an alternative explanation. The Solar System has been compared to a clockwork mechanism which, of course, would have had to be designed. However, the laws of motion account for planetary orbits with reference to natural forces operating independently of consciousness. Scientific cosmogony describes gravitational and nuclear forces transforming the simplest of the elements into complicated galaxies of stars and planets.

There is more to a religious tradition than a discarded scientific theory. However, I argue that, if any meaning or value is to be found in such traditions, then it has to be differentiated from their earlier role in explaining cosmic origins. That latter task is now performed by scientists discovering pre-conscious forces and processes. Creation stories are valuable myths and we are now the heirs of all the traditions: Torah, Veda, Edda, Koran (YHWH, Indra, Odin, Allah) etc.

Historical Accidents

I had read Poul Anderson's condensed account, in Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), of the origin of science but had not retained many of its details. Summarizing the account for the previous post helped to focus those details and they were surprising. Anderson suggests that:

if the Greeks had not had slaves, then they might have had science;
if Western Europeans had not had dogmatic Christianity, then we might not have had science.

There is an obvious link between possessing slaves and not wanting machines, therefore not addressing the engineering problems that can generate pure research, but there is no obvious connection between reasoning about doctrinal disagreements and reasoning about the physical world - except, of course, for the process of reason itself. This abstract process would not have been applied beyond theology without the simultaneous development of practical technology and of a new economic class investing in that technology. It was accidental that these divergent social forces developed simultaneously.

Those are the most noticeable historical accidents but there are others. Thus:

if the Roman Empire had not left a technological legacy or if the Germanic tribes had not valued work and trade and therefore had been unable to build on that legacy, then we might not have had science;

different experiments with the cathode-ray tube of the 1870's could have led to radar in 1900, thus accelerating progress in electronics, chemistry and nuclear physics;

a particle theory of light proposed in the seventeenth century might have led to quantum mechanics;

radioactivity was discovered accidentally;

"human" sciences might have become more precise if the physical sciences had not;

Newton and his immediate successors might have developed relativity if not for the structure of Indo-European languages.

We may add that "Arabic" numerals and the indispensible mathematical zero came to Europe via the Arabs from India. How did Roman engineers design aqueducts with their numerals? They managed somehow but science needed a better mathematics than theirs.

As often happens when summarizing Anderson, this list of historical accidents has turned out to be much longer than I expected when I started to write it.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Birth Of Science

Agriculture, invented in desperation and by trial and error when wildlife dwindled, fed more people and initiated civilization which, however, remained vulnerable to barbarian invasions. After initial technological progress, writing generated a conservative priesthood committed to social stasis. Much later, scientific knowledge liberated society from the limitations of water-, wind-, fire- and muscle-power but, Poul Anderson argues in Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), science was not inevitable.

Scientific knowledge is not mere facts but organized facts about the physical universe although this might still be insufficient: the Babylonians' mathematically organized facts about stars and planets amounted to astrology. Isolated observations need to be linked by a theory that suggests new observations. Thus, science can be described as:

"...a body of more or less organized fact and theory together with a process of discovery involving hypothetical explanations whose deductive consequences are checked against observed data and that are discarded when they don't work." (p. 146)

- whereas conservative priesthoods maintain traditional practices whether they work or not!

Alleged precursors of modern scientists were:

the earliest observers of natural phenomena;
Egyptian surveyors;
Babylonian astrologers;
Greek philosophers;
Roman engineers;
medieval alchemists.

More generally:

observation;
cataloguing;
accidental discovery;
practical techniques;
improvement of techniques.

These constitute accumulated knowledge, necessary but insufficient for science - incapable of generating, e. g., electromagnetic theory or electronics. Scientific method originated historically recently in Europe and spread from there so how did it start? Medieval Arabs had inherited Greek and Hindu knowledge, then innovated in optics, astronomy, chemistry and medicine but stopped short of a scientific revolution.

Proto-scientific imports to Europe included the indispensable mathematical zero and alchemical laboratory techniques. The Greeks had:

a prototype steam turbine;
Archimedean appreciation of mathematics and machinery;
some automata;
water wheels;
hypotheses about atoms and material substances;
mathematics;
astronomy;
physics;
taxonomy;
biology;
sociology;
Galenic medicine.

Thus, they had logic, theory, data and techniques but never combined these into science because, apart from deficiencies like no lenses or printing, manual labour, even when highly skilled, was the province of slaves, not of intellectuals, who sought only pure, abstract, rational, impractical, non-empirical knowledge. (Plato has a lot to answer for.) Slave owners did not need machines and did not address engineering problems which, later, instigated pure research, e. g., in thermodynamics.

Social attitudes matter. Later Europeans, unlike earlier Greeks or contemporary Byzantines, valued mechanics. Anderson suggests that the Dark Ages technological advances (horse collar, horse shoe, mold-board plough and deep-water ship) occurred because Germanic barbarians, disdaining neither work nor trade, had to cope with the technologies, problems and labour shortage of the declining Roman Empire.

Medieval architecture and trade required precise knowledge, for example navigators needed astronomy, and the universities adapted Classical philosophy. By the Renaissance, there were:

gunpowder;
clocks;
magnetic compasses;
clear glass;
water mills;
speculation about practicalities, not about ideals;
opposition to blind acceptance of authority;
mutual respect and even identity between philosophers and engineers.

Thus, scientific method began in the later Renaissance because of:

the long established respectability of trade and handicraft as against the ancient Classical attitude;
accumulated technology;
capitalist support for makers of discoveries;
one further factor -

"...a logical, analytic approach is just as necessary as an empirical one. The development of this thought pattern may perhaps be traced back to the scholars and theologians of the Middle Ages." (p. 153)

How come?

"The tolerant Classical world could let any number of different philosophies flourish, but Christendom required unanimity. This led to fierce competition between rival schools of thought, which in turn forced the development of sharp intellectual tools. The Judaeo-Christian tradition also discouraged the fuzzy subjectivism of Asia, insisting that the nature of the world is independent of man but discoverable by him." (pp. 153-154)

It is ironic if the intellectual tools applied to finding out about this world were developed in order to clarify religious doctrines and to differentiate them from heresies but Anderson's argument is precisely that science originated because of accidents that might have happened earlier, later or not at all.

The dismissive remark about Asia is a generalization. Uncompromising Zen meditation yields clear self-knowledge and understanding, not "...fuzzy subjectivism..." I think that we now need a synthesis incorporating scientific research, philosophical tolerance and Eastern meditation.

Shakespeare, Society And Science

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, Shakespeare was not a great dramatist but the Great Historian because Lear, Hamlet, Caesar, Macbeth, Oberon, Ariel etc really existed. (I know that Caesar and Macbeth really existed but I am here referring to the dramatic characters, not to the historical figures!)

In Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Anderson suggests that Shakespeare might "...have been a great pioneer in the science of man..." (p. 148) except that:

"...the success of physics and chemistry has smothered those 'human' sciences [psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics...], partly by attracting talent from them and partly by imposing false canons on them." (p. 147)

Further:

"...there is no obvious reason why the 'human' sciences...could not be highly developed on a world with a very backward physical science." (ibid.)

And:

"If the methods appropriate to the study of the atom are not well suited to the study of man (which seems plausible), then the physical-science orientation of the modern world has forced 'human' sciences into an unnatural imitative mold, and its disappointing results can be understood." (pp. 147-148)

I quote these passages in detail in order to contrast them with Anderson's Psychotechnic History and Planet Of No Return, in both of which a science of society, modeled on the physical sciences and complete with equations, is made to work so that experts are able to predict and manipulate social developments. As with AI and several other issues, Anderson yet again gives the impression of covering every alternative.

Indo-European Languages

In Is There life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Poul Anderson argues that the Indo-European linguistic structure of nouns, adjectives and verbs imposes an unreal distinction between things, qualities and actions:

"...as if 'heaviness' had some existence apart from the class of heavy objects." (p. 148)

Yes, Plato thought that reality comprised timeless Ideas: heaviness, largeness, goodness etc. An Idea was not an abstraction from many instances but the reality of which the instances were copies.

I used to think not that the properties were independent of the object but that the object had some reality independent of its properties, thus that it possessed them, not that it was them. However, when all the properties have been listed, there is nothing left over to comprise the object. We were taught that bread and wine miraculously became flesh and blood because the substance changed even though the "accidents", i. e., the sight, taste etc remained the same. But, again, a full list of its "accidents" comprises bread as against flesh or vice versa. This formulation was unnecessary. A ritual can be performed reciting the words of the Last Supper without trying to explain a miraculous transformation philosophically.

Indo-European language speakers thought that, if a scientific theory implies an action, then it also implies an acting substance or thing. Thus, electromagnetic undulations, describable by wave mechanics, must be undulations of an omnipresent ether and it became difficult to see how this "ether" differed from the space that it was believed to fill. However, space and time were considered substantial only because "space" and "time" are nouns, furthermore distinct nouns. If Newton and his immediate successors had been able to realize instead that space-time is a single set of relationships or interactions, then they might have been able to formulate relativity, thus possibly initiating an earlier development of non-Euclidean geometry, quantum mechanics and atomic energy.

Anderson points out that the Chinese developed civilization but not science and that Oriental scientists usually write in a European language because, despite their imperfections, these languages do reflect enough of the cosmic structure to allow for scientific thinking. What I am not clear about is: what is the structure of non-Indo-European languages? Do they not have nouns, adjectives or verbs?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Horn Of Time

Google informs me that The Horn Of Time is a Poul Anderson collection of:

"The Horn Of Time The Hunter" (Kith future history);
"A Man To My Wounding";
"The High Ones";
"The Man Who Came Early" (time travel);
"Marius" (Psychotechnic future history);
"Progress" (Maurai future history).

The future history stories should be, and have been, collected in their respective series. The time travel story should be included in a revised edition of the time travel collection, Past Times.

That leaves two stories. "A Man To My Wounding" sounds familiar although I can't place it. Regular correspondent Sean recommends "The High Ones" which sounds unfamiliar to me so I will order a copy of The Horn Of Time.

"Time" is always an evocative word in a fiction title. In sf and in Poul Anderson, it can mean time travel although not here.

Tracking down second hand copies of all Anderson collections is one way to acquire some previously unread stories but what we really need is a multi-volume Complete Short Stories.

The Moon And Mercury

(See Addendum.)

 In Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Poul Anderson summarizes data about the Moon:

weak gravity so no atmosphere or water vapor on the surface;
temperature varying from over 200 F to below -250 F;
no protection from Solar ultraviolet or charged particles;
however, large areas insulated by dust have underground temperatures of 30 F to -95 F;
irradiated dust in vacuum congeals into material that could hold organic matter;
low gravity plus probable absence of a core could mean protected caverns and tunnels;
organisms could have originated during the 10 or 100 million years before the Moon lost its air and surface water;
other organic matter could have arrived during the meteoric bombardment, even including Terrestrial organisms;
subsurface ice could become liquid or vapor during the Lunar day;
some organisms could have adapted as the atmosphere was lost and might also use the organic matter left by those that had died.

Scientists speculate at most about microscopic organisms but Anderson imagines:

cactus-like plants;
one symbiont growing a membrane to screen against ultraviolet and retain water;
others using Solar energy to metabolize minerals;
buried nodules manufacturing enzymes to repair radiation damage;
worms or beetles distributing seeds in return for nourishment;
all, when dying, providing matter to the underground ecology.

The Wellsian Moon seems to return if only in Anderson's imaginative projections from current data. He speculates similarly about life in caverns on Mercury, then also hypothesizes very hot liquids as lubricants as in his short story, "Life Cycle", set on Mercury.

Addendum: I try to summarize Poul Anderson's intricate arguments comprehensively and accurately but this time missed a point:

"...because there is no atmosphere and hence no convection, anything that casts a shadow is a barrier to light and radiation. The many Lunar crevasses and caves are never subjected to the Sun's attack." (p. 63)

Thus, in addition to congealed surface dust plus underground caverns and tunnels, all of which I did list, we are to imagine cactus-, worm- and beetle-like organisms in shadows and caves on the surface. (Although I think that the Apollo astronauts would have seen some of them.)

Mars

I was surprised when Larry Niven's Known Space future history included humanoid Martians. They live under the dust and water destroys them - so they use wells for burial, or for their equivalent of cremation. A protector exterminates the Martians in the Solar System by diverting an ice asteroid onto a collision course with Mars but they survive on the Map of Mars in the Great Ocean on the Ringworld.

Poul Anderson summarizes information about Mars in Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963):

most of the surface is red-yellow desert broken by bleak scarps and ranges and meteoric craters;
the very thin atmosphere comprises nitrogen, argon, too much carbon dioxide and no oxygen;
the surface is extremely cold, receiving 43% of the radiation of Earth, although this would suffice for vision and photosynthesis;
maybe a few Terrestrial plants could live and grow there;
the polar caps seem to be water;
as on the Moon, there could be ice underground;
dark areas and "canals" change color, as if with vegetation, when the ice caps melt;
Martian plants might split oxygen from iron oxides;
plants could mean animals, even large and intelligent ones.

Suddenly, Anderson's section on Mars ends by reopening the question whether there might be intelligent Martians. However, fifty years later, no such beings have been detected so I think that their existence remains very unlikely.  

Miscellaneous

In Poul Anderson's Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), we learn that the galaxy is surrounded by an ellipsoidal halo of thinly spread faint stars and gas, fifty times the galactic volume, so let's have some sf stories set in that region.

"What will extra-Terrestrial intelligent life look like? Will it be so fantastically alien that we could not even recognize it as such, or will it be strictly human? The most reasonable answer lies between these extremes." (p. 118)

I have yet to read "Green Thumb" in Anderson's Psychotechnic History but I deduce from references in other works that it is set on the colonized planet Nerthus where this problem, early failure to recognize the natives, occurs.

"Heavy gravities would seem to favor beings that are short and broad, often with more than one pair of legs." (ibid.)

Anderson's hydrogen-breathing Ymirites who colonize Jupiter do not walk on the Jovian surface but fly through the atmosphere. Joe, the artificial intelligent being designed to live on Jupiter in a non-series story, is a quadruped, as maybe were the Jovians in Three Worlds To Conquer? (I do not have the book to hand for reference.) The hydrogen-breathing Baburites, inhabitants of a sub-Jovian planet, resemble giant centipedes.

Brains evolve because they have survival value in particular conditions:

"This rules out intelligent plant life. Fixed in place, a tree or bush would gain nothing, either of protection or of food-finding ability, if it could think...we can take it for granted that all thinking beings are...motile animals..." (ibid.)

Stanley Weinbaum, an sf writer who specialized in devising exotic life forms, described hyper-intelligent Martian plants that could reason out the structure of the universe but were unconcerned that they were being killed by Martian animals. So how did they develop any intelligence in the first place?

"If the atmosphere is no denser than Earth's, a winged thinker is implausible." (p. 123)

But Anderson, helped by Campbell, found a way to devise winged thinkers on the terrestroid planet, Ythri. A different set of planetary conditions gave him the winged Diomedeans with their "...bat-like wings..." (ibid.)

Anderson discusses hexapods becoming centaurs - forelimbs freed for manipulation -, which happens in some of his works, and also middle limbs becoming arms, forelimbs becoming wings, which did happen in one of his short stories. 

The Appearance Of Intelligence

Philosophically, I agree with this statement by Poul Anderson in Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Chapter 6, The Appearance of Intelligence:

"We cannot say flatly that [intelligent] life must exist. There is no scientific evidence that nature strives toward the goal of consciousness, or indeed toward any goal. On the contrary, the fossil record speaks strongly against such beliefs." (p. 112)

Anderson goes on to argue that, if evolution is interpreted anthropomorphically, then it consists of false starts and repeated mistakes, like overspecialization. In fact, even mankind has design flaws. Nevertheless, he reaches the conclusion that:

"Not only is life common throughout the universe, but intelligence is." (p. 118)

I had to reread pp. 112-118 carefully to follow his reasoning. Natural selection produces not only efficient microbes and insects but also organisms with:

"...increasingly better sense organs and more elaborate nervous systems." (p. 114)

Meanwhile, any ecology will sooner or later produce:

"...niches which animals with a good brain can fill." (p. 115)

Such animals, not over-specialized, are alert and adaptable enough to survive "...under many different conditions." (ibid.) Their behaviour becomes learned instead of merely inherited when chance events like climatic changes or geographical displacements prioritize brains.

Mammals, including African apes, flourished twenty five million years ago in the Miocene period on Earth. Natural selection will produce Miocene-equivalent periods elsewhere, then chance events will occur, by chance.

Anderson summarizes:

200 million years from trilobites to fish;
60 million from fish to animals;
24 million from ape to erect tool-user;
1 million more to modern man.

If whatever accidents caused the evolution of modern man had not happened in the last million years, other "...crucial events..." would be "...likely to occur..." in the next few million (p. 117). 

I agreed with Anderson's premise and was surprised by his conclusion but cannot fault his reasoning. I have learned by writing this summary.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Strangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STL Interstellar War?

"...there can be no question of war fought over interstellar distances."

- Poul Anderson, Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), p. 188.

Why not? Anderson's Technic Civilization History presents several excellent descriptions of battles between interstellar space fleets. ("Standby for hyperdrive! Standby for combat! Glory to the Emperor!")

The answer to "Why not?" is that in the concluding chapter of Is There Life On Other Worlds?, Anderson considers only Einsteinian spacecraft - either reaction drive or field drive, as explained in the Appendix which unfortunately includes equations. These are essential to this subject matter but also beyond my comprehension.

However, Larry Niven makes a start on describing slower than light interstellar warfare in Protector. The basic requirement is technologically powerful beings with indefinitely prolonged lifespans and mutually incompatible long term goals. Thus, protectors live until killed by acccident or violence and plan long term for the survival of their bloodlines but operate in a pre-hyperdrive, Bussard ramjets only period of Niven's future history.

Knowing that humanity is descended from Pak, human protectors can predict that more Pak protectors will come from galactic centre. The human protectors use telescopes not to study natural phenomena but to detect artificial radiation. When two spacecraft become mutually detectable at a distance, each must assume that the other is hostile and change course accordingly. In human space, more breeders must be transformed into protectors so that a fleet can be launched to intercept the approaching Pak. Such a conflict will last for millennia at least and unfortunately Niven has not described it for us yet. Protector ends with the human protectors setting out.

Another good fictional use of the ramjet idea would be to describe two round trips on the trade circuit. Thus, a ship leaves Earth, visits say four planets, returns to Earth, then repeats the procedure so that we see two stages of social change on four colony planets and three stages on Earth. Trade can be STL (see Anderson's Kith) and maybe war can also.  

An Ultimate Destiny?

The title of Poul Anderson's Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), means both, "Are there thinking beings with whom we might communicate?" and "Are there ecologies that we might colonize?"

These questions necessitate discussion of radio wavelengths, language, planetary formation, biology, means of propulsion and colonial societies. Anderson ends with an sf vision of extra-Solar colonies not "...plundering..." but "...mak[ing] sensible use of their resources..." (p. 187), founding further colonies and eventually meeting "The older and higher races..." (p. 189).

"...we will go on, century after outward-looking century, discovering who knows what, growing in knowledge and wisdom as we travel." (ibid.)

This stretches the meaning of the word "we" a bit. Probably, most people most of the time will be more aware of their familiar, taken for granted, environments than of any centuries-long growth in knowledge and wisdom. However, Anderson acknowledges this:

"Few people will ever go spaceward with more than the vaguest thought of an ultimate destiny. They will go because they are curious, prideful, desirous of freedom, eager to improve the lot of the next generation." (p. 189)

Maybe. But conditions will have to have got pretty bad at home if people come to hope for freedom and betterment light years away. And maybe something can be done to improve those conditions instead of leaving them behind?

Anderson concludes that, even for those who stay behind, "...our enterprise beyond the sky will keep alive that sense of bravery, wonder, and achievement without which man would hardly be himself." (ibid.)

Such an enterprise will help to do that but meanwhile and, I think, indefinitely there are also bravery, wonder and achievement on Earth and in the Solar System.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Certain Hunger?

"Already today, when man has not yet set foot on the Moon, we look at the stars with a certain hunger. It is bound to grow once the Solar System has become familiar to us. Can it ever be appeased?"

- Poul Anderson, Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), p. 165.

Do we? How many people on Earth want either to cross interstellar distances or to be alive when others do? Many struggle for existence on Earth. Others hope for a fulfilled life here. For those who are interested in the exploration of the Solar System, it will be a very long time before it becomes familiar. Anderson wrote this book at a time when the US was racing to the Moon, although, as he says in Thermonuclear Warfare, this was more for the development of rocket and computer technology than for interplanetary exploration. But interplanetary exploration was part of the popular image of why they were doing it.

At the end of the preceding chapter, Anderson presents this rationale for interstellar travel:

"Machine civilization, irresistably powerful, spreads across Earth and devours all others...We see before us the specter of a planet-wide empire...as rigid as Pharaonic Egypt...the individual may have numerous liberties. But if there is nothing he can do with it, his freedom is empty. Already today we feel the first gnawings of that millennial hollowness. Yet we move on toward the empire, for our alternative is to renounce the machine.

"The newness that is our salvation may come from the stars." (p. 164)

Nothing he can do with it? We can life live to the full on Earth with some exploration of the Solar System even if the first interstellar travel is a long way in the future. Instead of renouncing technology, we can use it to make this world fitter for humanity.

I am for the exploration of the universe but do not see the interstellar question in such apocalyptic terms.