Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Makeshift Rocket: Conclusion

(This might be the last post on this blog for 2013. It will give us a round number for the year and maybe I will have other things to get on with when back out of bed tomorrow or the day after.)

(i) In Poul Anderson's The Makeshift Rocket (New York, 1962), there is an Andersonian moment of realization. The engineer, Syrup, is conversing idly about action and reaction involving a beer bottle and then he stops:

"'I mean...de bottle is a kind of rocket. Vy, it could even - it could even -'
"His voice ground to a halt. The mug dropped from his hand and splashed to the floor." (p. 65)

I quote this passage because it is like so many others quoted before. The message is that knowledge and reason applied to problems generate solutions.

(ii)The beer-powered rocket must be designed and constructed in haste and secrecy, then used without having been tested first. Anderson, a hard sf writer versed in physics and engineering, knows that Syrup, while using the contraption, will encounter practical difficulties showing him how he could have designed it more efficiently. These are the lessons that would have been learned during testing. Anderson makes sure to show us a couple of these.

(iii) Syrup and his Martian ally seem to have failed to convey their message of invasion to the Anglian capital, New Winchester, but then turn out to have done just enough to alert the authorities there and we should have realized that they had. The clues were there. Yet again, hard sf, even when humorous, shares rationality with detective fiction.

(iv) As in Tales Of The Flying Mountains, gyrogravitic generators used to colonize and move asteroids are nicknamed "geegees." These are two closely related alternative timelines. Indeed, there is humor in the opening Flying Mountains story.

(v) It continues to be enjoyable to add to this blog begun in March 2012 but it will not be possible to continue at the same rate.

Getting To Grips With The Makeshift Rocket

I have again had to resort to a dictionary, or to google used as a dictionary, when reading Poul Anderson: "...herpetarium..." on p. 71 of The Makeshift Rocket (New York, 1962). (My computer does not recognize it.)

Since the main point of this short work is a spaceship propelled by heated beer, it is a pity that the ship is not constructed until about two thirds of the way through the text. Now that I have got that far, I can see that the cover illustration (see attached image) faithfully reproduces the description in the text. It shows the makeshift rocket escaping from a conventional spacecraft in orbit around an asteroid.

If I have understood the technical description correctly, then the astronaut with his space-suited head, arms and torso emerging from the front of the rocket drives the ship by turning the peddles of his bicycle. The alternative title is "A Bicycle Built For Brew." The ship, improvised in an emergency, needs only to make the short crossing between two asteroids orbiting in the same cluster. Thus, it need not cope, for example, with heavy acceleration or with planetary gravitational fields.

Back in the conventional spaceship, Rory and Emily have just become engaged but he must try to recapture the beer-powered escapees while she must try to help them since national loyalties accompany humanity into space. A few years ago, I was a trade union shop steward in an office where a woman much younger than me had become the manager. I had to encourage industrial action that would disrupt the work of the office whereas she had to counteract any attempted disruption. Fortunately, friendship was stronger than this unhappy situation and continues now that I am retired.

Orpheus

I am in bed recovering from a cold, alternately rereading Poul Anderson's The Makeshift Rocket and the works of another fantasy writer who has been mentioned here more than once.

The humor of The Makeshift Rocket is a bit unsubtle for my taste! Our heroine seems implausibly naive and prone to prattling about trivia when urgent facts or events are staring her in the face. There are some memorable moments:

a tentacled alien simultaneously washes the dishes and mops the floor;
an Erse warship is called the Dies I.R.A.;
a fourth generation spaceship's crow with an unusually large and colorful vocabulary may be a mutant resulting from cosmic and atomic radiation.

I have yet to finish rereading ...Rocket but have been moved to post by meanwhile recognizing yet another genuinely different parallel between Poul Anderson and Neil Gaiman: they both retell the Orpheus myth! Anderson retells it as a futuristic sf short story, "Goat Song," with a world-controlling computer replacing the god of the underworld. Gaiman, assisted by the beautiful graphic art of Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham, seamlessly incorporates the familiar Orpheus story into his own new mythology of the Endless, with Orpheus now as Morpheus' son and with a continuing narrative presenting later consequences of the Orphic tragedy.

Thus, one powerful ancient myth retold by two powerful modern writers.

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Horn Of Time The Hunter And Other Matters

It is possible to get completely blown off course when blogging. I have not yet started to read the recently acquired Star Prince Charlie by Poul Anderson because I needed first to finish rereading his The Makeshift Rocket but that has been interrupted by illness, by other reading, by posting on another blog and by the arrival of Anderson's The Horn Of Time, containing six stories of which I had not read two and wanted to reread a third. Meanwhile, Yule, Christmas, New Year and my birthday bear down upon us.

One previously unread story, "The High Ones," addressing major issues and evoking other stories not only by Anderson but even also by Wells, merited considerable discussion.

The story that was to be reread, "The Horn of Time the Hunter," is, like the other works mentioned here, hard sf but one of its several interesting features is psychological, mysterious or even, potentially, fantasy: an unexplained sound like a hunter's horn, heard by only one of the characters, on a briefly visited planet. Was it just the wind? The story was originally entitled "Homo Aquaticus" but that gives away the surprise discovery that the sea-dwelling inhabitants of the visited planet are descended from human colonists. The second title is far superior and extremely evocative.

When the interstellar traders called the Kith were persecuted in the Star Empire, they scattered and fled. One of their ships now returns from a twenty thousand year relativistic round trip towards the galactic center. This ship's crew did not find the Elder Race that they sought and do not yet know whether the Empire, the Kith or even humanity still exist. They find that one human colony has undergone a sea change. One of their number is killed by the aquatics and another hears the horn of time blowing on the wind...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Fictional Forms

It is time for another pause on this blog - although they never seem to last long. I am in bed with a cold, sitting up, reading and blogging. Fiction comes in three forms:

verbal;
visual-verbal;
audiovisual.

At present, I prefer visual-verbal so I am still rereading Neil Gaiman's The Sandman graphic novels and posting about those (see here), focusing on their considerable philosophical content. I cannot read Gaiman without remembering Anderson or vice versa:

A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest;
Odin as a fictional character;
an inn between the worlds;
temple prostitution;
fictions in which figures from different mythologies coexist and interact;
the alternative potential futures of the Roman Empire-

- and I have probably missed something.

Non-overlap areas:

Gaiman presents painfully intense children's points of view, also sympathetic feminine povs;
Anderson was a prolific master of hard sf who also wrote historical fiction and detective novels.

Temple Prostitution

Another parallel between the works of Poul Anderson and Neil Gaiman is temple prostitution.

In Anderson's "Ivory and Apes and Peacocks," Manse Everard of the Time Patrol, gathering intelligence in King Hiram's Tyre, gains the gratitude of Sarai, a well-connected member of the palace staff, by freeing her in the temple.

In Gaiman's The Sandman: Brief Lives (New York, 1994), an exotic dancer called Nancy, with a Masters in Women's Studies, explains to fellow dancers, Tiffany and Ishtar:

"The Near East, right? Two, three thousand years ago, one of the love goddesses...Astarte, maybe [Everard's is Asherat]. Every woman in that country had to go to the temple, once in her life. All the women waited in the temple courtyard. Each one had to wait there until a stranger offered her a coin. Whoever he was, she had to go with him, and they'd make out. I think there were rooms in the temple to do it in [Everard and Sarai had to go elsewhere]...The historian made some sexist crack about the women. Because they couldn't leave until someone made love to them. He said the good-looking ones got off early, but the rougher-looking ones sometimes waited in the temple courtyard for months. But that's history for you, all written by men [and that had been Sarai's fate]." (Chapter 5, pp. 11-12)

Nancy and the others then wonder what happens to goddesses Who are no longer worshiped. Do some become exotic dancers? Because The Sandman is a fantasy, we soon learn that the dancer Ishtar is indeed the goddess, a revelation that could very readily have fitted into one of Poul Anderson's fantasies.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Social Chaos

Poul Anderson's "The High Ones" posits a future world-wide Soviet dictatorship. Usually, a story with such a premise would describe oppression on Earth. Instead, we are shown how the Terrestrial regime affects the crew of a spaceship exploring another planetary system, although one crew member reminisces about his childhood in Soviet-dominated North America.

Reading "The High Ones" made me reflect on the social upheavals that led to the establishment of the Soviet regime - a tidal wave of world events overwhelming any group trying to achieve a positive outcome. Anderson conveys exactly that feeling in his Psychotechnic Future History and in the parallel text, Planet Of No Return.

The first Psychotechnic story, "Marius," begins inauspiciously for a future history. It is raining and cold and the street lights have not been restored. There is dusk between ruined walls where tattered people dwell among rubble. This is the aftermath of a World War III so close to the "present," the time of writing, that the viewpoint character, Etienne Fourre, chief of the Maquisard Brotherhood and French representative in the United Free Europe Supreme Council, had been a partisan in World War II.

Fourre's coup, described in the story, leads to the social application of the new science of psychotechnics and the Psychotechnic Institute's uphill struggle against mass irrationality is described in "The Sensitive Man" but the Institute is later overwhelmed by social upheavals that are meticulously described in four pages of The Snows Of Ganymede. In "Brake," a world in turmoil plunges down towards the Second Dark Ages.

SF And Detective Fiction

In Poul Anderson's "The Serpent in Eden," it has to be deduced that primitive bipeds on the planet Cleopatra are mere animals without intelligence. The planet is an Eden but a human explorer realizes that:

"'We are the serpent.'" (A World Named Cleopatra, New York, 1977, p. 57)

In Anderson's "The High Ones," it has to be deduced that bipeds with technology including spaceships and a computer are no longer intelligent.

In Anderson's "Wings of Victory," it has to be deduced that winged beings on the planet Ythri are intelligent, in other words that their bodies can generate enough energy to sustain both flight and intelligence.

In these and many other examples, sf resembles detective fiction. Explorers find puzzling, apparently inconsistent, clues and evidence on a newly discovered planet, then deduce the course that biological and social evolution have taken in this different environment.

Similar Scenarios

(i) A time traveler visits the far future Earth.
(ii) A space traveler visits an older Earth-like planet.
(iii) A space traveler returns to the far future Earth.

In each of these similar scenarios, a modern or near future viewpoint character can witness the long time decline or devolution of human, or humanoid, beings. In the previous post, I compared Poul Anderson's "The High Ones" (scenario (ii)) with HG Wells' The Time Machine (scenario (i)). "The High Ones" turns out to have been an ironic title.

Anderson's "The Horn of Time the Hunter" (original title, "Homo Aquaticus"), which I am about to reread, is a variation on scenario (iii). Space travelers to the galactic core, returning to Earth in the far future, stop at a humanly colonized planet where human beings have become aquatic and lost their humanity.

Anderson has merpeople in his fantasies. There is, or was, an "aquatic ape" theory according to which early human beings lost their body hair by standing up to their necks in the sea for long periods to evade predators. Imagine if some of them had swum out further, becoming human equivalents of dolphins or even developing gills, real merpeople but sf, not fantasy.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Expeditions And Regimes

Poul Anderson's sf addresses, among many other issues:

(i) political conflicts and future regimes on Earth;
(ii) interstellar exploration and colonization.

Under (i), Anderson shows global power shifting to different parts of the world and twice shows the USSR conquering the US. He links (i) and (ii) by asking:

(iii) What sort of regime would launch an interstellar expedition?
(iv) Might the colonists be political refugees?

"The High Ones," IN Anderson, The Horn Of Time (New York, 1968), perfectly combines (i) and (ii). A World Soviet regime has launched a slower than light spaceship, with suspended animation, to Tau Ceti but, en route, Whites have overthrown the Reds within the ship! Here we encounter an issue familiar from Anderson's Psychotechnic History and Planet Of No Return. Psych-tests were meant to have picked a stable crew so do the tests not work or did someone deliberately sabotage them? The White crew has no intention of returning to Earth except, if they can, as liberators.

What they find in the Tau Cetian system is an ultimate collectivist state where individuals have devolved until they no longer think. Originally intelligent bipeds now have the mentalities of ants, bees or termites. They are on a par with Wells' Morlocks and Eloi or with his Selenites who are biologically adjusted to perform necessary social roles.

Several features of the story are familiar to regular Anderson readers:

we are given the clues - inconsistent behavior by the aliens will be interpreted to mean that they are not intelligent;
there is a moment when our hero realizes the truth - "Holbrook gasped. 'God in heaven!'" (p. 62);
there is a moment when he escapes by grabbing a gun, kicking a guard etc.

Once the truth is realized, it is a very easy matter to evade, immobilize or kill the slow-moving guards, who have not encountered resistance for centuries, and to destroy the computer which is not intelligent but merely applies programs to instruct the population who are helpless without it.

A Soviet loyalist says of the aliens:

"'Their reasoning processes must be fundamentally akin to ours, simply because the laws of nature are the same throughout the universe.'" (p. 49)

That does not follow. Yes, logic and maths should be a basis for communication but only a meta-basic basis. Thought processes can differ considerably even between human cultures. And, of course, his very next sentence is absurd:

"'Including those laws of behavior first seen by Karl Marx.'" (ibid.)

If Marx were there, he would say, "I do not know about these aliens. We have to find out." And he would be intelligent enough to make Holbrook's discovery. There is a parallel situation in Isaac Asimov's future history. The laws of psychohistory describe human society. The Laws of Robotics are not merely about robots because they control robotic behavior towards human beings. Thus, both sets of laws refer to humanity. Therefore, both are irrelevant when considering extra-Galactic intelligences. Hari Seldon, Susan Calvin and Karl Marx would say, "We might find some parallels between human and alien societies but we will have to look and see."

Holbrook replies, "'Psuedo-laws for a psuedo-religion!'" (ibid.)

I do not agree that Marxism is a psuedo-religion but that "Soviet" dogmatic formulation of it certainly is. The Soviet loyalist, holding a gun on his human companions, says, to the approaching alien guards, "'I have them, comrades!'" (p. 65) - and is blown to pieces because, as Holbrook had realized, the aliens are incapable of making any fine distinctions; they simply obey orders to guard or to attack etc. Theirs is a degenerate civilization comparable to what Wells imagined in The Time Machine.

If a Stalinist regime conquered an entire planet and thus ceased to have any external competitor, then it would cease to have any competitive dynamic and would indeed become a horrific, deadening despotism that might eventually wind up as Anderson describes here.

Whites And Reds

Poul Anderson's "The High Ones" IN Anderson, The Horn Of Time (New York, 1968) is an excellent short story that will require more than one post for adequate discussion.

The human characters in the story are either "Whites" or "Reds." These terms are neither racial nor chess-related but political. In this context, "White" means "libertarian" and "Red" means "pro-Soviet." However, both "White" and "Soviet" have changed their meanings, historically.

"White" originally meant "Tsarist." If the White general, Kornilov, had succeeded in his attempted military coup in 1917, then he would not have liberalized Russia.

"Soviet" means "council." The Russian soviets of 1905 and 1917 were elected from mass meetings in large factories whose work forces were resisting Tsarism. Thus, these councils democratically represented a socially progressive class, industrial workers with modern ideas, but not the Russian population which was overwhelmingly peasant. Against both workers and peasants were Tsarist aristocrats and a small, weak bourgeoisie dependent on foreign capital and afraid to press for parliamentary reforms in case these incited more radical demands from below.

Bypassing ineffective bourgeois leadership, the soviets overthrew first the Tsar, then the duma (parliament). Some workers' leaders wanted to democratize, modernize and emancipate Russia with material support from similar workers' organizations elsewhere in Europe but, instead, several years of isolation, blockades, military interventions and civil wars physically destroyed industry and either killed workers or drew them into the growing, besieged bureaucracy.

What began as a workers' democracy became, first, an unwilling dictatorship industrializing in order to restore workers' democracy, then a willing dictatorship industrializing in order to increase exploitation for the purpose of military competition, therefore needing to crush any workers' resistance despite still calling itself "Soviet"...

Thus, it is a coherent (minority) position to say: "I would have supported workers' councils in 1917 but would have regarded them as defeated, strangled, crushed, transformed into their opposite, by about 1927."

I think it is necessary to discuss how terms have changed their meanings because the changes are historically significant. "Social democracy" changed from "revolutionary socialism" to "parliamentary socialism" and "communism" changed from "common ownership" to "bureaucratic dictatorship." The next post or two will have more to do with the content of the story!

A Man To My Wounding

I definitely have not read Poul Anderson's short story, "A Man To My Wounding", before despite having it in a collection. It begins with a quotation:

"I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt." - Genesis, iv, 23.

- quoted in Poul Anderson, The Horn Of Time (New York, 1968), p. 27.

I thought that this meant that the speaker had wounded and hurt himself by killing a young man. However, the Revised Standard Version gives:

"I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me." Gen. 4. 23.

 - the exact opposite meaning.

The story shows legalized drug use and legal assassinations. One contributor to the SFWA Bulletin advised fellow writers:

think of something that is shocking to us;
then imagine that it has become the social norm;
then deduce its logical implications.

It has been argued that it makes more sense to kill not soldiers or civilians but leaders. One man who wrote a book called Killing No Murder, when interviewed on British television, was asked, "Is there any politician who you think should be assassinated?" and replied, "I cannot answer that question because I have been warned that I could then be charged with incitement to murder."

Anderson imagines declared states of war replaced by declared states of assassination. The Bureau of National Protection (in Britain at present, an unfortunate set of initials) must protect politicians whom it thinks that the declared enemy will try to assassinate.

However, states of assassination escalate. The Chinese try to kill not the present American leaders, who are too well guarded, but potential leaders, like leading members of a party that has just lost an election but might win the next one. This could escalate further to include important leaders in other fields: scientists; writers; even gifted children; also bystanders too close to the targets. All such potential victims in every country must be protected indefinitely so that states of assassination, far from limiting the killing, become as horrific as states of war.

Thus, the story ends:

"'Where is it going to end?'" (p. 43)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Horn Of Time

Poul Anderson's The Horn Of Time (New York, 1968) (see image) has arrived by post. It is a collection of six separate stories, three of them fitting into different series written by Anderson. The blurb wrongly implies that this volume is a novel or collected series with a single theme.

The front cover states:

"They were savage primitives of a strange future - a harrowing chronicle of the millennium after the end of the world!"

The back cover states:

"THE 20TH CENTURY PLAYED A GAME OF NUCLEAR RUSSIAN ROULETTE. AND LOST. Man must escape his own dead world, raid hostile planets, subdue his human nature to survive in a strange cosmos.
"Science-fiction master Poul Anderson explores the future in a bloodchilling narrative that spins from Earth to distant galaxies as he foretells the ultimate destiny of mankind in THE HORN OF TIME."

The book is six narratives, not one. There is no escape from a dead Earth and there are no distant galaxies. One story is about time travel from the twentieth century to the Viking period. The title story, "The Horn of Time the Hunter," features a spaceship returning from a relativistic journey to the galactic center and "The High Ones,, which I have yet to read, also features interstellar travel but everything else is set on Earth. At least three of the stories do refer back to a nuclear war but with different outcomes.

The title, "A Man To My Wounding," looked familiar and the story is in fact in the collection Conflicts but I do not seem to have read it. Like "License" in Conquests, it features legalized assassination. Keeping track of collections and of short stories with related themes gets complicated.

I will post about "A Man To My Wounding" and "The High Ones" and might revisit the haunting "The Horn of Time the Hunter." Then, back to The Makeshift Rocket and Star Prince Charlie.

Humor In SF?

I have been asked what I think about humor in Poul Anderson in particular and in sf in general. I have read very little humorous sf. One value of humor is that it enables us to look at familiar or serious issues from a completely different perspective as the Greeks found when they watched a comedy after a trilogy of tragedies. Shakespeare's plays are Histories, Comedies and Tragedies, with Sir John Falstaff appearing in a History and a Comedy.

HG Wells wrote two frivolous short stories about flying and mountaineering with a common narrator, both unlike his usual style. A, if not the, major humorous sf writer is Robert Sheckley, highly recommended by other authors, but I have read almost none of his works. His Dimension Of Miracles is said to be similar to Douglas Adams' later The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which is good sf humor but is also a classic example of a series continued for too long, even, in the books, adding extra volumes to a supposed "trilogy."

HHGTTG's proliferation through every available medium is also a bit overdone. I have seen the TV series and the feature film and read some of the books but have not heard the radio series or (I think?) the record or read the comic. When the feature film followed the plot of the TV series, I thought, "What is the point of this? It is the same as on TV, " whereas when it differed, I thought, "What is the point of this? It is arbitrarily changing the plot." Did we need two screen versions?

I value Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka series and Anderson's The Makeshift Rocket primarily as imaginative sf rather than for their humor. Anderson's best humor, I think, is in some chapters of A Midsummer Tempest but that is fantasy.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Makeshift Rocket III

In Poul Anderson's The Makeshift Rocket (New York, 1962), when the spaceship Mercury Girl lands on the colonized asteroid Grendel, that asteroid is under occupation by an adventurist force from another asteroidal nation. Strangely, our hero turns out to be not the captain or a crew member of Mercury Girl but a Major in the occupation force - but none of this is meant to be taken seriously.

If artificially generated gravitational fields were used to colonize the Asteroid Belt, then a cluster of asteroids might be organized as a Kingdom or Republic with each asteroid as a county or shire? And an asteroid on a separate orbit might be like an island - that could have disputed sovereignty?

The main difference is that all these objects are moving and, with artificial gravity, can be moved again. Thus, on the last occasion when the clusters of the Irish Free State (Saorstat Erseann) and the Anglian Kingdom approached conjunction, the independent asteroid Laoighise (Lois) moved between them. Anglian prospectors, finding valuable praseodymium on Lois, claimed the asteroid for King James IV and moved it into the Anglian cluster. But, since an Erseman had discovered, landed on and named the asteroid, the Erse Republic claimed sovereignty. However, Ersers cannot take any action until the two clusters again approach conjunction and their first act is to occupy not the heavily guarded Lois but the defenseless Grendel.

So far, the main drama of the story seems to be not this international conflict but the consequences for Mercury Girl's business of being quarantined on Grendel for an expected six weeks. I will read the rest of the story with some interest but without any anxiety about the outcome.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Odin In Anderson And Gaiman

Recently, I mentioned two parallels between Poul Anderson and Neil Gaiman:

an inn between the worlds;
their treatments of two particular plays by William Shakespeare.

A third is Odin as a character in fiction. As discussed in previous posts, Anderson presents:

the original of Odin (historical fiction);
a time traveler mistaken for Odin (science fiction);
in more than one work - the god, Odin (fantasy).

On p. 91 of The Sandman: Season Of Mists (New York, 1992), Gaiman and artist Kelley Jones (I think; several artists are credited for the volume) present five panels of Odin in Gladsheim. He is named:

the lord of the Aesir;
the gallows god;
the one-eyed king of Asgard;
the lord of the gallows;
Odin, the All-Father;
Odin.

Two details are unexpected but appropriate:

when Odin's ravens, Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory, are away from him, gathering intelligence from the Nine Worlds, he can neither think nor remember;
"The floor of the high hall is mud scattered with rushes." (ibid.) - like the halls of Odin's worshipers.

pp. 92-93 recount the story of Loki bound beneath the snake. Gaiman writes a new story within Norse mythology, then shows the Norse myths coexisting and interacting with others, as Anderson does in The Broken Sword.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Up-Date II

I am still immersed in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series and we are now immersed in preparations for Yule (Dec 21) and Christmas (Dec 25).  

Star Prince Charlie (New York, 1976) has arrived by post. Like The Makeshift Rocket, it refers to the royal house of Stuart. Like the Hoka series, it refers to the Interbeing League and its plenipotentiaries and to a place called Bagdadburgh. The cover, the blurb inside the cover, the Prologue and the back cover do not mention Hokas. The blurb does refer to the title character's imaginative tutor and a correspondent has informed me that that tutor will turn out to be a Hoka.

We have previously read about Hokan society but not about a sole individual in another context. Thus, we have here a perfect example of an independent story set against an established futuristic background.

The League guides, educates and develops primitive beings and the Prologue lists reasons why guided development has to be slow:

primitives must not acquire advanced weapons;
natives must not become dependent on an industry that it is beyond their means to sustain;
ancient institutions must not be overthrown too quickly;
every people has the right to choose its own destiny.

I suspect that our hero will be in danger of transgressing some of these principles.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Up-Date

Hi, folks. I am trying to stay in touch with Poul Anderson page viewers during a relative lull in posting. Thank you for 90 page views yesterday and 44 by 10.55 am today.

Today is Sunday so no post but I hope to receive two books soon and will sooner or later resume rereading The Makeshift Rocket. Meanwhile, I have got stuck into rereading and posting about Neil Gaiman's Sandman with a corresponding increase in page views on the Comics Appreciation blog. Am I alone in seeing parallels between Anderson and Gaiman?

Here is an issue from Anderson and maybe from literature generally. Anderson, like my regular correspondent, Sean Brooks, was skeptical about human perfectability. Anderson was agnostic but Sean, as a Catholic, believes in the Fall of mankind. I certainly do not accept the theology of a "Fall." However, empirically, there is a lot of imperfection in human beings, both individually and collectively. I am coming to realize for myself the significance of the Buddhist teaching of "unsatisfactoriness."

This has practical implications. For example, I should stop regretting my inadequate responses to certain interpersonal interactions in the past when the plain fact is that neither I nor the other people involved were capable of any greater degree of insight or empathy at the time. But we can and are obliged to learn.

What does anyone else think?

Friday, 6 December 2013

Looking Ahead

I really do need to slow down with this blog. Sooner rather than later I will come to an end of new Poul Anderson works to read or reread. The blog is now in its twenty second month and began with articles copied from a website. Only Anderson's amazing and admirable prolificity has kept us going this long.

Still to do:

finish rereading The Makeshift Rocket;
read Star Prince Charlie, which should be in the post;
also receive by post The Horn Of Time, which contains perhaps one as yet unread story;
check through other collections here for any unread stories (doubtful);
maybe get the second and third mystery novels, although these were unpalatably pricey when checked on Amazon;
when it is published, get Multiverse, the collection about Poul Anderson, which will be a major event.

But, after that, will there be more new collections or editions worthy of attention and discussion?

Meanwhile, there is no need to hurry. On this blog, I have drawn attention to some parallels between Poul Anderson and Neil Gaiman, notably their inns between the worlds and their treatments of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. Stage or screen drama is a familiar alternative to prose fiction but another alternative, which I will now pursue, is the graphic (visual and verbal) fantasy of Gaiman's Sandman.

The Makeshift Rocket II

I did not read anything else last night because of the TV coverage of Nelson Mandela's death.

Poul Anderson's The Makeshift Rocket (New York, 1962) has the gyrogravitics of his Tales Of The Flying Mountains and, I think, the same fictitious Martian race as his "Captive of the Centaurianess", although it does not belong in the same timeline as either of those works.

With gravity control, it would theoretically be possible to terraform the asteroids, as in Flying Mountains and here. First, it would be possible to give them enough gravity to hold a breathable atmosphere. Then, if there were also an adequate source of heat, soil and plants could be imported. However, this does read like a fantasy rather than a hard sf version of the Solar System:

"Beyond the little spacefield was a charming vista of green meadows, orderly hedgerows, cottages and bowers, a white gravel road. Just below the near, sharply curving horizon stood Grendel's only town; from this height could be seen a few roofs and the twin spires of St George's. The flag of the Kingdom, a Union Jack on a Royal Stuart field, fluttered there under a sky of darker blue than Earth's, a small remote sun and a few of the brightest stars. Grendel was a typical right little, tight little Anglian asteroid, peacefully readying for the vacation-season influx of tourists from Briarton, York, Scotia, Holm, New Winchester, and the other shires." (pp. 8-9)

This sounds as if it belongs in a magical realm of broomsticks and flying carpets. A very sharply curving horizon, I should think. Some blue in the sky, because of the atmosphere, but not much. Imagine what would happen if the gravity control failed. And who brought the Stuarts back? A worldlet with only one town but with easy transport to and from several other worldlets.

As always, Anderson thinks through the physics of his fictional technology. In order to hold the atmosphere, the gyrogravitic generators at the center of mass maintain one gee to an altitude of 2000 kilometers but thereafter the artificial attraction drops to zero within one kilometer. It is not easy for a spaceship with its negative force to cross this boundary - although HG Wells' Cavor might have felt at home here.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Makeshift Rocket

I am looking at another Ace Double (New York, 1962), both sides written by Poul Anderson.

One side is Un-Man and other novellas: three works, each an installment of a different series. "Margin of Profit" is a Nicholas van Rijn story but this is the unrevised version that does not fit into the Technic Civilization History and therefore should be preserved in a subsidiary volume of that series, like an Apocrypha.

The other side of the Ace Double is The Makeshift Rocket, collected elsewhere as "A Bicycle Built for Brew." The cover calls it a "Complete Novel" but, since it is only 93 pages in length, it is just short of a novel in my opinion - whereas two of the seven shorter Dominic Flandry stories are long enough to count as short novels.

The Makeshift Rocket is made to look like a novel by its division into 13 untitled chapters and it is also long enough to have been serialized on its original publication in 1958. This work counts as humor so it is appropriate to reread it after reading the Hoka stories for the first time. (I resisted them for years but have finally found them fascinating.)

However, I need a short break from reading prose so will probably reread some of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and will get back to you about The Makeshift Rocket in a while.

The Spanish Prisoner?

I can tell you what happened today and link it to Poul Anderson. The image shows Morecambe which is part of Lancaster City District. Because we had gale force winds, I neither drove to gym nor walked into town and a meeting that I would have attended was cancelled because some local trains weren't running.

Instead, I stayed at home and got ahead with Latin before meditating and now blogging. After Livy on Hannibal, our text book presents Petrus Adolphus, a Christianized Jew and godson of the King of Aragon in the twelfth century.

Petrus retold Arab moral tales in Medieval Latin, contrasting markedly with Cicero's and Livy's Classical Latin. In one such story, a Spaniard traveling to Mecca deposits a thousand talents with a supposedly honest individual en route although that individual denies it when the traveler returns. A hermitess devises this plan:

fill ten ornate boxes with crushed stone;
have them carried in a long line to be deposited at the house of the unscrupulous man;
the man who was deceived to return and again ask for his money back just as the first box arrives;
the unscrupulous man, seeing the first box arrive and the others approaching, will return the money in case those bringing the boxes decide against depositing them with him.

As I was reading this, I was reminded of a deception perpetrated by Dominic Flandry in "The Plague of Masters" and described by Flandry as a refined version of a "...Spanish Prisoner..." (Flandry Of Terra, London, 1976, p. 157).

So have I now read the original version?

Afterword III

Virgil wrote, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes," (I fear Greeks bringing gifts), in Aeneid, II, 49.

The captain of the first survey ship to Toka is alleged to have said, of the Hoka's reptilian opponents, "'Timeo dracones et dona ferentis'..." (I fear dragons bringing gifts):

- S*ndr* M**s*l, "'The Bear That Walks Like a Man': An Ursinoid Stereotype in Early Interbeing Era Popular Culture" IN Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Hoka (New York, 1985), pp. 241-253 AT p. 244.

M**s*l thinks "...it is no accident that the next starship dispatched to Toka was the H.M.S. Draco." (pp. 244-245)

Thus, Sandra Miesel, as she is on our side of the event horizon, neatly links reptilian Tokans to the H.M.S. Draco through a clever Virgilian misquotation.

If I were ever to be assisted by an apprentice blogger, I might set him/her this exercise: edit M**s*l's piece to eliminate political swear words. Thus:

"Although in their contemptible bourgeois fashion Anderson and Dickson attempt to portray Jones as a bumbling simpleton of a hero, it is well known that he was in actuality a cunning arch-villain steeped in reactionary paternalism of the deepest hue. This lackey of the League's ruling caste..." (p. 245)

would have to become something like:

"Although Anderson and Dickson attempt to portray Jones as a bumbling simpleton of a hero, he was in actuality a League apologist who..."

- and even that might not be edited down enough. I edited out "...it is well known that..." because M**s*l needs to cite evidence, not appeal to what (she says) we all know anyway. (Sorry if I sound as if I am taking this too seriously but it is an interesting exercise.)

"Had political development proceeded at its natural pace, a bispeciesist communal society would have inevitably evolved on Toka." (p. 244)

Ideological blindness indeed! In fact, there are three howlers here. First, nothing about society is either inevitable or mechanically predictable and in this case the projected outcome seems highly unlikely. Secondly, political development is not a "natural" process like biology or natural selection. Rational species have stepped out of natural history into social history which is qualitatively different. Everything that they do is "artificial" and interstellar contact is just more of that. Thirdly, political development cannot possibly have a predetermined "pace." It can stagnate for millennia or explode in a week.

"Although the cleansing fire of revolutionary zeal has happily rendered such aberrations obsolete, speciesism in all its loathsomeness did pervade human behavior in the League era." (p. 249)

I think that this just means, "League human beings were speciesist."

- and, of course, this requires elucidation. One example given is "...Tanni Jones plays goddess for the Telks..." (ibid.)

We thought that Tanni was forced into this role and had to be rescued from it but now we know that our informants were contemptibly bourgeois.

M**s*l hints at dark revelations "...when the unexpurgated critical edition of Tanni Jones' diary is finally published." (ibid.)

It is fortunate that M, to abbreviate the name further, seems to be unaware of the illustrations showing Tanni and Hokas with the naked Alex Jr playing Mowgli.

Afterword II

In the Afterword to Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985), S*ndr* M**s*l describes Rudyard Kipling as "...a jingoistic journalist..." (p. 243). I had thought that the slang term "jingo" became associated with nationalism because of a poem by Kipling and therefore that Sandra Miesel was consciously ironic when she made her alter ego in the Hoka timeline apply the adjective "jingoistic" back onto Kipling himself. This may be so but will require more research for confirmation. A quick google search has disclosed a long history for the term "Jingo" and its use by many other people.

"...the obsessively imitative behavior of the Hokas toward humans is a servile response typical of oppressed peoples. They emulate their vile oppressors in the deluded hope of thereby bettering their own condition." (p. 246)

There is a real point in there somewhere! Ango-Indians, Anglo-Irish, the latter denigrated as "West Britons" by some of their countrymen. A black work colleague once told me that he was "...a field nigger!" (I would not use this word if I were not quoting Negel's own self-description.) He elucidated, "Your house niggers are your cooks and your maids who feel that they are part of the family. Your field niggers are your field workers who want to burn the house down!" Yeah, right. I must assure everyone that he was usually a mild-mannered man who only said this once.

But the Hoka's imitativeness is not of that Anglo or "house" sort, although Miesel has cleverly made this comparison in order to show how M**s*l's ideological approach would misrepresent the beings that the latter claims to represent. If the Hokas had wanted to ingratiate themselves with humanity, then they would have mimicked the life-styles of the plenipotentiary and his wife and would have maintained an obsequious relationship with them. Instead, they imitate every possible historical figure and fictitious character with a thoroughness that causes endless problems for the plenipotentiary and then suddenly switch to following another fashion with bewildering rapidity.

M**s*l says that Alexander Jones:

"...led his first delegation of Hokas to Earth shortly after his appointment as plenipotentiary (the chaotic expedition is described in 'Don Jones')..." (p. 246)

In fact, in "Don Jones," Jones is merely assigned to host a visiting delegation. The story ends:

"'Ah, there, Jones. No hard feelings, I trust? There's something that just occurred to me. How would you like to be a plenipotentiary -?'" (Earthman's Burden, New York, 1979, p. 60)

But, again, Miesel has a point to make. Crucial historical details like the date on which an individual became a plenipotentiary become hotly disputed with opposed interest groups citing contrary sources and arguments. If Jones was not already the plenipotentiary, then why was he in charge of that delegation? - and so on.

Again:

"'Undiplomatic Immunity' boasts of the collaboration by Hoka pawns in human-engineered espionage schemes...'" (p. 247)

Excuse me, surely it was the Hokas who nearly wrecked everything by role-playing espionage to the ludicrous extent of really breaking into other delegations' apartments? But then why should we believe Anderson's and Dickson's highly implausible account? - and so on.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Afterword

Should I read the thirteen-page Afterword to Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985)? It is written neither by Anderson nor by Dickson but by S*ndr* M**s*l, who is described in a footnote as "Academician of the All-Systems Institute for Historico-Literary Investigations" (p. 241)!

A Publisher's Note introducing the Afterword describes left-wing intellectuals as particularly "dumb" whereas the ones that I know are both intelligent and informed.

However:

as the footnote already quoted should make clear, this is a parody;
I have indeed read some left-wing, in particular Maoist, tracts that were as insulting to the intelligence as M**s*l's:

"We eagerly await that glorious day when fully liberated Hokas assume their rightful place in the classless Union of Beings even now being forged in our own Sector and that will soon and inevitably liberate our entire Galaxy from the capitalist oppressors." (p. 253)

So I will read on... I will be interested to see whether Sandra Miesel, to name the eminent Anderson scholar as opposed to her revolutionary opposite number, combines satire with some discussion of the stories.

For fictional purposes, should we really see the Afterword as fitting into the same timeline as the stories? I would hate to think of Anderson's and Dickson's gentle Interbeing League being replaced by M**s*l's intolerant Union of Beings but we can console ourselves that the claimed inevitability of its Galactic hegemony is mere propaganda!

The Hoka Series As A Whole

The first volume, Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), is six stories; the second, Hoka (New York, 1985) is four; total ten.

The first story describes Alexander Jones' arrival on the planet Toka as an Ensign. From the third story, he is the plenipotentiary of the Interbeing League to Toka. The second story, written later, fills in the gap by describing a Tokan delegation to Earth and ends with Jones being appointed plenipotentiary.

The third, fourth, fifth and sixth stories are a linear sequence of events on Toka. After the sixth story, Jones writes a letter in which he states that, after an important baseball game, he will take a delegation to Earth to apply for an upgrading of Toka's status in the League.

The seventh story, to continue the numbering from the first volume, describes the baseball game. In the eighth, the delegation is on Earth but must surmount an obstacle to its application. The story ends with the obstacle overcome. The ninth story recounts what meanwhile happens to Jones' wife Tanni back on Toka.

The tenth story again starts with Tanni on Toka and recounts some events prior to the ninth story. When the action has again moved forward, Kratch obstruction to the Tokan application delays Jones on Earth while the situation on Toka deteriorates. If Jones does not return, the Tokan situation may become so catastrophic that the upgrading will be prevented and Jones' career ended but, if he is known to have returned, then the Kratch will stop obstructing parliamentary discussion of the Tokan application and have it debated without Jones there to put his case or reply to their objections.

Solution: Jones returns in secret. The story ends with the potential catastrophe averted but we still do not know the outcome of the application although it should be a foregone conclusion since the Kratch have been discredited as the fomentors of the crisis.

Thus:

the series, basically a comedy, becomes darker as it proceeds - the comic figures may be led into tragedy;
more could be told and I am yet to learn whether the novel, Star Prince Charlie, continues this narrative or goes off at a tangent.

Starting To Consider The Hoka Series As A Whole

I have finished reading the second collection of stories in Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka series and can now start to reflect on the series as a whole - although I have yet to read the novel, which should be in the post.

When reading the first collection, Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), I forgot to remind readers that the song "Sam Hall," of which a few lines are sung on p. 137, provided the name for a revolutionary alias in a Poul Anderson short story and that revolutionaries collectively called the Sam Halls were referred to in his novel, Three Worlds To Conquer.

One Hoka story ended with "THE WORDS": "Elementary, my dear Watson!" (p. 121) and the second collection ends with another famous quotation: "Publish and be damned!" (Hoka, New York, 1985, p. 240). The story states, and google confirms, that the Duke of Wellington commendably gave this advice to a would-be blackmailer. As with the pirates' names in the first volume, we learn a little history by reading the series, although a lot more from Anderson's historical and time travel fiction. I am sure that there is a reference to Colonel Blimp in Hoka although I cannot find it on re-scanning the text. Since Anderson also references Blimp in "Delenda Est" (Time Patrol), this time I googled and learned the history of this cartoon character, including the meaning of his surname.

Previously, I asked rhetorically why I was unable to deduce in advance what further use the authors would make of their superjovian-dwelling character, Brob. Sure enough, Brob makes himself helpful one more time in a way that follows logically from what we have already been told about his personality but that I was completely unable to anticipate.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Brob On Toka

Here is another logical yet significant deduction about the inhabitants of the superjovian planet called Brobdingnag by human beings. It is OK for one of their number, called "Brob" because no human being can pronounce his real name, to spend weeks at sea with the British fleet on Toka because:

"Brob had eaten before they left Mixamaxu, and one of his nuclear meals kept him fueled for weeks."

- Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, Hoka (New York, 1985), p. 200.

Consuming isotopes, he does not need to eat two or three times a day.

Needless to say, Brob's role in the story is more than just either light relief or a means of quick transportation for Alex Jones from Earth to Toka. Like a superhero, Brob is powerful enough to defeat an enemy without either suffering or inflicting any physical injury. As he swims towards the French fleet, their cannonballs bounce off him. Catching a mast with a hooked chain, he dives and swims until he has overturned the ship enough to soak its gunpowder. When he has done this twice, the remaining ship flees. Thus, a battle has been prevented with no harm either to the enemy or to their single adversary, just as Superman would have done it.

My only question here are:

Surely Brob should be so heavy that he sinks like a stone instead of being able to swim?
Why can I not logically deduce in advance whatever is the next contribution that the authors will have this character make to the plot?

Brobdingnagian Culture And Technology

In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985), the Brobdingnagians, large nuclear-powered inhabitants of a supernova-blasted superjovian planet, are strong enough to pull apart with their bare hands even "...the collapsed metal armor of a warcraft, rather like a man ripping a newsfax in half." (p. 184) "...collapsed metal..." sounds as if it means that the particles are pressed together, thus that the material is artificially super-dense?

It follows first that they have no natural enemies, not even on Brobdingnag, and secondly that they "...have no reason not to be full of love for all life forms..." (ibid.) and, of course, they tend to assume the same attitude in others. Although the space-traveling Brob knows from experience that this is not the case, he retains an unAndersonian inclination, for example, to give the benefit of the doubt to aggressors since they are probably only misguided...

In conversation with Brob, Alex must practice patience but he has learned how to do this by dealing with the Hokas. Here, several species interact.

Two comments on the super-strong bur peaceable Brobdingnagians:

(i) they would make excellent Marvel Comics superheroes;
(ii) might they be unFallen?

I no longer subscribe to the belief that humanity was created in, and has fallen from, a Paradisal state. On the contrary, I now think that we have risen through natural selection followed by manual and mental labor. However, the question of whether some rational species are "unFallen" arises at least twice in sf:

CS Lewis' Ransom Trilogy;
Poul Anderson's character, Fr Axor, in the Technic Civilization History.

Alex needs to return to Toka quickly and Brob's battered, corroded trading ship takes him there quickly. Brob's power-plant matches that of a dreadnaught and his drive is as finely tuned as a courier's because the Brobdingnagians "...could work on a nuclear reactor as casually as a human could tinker with an aircar engine..." (p. 183) 

The authors are thorough in deducing every implication of their premises.

Brobdingangian Biology And Sociology

In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985), having described the bizarre Brodingnagian biology, based not on oxidized organics but on fissioned nuclei, the authors deduce some sociological implications.

Although not dangerous, traveling Brobingnagians are often feared and avoided:

"Having delivered a cargo to Earth, Brob found himself unable to get another..." (p. 174)

Seeking company, he frequents a pub and is "...pathetically grateful..." (ibid.) when Alex Jones not only talks to him but stays in touch afterwards. On Earth long enough to study Terrestrial culture, Brob likes Japan and adapts the tea ceremony. Since tea sipped by a Brobdingnagian becomes steam:

"...he contemplated the white clouds swirling out of his mouth..." (p. 175)

I suppose he would. More may happen later but, so far, Brob's only role in the narrative is to provide Alex with much-needed discreet transportation back to Toka. Thus, conscientious sf writers, in this case Anderson and Dickson, work extremely hard on all the background details like the natures of alien races that add interest and substance to this kind of imaginative fiction.

Evil Masterminds

In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985), the comedy threatens to become tragedy as a malign influence stirs the Hokas up into conflicts that could turn into massacres. Thus, the series approaches a climax as Alex Jones tries to get the planet upgraded but realizes that it could instead retrogress catastrophically.

Listing the villains that have appeared so far in individual stories, Alex wonders:

"'...if some evil masterminds aren't at work behind the scenes...'" (p. 178)

Unwittingly, he then goes on to identify the masterminds:

"'It's either believe that, or else believe we're only characters in a series of stories being written by a couple of hacks who need the money.'" (ibid.)

He has identified the true nature of his predicament although he cannot know it. This theme of author as villain was presented appropriately in a stage adaptation of Sherlock Holmes where scenes from Holmes stories including "The Final Problem" alternated with scenes in which the same actors played the parts of Conan Doyle and his mentor. Frustrated by Holmes' success when he preferred to write historical fiction, Doyle ended one scene by saying, "I could always kill him off!" And, like all villains, he failed...

An Inhabited Mirkheim!

In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985), a nearby supernova blew away the atmosphere of a superjovian planet and covered its solidified core with heavy elements, including radioactives. This is familiar Anderson territory, a cosmic accident with an unlikely but nevertheless possible outcome.

It is also the planet Mirkheim revisited but with one big difference: life, taking energy from local radioactive material "...rather than the feeble red sun." (p. 174) Animals eat isotopes concentrated by plants. A Brobingnagian (for such is the human name of the planet) does not oxidize organic materials, "...like most creatures in known space..." (ibid.), but fissions nuclei and is correspondingly strong.

His internal processes produce little radiation which is, in any case, absorbed by his stomach but he must take precautions when disposing of body wastes. Brobdingnagians, evolved on an airless planet, have neither nose nor ears and instead communicate by transmitting and receiving vibrations through the ground via tympani on their meter-long feet. The large round head and body are covered by blue fur and the brown eyes are bone dry.

How much of this is serious scientific speculation and how much is comical exaggeration in keeping with the comedy of the rest of the Hoka series? 

Interconnected Narratives

In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985), three stories overlap:

while Alex Jones is on Earth applying for the upgrading of Toka, as recounted in "Undiplomatic Immunity," Leopold Ormen arrives on Toka, where he is greeted by a Hokan Gimli the Dwarf, and gets Tanni Jones' agreement to travel around the planet making a documentary, as in the opening section of "The Napoleon Crime";

then Tanni heads off the War of the Rings, gets caught up in the Jungle Book affair, as recounted in "Full Pack (Hoka's Wild)," and receives a letter from Alex explaining that he must remain on Earth indefinitely because the Kratchen delegation has started to use parliamentary tricks in order to delay the upgrading of Toka;

thus, when, later in "The Napoleon Crime," Tanni perceives an impending catastrophe resulting from Ormen's activities and urgently contacts Alex, "The Napoleon Crime" has, I think, disentangled its plot from those of the two earlier stories and is now free to present an independent narrative, although I have yet to learn what Ormen is doing.

If the title were "The Napoleon of Crime," it would suggest Moriarty but we have already had the Hokan Holmesian story so we can expect instead something referring to the original Napoleon - although anything is possible!

Past, Present And Future

I have read a lot of Poul Anderson but almost no Gordon R Dickson. In a Special SFWA Bulletin in 1979, Anderson discussed his first two future histories and Dickson discussed his unfinished Childe Cycle.

The Childe Cycle, if completed, would have comprised three historical novels, three set in the twentieth century and six in the future. Anderson wrote fiction set in all of these periods but did not link them into a series. James Blish's After Such Knowledge is set in past, present and future but is just three works.

The proposed Child Cycle novels
(i) the life of Sir John Hawkwood, general, born in England in the 1320's, died in Florence, 1394;
(ii) John Milton, poet and pamphleteer during Cromwell's Protectorate, 17th century;
(iii) Robert Browning, poet, nineteenth century;
(iv) George Santayana, philosopher;
(v) a fictitious character during World War II;
(vi) probably about a female character, to be written in the 1990's and set in the 1980's;
(vii) Necromancer, second half of the 21st century;
(viii) Tactics of Mistake, 22nd century;
(ix) Dosai!, 23rd century;
(x) Soldier, Ask Not, contemporary and overlapping with (ix);
(xi) The Final Encyclopedia, 24th century;
(xii) Childe, sequel to (xi).

Monday, 2 December 2013

Tanni On Toka

Now this is neat. The third story in the second Hoka collection, Hoka (New York, 1985), by Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson, tells us how Tanni Jones copes back home on Toka while Alex Jones is on Earth in the second story. Alex Jr with his copy of Kipling's Jungle Books accompanies Tanni into a jungle area where the Hokas cast him as Mowgli and themselves as Mowgli's animal companions.

Tanni must follow her husband's advice and find a way to manage the Hokas by turning their own logic against them. Thus, when she wants to stop them interfering, she reminds them that, by the Law of the Jungle, the wolves should be asleep during the day...

The texts describe Tanni as blonde and beautiful so she is drawn thus in the illustrations which could easily be extended into a comic strip or animation. The Joneses have been on Toka for twelve years so the timeline has not been advanced.

The fourth story, which I have yet to read in full, also starts with Tanni coping while Alex Sr is away, whether on the same trip or another. An illustration of a Tokan street scene shows a Childe Cycles shop advertising bicycles built for brew and a Three Hearts and Three Lions Tavern:

The Childe Cycle is an unfinished series by Dickson;
"A Bicycle Built For Brew" is a story by Anderson;
Three Hearts And Three Lions is a novel by Anderson.

Thus, this illustration is similar to Kevin O'Neil's panels in the Alan Moore-scripted The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (see here): backgrounds must be studied for literary references. There is another sf reference on an earlier page of Hoka:

"...here is the race that shall rule the sevagram!" (p. 47)

The Penny Dropped

At last I understand something. At the end of Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), I thought that Alexander Jones had contradicted himself when he said both that he was preparing to travel to Earth and that he had decided against resigning his post on Toka. I asked whether, in that case, the trip to Earth was to be a holiday.

Jones goes on to say that his doubts are being resolved but then addresses another concern. A rule of the Cultural Development Service would have kept his wards, the Hokas, in "Class D" for a minimum of fifty years even though they had in every other respect qualified for upgrading at least to Class C - the object of this exercise being for them, like other intelligent species, to rise up through the Classes towards full status in the Interbeing League. Having blackmailed an inspector to waive the fifty-year rule, Jones is now preparing to take "...a Hoka delegation to Earth to apply for advancement." (p. 188)

I did read Jones' letter through to the end. However, the paragraphs about resolution of doubts separate the apparent contradiction from the explanation of the delegation. Consequently, I failed to connect the end of the letter back to its beginning.

I suspect that the letters between the stories did not appear as addenda to the individual stories when these were originally published but were instead inserted in the collection. Of the ten stories in the two collections:

two were originally published in Other Worlds Science Stories;
one in Universe Science Fiction;
five in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction;
one in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact;
one in the first collection.

Jones' letter at the end of the first collection states that he and his delegation will travel to Earth after a baseball game and is followed by a Hokan memorandum disclosing that members of the delegation will engage in cloak and dagger activities when they arrive on Earth. Thus, the letter and the memorandum prefigure the first two stories of the second collection: baseball on Toka followed by advancement application marred by indiscreet espionage on Earth.

I must now read further to learn the outcome of the application.

Baseball Etc

Here is a detail that I missed when summarizing the contents of Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985). On the cover and the title page, the title is Hoka whereas, on the second title page, the title is Hoka!

I do not understand baseball and certainly do not understand the Hoka-Sarennian baseball game in "Joy In Mudville":

"...to lay down a bunt..." (p. 41)

"...the first six men up scored two men and loaded the bases." (p. 42)

"Lefty bounced the next pitch off the right field wall for a stand-up triple." (p. 47)

"The tying run was on, and there were two outs left to bring it home." (p. 54)

OK?

But it ends with yet another insight into Hokan psychology:

"To Hokan taste, it was almost an anticlimax after the glorious victory of the fictional Casey when the factual one playfully tapped a home run over the left field and won the Sector pennant." (p. 63)

That fits with everything that we have been told about the Hokas in the six previous stories.

At the end of Earthman's Burden, Alex said that he would visit Earth after a baseball game and, sure enough, he is back on Earth at the beginning of "Undiplomatic Immunity" so maybe I am about to read something more comprehensible?

Hoka: A Late-Night Reconnoitre Of The Text

In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985), the text starts on p. 11 and ends on p. 240. It is preceded by:

the cover (see image);
the blank inside of the cover;
an illustration (p. 1);
a blank page (p. 2);
the title page (p. 3);
the publishing and copyright information (p. 4);
that occasional sort of second title page which is merely the title without authors' or publisher's names (p. 5);
another blank page (p. 6);
a three page Prologue that could have fitted onto two (pp. 7-9);
a third blank page (p. 10).

It is followed by:

a thirteen page Afterword by Sandra Miesel (pp. 241-253);
another blank page;
a list of other works by Poul Anderson;
a list of other works by Gordon R Dickson;
the back cover.

Between the beginning and the end of the text, I counted thirty full page illustrations and one blank page. Thus, the text comprises 199 pages of larger type than in the previous volume whose page count for the text is 167 but including a few partly blank pages. Illustrations, present in the first volume, have become more prominent in the second.

We are mainly interested in the content of a book but it sometimes of interest also to consider it as a physical artifact.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Resilience

There is a point that I didn't make in the previous post because it didn't fit in there. In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), we just about get used to the idea that, on the one hand, the Hokas role play violent life styles to the hilt but, on the other hand, manage not to harm each other.

There are some explanations. They are bad shots. They are also tough enough not to be injured when kicked by a brutal sergeant of the Foreign Legion. Their physical constitution is such that they can be hanged without being strangled or suffering a broken neck. A ship's captain who has been hanged by mutineers, after swinging around for a while, is cut down and deemed to have died so he quietly assumes a new role, like that of a fresh recruit to the ship's crew.

The Hokas' home planet, Toka, is Brackney's Star III. When the action moves to Teklo, Brakney's Star II, this theme of physical resilience continues. Telkan biochemistry works so fast that blood clots almost instantly and the Telks immediately recover from bullet wounds inflicted by the Hokas' black powder rifles. The Telks themselves fight with:

eggbeaters with sharp crank-turned blades;
scissors or shears for clipping off hands or head although Alex sees one Telk's six limbs knocking the blades aside;
mousetraps big enough for bears;
ladles for throwing corrosive acid which, however, only makes them scratch because "...they seemed too tough for serious damage..." (p. 185);
bouncing balls with poisoned needles;
pipes blowing a "...noxious weed to which the pipemen had cultivated an immunity..." (p. 177);
poison-covered tiddlywinks littering the ground to impede an enemy advance.

When the Telkan biochemistry in airborne yeasts energetically ferments brewing Hoka beer, a new weapon is forged: beer bottles with knife blades in the corks. When the corks are released, jets of liquid and blades hit the enemy, not killing anyone, just knocking them out for a few hours.

Well, I have carefully listed these absurdities expecting to find a point at which someone should surely die but maybe not?

Earthman's Burden: Concluding Remarks

I had a strange moment when reading Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979). On p. 175, Sergeant LeBrute utters the hauntingly familiar word "Zinderneuf," which he explains as "...the fort which perishes to the last man!" Where had I heard or read that before? It is not often that we are reminded of something that we have not already remembered many times since our original encounter with it. During an ordinary day, we remember past experiences that we have often remembered before until some external input raises an older memory. Zinderneuf is a sort of Marie Celeste-like fort in PC Wren's Beau Geste which I read in the 1960's.

I get mixed messages from Alexander Jones' concluding letter. On the one hand, he is:

"...shipping out for Earth in a few weeks..." (p. 187)

- but, on the other hand, he has:

"...changed [his] about resigning [his] position [on Toka]." (ibid.)

So the trip to Earth will be a holiday?

He adds:

"We have a Galactic Series Baseball game coming up shortly, but after that I'll be on my way." (p. 188)

Looking ahead, I gather that baseball is in progress on the opening page of the second volume so will there also be a trip to Earth? And will the four stories in the second volume cover as long a period of Jones' career as the six stories in the first? (I will just have to get on with reading the second volume.)

I have described the Hokas as "protean, not physically but mentally," so I am pleased to see that Jones refers to "...their protean imaginativeness..." (p. 188)

I also said that he was concerned about possible "cultural imperialism" and he now uses that same phrase (ibid.) but his "...doubts...are being resolved." (p. 187)

He rightly argues that:

"Their very adaptability is a protection against losing their racial heritage." (p. 188)

- although his next point is more questionable:

"It is, also, the special talent by which they may one day succeed us as the political leaders of the galaxy." (ibid.)

A possible sequel? I don't think so.

But, like all good comedies, the collection ends by treating its comic figures with affection and respect. Jones commends this "...sturdy, brave, independent little folk..." (p. 187) with their "...fundamental solid strength." (p. 188)

Swords And Science

We are back from a good day out and I am trying to finish Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979) in order to move on to its sequel, Hoka. An advantage of posting while reading is that it becomes possible to pause on all sorts of minor points and interesting details that are missed or quickly forgotten when reading a book through without pause from cover to cover.

Here is another logical consequence of the Hoka premise:

"...his anachronistic charges had recently led Alex to develop skill with sword, bow and lance..." (p. 174)

Of course! Not skills that a plenipotentiary would normally need or acquire but the circumstances on Toka are such that Alex must often defend himself with primitive weapons while thinking how to resolve a new impasse.

He reflects on his recently acquired military prowess because he is about to deal with the Telks who are neither tall nor tusked but nevertheless broad, hairless, muscular, green, four-armed, war-like and naked except for weapons. In other words, Telks sound like smaller T---ks (fill in the blanks), another sword-wielding race in an sf series.

OK. I must try to stop posting and finish reading.

A Little French

Of course, Alexander Jones, the hero of Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), having in a previous story been impressed into the British Navy, is now recruited, by a misunderstanding, into the French Foreign Legion. Most Hokas speak good English but, when appropriate, they can add a French accent or even a few words of the French language.

Jones, needing help to rescue his wife from the next planet sunward, begins, "My wife -," (p. 167) but breaks off when it occurs to him that he needs to be discrete about her current situation.

That single phrase, "My wife -," is enough for the civil governor of Sidi Bel Abbes. Getting Alex to confirm that he wants La Legion Etrangere, the governor rushes him to the commandant where my French is just enough for me to follow the comical dialogue on p. 168 -

Governor: La Femme -
Commandant: Non!
Governor: Mais oui!
Commandant: Avec un autre - un plus jeune-
Governor: On ne le dit pas; cependant...

I am not sure about "cependant" but, of course, the rest of it is -

G: The woman -
C: No!
G: But yes!
C: with another - a younger -
G: One doesn't say it...

So Alex must spend a few days under the brutish Sergeant LeBrute - Hokas are unaffected by kicks but not a human being - before he is able to desert in the company of a "typical" crew including a way over the top PC Wren-type Englishman called Cecil Fotheringay-Phipp Alewyn Smith. Since they "desert" in Alex's spaceship, they are at last en route to rescue his wife - but I will soon be en route for a Sunday afternoon drive with family to a local beauty spot so posting must cease for a while.

A Little History

In Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson's Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979), the Hokas do not become entirely immersed in their roles because, for example, they can remember sharing out the roles and can criticize each others' dialects.

Jones has learned to negotiate with the Hokas by accepting the terms of whatever is their current role instead of by trying to override it. At the end of the pirates story, he prevents what might have become a bloodbath by, just out of sight of the Hokas, as if in a radio drama, enacting a sword fight between two of his own personae, the plenipotentiary and a pirate admiral. This is appropriate since the entire pirates scenario is a drama in any case.

I had enjoyed the Holmesian London and was none too pleased to be yanked away from it into a fantastic piratical milieu but it became possible to learn a little history from the latter. The Hokas' "pirates" are either fictional, like Long John Silver, or historical, like Henry Morgan and Anne Bonney. I had not heard of Bonney but google confirms her historicity and I wondered whether she was related to William Bonney of whom we knew through "Western" fiction in the fifties. (Addendum: Or is she Anne Bonny?)

In the concluding story, Jones must rescue his wife from the natives of the next planet. This need not have been a Hoka episode but, of course, the story stays on message as Jones rounds up Hoka mercenaries from the desert where Arabs and Legionnaires are to be found. (His job has previously involved ensuring that they are not killing each other.) The story's title, "The Tiddlywink Warriors," the significance of which as yet eludes me (I am still reading), had not clarified what kind of Hoka sub-culture would be highlighted.

The natives of the second planet, treating Mrs Jones, as she thinks, like a goddess, are force feeding her with native food which is making her FAT, which is why she urgently requests rescue over the subspace radio. Surely there is an obvious alternative possibility, that they are fattening her up as a sacrificial victim...

A Mosaic World

We have seen Wild West, Operatic, Space Opera, Victorian and Pirate Hokas each in their own story so it makes sense that Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's collection, Earthman's Burden (New York, 1979) ends with a story showing diverse Hoka cultures coexisting and interacting:

the United States Cavalry and the Varangian Guard nearly fought as to which of them should provide an honor guard for a very important visitor but were overawed when King Arthur allied with the Black Watch;

the Secret Service escorts the very important visitor to the League Office which is guarded by a Samurai.

Thus already, we have briefly referred to six distinct sub-cultures. However, since this story is entitled "The Tiddlywink Warriors," I have yet to learn what its prevailing theme is to be.

So far also, we do not see any new marks of the passage of time. The Jones' offspring are still young enough to be referred to as "...the children..." (p. 161) and there is as yet no mention of a fourth. Alex has been married to Tanni long enough not to admit something to her but we are not told how long that is.

A convenient break from child care is provided by sending:

"...the children to the Hoka London to watch Parliament; he had hopes of government careers for them, and this was an unparalleled education in how not to conduct such business." (p. 161)

An excellent observation. Of course, Anderson and Dickson are merely treating their fictitious Hoka as objects of humor but many of my countrymen would make the same remark about the original London Parliament.

I do not think that the Jones' children will grow up and have children before the end of the third volume. Thus, I do not think that the Hoka series approaches future history status but, even if it did, I would qualify that classification. In Classical literature, an epic is a long heroic poem whereas a mock epic, like Metamorphoses, is epic in form though not in content. Since the Hoka series is not serious speculative fiction, to extend it to further generations would be to transform it only into a mock future history.

Addendum: OK, we do have a mark of the passage of time:

"Alex was hardened, after a dozen years on Toka." (p. 162)