Sunday, 16 November 2014

The City Of Ice

If a short story about Kendrick, Ricia and Alvarlan in the City of Ice were to be published in a fantasy anthology, then it would be accepted as a fantasy short story. However, if exactly the same story, without any textual alterations, were to be published in a volume of Poul Anderson's hard sf Technic History series, then in that different context, it could be read as a "play within the play," as part of the psychodrama played by several explorers of the Saturnian system.

Readers of fantasy and sf easily imagine parallel universes with "The City of Ice" occurring in one and "The Saturn Game" in another. Anderson excellently presents this kind of scenario in another of his series, where Shakespeare, the great dramatist in some universes, is the Great Historian in the world of A Midsummer Tempest. However, we could, more subtly, read "The City of Ice," if such a story were to be written, simply as what is being imagined by the protagonists of "The Saturn Game" - as a fiction within the fiction.

As it happens, Anderson opted not to write "The City of Ice" as a separate story or even as discrete passages within "The Saturn Game." The psychodrama comes on stage only briefly in dialogue and in italicized passages that are clearly the characters' imaginings. However, these characters encounter alien landscapes that encourage their imaginings. Buried by a landslide on a Iapetean glacier, Scobie imagines that he is in the wreck of the Elf King's Dance Hall which is "...built of mist and starshine..." and "...blocks quarried from the cold side of Ginnungagap..." (The Van Rijn Method, p. 39). That is quite a thought. Meanwhile, Garcilaso, concussed, mumbles that the King has cast his soul into a cold Hell.

Before that, there was a straight description of a scene that could well encourage astronauts to fantasize. They have climbed so high that the curvature of the moon has become evident and the stars now seem to be not above but around them...

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