Monday, 1 June 2015

The Cyclical Cosmos

In Poul Anderson's retrospective collection, Going For Infinity (New York, 2002), two novels are represented by excerpts and one by its short sequel. However, Tau Zero, a major hard sf novel, is represented neither by an excerpt form its text nor by its short prequel, "Pride" - although the latter might have been considered insufficiently representative in any case.

Anderson states two reasons for not excerpting Tau Zero:

" doesn't seem to lend itself to that very well. Also, the evidence has become very strong that our universe is flat, not closed as was commonly thought in those days." (p. 355)

I disagree with both these reasons. First, one of the cosmic passages would have made an excellent excerpt and advertisement for the book. Secondly, science fiction is not invalidated as fiction every time science advances. In any case, since as yet very little is known and since cosmologies can change in our lifetimes, it is far too early to make any definite statements about the universe as a whole.

The cyclical universe is an ancient myth and Tau Zero is a modern, scientifically based, expression of it. The myth was based on experience. Day and night, seasons and life are cyclical - although we now know that Earth and life also evolve. Cyclical processes are not merely terrestrial. Atoms from novae condense as later stellar generations. And there is also evolution at that level, stellar fusion of heavier elements necessary for life. Thus, not only the water-vapor cycle but also before that the stellar cycle are necessary conditions for biological cycles. Cyclicism's got legs - it's going somewhere!

Anderson explains in Starfarers that our universe expanded from a random condensation of energy in a vacuum paradoxically full of perpetually created but mutually annihilating particle anti-particle pairs. (Maybe Fred Hoyle's continuous creation idea had some legs as well.) That sounds like Brahma and Shiva with a quiescent Vishnu, continual creation and destruction uninterrupted by any intermediate preservation. But Vishnu wakes when energy condenses... And what happened once can happen again. There can be cycles of newly created universes even if, as the current evidence indicates, our particular universe will expand indefinitely and never contract.

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