Monday, 13 July 2015

Heinlein, Anderson And Stirling On Death

Death occurs many times in the works of Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson and SM Stirling. Let us consider one example from each writer, especially since these three passages form an (unintended) conceptual sequence.

(i) Stirling describes a young man's death from the young man's pov, then writes one more sentence.

(ii) Anderson's Dominic Flandry asks his dead fiancee for a sign of the hereafter in which she believed.

(iii) Heinlein's Lazarus Long states that soon each of us will know whether there is a hereafter (emphasis in the original).

(i) "...as the young man began to bring up his rifle something struck him a massive blow beneath the chin. He never saw the tomahawk that split his throat, only felt a huge wetness when he tried to draw breath, saw darkness, heard a distant fusillade of shots and the stuttering rattle of a machine gun.
"Then nothing, ever again."
-SM Stirling, Conquistador (New York, 2004), p. 481.

This dying young man is successively aware of:

a blow;
wetness;
darkness;
gun shots;
machine gun fire;
nothing.

"Then nothing..." is an abbreviation for "Then he heard nothing...," but does this in turn imply "Then he (existed and) heard nothing..."? If so, then the implication is wrong. Thus, the concluding sentence is not narrated from the young man's point of view.

(ii) Flandry does not believe that he receives a sign but others believe that they do. Spiritualist phenomena need to be investigated.

(iii) Long is wrong. If there is no hereafter, then we will not know whether there is a hereafter. I have spoken with people who initially thought that Long was right, then were reluctant to acknowledge that, by writing "...know...," he begs the very question at issue.

1 comment:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I finished rereading the main text of CONQUISTADOR today, all that's left being the Appendices.

    VERY interesting, these comments you made about the dying young man. Yes, your remarks about "Then nothing, ever again," gives plenty of room for ambiguity, intended or unintended by Stirling? My first thought was that Stirling accepted here the view that at death NOTHING exists from the POV of the deceased person, that he had no awareness of having ever existed at all, just pure NOTHINGNESS. But, as your comment said, Stirling may have unintentionally implied that the young man's soul or spirit continued to exist, but was simply no longer aware of the earthly scene he had departed.

    It would be interesting to know what Stirling's own philosophical or religious beliefs are. I THINK, like Anderson, he is an agnostic. But, again like Anderson, Stirling is an agnostic who treats religious believers with respect and takes them seriously. And, again, like Anderson, he seems to have respect in particular for the Catholic Church.

    In the DIES THE FIRE series, several prominent characters are Wiccans or "neo pagans," and leaders of "neo pagan" communities. So we also see a lot about Wiccan ideas in those books. So much so that I think Stirling felt compelled to stress that he is NOT a Wiccan himself.

    Sean

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