Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Problem And Solution

CS Lewis somewhere divided science fiction into a couple of categories, one kind called "the Engineer's Story." Colin Kapp wrote a series of "Unorthodox Engineers" stories. The point of such a story is generally that there is a technical/practical problem which our hero solves.

This blog has shown that a Poul Anderson hero suddenly realizes the solution but reveals it to his colleagues and the reader only in its implementation. Further, however technical the problem, it must have a human consequence. Thus, a damaged spaceship containing valuable materials must be rescued from the Jovian atmosphere...and there is a man in it.

In Conquistador, SM Stirling presents a beaut of a problem, then its solution.


"FirstSide" is a Terrestrial timeline almost indistinguishable from ours. One FirstSider has found a "Gate" to an alternative timeline. Can we call it SecondSide? Following the discovery of the Gate, a small community from FirstSide has secretly colonized the SecondSide North America which is inhabited by Native Americans but has never been invaded by Europeans. The "Commonwealth of New Virginia" extracts wealth from the previously undeveloped SecondSide North America and runs profitable businesses on FirstSide while continuing to conceal the existence of SecondSide.

Someone has smuggled condors from the Commonwealth to FirstSide where the Department of Fish and Game has rescued one of the condors. It is genetically unrelated to any known condor and has no trace of lead poisoning, pesticides or herbicides. Strong evidence that it has come from somewhere else...

Catch a bunch of Commonwealth condors, fill them with lead, pesticides and herbicides and transfer them to FirstSide. When they are found there, this will confirm that there was after all an isolated and uncontaminated condor population on FirstSide.

Imagine if someone really was misdirecting Terrestrial scientists in this way.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I've only reached page 36 of the soft cover edition of CONQUISTADOR, so the condor problem and its soluction is only just being laid out by Stirling. Yes, I agree the problem and its solution was ingenious, worthy of Poul Anderson.

While not necessarily directly inspired by Anderson's work (he can't be the only SF writer who posed problems and offered solutions), this method might have indirectly inspired Stiring in his own work.