Thursday, 3 December 2015

Brontothor, Avalon And Drakia

Brontothor is a future fortress;
Avalon is a colonized extrasolar planet;
Drakia is an alternative historical country -

- in the soaring imaginations of Poul Anderson and SM Stirling, respectively.

Rereading - and therefore also blogging about rereading - is arbitrary. Whimsically, I reread Poul Anderson's The People Of The Wind, then his "Flight to Forever," and have not yet finished discussing the latter. It must be unusual to find so much to say about a pulp story of that period.

Meanwhile, I cannot escape from the dreaded Draka in SM Stirling's The Stone Dogs (New York, 1990). This book deploys the sf cliche of an "aircar" but also gives us some idea of how it might work:

a six-seater with "...twin ceramic axial flow turbines, vector-thrust VTOL, variable-geometry wings that could fold right into the oval fuselage..." (p. 119);
barely supersonic;
the four rear seats "...recliners, swivel-mounted around a table-console and bar..." (ibid.);
"'...central control under two thousand meters...'" (p. 120);
can be flown manually, by computer or by ground control;
ceramic turbines can be hot enough to melt metal or an asphalt landing stage;
run on kerosene; 
the canopy can change from clear to mirror to black;
landing causes a miniature dust storm;
can be driven by road or on water and can take off anywhere.

On p. 126, a Draka jokes with her friend about how they treat their serfs:

"'I'll spoil my half an' yo' can flog the othah...'"

On the facing page, we read:

"The Protracted Struggle is as clear-cut an example of a struggle between good and evil, freedom and slavery, as human history affords."

Indeed it is. Faced with such an enemy, I think that I would have to accept "...compulsory National Service for both sexes..." (ibid.) It is a relief when, on p. 128, we leave the stifling company of the Drakian pilots and join some of their opposite numbers in the Alliance.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

But I have read your comments about "Flight to Forever" with interest. And I can no longer call that early work by Poul Anderson a readable but unremarkable pulp story. You have found ideas and themes in that story which PA worked out far more richly and memorably in later works.

Aircars might be an SF cliche, but it's one I wish we actually had! And, in fact, a company called Moller Internation has been trying to develop practical working models of real aircars. Much of their work resembles what you quoted from Stirling. I'll send you a link to MI.

Yes, the struggle between the Alliance and the Domination in the Draka "is as clear cut an example of a struggle between good and evil, freedom and slavery, as human history affords." Even National Socialist Germany and the USSR was not QUITE as bad as the Draka, if only because the stupidity and incompetence so often shown by both did SOMETHING to limit the harm done by them. The Domination is a terrifying example of COMPETENT, intelligent tyranny.

I far prefer either the Angrezi Raj or the Commonwealth of New Virginia that we see in others of Stirling's works. Or Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization and Terran Empire. They all had their flaws--but they were HUMAN flaws, tolerable flaws!


Paul Shackley said...

The Draka really are super-Nazis. The only reason why they are not efficiently exterminating an entire race or nation is they do not perceive it as in their interests to do so.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Exactly! And, as I said, the Draka are competent, intelligent tyrants.