Thursday, 17 December 2015

Interstellar Fiction

Poul Anderson's The Peregrine, about the interstellar Nomads, was originally called Star Ways. Two of the Nomad spaceships are called Trekker and Voyageur. Anderson wrote this novel decades before the existence of Star Wars, Star Trek or Star Trek: Voyager. However, certain words and terminologies recur in an interstellar sf context.

We recognize the scenario from Star Trek and from other sf works, e.g., by James Blish. A large spaceship with a crew of hundreds or thousands enters a planetary system and goes into orbit around an inhabited or colonized planet. Crew members shuttle to the surface in ship's boats. Star Trek introduced the transporter (teleporter) in order to avoid scenes involving boats. Extrasolar planets are either colonized from Earth or inhabited by surprisingly humanoid natives. One Nomad "marries" (not legally) a very beautiful native woman with white skin and long silver hair.

Thankfully, at least, the Nomad and his new wife are not interfertile - although Star Trek does allow even that in the case of Vulcan. The Vulcans should have been a separated colony, not the result of independent evolution, just as the Time Lords should have been not aliens but future humanity.

Poul Anderson is able to write convincingly and to address significant issues despite such sf cliches, which he later transcended.

8 comments:

  1. Paul:
    With regard to coincidences of terms in sf, I find it hilarious that about a year before the first-ever *Star Trek* episode, Jack Vance wrote a novel in which one of the villains, using a certain alias, is referred to several times as "Mr. Spock."

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  2. David,
    Of course, "Spock" is a coincidence whereas "Star," "Voyageur" etc mean something and therefore will recur in particular contexts.
    Paul.

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  3. Kaor, Paul!

    Your comment about "surprisingly humanoid" non humans made me wonder, do you find it unsatisfactory or too cliched for SF writers to have humanoid aliens? That is, non human rational beings who have two arms and two legs. I occasionally get the impression you do.

    It is my belief, however, that evolution on many planets MIGHT follow lines of development parallel to ours. That is, races which became intelligent first had to free up the forelimbs for other tasks besides transportation before they would be ABLE to use increased intelligence. So I argue it is reasonable to think there might be humanoid races resembling ours. There might even be races STRONGLY resembling mankind, as we see in THE PEREGRINE and the Scothanians of "Tiger By The Tail" in PA's Technic History.

    Where some SF writers go too far was not in them having having males and females of races strongly resembling each being not merely sexually attracted to each other but also being inter-fertile. As Poul Anderson understood very well, the sheer implausibility of races independently developing independently for millions of years on separate worlds being able to have children with each other makes such a notion impossible to take seriously. Mercifully, I don't recall Anderson making such a mistake in any of his stories.

    And Poul Anderson WAS capable of working out reasonable speculations about what truly strange looking non humanoid intelligent races might look like. Such as Smokesmith in "The Pirate" or the Ymirites seen in the Technic series.

    Sean

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  4. Sean,
    I understand the argument that natural selection would favor bipedalism, upright stance, forelimbs freed for manipulation, brain protected by bone near sense organs at the top and nose above mouth. But STAR TREK has innumerable aliens played by human actors, indistinguishable from Terrestrials, and Anderson's Alori are far too human-like.
    Paul.

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    1. Kaor, Paul!

      I certainly agree that STAR TREK goes too far too many times in having "aliens" too often resembling humans too closely. Because of having read such masters of SF as Anderson, Asimov (before I tired of him), Bradbury, Clark, Heinlein, Norton, etc., as a boy, STAR TREK was never a favorite of mine because of its implausibilities.

      Yes, I have to agree, the Alori we see in Anderson's THE PEREGRINE do resemble humanity far too closely to be convincing. I would argue that THE PEREGRINE was an early work of Anderson written at a time when he was still learning how to write good SF. And needed time to think thru the implications of the ideas and concepts he was using.

      Sean

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  5. Paul and Sean:

    The Jorillians of "Turning Point" (1963) are described as looking VERY human-like - "Despite large heads, which were not grotesquely big, odd hands and ears, slightly different body proportions, the women were good to look upon: too good, after a year's celibacy." Of course, this resemblance was essential for the solution to the problem they posed. ("Resistance is futile.")

    H. Beam Piper - yes, I'm mentioning him, again - wrote a novella, "When In the Course..." (later revised to become part of his alternate-universes series) involving an expedition which finds what appear to be completely human people on a new planet. Human enough to interbreed with the Terran visitors.

    The catch is that Piper specifically points out - several times - that this shouldn't be possible. Presumably, he intended some such explanation as that they'd SOMEHOW been transplanted from Earth centuries or millennia ago (or maybe from Mars; some of Piper's work claimed that Terrans originated as colonists from Mars, so perhaps another colonizing group could've gone another direction in a primitive starship). But that explanation never got written.

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    1. Hi, David!

      Thanks for your interesting comments!

      Yes, I recall how much the Jorillians of "Turning Point" resembled Terran humanoids. I suggest, however, that the outcome of the story might still have been the same even if the Jorillians had not so strongly resembled our species. They still might have been "seduced" into becoming assimilated into human civilization. Because that still would have been the most humane solution to the problem we see in the "Turning Point."

      I can see how much of a H. Beam Piper fan you are! Alas, I never read many of his works. My loss I agree. I like the suggestion Piper seems to have been coming to, that humans from Earth (or whatever planet our species came from) were transplanted many thousands of years ago to other worlds. And THAT would explain why humans from Earth could interbreed with humans found on other planets.

      In fact, S.M. Stirling used exactly that idea for his two Lords of Creation books: THE SKY PEOPLE and IN THE COURTS OF THE CRIMSON KINGS. Poul Anderson used that idea in a "future" sense: that is, in the future humans from Earth colonize other worlds.

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

      Sean

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  6. To you, Sean, as well -- and to Paul and all others who visit this site -- best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

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