Thursday, 27 August 2015

The End Of August

(Addendum, 30 Aug: I am drafting some posts for September. Meanwhile, see addendum to Subjectivity.)

This is the last post for August. I look forward to blogging again in September. I may have to restrain myself from posting during the next four days but will also be busy in other ways.

Next month we expect an article by Sean M Brooks comparing Poul Anderson and SM Stirling. I will also continue to read Stirling's Draka series, a worthy development of the idea of alternative histories as previously presented by Wells and Anderson among others.

Of course I had compared Anderson and Gaiman more than once before but the parallels struck me again when simultaneously rereading The Sandman and The Shield Of Time. I post what I think even if I have thought it before so there is some repetition. However, there are also always new details to find and highlight in Anderson's texts as I think is demonstrated by recent posts on The Shield of Time, which I will also continue to reread.

Parallel Fictions

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman fantasy graphic novels reveal that William Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest for Dream of the Endless, one of seven anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness. Poul Anderson's alternative history fantasy novel, A Midsummer Tempest, is a sequel to both.

In The Sandman, characters from different universes shelter in the Inn of the Worlds' End during a reality storm caused by the death of Dream. In A Midsummer Tempest, characters from different alternative histories meet in the Old Phoenix Inn between universes. Odin is a character in The Sandman as in three fantasy novels by Anderson.

The Sandman is like Anderson's Time Patrol series in that many of its installments are set in past periods and may feature historical figures. Gaiman has Augustus and Harun al Rashid among others while Anderson has Cyrus and Hiram among others. Gaiman also hints at time travel which does occur elsewhere in the fictional universe to which he contributes.

This explains why reading Anderson reminds me of Gaiman and vice versa.

Life In 209 BC II

As if he had been there then, Poul Anderson reports on aspects of life in Bactria, 209 BC.

New ideas:

"At last the teaching of Gautama Buddha would ebb from his native India until there it was all but forgotten. Today it still flourished, and the tide of it flowed strongly outward." (The Shield Of Time, p. 47)

Travel:

"...those merchants, caravaneers, guards, mendicants, monks, and other travelers were numerous, hailing from a wide range of territories." (ibid.)

An urban environment:

"The sanctuary-cum-hostel was a modest adobe building, a former tenement, in Ion's lane off the Street of the Weavers...the neighbors crammed wall to wall against it..." (ibid.)

Urban life:

"The streets seethed." (p. 48)

Resignation:

"...most people in the ancient world were more or less fatalistic." (p. 49)

But also practicality:

"Events to come might work out for the better instead of the worst. Undoubtedly many a mind was occupied with schemes to make an extra profit from the situation." (ibid.)

Superstition:

"Fortune-tellers, charm vendors, and shrines did land-office business." (ibid.)

Curiosity:

"Men panted for any fresh word from outside." (ibid.)

Unhelpful obligingness:

"Maybe the respondent simply told Meander what he supposed Meander wanted to hear; that was an immemorial Oriental custom." (ibid.)

Piety:

"'...she's endowed a small temple of Poseidon outside town. A pious work.'" (p. 50)

But also cynicism:

"'It gives employment to her kinsman...its priest.'" (ibid.)

Fast food:

lentils and onions in a chapatti bought from a street vendor; not coffee but diluted sour wine. (p. 51)

Thus, we feel as if we have been there with Manse Everard of the Time Patrol.

Looking Back

Poul Anderson Appreciation, published purely for pleasure, not profit, proceeds unpredictably. Looking back, it is possible to discern certain unplanned directions of reading or rereading. Recently:

Poul Anderson's many works, including his two short stories of realistic alternative history;

SM Stirling's many more elaborate alternative history novels;

Stirling's Time Patrol short story, "A Slip In Time";

early chapters of Anderson's Time Patrol novel, The Shield Of Time.

Despite this unplanned procedure, several consistent themes emerge:

Anderson made major contributions to several literary traditions;
he systematically addressed issues like time travel or AI from every conceivable angle;
his central characters are problem-solvers, often realizing and implementing the solution to a current problem before explaining it to their colleagues and thus to the readers;
Anderson regularly wrote detailed descriptive passages, appealing simultaneously to several of the senses;
thus, his works bear endless rereading to appreciate such details;
another part of the appreciation of his works is to engage with arguments and values presented in the texts;
he asks and answers ultimate questions about the significance of life and intelligence.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

From The Golden Age To The 1990s

The modes of publication of Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series reflect the history of the publication of American sf in the second half of the twentieth century:

magazine stories, later collected;

an original collection and two novels;

an original short novel first published in the omnibus collection;

a contribution to a themed anthology.

Thus, the stages are:

material originally published in magazines, then republished in books;
material originally published in books by a single author;
themed anthologies as a major innovation.

Although "Death And The Knight," a Time Patrol story in a Knights Templar anthology, has been added to a later edition of the Time Patrol omnibus collection, it still remains part of that anthology, which might be reissued? Also, some fans might prefer to read such a story in a miscellaneous volume? I don't - but maybe some people out there do prefer multi-author anthologies to single-author collections? It is like a synthesis of magazine format with book format, especially when a themed anthology becomes a series, like Larry Niven's Man-Kzin Wars to which Anderson made three contributions.

To illustrate this post, I have found the cover of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1955, which wrongly describes the first Time Patrol story, "Time Patrol," as a novel although the blurb is illegible as reproduced here.

Wanda Tamberly And Nicholas Van Rijn

(Thank you for 284 page views so far today despite no posts until this one today.)

Wanda Tamberly reads Analog so she must have read about Nicholas van Rijn, for example in "Hiding Place," although not about the Time Patrol. That series was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Fictional characters are usually, though not always, fictions to each other.

In a "multiverse" (multiple universes) scenario, a character who is fictional in one universe may be real in another. However, Time Patrolmen inhabit not one universe in a greater multiverse but a single universe with a mutable timeline. Thus, van Rijn has access to the inter-universal Old Phoenix Inn whereas Patrol agents do not. The Sherlock Holmes who is seen in the Old Phoenix cannot be the same as the one who is real to the Time Patrol. Can there be different versions of Sherlock Holmes? Sure there are. We see them on screen all the time.

Neil Gaiman's equivalents of the Old Phoenix are "...the free houses that owe no allegiance to any one time or dominion," including the Inn of the Worlds' End and The Toad-Stone (The Wake, see below, p. 29, panel 2). One of the cleverest fiction-reality interfaces that I have read is this dialogue in panel 1, p. 62, of Gaiman's The Sandman: The Wake (New York, 1997):

Clark Kent: The one I hate is where I'm just an actor on a strange television version of my life. Have you ever had that dream?
The Batman: Doesn't everyone?
The Martian Manhunter: I don't.

However, the Manhunter has since appeared in the Smallville TV series. Alternative realities proliferate. All that an author needs is a blank sheet of paper or a computer screen as Poul Anderson continued to demonstrate until the end of a long career.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Kipling And Homer

I said that Poul Anderson mentions Rudyard Kipling at least twice in the Time Patrol series and quoted from Time Patrol but, of course, Part Two of The Shield Of Time, "Women and Horses and Power and War," takes its title from some lines of poetry quoted on p. 39. I respectfully disagree with the sentiment expressed in these lines although perhaps the tone is ironic - or the poetic speaker may not be the poet?

Part Two of The Shield Of Time also refers back to the beginning of European literature:

"'If I were your king, I'd make myself secure here, then sally forth for a pitched battle, with the city to return to in case I lost it.'

"Creon nodded.

"'The Trojan War over again?' Hipponicus protested. 'May the gods grant a different outcome for us.'" (p. 37)

That is easy to arrange. Fear Greeks bringing gifts!

Another dinner guest comments:

"'Fear not...Our king has better sense than Priam.'" (ibid.)

These speakers, with the exception of Meander/Everard who suggests the sally, would have accepted Homer's account as literally true. We can regard subsequent literature as sequels to Homer and subsequent philosophy as footnotes to Plato.

Learning History

"The Parthians...considered themselves the heirs of the Persian Empire which Alexander had conquered and Alexander's generals had divided among each other." (The Shield Of Time, p. 36)

 - and which Cyrus the Great had founded! If we read the Time Patrol series carefully, then we learn something of the course of history.

Some other examples:

Manse Everard is in Britain when Germanic tribes are invading it, then, later in his career but several centuries earlier in history, is among those tribes, including the Anglii, in their original territories;

Manse saves Rome from Carthaginians - led by Hannibal and helped by Neldorians - then saves Tyre from Exaltationists (Carthage was a Tyrian colony);

Antiochus the Great, who "'...put the Parthians in check...gave refuge to Hannibal after the Second Punic War...'" (pp. 74-75);

Carl Farness' descendants take "'...a leading part in founding the Spanish nation...'" (Time Patrol, p. 462) and a Spanish Conquistador steals a timecycle and is an ancestor of Wanda Tamberly!

As often happens, I did not realize how many connections I was going to find when I started to write this post.

Some Trivia

In The Shield Of Time, the list of Tor books by Poul Anderson ends with Tales of the Time Patrol, asterisked as "forthcoming." It forthcame as The Time Patrol. Thus, the full list of Time Patrol collection titles used or unused becomes:

Guardians Of Time (4 stories)
The Guardians Of Time (5)
Annals Of The Time Patrol (7)
Tales Of The Time Patrol (unused)
The Time Patrol (9)
Time Patrol (10)

As previously argued, I think that, if the Time Patrol series is to be collected in two long volumes, then Volume I should be nine stories with a revised order so maybe another slight title change would be appropriate? Also, "The Time Patrol and The Shield Of Time" sounds good as a diptych.

I will be strongly tempted to stop at 140 posts for this month, thus making the 1st post of September the 901st of 2015. I find round numbers more satisfactory. Meanwhile, the next post is usually being mentally drafted.

Ketlan's other daughter is visiting with her family this week so we will drive with them to the Lake District tomorrow. A good day but a desert for posting.

Americans, you export to the UK good sf, comic books and Mormon missionaries. I find that young Mormons listen to what I say. By proselytizing, they learn about alternatives.

Life In 209 BC

Turning a page in Poul Anderson's The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), we proceed directly from a conversation in an apartment in Palo Alto in 1987 AD to a conversation in a house in Bactra in 209 BC. To Manse Everard/Meander the Illyrian, the latter is later.

How much did Poul Anderson know about life in the Far East in the third century BC and how much did he intelligently conjecture? We are told that:

"Like most well-to-do Hellenistic houses this far east, that of Hipponicus mingled Classical simplicity with Oriental lavishness." (p. 34)

That sounds plausible and, of course, a Time Patrolman would know. Hipponicus and his guests, including Meander, eat in a dining room where the walls have gilt molding and gaudily hued frescoes of fanciful birds, beasts and plants. There is incense, a bronze candelabra and an open door showing the inner court with roses and a fishpond. Four men wearing white tunics recline on couches to drink watered wine and eat:

soup with soft bread;
lightly seasoned lamb, barley and vegetables;
fresh fruit -

- served by male slaves. This is a business meeting so there are no dancing girls.

Everard can cope:

"A subtle electronics had printed into his brain the map, the history, the chief languages..." (p. 24)

Indeed, as he entered the city:

"To Everard the scene was eerily half-familiar. He had witnessed its like in a score of different lands, in as many different centuries. Each was unique, but a prehistorically ancient kinship vibrated in them all." (ibid.)

That is what it would be like to travel widely through the past.

Wanda's Apartment

The Time Patrol universe is vast. Let us focus on a detail. Wanda Tamberly's Stanford apartment is her temporary student accommodation and does not remain her place of residence for the rest of the series. We see it again only in a flashback to the conversation where Manse Everard had explained about the Time Patrol. In "The Year Of The Ransom":

"...she asked quietly, 'How about telling me the whole truth?'
"'An outline of it,' he agreed. 'That alone will take a couple of hours.'
"- In the end she sat wide-eyed on the sofa..." (Time Patrol, p. 717)

In The Shield Of Time, the chapter headed 1987 A.D. on pp. 26-33 recounts some of the intervening conversation. Wanda asks all the right questions about time travel like:

"'Where does the energy come from?'" (The Shield Of Time, p. 27)

Later, when she is a Patrol member:

"She examined her mount. About four-tenths charge on the cells, which used a principle she didn't even begin to understand and which made nuclear fission look like a water-clock."
-SM Stirling, "A Stitch In Time" IN Multiverse, p. 73)

So she is no wiser, at least about the technology.

Manse says:

"'...it is terrifying. It could turn out that you and I never had this talk today, that we and our whole world never were, not even a dream in somebody's sleep. It's harder to imagine and harder to take than the idea of personal annihilation when we die.'" (p. 31)

But they have had this talk today. There can be another, subsequent, timeline in which they have never existed but this is not that timeline. In this timeline, they can live out the rest of their lives remembering this conversation.

I suppose that there is some difference between being dead and never having been born but, when we are dead, we will not know about that either.

A Comprehensive Series

In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series, we appreciate:

many passages set in fully realized historical or prehistorical periods;
past Patrol bases that become familiar locations;
comfortable twentieth century settings where Patrol agents can safely discuss the problems of the past;
a single passage set on the Moon in 2319;
hints at many other future periods;
glimpses of potential histories that remain unrealized but  nevertheless influence the Time Patrol timeline - in particular, Veleda does not change the Germanic religion but might have done.

Like one facet in a jewel, this series reflects the comprehensiveness of Anderson's fictional canon.

The main past bases are the Academy in the Oligocene and the Lodge in the Pleistocene. The many future periods include the Martian war of 3890, the Second Asteroid War and the Era of Oneness preceding the Danellians. Twentieth century locations include:

Everard's apartment with its polar bear rug and Achaean Bronze Age spears;
the Farness' flat overlooking Central Park in the 1930s;
a Caribbean restaurant in Amsterdam;
Nick's antiquarian bookshop;
Wanda's student apartment in Palo Alto with its shabby furniture and a National Wildlife Federation poster.

Manse and Wanda are in her apartment when the unsuspecting younger Wanda is away. I used to leave a one-room apartment empty at weekends in Merseyside. With a timecycle, I would now be able to make use of that room on all those weekends.

Subjectivity

"...what he needed was not surcease but the completion of the hunt." (Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time, p. 8.)

"The hunter awoke in Everard. A chill tingle passed through his spine, out to scalp and fingertips." (p. 305)

"Again the hunter's tingle went through his skin and along his backbone." (p. 327)

"A scent came down the time-winds, that of maneater.
"'Time to hunt,' [Everard] said."
-SM Stirling, "A Slip In Time" IN Multiverse, p. 91.

(I thought that Anderson also had a reference to "maneater" but have not found it on rereading.) (Addendum, 30 Aug 2015: "Most of [Everard] stood in a wind down which blew the scent of tiger...maneater." -The Shield Of Time, p. 75)

Everard brings primitive feelings and motivations to the high tech business of time travel. Guion seeks a higher level of experiential comprehension:

"'What is involved is no more amenable to symbolic logic than is the concept of mutable reality. 'Intuition' or 'revelation' are words equally inadequate.'" (The Shield Of Time, p. 7)

Although I apply logic to time travel, I find Anderson's texts consistently elusive, especially when the excellent "Star Of The Sea" is taken into account. Suppose the Patrol really is encountering something like a singularity that defies analysis and intellectual understanding? They perceive it in terms of time travel paradoxes because they have to perceive it somehow. Babylonians at the Patrol Academy had to be given a battle of the gods routine.

Lastly, for tonight, in addition to the time criminals and opponents listed in a recent post, another potential collective villain is suggested. Possibly, in a divergent timeline:

"'...the entire world that brought you and me into being is a phantom, a might-have-been, which, conceivably, an alternate Time Patrol keeps suppressed.'" (p. 76)

The Patrol might have to fight another Patrol to restore the Danellian timeline.

Perceptions Of Time

Anyone able to travel through time would be bound to perceive time differently. Traveling by car, bus or train, I can revisit the town and county where I spent my childhood but, traveling on a Time Patrol timecycle, I would also be able to revisit the period of my childhood. So it would not really be past.

But there are even greater differences for Time Patrol agents. Some of the experiences that they remember did not happen, at least not in the current timeline, and some of the events that they investigate may have causes that are also not in the current timeline.

"You didn't age in the Patrol and you never got sick..."
-SM Stirling, "A Slip In Time" IN Multiverse, p. 73.

Not aging, you would lose any sense of personal duration. Some remembered experiences would be longer ago than others but you would not have aged in any way since experiencing them. Remembering an experience from decades ago, I reflect on how young I was then but this sense of increasing age would no longer exist. And it sounds as if Patrol agents do not retire but continue working indefinitely. Their careers have not a finite duration with an end point but a sort of timeless present.

"Maybe returning to New York on the day after he left it had been a mistake."
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time, p. 3.

Imagine being able to spend weeks in Tyre but then return to New York on the day after you left it - and also being able to control exactly how much time had elapsed between departure and return. Surely time itself would begin to seem unreal?

A Patrol agent would be able to strand an enemy, say a Neldorian, in the remote past, not think about him for say five decades, then:

decide to leave the Neldorian back in the past or
retrieve him from the moment when he had been deposited in the past or
check on his progress five decades after he had been left in the past or
check on his progress at any point between zero and five decades.

It is as if the Neldorian is frozen in the past. He is not but that is how it would seem. Again, would Patrollers be able to retain any sense of time as a reality? They know that they will die some day but not of old age so they have no idea of how near their deaths may be. Their lives just continue, although not in a linear chronological sequence, until they stop.

Monday, 24 August 2015

"A Slip In Time": Conclusion

I have finished rereading SM Stirling's "A Slip In Time."

(i) I am not sure how Manse knew Wanda was near enough to rescue him when he made his suicide jump?

(ii) There is rather an abrupt transition to 18,244 BC and to Komozino's account of her restoration of the Sarajevo assassination without as yet apprehending the criminal(s).

(iii) Stirling confirms that Everard sometimes works in his future, in this case in Istanbul, 2043. But that is not very far uptime as these things go. It would not be necessary to cope with the bigger changes of hundreds or thousands of years.

(iv) Wanda thinks that:

"...the world around her and herself and Manse could - very well might - just stop at any instance." (Multiverse, pp. 82-83)

I have responded to this thought quite often by now. Wanda has seen this "...world around her..." still in existence four hundred years later. Komozino's restoration of the Sarajevo assassination generates the Patrol's preferred history with World War I beginning in 1914, not a WWI-free timeline persisting into 1926 and stopping then.

I would like to stay with the Time Patrol for a while longer and might reread sections of The Shield Of Time.

A Recurrent Argument

Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I have restated a particular argument about time travel several times. In its simplest form, the argument is as follows: if a time traveler departs into the past intending to prevent your birth, you need not fear that you will cease to exist a moment after his departure because, if your birth had been prevented in the past of this timeline, then you would not exist now. You would not somehow exist into adulthood, then cease to exist. There may be only one timeline or there may be one timeline in which you were born and exist and another timeline in which you were not born and do not exist but there cannot be a composite timeline in which you were not born but do exist but then cease to exist.

Why keep repeating an argument especially when, as yet, no one has disagreed with it? Because the argument always seems fresh and relevant, especially when reading or rereading Time Patrol stories. And these stories deserve our respect unlike, e.g., Isaac Asimov's The End Of Eternity. No doubt the blog will move on as it has from previous preoccupations or obsessions but, right now, SM Stirling's Time Patrol story, "A Slip In Time," is a major focus, to be followed by his second Draka novel, Under The Yoke.

Some Details In "A Slip In Time"

See here.

(i) SM Stirling addresses some issues that had not arisen in Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories. I had thought that Patrol timecycles were limited to any point on or above Earth or in Earth orbit but Stirling shows us one making an interplanetary crossing. He adds that the cycle has "...four-tenths charge on the cells..." (Multiverse, p. 73). Until now, we might have been forgiven for thinking that timecycles could function indefinitely without needing to be recharged.

So how do the Exaltationists, criminals who have stolen timecycles and fled into space-time, get their vehicles recharged? I suggest that they buy whatever they need from the Neldorian bandits of the two hundred and fifth millennium.

(ii) Manse refers to Hitler, Stalin and Stantel V (p. 77). All these names should be familiar to us. Coordinator Stantel V was the Great Experimenter whose colonies reproduced past societies in the thirty eighth century ("Delenda Est" IN Time Patrol, p. 180).

(iii) On p. 72 of Multiverse, Wanda loses track of how many altered realities Manse has seen. They are four:

the Carthaginian timeline in "Delenda Est";
the alpha and beta timelines in The Shield Of Time;
this new timeline in "A Slip In Time."

(iv) A time travel story such as this involves both thought about time travel logic and knowledge of history. The author must know the history in order to know how to distort it. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the historical details is slight so I must rely on the author.

Exploring "A Slip In Time" III

See here.

SM Stirling exactly reproduces Manse Everard's way of thinking about variable realty. Trapped and imprisoned in the 1926 of a divergent history, Manse thinks:

"Either a Patrol rescue team would arrive to break him out...or he'd vanish when this world was cancelled." (Multiverse, p. 77)

(For convenience, I am referring to the Patrol timeline and the divergent timeline as timelines 1 and 2, respectively.)

"...when..." does not refer to any temporal coordinate within timeline 2. Timeline 2 either does or does not exist. Since Manse is in it, it does exist. It is a continuum with one temporal and three spatial dimensions. Its spatial dimensions extend to the edge of the universe or around the curve of space or etc. There is no reason to suppose that its temporal dimension does not extend pastward to a Big Bang and futureward to a heat death of the universe. If this timeline ends prematurely before the heat death, then its premature ending is a random event not caused by the activities of any time travelers.

If a time traveler prevents the prevention of the Sarajevo assassination, then the consequence will not be that timeline 2 exists until sometime in or after 1926, then ceases to exist. The consequence will instead be the creation in a second temporal dimension of another four dimensional continuum, this one containing the history guarded by the Patrol. It will be timeline 3, differing in only a few unimportant details from timeline 1.

From the point of view of the inhabitants of timeline 2, timeline 3 exists/will exist (a Temporal language tense is needed) in the future not of timeline 2 but of a second temporal dimension at right angles to timeline 2. Each moment of the second temporal dimension contains a four dimensional continuum just as each moment of the first temporal dimension contains a three dimensional universe.

The continued existence of timeline 2 after its version of 1926 is confirmed on p. 71 when Wanda travels two centuries, then another two centuries, futureward. If Manse is not rescued, then he will not "vanish" but will live the rest of his life in timeline 2. Of course, people in timeline 3 will have no access to Manse and might consider that he has vanished but there will have been no vanishing from his point of view.

The Time Patrol In The Draka Timeline

It would be easy enough to synthesize Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series with SM Stirling's Draka series:

for whatever reason, Manson Everard travels from 1990 to 1776 or earlier;

in 1779, a random fluctuation in space-time-energy generates the Draka timeline;

returning to 1990, Manse finds himself in the wrong timeline, investigates and locates the point of divergence in 1779;

traveling back to that divergence point, he rectifies the timeline;

the Draka live out their lives in their timeline, neither knowing nor needing to care about any other timeline;

this could be just one story in a themed anthology - the Time Patrol in other sf series.

Must the Patrol always succeed in restoring its preferred timeline? Not necessarily, although the tone of the series is that the Patrol does always succeed. Dominic Flandry knows that the Terran Empire will fall whereas Manse Everard hopes and believes that the Time Patrol will not fail and that history will always lead to the Danellians.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Two Kinds Of Critique

I should clarify that, when I critique a work of time travel fiction, I may be making one of two diametrically opposite points about it:

that the work is incoherent and should not have been published;

that the work is aesthetically and intellectually absorbing and that part of the pleasure is precisely to engage with its conceptual content.

The latter is certainly true of HG Wells' The Time Machine. The introductory section in which the dinner guests merely discuss the concept of "time traveling" is like a good Platonic dialogue. The Time Traveler contradicts himself several times but we learn a great deal by continuing the discussion.

I hope that it is clear that Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series, including the addition by SM Stirling, is also in the second category. This is Wellsian science fiction. However, needing a break from prose fiction and abstract thought, I will now instead reread Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.

Exploring "A Slip In Time" II

See here.

Manse is captured in 1926, timeline 2, whereas Wanda has fled through time and space to 180 AD, pre-divergence. She thinks:

"Other agents would be heading futureward 'now', for a value of 'now' that only the Temporal language could express, across the wave-front of actuating upheaval. They'd see the altered future; some of them would flit straight back downtime. They'd gather, assess the situation, and then they'd act."
-SM Stirling, "A Slip In Time" IN Greg Bear and Gardner Dozois, Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson's Worlds (New York, 2014), pp. 63-91 AT p. 73.

I disagree. Most, possibly all, time travelers, including Time Patrollers, who traveled from the post-1914 timeline 1 into pre-1914 eras returned futureward into timeline 1. Wanda herself has done this several times, as has Manse etc. Two possibilities:

if no one has traveled futureward into timeline 2, then Wanda and Manse are alone in knowing about that altered timeline - apart from the time criminal who caused it, of course;

if say one or two Time Patrol agents have traveled into timeline 2, then they should act as Wanda thinks they will and enlist help from some other agents in the past while trying not to disrupt the course of events too much in the process.

There is one other factor here. If, e.g., one Patrol agent traveled futureward into timeline 2, then s/he did not return as planned to timeline 1 so some colleagues should have investigated and might have identified the problem?

However, no agents setting out to travel pastwards along timeline 1 from a post-1914 date to an earlier post-1914 should have arrived in timeline 2.

Exploring "A Slip In Time"

Rereading "A Slip In Time" by SM Stirling, I am again struck by what I think is an inconsistency alluded to here. When discussing the Time Patrol universe, we must get used to referring to more than one timeline even if we buy into the Patrol idea that only one exists. Some other timelines are remembered and have a causal relationship to whatever is regarded as the current/existent timeline.

In this sense, "A Slip In Time" refers to at least two timelines. In the timeline guarded by the Patrol (timeline 1):

in 1914, there is an assassination in Sarajevo;
in 1926, Vienna is part of a Europe in which World War I had ended eight years previously;
in 2332, Venus has been terraformed and colonized.

In the second timeline (timeline 2):

in 1914, there is no assassination in Sarajevo;
in 1926, Vienna is part of an Austro-Hungarian Empire that had not had a World War I;
in 2332, Venus has not been terraformed or colonized.

In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series, and I think that this also makes sense logically, Manse and Wanda Everard would be able to travel from the 2332 of timeline 1 to a pre-1914 date in timeline 1, then futureward to the 1926 of timeline 2. Instead, however, Stirling has them traveling directly from the 2332 of timeline 1 to the 1926 of timeline 2. If they travel pastward from 2332, timeline 1, and stop in 1926, then it should be the 1926 of timeline 1, not 2.

What An Ending!

What an ending to SM Stirling's Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991)! I had better not summarize precisely what happens in case any reader of this blog has yet to read the novel but some general observations are appropriate. Karl Marx wrote that men make their own histories but not in circumstances of their own choosing. Thus, no one can choose his starting point, obviously, but nor do we have to stay there. Marx was writing about societies but it is equally true of individuals.

Eric von Shrakenberg, who harbors no qualms about killing serfs when he considers it necessary, assesses two aspects of Draka society. Of the Citizen Force, he says:

"'...these are my people. Killers? Yes. But they have courage, and honor, and love and loyalty to one another. Those are real virtues, and on that something can be built, something can grow.'" (p. 370)

- whereas, of the Security Directorate, he says:

"'What you are is a disease, and the only thing yo'll ever produce is rot.'" (ibid.)

Eric intends to continue leading his Century against the Germans, then to write. Would it make sense for him to accompany the American journalist, Dreiser, back to the US, where Eric has already sent his daughter by a concubine, there to warn the American public and politicians against the threat posed by the Draka? Maybe that is asking too much. However, I said earlier that the Draka seem naive, and needing to be shown a better way, so I am pleased to see that Stirling has moved the narrative marginally in this direction.

Draka Vol 2, Under The Yoke, is en route from the US.

A Collaborative Enterprise

Sf is collaborative. American writers imitate Heinlein. One story asks a question:

Is a science of society possible?
Will robots replace human labor?
What will daily life in a technological future be like?
What are the psychological and social implications of physical immortality?
Can a multi-generation spaceship cross an interstellar distance?
Can a time traveler change the past?
Would feudalism with spaceships work?
Or is it just an entertaining story premise?
If magic worked, would it replace scientific technology?

- and other authors present different answers. Sf writers are not accused of plagiarism as long as their answers to familiar questions are new and interesting. Regular sf readers will recognize Heinleinian and Asimovian questions to which there are also Andersonian answers. I am currently focused on a Heinlein-Anderson-Stirling line of succession although there are of course many connections to other authors.

I envisage each author's short works eventually collected in one or more volumes. However, themed anthologies have also become a literary form. Poul Anderson contributed to many series created by other authors. Among SM Stirling's alternative history fictions:

Conquistador is a single novel;
the Angrezi Raj series is one novel and one story in a themed anthology;
the Lords of Creation series is two novels and one story in a themed anthology;
the Draka series is four novels written by Stirling and one anthology edited by Stirling.

Isaac Asimov's fictional canon is followed by a themed anthology containing one Robots story by Anderson. Anderson's canon is followed by a themed anthology containing one Time Patrol story by Stirling. Again, although there are others, I am currently focusing on the relationship between these two authors. Unfortunately, there is no Draka story by Anderson.

Gods

Whether or not people believe in the gods, they swear by the names of the gods that they are used to hearing. How long will atheists continue to say "Christ"? Sf authors presenting narratives set in past, future or alternative times often convey to the reader that this is a different time or timeline by telling us how their characters swear. In Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, an Earthman on Mars where the Martians are extinct meets a Martian who is either from the past or from the future - the latter would mean that he is a descendent of Terrestrial colonists. They say, "Jesus," and "gods," respectively.

In one Poul Anderson future, the characters swear by Cosmos, which communicates to the reader that an entirely different world view has become prominent, referring neither to personal deities nor to anything supernatural. SM Stirling's Eric von Shrakenberg sounds extremely archaic when, early in Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991), he refers to "...the White Christ and Almighty Thor..." (p. 32). Is he in a timeline where, in 1941 when there are airdrops on Sicily, Christianity still contends with Norse Paganism? No. The Draka have adopted a lifestyle that makes it impossible for them to remain even nominally Christian. References to Christ are likely to convey their hostility to that belief system. Furthermore, there had been:

"...a failed attempt to revive the Old Faith back in the last century." (p. 89)

This has resulted in figurines of Thor and in Eric's father being familiar enough with the old myths to say:

"'Even you couldn't lift the Midgard Serpent or outwrestle the Crone Age, eh, Redbeard?'" (ibid.)

Odin One-Eye, Loki, Frey and Heimdall are also invoked in casual conversation so the attempted revival, even if it failed, has been effective enough to alter habits of speech.

The Eurasian War: Combat

SM Stirling knows his military hardware and even his alternative historical military hardware like the use of steam vehicles in the Eurasian War which is what his Draka timeline has instead of our World War II. Page after page of Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991) rubs our noses in the danger, pain, fear and fatigue of hours and days spent on a modern technological battlefield. Brilliantly led by Centurion Eric von Shrakenberg, a small Draka force inflicts immense damage on the advancing Germans before Eric realizes that all that is left for them to do is to alert their HQ by radio, then scatter into the woods.

"...the crew lay where the machine-guns had caught them bailing out. Fuel and scorched metal, burnt flesh and explosive, wet dung-smell from the fields. More bodies lying in the glistening chewed-up grey mud, in straggling lines, in bits where the mines had gone off, singly and in clumps where they had been shot off the tanks..." (p. 346)

"...the body twisted off the edge, turned once and landed broken-backed across the hull of the wrecked personnel carrier below. Blood and pink-grey brain dripped into the burning oil, hissing." (p. 354)

We do not wish that we had been there - I don't think - but we do appreciate that here we are reading an unflinching account of what participants in many modern wars have done, seen, heard and felt.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Some Parallels Between Collective And Individual Psychology

SM Stirling's Drakians/Draka, granted a territory and wanting to possess it, "had to" enslave the natives and conquer new territory. Thus, their philosophy became Conquest and Domination. Now, they must maintain their control in order to survive physically. However, imagine that they had instead wanted only to live peacefully in the granted territory, coexisting with the natives. Then, they would have survived as a community and also as part of a wider society.

Does something similar occur in individual psychology? I believe that the universe is conscious of itself through every sentient organism. "-self" identifies the subject and object of an action. Thus, we say not that the man killed the man but that the man killed himself. "-self" need not entail consciousness. Thus, when two mirrors face each other, each reflects itself in the other. Although I am an instrument of universal self-consciousness, I am primarily aware of myself as a psycho-physical organism with particular wants and fears. My mental activity has been not the perception of the universe by itself but the imagining of scenarios centered on myself. Thus, I am like the Draka inside my own head.

World Conquest Or Competitive Sports

"War and repression are the raison d'etre of the Domination's state machinery; the Draka exist in a state of either war or serious preparation for same."
-SM Stirling, Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991), p. 394.

Poul Anderson shows us wars and militarized societies but Stirling goes all the way with this idea. No one has ever conquered the entire Earth before but, if the Draka do succeed, so that their raison d'etre becomes not war but only repression, then surely they will stagnate? Or they might pull the 1984 stunt of dividing the world into nominally hostile powers and maintaining permanent limited wars in undeveloped areas far away from the centers of civilization?

Here is one Draka's response to the prospect of battle:

"'Brothers an' Sisters of the Race!' he cried in mock ecstasy. 'These are great times. Do yo' realize what this means?' He paused for effect. 'For once - just like we always dreamed in Basic - just this one time in our young nearly-maggot-recruit, lives, bros, we gets a chance to kill the sumbitch donkeyfuckahs that're roustin' us out of bed in the middle of the night!'" (p. 254)

This draws laughter and cheers and even a stifled smile from Centurion Eric von Shrakenberg who, we know, is capable of aspirations beyond the Draka dead end. But the "...gangling, freckled young man..." (ibid.) making this rousing speech is simply naive. He really does not know any better. Such enthusiasm and group loyalty should be channeled into football, not into world conquest.

Death To The Draka?

I am plotting the overthrow of the Draka regime but how is this to be accomplished?

(i) The Citizens themselves are a write-off. They are too few and overwhelmingly committed to upholding the regime. When a Citizen begins to attend boarding school with military training from the age of five, s/he is usually accompanied by at least one servant. It must be impossible for all but a few to question the rightness of their social system and way of life. And any Citizen who does ask subversive questions is investigated by the Security Directorate. Every new detail makes the regime sound more horrible.

(ii) Military defeat? This is possible, although the Draka plan long term unlike the Nazis quickly overreaching themselves. I do not think that military defeat is to happen in this four volume series. The author is examining how bad things can get.

(iii) A serf revolt? Yes, despite everything, these happen. Given the numbers involved, and also the degree of repression, it must be only a matter of time before a local revolt spreads instead of being suppressed. There are times when the state forces are stretched and would not be able to respond everywhere at once (Marching Through Georgia, p. 210).

I would not want the Draka to be exterminated but nor would I help them to suppress a serf uprising - and a successful uprising would definitely end in their extermination. The price of continued tyranny is eternal vigilance whereas the serfs need to win outright only once.

Finally, Shelley:

'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Chunderban Desai And The Domination Of The Draka

SM Stirling's Domination of the Draka does not conform to the theory of civilizations discussed in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization. The Domination has been in its Dominate phase from the beginning. It has not gone wrong but started wrong.

However, is the Domination an allegory for any society in which a minority wields power and defends that power by whatever means are necessary? The Draka are an extreme, perhaps impossible, example but how many societies in our timeline and in our present era answer this description in a more general way?

A controversial question and one that I do not intend to pursue here! However, I cite it as an example of the kind of question that good sf, and also good literature, is meant to inspire, whether or not the author had it explicitly in mind while writing. James Blish said that sf had to be about something. Anderson's and Stirling's works are.

How Do The Draka Do It?

How do SM Stirling's Draka control serfs who are never less than 85% of the population and usually slightly more?

(i) Groups of serfs are isolated in factory compounds, mines, plantations and households.

(ii) Police and army are always ready to move along the superbly maintained roads, railways and air transport systems. The pacified area is the "Police Zone" and areas yet to be pacified, i.e., where war is currently being waged, are the "War Zone."

(iii) There are widespread informer networks.

(iv) There are many instruments of repression and torture.

(v) It is known that a hundred serfs will be killed for even one Draka killed or injured.

(vi) Knowledge that their overthrow will mean their extermination unites the Draka.

(vii) They are arrogantly self-confident, having inherited the power of life and death over other human beings from birth.

(viii) They have received intensive military training from the age of five. Thus, they are visibly physically superior.

(ix) The training emphasizes not only deadliness but also self-reliance and the ability to act alone under stress. Thus, the Citizen Force is not a blunt but a finely tuned instrument.

(x) Serfs are indoctrinated to believe in Draka superiority and the uselessness of resistance.

Space, Time And History

1 January 1956 was my seventh birthday. In that year, Poul Anderson's first Nicholas van Rijn story, "Margin of Profit," was published. In September of that year, I started to attend a boarding school in Scotland. (I have already referred to a spatial location, somewhere in Scotland, and to a time - but this is the time of our experience, not of physicists or science fiction writers.)

As yet unaware of adult prose sf, I read comic strips either featuring "spacemen" (men in spacesuits) or set, as I put it at the time, "before spaceships were invented." Little did I know that Nicholas van Rijn existed and was a "spaceman" not only because he traveled through space but also because, specifically in "Margin of Profit," he dons a spacesuit and goes EVA.

I also read the Classics Illustrated adaptation of The Time Machine and, later, a short story in which a time traveler changed the course of past events. Later again, I reasoned that changing the past was impossible until Poul Anderson's Guardians Of Time persuaded me otherwise in the early 1960s, by which time I was at a boarding school in the Republic of Ireland. Now, of course, I realize that mutable and immutable pasts are equally valid time travel premises and that Anderson wrote definitively about both.

Thus, I knew of alternative histories generated by time travelers but did not yet suspect that such histories might coexist with ours in parallel timelines not generated by any extra-temporal interventions. In one sense, alternative history fiction, also written by Anderson, accurately reflects our experience. We are continually choosing between alternatives and reconsidering or regretting past choices. Scientists no longer favor causal determinism. However, even if it were the case that, when I choose between options A and B, I am causally determined to choose A, not B, it would also still be the case that I would need to make the choice in order to learn the choice. I might have inhabited a universe where I had been causally determined to choose B, not A.

Even if alternative histories do not physically exist in parallel timelines, we are conceptually surrounded by them in every decision-making process. If I had died in a car accident in 1967 before starting University, then:

decades of my life and experience would not have occurred;
my daughter and granddaughter would not exist;
Sheila would have married someone else and had other children and would now be living somewhere else;
our son in law would have moved to the Lancaster district but would not have met our daughter;
other people would have done all the jobs that I have worked in;
this blog would not exist;
someone else would now be living at 44, Blades St, Lancaster.

These are, or at least were, real possibilities. And some people in those other possible worlds would speculate about alternative histories. We recognize SM Stirling's Eric von Shrakenberg as a man who would willing serve a better cause if he had been born in a different timeline.

"A Slip In Time"

We have seen that:

Poul Anderson is a master of sf in general and of time travel fiction in particular;

SM Stirling is a master of alternative history fiction, having written many novels and even series in this specific sub-genre;

Anderson wrote two short stories of realistic alternative history fiction;

however, Anderson's main vehicle for discussing and demonstrating realistic alternative histories is his Time Patrol time travel series;

Stirling has written one Time Patrol short story, "A Slip In Time," which presents an alternative history.

Thus, "A Slip In Time" seems to qualify as a synthesis of the best features of both Stirling and Anderson? It is a story that warrants rereading and further discussion on this blog but first your blogger will finish reading and discussing Stirling's Draka alternative history series volume I for the first time.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Mortality

When a character in a work of action-adventure fiction seems to have been killed but then turns out to have survived, I suggest that this is the perennial death and resurrection myth re-expressing itself through popular fiction. See here. I don't think that Poul Anderson does this? - although he certainly approaches it because we are led to believe that Hanno will die at sea and that Dominic Flandry will die in space but then both are rescued.

SM Stirling's Draka are always waging or preparing for war so they must have a high mortality rate. It would make sense therefore if we were to be familiarized with a viewpoint character only to be shocked when she dies in combat. On p. 229 of Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991), Johanna von Shrakenberg's fighter plane crashes and the last word of the chapter is "Blackness" - which could mean either death or unconsciousness.

So which is it? Have we accepted Johanna as a continuing character only to be shown that she is mortal or have we been made to think that she is dead so that we can later be surprised by her survival? (I have been curious enough to glance ahead but that is not really the point at this stage...)

An Eerie And Chilling Text

Poul and Karen Anderson's Gratillonius and Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry defend civilization because it enables populations and generations to live in peace. Anderson's Nicholas van Rijn defends civilization because it is profitable but also shows that he wants peace not only because it is profitable. He has a conscience as well as a profit motive.

However, there are antithetical reasons to value an ordered society. In SM Stirling's Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991), the American journalist, William Dreiser, refers to:

"...the eerie and chilling Meditations of Elvira Naldorssen." (p. 64)

Later, we are able to judge for ourselves because p. 230 comprises a three paragraph quotation from Meditations: Colder than the Moon by Evira Naldorssen. (I do not yet know which is the correct spelling of Naldorssen's first name.)

Having promised us an eerie and chilling text, Stirling delivers. The Draka do not violate the Golden Rule or utilitarianism. They reject them. They conquer to conquer and dominate in order to dominate. "The purpose of Power is Power." (p. 230)

(James Blish once said that sf has to be about something and that 1984 worked because it was about the proposition that the purpose of power is power.)

"...power is the ability to compel others to do your will, against theirs. It is end, not means." (ibid.)

I most disrespectfully disagree. Naldorssen goes on to present a chilling vision of "...the Final Society, a new humanity without weakness or mercy, hard and pure." (ibid.)

An inhumanity.... Remembering Count Ignatieff, we must commend Stirling for creating villains who are not just our heroes' honorable enemies but thoroughly evil.

What does Naldorssen need? An extended period in a society where every new acquaintance treats her as an equal and a friend, where no one imposes their will on her and where she has no means of imposing her will on anyone else. After a while, she would either be unexpectedly happy or deeply depressed. If the latter, then all we would be able to offer her would be an island hermitage!

Real War

Although I enjoyed Poul Anderson's exciting descriptions of battles in space, Anderson always shows us the physical reality of war for the combatants:

"War was always the same: not a neat affair of lines across maps, nor a hallooing gallantry, but men who gasped and sweated and bled in bewilderment.

"A slight, dark-faced youth squirmed nearby, trying feebly to pull out the javelin that had pierced his stomach. He was a slinger from Carthage but the burly Italian peasant who sat next to him, staring without belief at the stump of an arm, paid no attention.

"A flight of crows hovered overhead, riding the wind and waiting."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 223.

I was reminded of this passage by one phrase in SM Stirling's Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991):

"...men in shock staring with unbelief at the wreck of selves that had been whole fractions of a second before..." (p. 206).

How many characters in war fiction stare without belief at newly acquired wounds or injuries? Maybe quite a lot? There is also the effect on minds. I quoted here a description of some horrible injuries to German soldiers but left out the response of one of their Draka antagonists:

"'Ya! Ya! Beautiful, fuckin' beautiful!' he shouted."
-Stirling, op. cit., p. 201.

Yes, and we love you too, comrade! Some things I honestly would not wish on the worst criminal in human history. War leaves us not only the dead and the badly injured but also those who exult that all this was visited on their enemies.

Marching Through Georgia: The Morals Of The Story

People can fight back from defeat. Unfortunately, they can go about it in completely the wrong way. The formerly dispossessed can become dispossessors. Aggression can be turned against populations not responsible for the original dispossession.

A very large oak tree can grow from a very small acorn. Also, the spectrum of possible social moralities is broad enough to encompass diametrical opposites. Consequently, we should always question our own received values - although how many do?

"War is Hell!" and should be described as such. Passages like:

"The loudest sound was the shrill screaming of the wounded - men lying thrashing with helmets, weapons, harness nailed to their bodies."
-SM Stirling, Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991), p. 201 -

- are not (I trust) enjoyable to read but should be read. I have previously enjoyed accounts of battles, e.g., in Poul Anderson's The People Of The Wind and Ensign Flandry, where the emphasis was on the excitement of the conflict, not on the suffering of the wounded and dying. However, real war is about pain, disfigurement and death.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Logic Of The Draka

(i) The ancestors of SM Stirling's Draka were defeated soldiers who were granted a territory but had to conquer it for themselves.

(ii) There were too many natives to exterminate so the settlers "had to" enslave them - although they also had to avoid the terminology of slavery.

(iii) Thus, the Draka wound up putting all of their own children through intensive military training so that they will be able to maintain a permanent grip on a much larger population of "serfs."

(iv) For the survival of the Draka as "the Race," serfs must be kept permanently subordinated, uneducated and (mostly) illiterate. If serfs were liberated, then some would kill all Draka and also all former serfs who remained loyal to the Draka.

(v) The Draka state also needs a much larger Jannisary army of comparatively able and privileged serfs.

(vi) Treating serfs essentially as property, Draka men take concubines from among serf women. However, the young Eric von Shrakenberg, given a concubine by his father at the age of fifteen, is, according to Draka values, at fault when he values her as an individual.

(vii) Abandoning any pretense at Christianity, the Draka explicitly base their collective philosophy on writers like Nietzsche.

(viii) Rebel serfs escape to surrounding free areas from where they hope to return better armed so the Draka "have to" conquer more and more territory.

(ix) They conquer all of Africa and, after their participation in the Great War, much of Asia.

(x) Other civilized countries disapprove of Draka values and are inclined to boycott the Domination.

(xi) Consequently, the Draka, acknowledging their own incompatibility with all other social systems, realize that they must eventually conquer the whole Earth, reducing all other populations to serfdom.

(xii) My opinion: this is completely impossible. But: what happens in the rest of the tetralogy? I am only half way through reading Volume I. This is all relevant on a Poul Anderson Appreciation blog. Anderson speculated about diverse social systems, some of them in alternative histories. Stirling develops the idea of alternative histories much further and his Draka are an extreme example of social/political speculation.

A black work colleague described himself to me as a "field nigger." He explained that "your house niggers" are your maids, nannies and cooks who regard themselves as part of the family whereas "your field niggers" are plantation workers who want to burn down the whole estate. I use this usually offensive word, inside quotation marks, only because he did. The Draka create and preside over a population of "field niggers." I cannot see this lasting for very long but then I must read on to find out what happens next...

Speculative Fiction

Alternative history fiction gives a new significance to the phrase, "speculative fiction," as an alternative meaning of "sf." We can only speculate about "What if -?" And, if we imagine a world that has not yet had a scientific revolution, then we are not concerned with science - unless a scientific rationale is presented for the existence of the alternative history.

Some alternative speculations have obvious starting points. What if:

World War II had not happened?
Germany had won it?
Britain had retained its North American colonies?
The Confederacy had won the American Civil War?
The Spanish Armada had succeeded?
Muslims in Spain had succeeded in invading France?

SF writers meet the challenge of devising unobvious speculations. Harry Turtledove asks:

What if aliens had invaded Earth during World War II?

- and presents several other speculative series that I am as yet unfamiliar with.

Poul Anderson's Time Patrolmen discuss what would have happened if Cyrus the Great had not lived or if the Mongols had invaded North America and experience what happens when Carthage wins the Second Punic War.

SM Stirling asks what if:

Powerful aliens had terraformed Mars and Venus long ago?
A natural catastrophe forced the British Empire to relocate to India?
Alexander the Great had lived longer but with only a negative effect on subsequent history?
Former British Empire loyalists and mercenaries had founded an aggressively militaristic colony in southern Africa after the successful American Revolution?

That last, "Draka," history is perhaps the least obvious but has generated a four volume series.

Different Histories

How many alternative courses of history are imaginable? An indefinite number. What would have been the consequences of any specific alteration to historical events? For example, would it have been good or bad for civilization if Alexander the Great had lived longer? Poul Anderson and SM Stirling present opposite answers in "Eutopia" and Conquistador, respectively.

Was monotheism necessary for the development of science and, if so, did it have to be Semitic monotheism? In "Delenda Est," Manse Everard says:

"'As Whitehead pointed out, the medieval idea of one almighty God was important to the growth of science, by inculcating the notion of lawfulness in nature.'"
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 196.

However, in Is There Life On Other Worlds?, Poul Anderson argues that science is the joining of logic and theory with data and technique. This possibly happened because Germanic barbarians, not regarding themselves as above work or trade, were confronted with the problems and labor shortage of the falling Empire. Sharp logical reasoning was provided by Christian theologians but this was because their ideology required unanimity, not necessarily because it was monotheist.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Draka Food

A short while ago, this blog developed an extended food thread. Apparently, SM Stirling's Draka also eat well although only one meal has been described so far in Marching Through Georgia. At Oakenwald, home of the von Shrakenbergs, servants present:

biscuits;
scones;
fruits;
grilled meats on wooden platters;
salads;
juices.

American correspondent William Dreiser, "...buttering a scone...," found that:

"It was excellent as usual; he had not had a bad meal since Dakar. The meat dishes were a little too highly spiced, as always. It was a sort of Scottish-Austrian-Indonesian cuisine, with a touch of Louisiana thrown in." (Marching Through Georgia, p. 69)

When Dreiser's host "...raised his cup slightly...":

"Hands appeared to fill it, add cream and sugar." (ibid.)

- like Asimov's robots responding to their masters' every wish, except that these domestic servants are not robots but human serfs.

Servi, Serfs And Servants

In Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, we find a Terran Empire based on the Roman Empire, even including the restoration of slavery and occasional use of Latin phrases.

In SM Stirling's Draka History, we find a small militarized society reviving Classical military terminology, e.g., "Centurion," and dominating a much larger population of serfs differing only in name from slaves (Latin: servi). The status of the Draka's serfs is approximately that of slaves:

"...under Roman law: pro nullis, pro mortis, pro quadrupedis: 'as nothing, as one who is dead, like a beast.'" (Marching Through Georgia, p. 407)

They were called indentured servants or "bondservants" until the colloquial term "serfs" was legalized in the 1880s.

it is remarkable that, in our timeline, a single word-root has survived essentially unchanged through three historical eras:

Roman servi, property;
feudal serfs, tied to the land;
modern servants, wage-earning workers.

Economic systems change but language preserves history.

Angles

Life is busy so posts are slow. Is that good or bad? Also, I currently lack an angle for posting. Recent angles were:

fictional treatments of war;
viable societies;
degrees of divergence between alternative histories.

I am enjoying SM Stirling's Marching Through Georgia, which is not as horrific as I had feared because the central character, Centurion Eric von Shrakenberg, is sympathetic and also because the text clearly does not endorse Draka oppression. I feel that the Draka are rather naive and simply need to be shown a better way. Eric cannot shake off the callousness of his upbringing. He interrupts a Jannisary about to rape a serf but takes no action against the Jannisary. During combat, he orders that locals be ignored if they are quiet but otherwise should be expended - although he does prevent one of his men from dropping a grenade onto an inoffensive family sheltering in a cellar.

As I said when discussing Ermanaric, if there were a judge of the dead, then he would have to take many factors into account. Street Evangelicals tell me that the Judge will ask not, "Are you guilty of crimes against humanity?" but "Did you accept me as your Savior?" If I did, then genocide will not matter!

Another aspect of Stirling's treatment of war:

"The peculiar smell of fresh destruction was in the air... Ruins needed time to achieve majesty, or even pathos; right after they had been fought over there was nothing but...seediness, and mess." (Marching Through Georgia, pp. 108)

Yes, it would be like that. Stirling seems to have been there. A similar passage in Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History is the description of a dark ruined street at the beginning of "Marius."

Monday, 17 August 2015

Literary Accounts Of War

My preferred reading is not war fiction but imaginative fiction, ancient myths or modern sf. However, imaginative fictioneers also describe wars. European literature starts with Homer. A long passage in the Iliad describes the fighting back and forth in front of Troy. CS Lewis wrote of his World War I experience:

"One imaginative moment seems now to matter more than the realities that followed. It was the first bullet I heard - so far from me that it 'whined' like a journalist's or a peacetime poet's bullet. At that moment there was something not exactly like fear, much less like indifference: a little quavering signal that said, 'This is War. This is what Homer wrote about.'"
-CS Lewis, Surprised By Joy (London, 1964), pp. 157-158)

And in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, Krishna teaches Arjuna in a chariot between two armies before the slaughter begins.

In Poul Anderson's The People Of The Wind and Ensign Flandry, I thoroughly enjoyed the accounts of battles in space. Now that I am reading Marching Through Georgia by SM Stirling, it is enjoyable to read about Draka forces attacking Germans though not about the Draka napalming noncombatants and shooting prisoners. However, we are not being asked to approve of the latter. We are simply learning what the Draka are like.

We, or at least I, also hope that such large scale slaughter and destruction can be prevented from recurring in future.

Would We Still Be Here?

If, e.g., World War I had not occurred, then many people would have lived longer and many lives would have been completely different. I think it follows that, a couple of generations later, the entire population, certainly in Europe, would have comprised genetically different individuals. Even a couple copulating at a different time would have produced different offspring and we are imagining far greater changes than that. Even an individual who did somehow inherit exactly the same genetic makeup as someone in our history would have a completely different upbringing and life experience so they would hardly be the same person. By the same taken, clones brought up in completely different environments would soon diverge. When, in Poul Anderson's "Delenda Est" and "Amazement Of The World," earlier history has been significantly altered, it is taken for granted that the entire twentieth century world population is different.

On the other hand, a minor change, like the War beginning or ending a few hours earlier or later, would probably not affect very much so how big does a historical change have to be before it changes the population? In SM Stirling's Marching Through Georgia, in 1783, the Dutch Cape Colony is renamed the Crown Colony of Drakia and this new colony proceeds to become a world power, later renamed the Domination of the Draka. Yet, in the subsequent history, we recognize the names of:

Napoleon
Thomas Carlyle
Louis Pasteur
Nietzche
Oscar Wilde
Lenin
Stalin
Mussolini
Hitler
Roosevelt
Einstein
Fermi

Also, events like the Great War, the stock market crisis and the Spanish Civil War occur on schedule. The Eurasian War beginning in 1939 is followed by the "Covert Struggle" between Alliance and Domination.

Thus, the premise of the Draka series is not only that a new world power was founded back in 1783 but also that the subsequent history continued to parallel ours in many ways, even including the participation of certain named individuals. However, an Oscar Wilde who had grown up knowing of a Domination of Draka and who even emigrated to the Domination would not be exactly the same Oscar Wilde as the individual of that name in our timeline.

Viable Societies

How broad is the spectrum of viable human societies? There are some limits. A society in which every individual was always against every other individual would not be a society. A minimum of cooperation, most fundamentally linguistic communication, is essential to humanity. In his Angrezi Raj timeline, SM Stirling shows entire populations degenerating almost to sub-humanity by continual recourse to cannibalism. Families of savages, using minimal language skills, hunt each other to stay alive...

However, history and anthropology display an enormously broad range of possible societies which becomes even broader if we envisage evolutionary changes to humanity itself, as in Poul Anderson's The Night Face where an entire planetary population becomes insane for a few days each year but otherwise is psychologically integrated enough not to need any restraints imposed by laws or governments. Ideas and values that seem self-evident in one social context are unthinkable in another.

How viable is SM Stirling's Domination of the Draka with its continual warfare, militarized citizenry and massive slave population? I would have said highly unstable but Stirling shows it as dynamic and expanding. The Draka, in all honesty, abandon any pretense of Christianity and even try to revive Northern Paganism. I will be interested to learn how their civilization develops over four volumes.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Oscar Wilde

Writers sometimes have fun imagining what a real person would say in a fictional situation. Poul Anderson gives us several historical figures but maybe not any recent or contemporary celebrities? Brian Aldiss fictionally quoted Aldous Huxley in an early novel. William Clinton spoke at Superman's funeral because he was President of the United States in 1993. Earlier, Supes had conversed with Ronald Reagan.

In From Hell, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Eddie Campbell, a character at a party looks exactly like Oscar Wilde and indeed is introduced as such. When asked, "Oscar Wilde, the playwright?," Wilde responds, "Heavens, no! Can't stand the man! I'm Oscar Wilde, the Florist!"

What would Wilde say about SM Stirling's Domination of the Draka? Stirling tells us and we instantly recognize authenticity:

"'How did Oscar Wilde put it, after he settled in the Domination? The rest of the Anglo-Saxon world is convinced that the Draka are brutal, licentious, and depraved; the Draka are convinced that outlanders are prigs, hypocritical prudes, and weaklings, and both parties are right...'"
-SM Stirling, Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991), p. 71.

As Puck said when watching Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: A Midsummer Night's Dream:

"It never happened; yet it is still true. What magic art is this?"
-Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Dream Country (New York, 1995), p. 75.

The Draka Basics

The "Draka basics" are listed on p. 64 of SM Stirling's Marching Through Georgia (New York, 1991):

Carlyle's Philosophy of Mastery;
Nietzsche's The Will to Power;
Fitzhugh's Imperial Destiny;
Gobineau's Inequality of Human Races;
Meditations of Elvira Naldorssen.

Here are five titles and five authors' names. However, Marching Through Georgia is an alternative history novel so how many of these items also exist in our timeline? Some we recognize, of course...

The link from Meditations... is to an extremely comprehensive list of fictional books which, I was pleased to learn, also includes The Earthbook Of Stormgate, part of Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization.

I already knew of the Earthbook and of The Will To Power. However, I always make unanticipated discoveries when posting about texts by Anderson or Stirling.