Friday, 26 February 2016

A Vast Space

I am mentally hovering over a vast conceptual space occupied by seven future histories written by six American sf authors. Beginning with Poul Anderson's monumental History of Technic Civilization and his earlier, shorter but surprisingly substantial Psychotechnic History, we look back to Anderson's predecessors, Heinlein, Asimov and Blish, and forward to his successors, Niven and Pournelle.

There are other future historians and other future histories by Anderson. However, these seven series can be considered as a group because four were edited by John W Campbell, two were written by Anderson and the last two incorporate collaborative writing, including contributions by Anderson. Anderson's Psychotechnic History addresses Heinleinian immortality and multi-generation interstellar spaceships and Asimovian robots and predictive social science. Pournelle's future history culminates in two novels co-written by Niven, with advice from Heinlein.

This makes the seven series sound like a single series. However, they remain seven distinct timelines. Common themes are:

(i) near future technological advances and social changes;
(ii) a period of interplanetary travel;
(iii) an FTL drive;
(iv) extrasolar colonization;
(v) interstellar imperialism;
(vi) the rise and fall of civilizations.

Heinlein, leading the way, concentrated more on (i) and (ii), reaching (iii) and (iv) only at the end of his original five volume Future History. (I do not accept any later volumes as valid continuations.)

Within this larger context, let me address two specific issues within Niven and Pournelle's The Mote In God's Eye (London, 1979). On p. 16, First Lieutenant Cargill, complaining about Engineer Sinclair's exaggerated Scottish accent, accuses him of speaking normally when he gets excited whereas, on p. 92, Cargill says that he sometimes cannot understand Sinclair when the latter is excited. So which way round is it?

P. 32 informs us that tramline end points are far from large masses whereas p. 97 informs us that the Alderson Point (presumably the same thing?) to a large star is within the star. (A spaceship's force field enables it to enter the star.)


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Just a quick comment. I would argue that Poul Anderson was skeptical of both Heinleinian style immortality and Asimovian speculations about the social sciences ever rising to making accurate "predictions."


  2. Kaor, Paul,

    The first time, Cargill offended Sinclair. The second time, he was trying to get on Sinclair's good side.

    Nicholas D. Rosen