Friday, 26 August 2016

No Omniscient Narrator

"Now the story splits again, three ways this time. I'll have to reconstruct two of them from what information came to me later, most of it brokenly, and the best guesses I can make. Nor may I say much about my own experiences. They're branded on my memory, but I  gave my word of honor I'd keep certain things secret."
-Poul Anderson, Operation Luna (New York, 2000), Chapter 37, p. 332.

This is the opening paragraph of Chapter 37. Not only is there no omniscient third person narration here but the first person narrator openly admits his limitations. First person narration always opens the possibility that a sequel will contradict the narrator. Thus, Watson wrote that there were no handholds by which Holmes could have climbed up from the place on the footpath at Reichenbach where he fought Moriarty. Holmes returns and says that there were. Even without a first person narration, in Ian Fleming's eleventh James Bond novel, M informs readers of The Times that the friend and colleague of Commander Bond who had popularized his adventures was not prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act only because of his many inaccuracies - thus neatly explaining Fleming's inconsistencies and cutting ten years off Bond's life!

In the case of Anderson's Steve Matuchek:

the information that came to him later might have been inaccurate;
the story that he reconstructed from it could also be inaccurate;
his guesses could be wrong;
another participant in his later experiences might not be bound by the same oath of secrecy.

Thus, here is scope for a sequel that would not only add to but also contradict Matuchek's account. But his account would still stand as his account, to be read before the better informed sequel. More could be done with alternative points of view that most authors or readers realize.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Of Fleming's Bond books the ones I liked best are those featuring SMERSH/KGB as the villains. I found SMERSH far more plausible than Blofeld's SPECTRE. The idea of a free lance terrorist organization working on a world wide basis seemed incredible to me! Terrorism, in its way, is very HARD work and I think it requires fanatical belief in ideologies of various kinds before any terrorist organization can aspire to be one of the movers and shakers of the world.


  2. Sean:
    But SPECTRE was in it for the money. That was their only reason for terrorism: to hold entire nations for HUGE ransoms.

    The "C" in SPECTRE stood for "Counterintelligence." This meant if your government didn't have the resources to carry out some of the more far-reaching counterintelligence maneuvers (such as assassinating a defector before he could spill everything to your enemies), SPECTRE could do the job for you. It was mentioned, if memory serves me, that they'd done at least one such killing FOR the British Secret Service -- which for some reason couldn't itself get to that target. That's right (if I'm not mistaken): SPECTRE went where 007 couldn't.

    Their ideology, their THEOLOGY, was worship of the Almighty Dollar (or pound sterling, ruble, yuan, etc.)

    1. Kaor, Paul!

      I do agree with a point you made here: I do agree there are "high quality" hit men or assassins who will kill anyone you fancy for the right price. And I can agree legitimate intelligence agencies might well find it convenient to hire out an esp. sensitive "wet works" operation.

      I am not sure I can condemn ALL assassinations. Would it have been wrong of the British or French if their intelligence agencies had assassinated Adolf Hitler in 1936? Doing so MIGHT have prevented the outbreak of WW II, after all.

      Catholic theologians have debated the issue of tyrannicide. It's been a long time since I read the article about that in the 1967 NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, but some have argued tyrannicide can be justified if various factors are met. If my memory is correct, one is that there is no reasonable hope of preventing a greater except by assassination. I know this is rather vague!


    2. Correction. I should have ADDRESSED my comment above to David, not Paul. I apologize for the MIS-attribution. I can only plead I'm so used to Paul mostly commenting on my notes. Mea culpa!