Sunday, 31 January 2016

A Consistently Good Themed Anthology

SM Stirling, Ed., Drakas! (Riverdale, NY, 2000) has to be one of the best sf themed anthologies. It is consistently good. How often can that be said?

Of the twelve stories, the last four involve cross-time travel. In two of these, the Draka are defeated or outwitted. In "The Peacable Kingdom" by Severna Park, rebel servus allied with Samothracians prevent the drakensis from conquering another parallel Earth, although this story maybe raises more questions than it answers.

I am reading "The Big Lie" by Jane Lindskold. The narrator denigrates Eric von Shrakenberg but is he merely expressing Draka prejudice? I might have a better idea when I have finished reading.

This is definitely the last post for January. We will meet back here next month, maybe tomorrow.

Japan

Japan receives less coverage than China in Poul Anderson's works.

"The Shrine for Lost Children" is set in Japan.

Time Patrol members, Stephen and Helen Tamberly, holiday in archaic Japan. When Stephen is stranded in South America in 2937 BC, he becomes the Vesselmaker and produces the Valdivia ware so that he will be found by a time traveler investigating this mysteriously Japanese-like pottery.

Anything else?

I would love to include a reference to Japanese food but cannot think of any.

Addendum: I did not forget Trygve Yamamura for long and expected to find a comment about him when I switched the computer back on. The blog is always a work in progress.

"Written By The Wind"

Great King's War is a sequel to H Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan Of Otherwhen. We are talking about some serious alternative history fiction here. Lord Kalvan... is one volume of Piper's Paratime series which, since it deals with the Paratime Police, is comparable to Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series.

Roland Green, co-author of Great King's War, also wrote the Drakas! story, "Written By The Wind, A Story Of The Draka." Two Draka observe a Japanese-Russian air-sea battle in 1905. The Japanese who are about to die are said to be approaching the Yasukuni Shrine, founded by Emperor Meiji, who is named in the story.

One Draka carries a crucifix and survives. The other carries a Thorshammer and doesn't. Dying, she holds out the hammer and says:

"'Take it - take it to a shrine. Or - or Ran's.'" (Drakas!, p. 119)

Ran was the wife of the sea giant, Aegir. See here. Welcoming the dead under the sea, she resembles Naerdha. At the end, the surviving Draka, holding the hammer, asks:

"'...if there is a shrine to Thor or Ran in the Empire?'" (p. 121)

Obviously, there is not. Equally obviously, his colleague meant that her amulet should be given to the sea.

The story is mainly about the deployment and effects of military hardware. Although most of us do not want to be in a land, sea, air or space battle, we often enjoy reading about them. See here and here.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

China

Tomorrow, Lancaster will celebrate Chinese New Year, complete with street procession and dancing dragon. It is good to live in a multicultural society.

China is a big country that maybe does not get a lot of attention in Poul Anderson's works?

In "How To Be Ethnic In One Easy Lesson," the large quadrupedal alien, Adzel, performs the Chinese dragon in street parades while he is a student on Earth.

In The Broken Sword, the supernatural beings of different national traditions coexist and (I think that) Chinese beings are mentioned.

In Rogue Sword, Lucas has returned from Cathay.

China is more civilized than Europe here.

In The Boat Of A Million Years, one of the immortals is Chinese. See here. Thus, his introductory chapter is set in China.

In "SOS," Pitar Cheng leads a Great Asian space fleet.

Finally, not to ignore our ever-growing food thread, in exchange for his dragon performances, Adzel:

"...has an unlimited meal ticket at the Silver Dragon Chinese Food and Chop Suey Palace."
-Poul Anderson, "How To Be Ethnic In One Easy Lesson" IN Anderson, The Technic Civilization Saga: The Van Rijn Method, compiled by Hank Davis (Riverdale, NY, 2009), pp. 175-197 AT p. 195.

What have I missed? (See comments.)

In 1946

SM Stirling, Conquistador (New York, 2004), Prologue.

The world in 1946, according to John Rolfe's Chronicle:

Russians in Eastern Europe;
starvation and typhus between England and the Ukraine;
Communists gaining in China;
the French trying to regain Indochina;
the Dutch trying to regain Java;
the Brits having problems in Palestine;
MacArthur lording it in Japan.

Don't you wish you were then?

Having defined his time, how does our hero leave it?

In L Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall as in Poul Anderson's "The Man Who Came Early," being struck by lightning sends a man into the past. In Conquistador, the mechanism is a war surplus shortwave radio set that our hero has thoroughly "fiddled with" but the side effects are a sound louder than thunder and a dazzling flash as a Gate opens into a parallel present. The sound and the flash are parts of the literary tradition, I think. There must be some discharge of energy for such a momentous event as an opening into another world.

This is Alice's rabbit hole and looking glass and Helen Cresswell's Moondial which, I was surprised to learn, physically exists.

PS: And CS Lewis' Wardrobe.

"The Greatest Danger"

"The Greatest Danger," Lee Allred's contribution to SM Stirling, Ed., Drakas! (Riverdale, NY, 2000), does these things for me:

moves Stirling's Draka onto British territory;
shows them in their true and full horror;
unexpectedly shows them suffering a local defeat;
presents philosophical/theological discussion of the superman and God.

That is quite a lot. I have three more Drakas! stories to read and have also started to reread Stirling's Conquistador. By the very nature of the premise, these characters from different Earths could meet in any new volume - but only if that generates a worthwhile narrative.

We read these works both on their own merits and for their place in an sf tradition. Thus, Robert Heinlein has showed up in Drakas! and Poul Anderson in The Stone Dogs.

British Territory

During World War II, 1939-'45, the Germans occupied the British Channel Islands.

During the Eurasian War, 1939-'46, the Draka ousted the Germans.

The official British observer of the Draka occupation of the Channel Islands was RAF Flight Lieutenant Sally Perkins - coincidentally the name of a neighbor of ours who died recently.

This information is in "The Greater Danger," Lee Allred's contribution to Drakas!, the anthology edited by the creator of the Draka, SM Stirling. Since I am still reading the story, I have yet to learn the significance of its title.

Poul Anderson's Manse Everard fought in World War II, then visited London 1944 as a Time Patrolman. That War ended four years before my birth but is still very present to its survivors and their descendants. 

Friday, 29 January 2016

A Big, Old House

(Oakland, California.)

SM Stirling, Conquistador (New York, 2004), Prologue, pp. 1-8.

In 1946, unmarried twenty-four year old John Rolfe, medically discharged from the US Army, rents a big, old house in Oakland, California. After four years in troopships and crowded bases or bivouacs, ending with several months in a crowded hospital, Rolfe wants space and solitude. This is retrospectively symbolic. He will shortly have an uncolonized North America to himself.

Pp. 1-4 and and two thirds of 5 are not yet sf. They describe the world in 1946. The transition to sf is an unashamed cliche but presented well. Improving and tuning a war surplus shortwave radio set opens a Gate to another world on the far wall of the basement...

Like Poul Anderson's Manse Everard, Rolfe is looking for engineering work after the War. Instead, Everard finds the Time Patrol and Rolfe finds an alternative Earth. Rolfe also considers going to university on the G.I. Bill. The first time I read a reference to this Bill was when Everard's colleague, John Sandoval, was said to have gone through College on it. 

However, Anderson was writing much closer to the period of WWII, then Korea, veterans. Stirling sets his Prologue half a century in the past because he wants the Commonwealth of New Virginia to have had time to grow before the action of the novel kicks off in 2009.

Merseians, Draka And Others

I compared SM Stirling's Draka to Poul Anderson's Merseians here. This had implications for Sean M Brooks' article, "Was The Domination Inspired By Merseia?" so Sean added a few new paragraphs. See here.

More generally, colonization and colonialism are issues common not only to Anderson's Terran Empire and Merseian Roidhunate but also to Stirling's:

Angrezi Raj;
Commonwealth of New Virginia;
Domination of the Draka;
"Lords of Creation" Solar System;
Nantucket;
Emberverse.

New Virginians include former white South Africans with racist attitudes comparable to those of the Draka. However, the Commonwealth is preferable to the Domination because it is not a slave state and is developing the North American continent of another Earth.

I have read Conquistador, about New Virginia, only once so might reread it before tackling the seventeen novels of the Nantucket-Emberverse sequence which, I gather, presents two ways of putting its characters into more primitive conditions: Nantucket is transported to the Bronze Age of what must be another timeline and technology stops working in the present. (See also the Changes series.)

I might reread Anderson's For Love And Glory, which I have also read only once. Posts about all the works mentioned here except Nantucket-Emberverse can be found by searching the blog, e.g., Angrezi Raj.

Food In Khartoum

In "Hewn In Pieces For The Lord," Johm J Miller's contribution to the Drakas! anthology:

William Quantrill becomes a Merarch in the Draka Security Directorate;

Charles George Gordon agrees to negotiate with the Mahdi on behalf of the Domination of the Draka so that the Domination will agree to his, Gordon's, "Plan" for a Nile dam;

in Khartoum, Gordon eats a "delicious" meal that deserves to join our food thread -

small glasses of sugar-laden coffee like thick syrup;
honey-covered dates and pastries;
cold melon;
freshly caught Nile fish, picked free of bones;
cold meats;
dried figs. (p. 52)

Gordon's merchant host warns him that an attempt to talk to the Mahdi will mean Gordon's death. How far will events in the Domination timeline parallel events in ours?

Gordon is described as "...a devout fundamentalist Christian..." (p. 37) who believes that every man should be allowed to worship his own god in his own way, "...as long as he worshiped some god." (ibid.) That is not what fundamentalist Christians usually believe. And it is tolerant only of theists. The world also contains sincere secularists and practitioners of non-theistic spiritualities.

This story also contains some humor: Gordon must evade the overt sexuality of Draka women and must also prevent his grateful host from kneeling before him because:

"There was no telling if the rotund merchant would have been able to fight his way back up to his feet again." (p. 51)

Daily Life

Someone said that Robert Heinlein's Future History gave the future a daily life. We should be shown every aspect of a fictitious society, e.g., not only what a public figure thinks but also how he is perceived and, most importantly, how people live.

I would like to know more about daily life in the Solar Commonwealth and the Terran Empire of Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization. Some details can be hypothesized by extrapolating from the lives of individual characters like Eric Wace.

When SM Stirling's Draka conquer a country, the inhabitants are killed, enslaved or, in a very small number of cases, offered Citizenship - if their technical or scientific knowledge can help to build the Domination. "Home Is Where The Heart Is" by William Barton is narrated by a German rocket scientist who recounts his memories, his thoughts of what might have been and how he copes with becoming the owner of a female serf who not only cooks and performs domestic chores but also ensures her own survival by pleasing her new owner in other ways. We have seen the Draka, their serfs and adversaries but this is a slightly different perspective.

Now I am starting to read about Gordon of Khartoum among the Draka. Regular readers might remember that, when I reach a large round number of posts near the end of a month, I start to think about taking a break until the beginning of the following month - but I am never sure about what will happen next. If there is a break, I hope that page viewers will find plenty to reread and maybe to comment on.

"Hunting The Snark"

Markus Baur's Draka story, "Hunting The Snark," reintroduces Gwendolyn Ingolfsson although she is perceived from a completely different and unexpected angle. However, the story implies that, while Gwen was running IngolfTech, she was accompanied by a male Draka. Surely this is inconsistent with SM Stirling's Drakon?

One possible answer to that question is that, given innumerable (infinite?) timelines, this story is set in a timeline differing in this one respect from the timeline of Drakon. However, I think that this would be an unhelpful answer. Installments of a series should be mutually consistent. Alternative timelines are a valid fictional premise but not an excuse for inconsistencies. As Larry Niven implies in "All The Myriad Ways," if everything happens, then nothing matters. Why should we make the right choice, if all that happens is that we split into two with the other guy making the wrong choice?

"Custer Under The Baobab"

William Sanders' Draka story, "Custer Under The Baobab," begins by stating that baobab trees are remarkable and, having checked images on the Internet, I agree.

Sometimes, the moral of a time change story seems to be that people would reach the same end or destination even if by a different route. Thus, the Custer of the Domination timeline wisely avoids battle at Little Big Horn, is disgraced in the States, joins the Drakians and is killed by an arrow in Africa.

Historical outcomes can seem inevitable with the benefit of hindsight but can never be predicted in advance. Two straight lines leaving the same point at slightly different angles will eventually wind up in different galaxies. A different choice or chance event at a nexus point will change the direction and eventual outcomes of history, the most obvious example being if the Cuban Missile Crisis had become World War III. Thus, time travel in a mutable timeline would, after all, necessitate a Time Patrol.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

"The Tradesmen"

"The Tradesmen" is an ironic title for David Drake's Draka story. Drake shows us the horror of life - or should I say death - in a Draka War Zone. When the enemy have been driven back, irregulars are paid with gold coins to kill civilians so that the land can be cleared for Draka settlement. One Draka woman, with no estate back home, has already moved her family into the Zone and is hunting and killing noncombatant men, women and children to hasten the process. She has staked her claim to some of the land and is enriching herself at the same time.

A colonel tells her:

"'Good Christ, woman!...We have to do this; we don't have to like it!'" (Drakas!, p. 132)

They have to do it?

A neat story focusing not on military action but mainly on heated exchanges when it is disclosed that the Powers That Be have reduced the bounty for each left ear (proof of killing) from one hundred to sixty aurics.

The Draka lady's response is:

"'The hell you say, lardbelly!...The hell you say.'" (p. 134)

An irregular is even less ladylike:

"'No fucking way I let you Draka bastards cheat me!...No fucking way.'" (p. 137)

However, the moral of the story is that economic realism wins the day. This is quite a good story, although I do not fully understand the joke at the end.

Crossovers

(Custer's Last Stand.)

As far as I can see at present, the Draka anthology, Drakas!, incorporates "crossovers," or meetings, between the Draka and five individual characters who had some, real or fictional, existence before the anthology was published:

General Custer;
Gordon of Khartoum;
Anson MacDonald/Robert Heinlein;
Anne Marie Talbott writes a story in which she meets two Draka (I think);
John Barnes' cross-time traveler, Mark Strang.

That is quite a list. There are at least two ways that Poul Anderson's characters could have encountered the Draka:

Manse Everard of the Time Patrol, finding himself in the Domination timeline, would travel pastward to delete that timeline;

Draka cross-time explorers might have found their way into the Old Phoenix but would then learn that they were allowed to recuperate there briefly but not to gain any knowledge that they could use to further their cause back in their own timeline.

Experience Of War

I have not experienced war but am confident that it is as described by Harry Turtledove in "The Last Word." Men scream. Anyone who says afterwards that he was not terrified is either a liar or a psychopath.

"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."
-Poul Anderson, "Delenda Est" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (Riverdale, NY, 2006), pp. 173-228 AT p. 223.

("Delenda Est" is the story about Carthaginian victory in the Second Punic War. Thus, a single text presents both historical speculation and authentic experience.)

In "The Last Word," Janissary Sergeant Hans lives and dies for war. His grandfathers defended Reich and Fuhrer against Draka and lost so now he leads a squad for the Draka - and does not worry about it. He recognizes that his chance of living long enough to retire is low but shrugs. Having led his men into a Yankee holdout ambush, he knows that he will be court-martialled and wonders how he had missed those Yankee bastards but:

"Then a grenade burst half a meter in front of his face, and such questions became academic." (Drakas!, p. 255)

Hans must die instantaneously. Thus, he does not know that the explosion was caused by a grenade and does not reflect that his questions have become academic. All or most of the quoted sentence is not Hans' point of view but the voice of the omniscient narrator.

Anson MacDonald (Robert Heinlein) finds ground combat even more chaotic, frightening and frightful than expected. Heinlein is shown adhering to his principles while experiencing, and accepting, what happens to the infantry. He refers to the starship, New America, whose captain, we know, is Anderson... Thus, both of these seminal sf writers are in different ways involved in the war against the Draka.

What a pity that MacDonald was not booby-trapped to take his Draka captor with him.

Timelines And Time Patrol

The Draka are true to form in John Barnes' "Upon Their Backs To Bite 'Em." They pretend to negotiate with homo sapiens but only in order to find out how to enslave them. Knowing that the Draka will do this, the multiversal alliance called ATN (I still do not know what that means) is able to plant disinformation and hopefully to set the Draka and another interversal set of slavers against each other. Here at last is an adversary that understands the Draka and turns their own actions against them.

I knew nothing of Barnes' Timeline Wars series before reading "Upon Their Backs To Bite 'Em" but this story is an excellent introduction to that series so please let me advertise the series here:

Patton's Spaceship;
Washington's Dirigible;
Caesar's Bicycle;
Timeline Wars (omnibus).

Poul Anderson's Time Patrol battles to preserve a single timeline whereas Barnes' ATN battles between timelines. Both series share the premise that history might have gone differently at key points and that subsequent generations would have experienced very different worlds.

What Next For The Draka?

From reading my posts, Ketlan has become impressed with Gwendolyn Ingolfsson. Thus, he might borrow the Draka books and discuss them here.

Sean M Brooks informs me that The Domination not only collects the first three Draka novels but also includes, as a framing device, a dialogue occurring some time after the events of the fourth novel. Thus, I need to get a copy of The Domination for the most recent information from Earth/2.

Drakas! is an excellent themed anthology. Both Harry Turtledove and David Drake know how to write about war and I will have more to say about their contributions. I must also finish reading John Barnes' fascinating story. All that is lacking, of course, is a Draka story by Poul Anderson.

However, since I am about to walk up the hill to attend a Holocaust Memorial event in Lancaster Castle, the current post must be cut short.

Timelines Overload

Get this sequence:

in Poul Anderson's mutable timeline, Neldorian time criminals help Hannibal to sack Rome and thus Carthage to win the Second Punic War but Time Patrol agents restore Roman victory;

however, in John Barnes' multiple timelines, descendants of the Carthaginians enslave more than a million timelines but are opposed by the ATN (meaning?) alliance who unite twice as many timelines;

ATN representatives visit and negotiate with SM Stirling's slave-owning Draka;

the Draka have conquered the Solar System and colonized several other planetary systems and are beginning to explore alternative timelines.

Thus, we have moved, conceptually, through four easy stages, from the Time Patrol to the Draka. I would not have believed that this was possible.

John Barnes' ATN-Draka story, "Upon Their Backs, To Bite 'Em," in Drakas!, is good but I have yet to read it to its conclusion.

Further Reading

Our timeline had World Wars I and II and so far has avoided III. The Domination timeline had the Great War, the Eurasian War and the Final War.

In Drakas!, I have read:

"A Walk In The Park" by Anne Marie Talbott, set in another timeline;

"The Last Word" by Harry Turtledove, set during the aftermath of the Final War -

- and have begun to read "The Tradesman" by David Drake, apparently set during the Eurasian War.

According to BAEN BOOKS by S.M. Stirling on p. ii of Drakas!, SM Stirling has cowritten:

three books with James Doohan;
seven with David Drake;
two with Jerry Pournelle;
one (?) with Anne McCaffrey;
one with Shirley Meier -

- and I know that he has written a lot more besides this. I expect to continue reading but do not know what will come next.

POVs And Deaths

When a viewpoint character dies, three things can happen:

we follow the character into a hereafter (this can happen in fantasy);
the narrative ends abruptly, even in mid-sentence;
the omniscient narrator continues the narrative, however briefly.

Thus, when Chen dies:

"Impact. Nothing."
-SM Stirling, Drakon (New York, 2000), p. 372.

Chen feels the impact, then the narrator informs us that there was nothing.

When Gwendolyn Ingolfsson dies:

"A moment of white light. Nothing." (p. 391)

Gwen sees the white light, then the narrator informs us that there was nothing.

Harry Turtledove describes Anson MacDonald's last moment:

"The poison worked almost as fast as they'd promised. He nodded before everything faded. He'd even got the last word."
-Harry Turtledove, "The Last Word" IN SM Stirling, Ed., Drakas! (Riverdale, NY, 2000), pp. 249-293 AT p. 293.

MacDonald reflects that he got the last word before everything fades.

When Rugo, the last native on a colonized extrasolar planet, drowns:

"He wondered if his mother would come for him."
-Poul Anderson, "Terminal Quest" IN Anderson, Alight In The Void (New York, 1993), pp. 1-28 AT p. 28.

Then a concluding paragraph describes the river flowing:

"...down in the valley, where the homes of men are built." (ibid.)

Men have conquered the planet.

There must by many other moments of death in Anderson's works?

Shared Universes

Poul Anderson had a knack of writing stories set inside other authors' fictional universes. In "The Last Word," Harry Turtledove does this with SM Stirling's Draka and their Janissaries. Turtledove knows how these guys think and speak. A sixth-generation Zulu Janissary spoke:

"...in accents that might almost have belonged to a von Shrakenberg." (Drakas!, pp. 253-254)

We know what that means if we are familiar with the series.

Turtledove also understands Anson MacDonald:

"'Better for Americans to die as free men than to live as slaves.'" (p. 257)

"'We've got no magic way to throw the Snakes back across the Atlantic. We can't very well start a new religion and go crusading against them.'" (ibid.)

In Heinlein's The Day After Tomorrow, Americans do overthrow invaders by starting a new religion. And, I have just remembered, references to chess are common to The Day After Tomorrow and "The Last Word." It will take me a long time to penetrate such a rich text.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Another Literary Reference

SM Stirling, Ed., Drakas! (New York, 2000).

(See image. "INGSOC" is Newspeak for "English Socialism.")

And here is another literary reference, on the second page of "The Last Word" by Harry Turtledove in Drakas!:

"What had that Englishman called the Snakes? A boot in the face of mankind forever - something like that, anyhow." (p. 250)

And that is how O'Brien of the Thought Police describes the future to Winston Smith in George Orwell's 1984:

He is entirely honest about the brutal cynicism of the Party; the Party does not seek power to do anything good, but simply to revel in that power: "Always, Winston, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face — forever."
-copied from here.

Very appropriate for the Draka: Orwell would have said it of them in their timeline.

In HG Wells' The Time Machine, bourgeoisie and proletarians devolve into different species. In Orwell's 1984, a Party makes a revolution, then freezes society into a new dictatorship forever. Turtledove's MacDonald refers to Orwell as "...that Englishman..." and Poul Anderson's Caleb Wallis refers to Wells as "'...a young Englishman in the '90's...'"
-Poul Anderson, There Will Be Time (New York, 1973), p. 73.

The Last Word

SM Stirling, Ed., Drakas! (New York, 2000).

Harry Turtledove can't fool me! (And I am sure that he is not trying to.)

On the opening page of The Day After Tomorrow (New York, 1951) by Robert Heinlein:

Whitey Ardmore asks, "What the hell goes on here?";

the other men present ignore him as they watch a television;

the TV announcer reports that Washington was completely destroyed before the government could escape and that Manhattan is in ruins;

the TV is switched off and a man says, "That's that...the United States is washed up."

On the opening page of "The Last Word," Turtledove's contribution to Drakas!:

Anson MacDonald asks, "'What's the latest?'" (p. 249);

the others present ignore him as they watch a televisor;

the TV announcer reports that San Francisco has been vaporized, that the government did not escape and that Manhattan and Washington have also been destroyed;

the televisor is switched off and a man says, "'That's that...The Alliance for Democracy is washed up.'"

Further, Anson MacDonald was a pen-name of Robert Heinlein, composed of his own middle name and his mother's maiden name, and the physical description of MacDonald in Turtledove's story matches the physical appearance of Heinlein (see second image). So here we have a story by Turtledove edited by Stirling featuring Heinlein. We are embedded in the history of American science fiction.

Worlds Within Worlds

Two Observations About Alternative Histories

(i) Persons and events that are fictions in one history may be realities in another. Thus, Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest is set in the seventeenth century of an Earth where Shakespeare was the Great Historian, not the Great Dramatist. Figures as diverse as Sherlock Holmes, Huckleberry Finn, Winston Churchill, Nicholas van Rijn and the Prince Rupert of the Rhine from the Shakespearean history congregate in the Old Phoenix, an inn between the worlds.

(ii) Every work of fiction is set in an alternative history, one that did not contain the author imagining its events. For example, SM Stirling imagined one of his Draka:

"...loose in our world. Or at least something very like our timeline; one without an S.M. Stirling, who imagined the Draka." (Drakas!, p. 284)

DC Comics had fun with a multiverse including:

Earth 2, inhabited by the original versions of the superheroes;
Earth 1, inhabited by the current versions of the superheroes;
Earth X, conquered by Nazis resisted by super-powered Freedom Fighters;
other Earths inhabited by superheroes bought from former competitors;
Earth Prime, inhabited by comic book writers mentally tuning in to the other Earths.

In Drakas!, edited by SM Stirling, Anne Marie Talbott contributes a story in which Stirling's Draka character Gwen crosses to an Earth where Drakas are fictions and indeed seems to meet the author of this story.

Four Senses In The Bahamas

The single Draka and Samothracian on Earth/2 contend not only physically but also electronically. Because of the latter's hacking, the former's Bahamian mansion is inherited by our NYPD detective and the investment banker, now a happy couple.

"They...turned to look at the mansion. The hot Bahamian sun beat down, and the air smelled of sea and pine and sand, huge and clean. The sound of breakers on the reef came faintly over the roof."
-SM Stirling, Drakon (New York, 2000), p. 397.

Does this author consciously and deliberately address four senses or does any skilled writer automatically do so? -

the sight of a large, beautiful home;
the heat that we enjoy on holidays in such locations;
three clean smells;
the sound of the sea, not threateningly loud but safely faint.

"'And now it's all ours...'" (ibid.)

A happy ending, deserved by the characters and the reader, especially after the previous three volumes.

"Hand in hand, they walked under the arched gateway. The ironwork Drakon flared its wings above, its empty eyes staring out into the sun." (p. 398)

The Drakon flares its wings menacingly but its eyes are empty before the sun of a world free from the Domination.

Light In The Darkness

Because of the pessimism of SM Stirling's Draka series, I could not be confident that the fourth novel, Drakon, would have a conventional happy ending. It does, although the Epilogue reveals that the Draka's clone has escaped - potential sequel territory or just a reminder that history continues. Current experience is only the latest installment.

Stirling's premise:

"What...if a fragment of [the South Atlantic system of slaves and plantations] had fallen on fertile ground, and grown?" (Drakas!, p. 3)

- obliged him to show us the Draka conquering the whole Earth and building their Final Society. However, they can be defeated. First, they are prevented from annexing Earth/2. Secondly, the Archon informs Gwen that:

"'The Samothracians attacked, with moleholes in place. We stopped them, but only just." (Drakon, p. 358)

Only just! But the Draka intend to continue conquering indefinitely. That means that it is only a matter of time before they "'...run into more than [they] can handle...'" (p. 276) They have no unrealistic belief in their own undefeatability and their computers must be able to calculate how soon they are likely to experience defeat. Anyone else would ask: how can we start to avoid conflicts in order to increase the probability of our long term survival? But mere survival is of no interest to the Draka.

They will be cautious in paratemporal explorations because they know that there are post-industrial civilizations in nearby timelines. Nevertheless, such civilizations might explore cross-time and find the Draka.

They are fairly sure that there are no technological species nearby in the galaxy but:

they intend to conquer the entire galaxy;
it is possible that there are nearby civilizations whose electromagnetic signals have not yet reached the Solar System.

Thus:

no guarantee of success in any given conflict;
increasing probability of defeat over time;
no possibility that the Draka will reform themselves or pull back.

The Defeat of the Domination seems to be a long term probability and thus a possible sequel. But, in any case, this series could continue indefinitely in both space and time.

Walpurgisnacht

In James Blish's Black Easter, the magicians hope to limit the damage of their supernatural experiment by releasing the major demons on their least auspicious night, hence the title of the book. It would be unwise, for example, to add a real Walpurgisnacht to the symbolic one.

At the climax of SM Stirling's Drakon (New York, 2000), New York is blacked out as the single invading Draka fights about fifty human beings armed with futuristic weapons by her Samothracian opponent. One character rightly compares this event to "'Walpurgisnacht...'" (p. 364) Demons, or the next best thing, are loose and this could be the last night of human civilization or even of human life, the equivalent of the Final War on Earth/1.

The Draka, Gwen, has contacted the Domination timeline and spoken with the Archon who has appointed her Planetary Archon of Earth/2. Her human followers, traitors to their species, look forward to a good life, for them, under her rule. And I have not yet read to the end of the novel so I do not know the outcome.

Clever Uses Of Language

SM Stirling, Drakon (New York, 2000).

Our NYPD detective, Henry Carmaggio, refers to his futurian ally's workroom as "'...the Fortress of Solitude...'" (p. 319) and addresses him ironically as "'...Batman...'" (p. 321) These similarities to comic book characters and settings are clearly present. Thus, it is appropriate that they are acknowledged.

When Henry meets the Draka super-villainness, Gwen, her eyes are:

"...full of an ancient, innocent evil." (p. 348)

Ancient, yes. Both she and the Domination are several centuries old. But innocent evil? Literally, a contradiction. However, appropriate. Like a child torturing an animal, Gwen enjoys killing human beings and thinks that she is right to do so. Thus, about as unrepentantly evil as we can possibly imagine.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Alternative History Fiction: Its Origins And A Culmination

My eyes have been opened by reading the Wiki article on Alternative Histories. Alternative history fiction itself has a long history - its earliest origins were historical, even Roman - although HG Wells may have been the first writer to describe travel between alternative histories.

The article rightly states that it is impossible to discuss separately from each other alternative history fiction and time travel fiction in which history is changed. Thus, the article appropriately refers both to Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series (time travelers changing history) and to his Old Phoenix stories (travelers between alternative histories).

However, here is at least one culmination of this sub-genre:

SM Stirling's Draka series recounts an alternative history from 1779 to 2445 and also describes travel between histories;

the series comprises four novels by Stirling and one anthology of twelve stories by other authors, edited by Stirling;

Poul Anderson is quoted on the back cover of the anthology as commenting "...an exciting, evocative [and] horrifying read."

The twelve contributors to the anthology, Drakas! are:

William Sanders, writer of fantasy and sf, including alternative histories;
John Miller, author of graphic novels and of stories set in George RR Martin's Wild Cards alternative history series;
Roland Green who has continued H Beam Piper's Great King's War alternative history;
David Drake, author of the Hammer's Slammers future war series;
Jane Lindskold, a former professor of English;
Lee Allred, author of alternative history fiction;
William Barton, author of When We Were Real;
Harry Turtledove, often called the master of alternative history;
Anne Marie Talbott, published here for the first time;
Markus Baur, a high tech sector worker resident in Vienna;
John Barnes, who introduces his crosstime-travel hero, Mark Strang, to the Draka; 
Severna Park, sf novelist.

Stirling explains the reasoning behind the series:

What were the good and bad consequences of European colonialism?
What if its worst consequence, slavery, had grown until it was unstoppable?

Thus, as I suspected, Draka world domination is part of the premise and has to be accepted as such.

The Structures Of Series

Frank Herbert's six Dune novels are not two trilogies but a trilogy, a sequel and an unfinished second trilogy.

SM Stirling's four Draka novels are not a tetralogy but a trilogy and a sequel.

Stirling's New Virginia history is in one novel.
His Angrezi Raj history is in one novel and one story.
His Lords of Creation history is in two novels and one story.
His Domination history is in four novels and one anthology.
His other series I have yet to read.

Stirling explains the rationale of the Domination well in the Introduction to SM Stirling, Ed., Drakas (Riverdale, NY, 2000). I am not big on themed anthologies but will see how I manage with Drakas. Poul Anderson was a major contributor to themed anthologies and, of course, I appreciate, e.g., his Man-Kzin Wars stories and his Robot story as parts of his complete works.

Look at that Draka's face!

Religion Under The Draka

For a discussion of religion in Poul Anderson's works, see here.

Consolation is neither the primary nor the only motive for religious behavior. Nevertheless, it is a motive:

"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
"Nobody knows but Jesus..." (See here)

The more basic motives are:

awe - the appropriate response to transcendence;
the attempt to control incomprehensible natural forces, initially by personifying them.

When Draka and serfs were homo sapiens, the former allowed the latter to practice (tightly controlled) Christianity - but the Master Race themselves remained arrogantly and scandalously ignorant. When a Draka woman saw one of her personal serfs kneeling before a priest, she remembered that this was a ritual called confession, confusion, communion or something like that. Meanwhile, the serf was an Alliance spy and the priest was her contact.

When drakensis and servus have become separate species, the servus:

are content, with no need for any consolation;
feel awe and slight fear in the presence of drakensis;
understand and control natural forces through technology.

Therefore, they no longer have any perceived need for religion.

Ideas

Thesis: Mind-Expanding SF Ideas
FTL
time travel
alternative universes
extraterrestrials
AI
immortality
future history
etc

Antithesis: SF Cliches
The same ideas after sf became a genre and literary ghetto.

Synthesis: Creative SF Authors
Poul Anderson, SM Stirling and others preserve sf mind-expansion by writing originally and creatively about familiar ideas. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers is set in an alternative history. His Conquistador involves travel between alternative histories. If we have read these works, then it does not surprise us to learn either that the same author's first three Draka novels are set in yet another alternative history or that his fourth Draka novel again involves travel between alternative histories. Does it follow that these works are all the same and not worth reading? With some writers, it would mean precisely that.

However, when reading Drakon, we realize that, although the premise is familiar, everything else is, as Brian Aldiss wrote long ago:

"...a voice singing in a new universe."
-Brian Aldiss, Space, Time And Nathaniel (London, 1966), p. 159. 

The Food Thread

A Bar With Food
Bradshaw
An Indian Meal
Good Food
Morning
Food For Thought
Harvesters' Lunch
Harvest Supper
Evening Picnic
Descriptive Passages
Curry And Naan
Lunch At Sea
Dinner At The Winged Cross And in An Airship
Van Rijn
Open Sandwiches
Bhang Lassi
The Peshawar Club
Dinner At His Desk
Another Meal And Another Adventure
Barfi And Samosas
Dinner At The French Embassy
Festival Food
This Month
Food In Khartoum
China
Draka Food
A Buffet Lunch
Burritos
A Chinese With Weak Coffee
Beautiful Scenery And Good Food 
"The Best Hamburger He'd Ever Tasted" 
Some Vivid Descriptive Passages 
Not only Times But Also Places
Spartan Food
Faith, Food And Freedom
More Food 
Yrsa's Upbringing 
Yule Eve In Leidhra
The Twilight Of The Elves
A Bird Made Of Fog
"Tea Or Coffee, Sir?"
A Bronze Age Feast
Welcome Home Feast
Another Meal 
Venison
Harvesters' Lunch II 
Clambake
Christmas Dinner 1250 B.C.
Initiation Feast 
Another World
A Civic Harvest Festival Meal 
Hospitality To Odysseus
Ivanhoe: Miscellania
Delfinburg
In The Saturn Room Of The Hotel Universe, Lunograd
In The Phoenix House
Fanciful Comparisons: Ythrians And Japanese
Palatial Privacy, Lack Of
Four Senses And Good Food
A Nasty Shock
An SF Villain
Can't Resist It! 
Bread And Venison
A Camp Meal
Yule Feast
Dinner In A Barn 
Dinner In The Aylward Household
Hash Browns And Conversations
Harvest Supper
An Understated British Resurrection? (And Another Meal) 
Engineering And Tea
Preserving Civilization
Eating And Killing (Or Vice Versa)
A Welcoming Feast
Breakfast
Dinner At The Sheaf And Sickle
Dinner In A Hunting Lodge
Caviar And Toast
The Fife And Drum Tavern
A Paxton
Meal Before Battle
Vegetarian Food In A Buddhist Monastery
Grill And Bar Food
Camp Breakfast
An Iowan Dinner
A Banquet
Feast
Winter Meal 
Feast Before Seidh

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Draka In The Galaxy

SM Stirling's Draka begin to sound like Poul Anderson's Merseians. See here.

(i) The Archon anticipates:

"'...the galaxy under the Domination of the Race...'" (Drakon, p. 275)

(ii) - but recognizes that this will take a long time and that:

(iii) "'...interstellar government will never be very tightly centralized.'" (ibid.)

Thus, for the snakes, as for the gatortails, it is the Race, not any particular nation or state, that counts. Each extrasolar colony has its own Archon.

By "the Merseians," in this context, I mean the Wilwidh Roidhunate culture, not every member of that species. This culture envisages a transcendent but nevertheless racially partial deity (!) whereas the Draka eschew all religion, having failed to revive Norse polytheism.

The Merseians face many intelligent species in their version of our galaxy whereas the Draka are reasonably confident that there are no nearby technological civilizations in the galaxy of Earth/1. However, there are such civilizations in parallel timelines. The Director of Technics suggests that there might even be dinosaurs that (a) did not become extinct and that (b) did later become intelligent.

There might be. However, I do not believe that (b) follows from (a). Intelligence is not inevitable. If reptiles, both large and small, had continued to flourish without requiring the advantages of intelligence, then there would not have been any natural selection of intelligence.

But it is to be hoped that the Draka "'...run into more than we can handle...'" (p. 276)

A Nasty Shock

The never-ending food thread:

"...the rich taste of the venison roasted with mushrooms..."
-SM Stirling, Drakon (New York, 2000), p. 268.

(Memory, e.g., of food, is stronger and vivider in Homo drakensis, even after several centuries.)

Immediately after reading this by now to-be-expected description of food, I received a nasty shock. I had thought that, after its opening chapter, Drakon was to be entirely set within the comfortingly familiar environment of Earth/2. However, turning to p. 270, we find:

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

DOMINATION TIMELINE
EARTH/1
FEBRUARY 20, 445th YEAR OF THE FINAL SOCIETY (2445 A.D.)

The Final Society is still with us. Furthermore, in this chapter, it is seen through the eyes of a willing, competent and well rewarded servus. This servus is female and the feminine form of the Latin noun, "servus," is "serva." However, my impression is that, in the Domination timeline, the phrase "Homo servus," abbreviated to "servus," has, like "Homo sapiens," become the uninflected name of a species. Thus, any member of that species is a "servus."

This servus, Tolya Mkenni, is condescendingly given:

Draka-level Web access;
unlimited mobility;
rejuvenation for a second seventy year span;
the promise of one more rejuvenation but no more;
a favor - she requests, and is granted, a second lifespan for her "lifepartner." (p. 277)

The Archon announces that a fourth lifespan would be hubristic. This from a Draka!

Archona, the capital, now has not six million but a mere half million Draka although with six times as many servus.