Friday, 26 May 2017

A Couple Of Points In Murder In Black Letter

Poul Anderson's detective, Trygve Yamamura, was in the OSS, the WWII precursor of the CIA. Thus, like Manse Everard and James Bond, he was in the War although his series starts later.

In SM Stirling's Draka History, the OSS remains the OSS after that timeline's equivalent of WWII.

Surprisingly, Kintyre persuades Yamamura that it is OK to use a very crude form of sensory deprivation to interrogate a gunman whom they are detaining instead of handing over to the police. Thus, Kintyre and Yamamura are guilty of at least two serious offences.

Murder In Black Letter is not grabbing me. I am not really following the murder investigation and am commenting only on tangential issues. However, any text written by Poul Anderson displays points of interest. I will read the novel to the end although I might be doing other things in the meantime.

A busy British Bank Holiday weekend stretches ahead of us with the possibility of more terrorism at a major event. We are also in the midst of a General Election. Thus, we are able to choose electorally between two alternative policies on terrorism. Everyone in Britain needs to think very hard.

From Mars

" was a blow, to be shown himself as alien as a castaway from Mars."
-Poul Anderson, Murder In Black Letter, Chapter 13.

"...alien..." and "...from Mars..." might remind us that:

Anderson is primarily an sf writer;
the idea of Martians exists in the minds of characters even in a contemporary novel;
even though such a novel usually avoids references to anything beyond Earth's atmosphere, the cosmic context of all life remains in the background. See here.

See also:

SF And Fantasy In A Detective Novel
Murder Bound, Chapters I-III
The Hadal Abysses
Cosmic And Historical Perspectives
Perish By The Sword

Cosmic Consciousness

After Mirkheim and Ramnu, I considered posting about Diomedes. However, this planet's peculiarities are summarized here and indeed there is more information about Mirkheim here and also about Ramnu here.

The idea was to summarize dramatic natural events that do not involve intelligence. For example, in Poul Anderson, Genesis (New York, 2001), Part One, IX, pp. 96-97:

"Sol swung onward through its orbit, around galactic centre in almost two million years..." (p. 96)

That is dramatic enough. However, at this stage, Anderson postulates neither merely natural processes nor intelligent organisms with familiar motivations but, instead, powerful post-organic intelligences interacting with cosmic processes in ways that had been beyond the scope of their organic predecessors.

Thus, the intelligence on Earth:

protects Terrestrial life by deflecting asteroids and comets;
counteracts harmful effects of cosmic clouds;
directs machines to construct from interplanetary matter discs to shield Earth from lethal radiation generated by nearby supernovae, gamma ray bursters or colliding neutron stars;
over a total of four million years, prepares for the close passage of another star, then deals with the consequences;
manages or mitigates Terrestrial quakes, eruptions, climate swings and crustal plate collisions but then decides to let these processes proceed and observe how life adapts;
addresses other threats never imagined by human beings;
is not primarily concerned with any planet.

Meanwhile, post-organic consciousness spreads between the stars, evolves itself and transcends its earlier stages while the stars also evolve although we are not told how. Thus, intelligence is present but recognizable characters conversing and socially interacting are definitely not.

More Dramatic Natural Events

In the Mirkheim situation, a giant star with a giant planet went supernova. In the Ramnu situation, a giant star near a dwarf star with a superjovian planet goes supernova. The superjovian, which was liquid or gas throughout except for a quantum degenerate core of heavy elements, loses over 90% of its mass, mostly hydrogen with a small percentage of helium. These gasses, volatilized as a plasma, interact magnetically with the core which then explodes out of its super-compaction. The dwarf star captures gas from the supernova and moves up the main sequence.

Thus, there is a metal-rich G-type star orbited by a planet 310 times as massive as Earth with 7.2 standard gravity, oceans, atmosphere and photosynthesizing life, inhabited by small, intelligent gliders. See image.


How much of a fictional narrative might describe not the actions of intelligent beings but natural events? In Poul Anderson's Mirkheim, Prologue, Y minus 500,000:

a star as bright as a hundred Sols burned for four hundred million years;

in a remote orbit, there was a planet as massive as fifteen hundred Earths, despite the fact that giant stars do not usually have planets;

the star exhausted the hydrogen fuel at its core;

it collapsed, fusing new elements, then exploded as a supernova;

any smaller planets were annihilated, their iron cores vaporized;

although the giant planet lost most of its mass, its molten core survived, coated in rare elements from the supernova;

for tens of millennia, the remnants of star and planet were surrounded by a nebula but this dissipated;

for half a million years, the remnants drifted in darkness, the planet's congealed alloy surface reflecting distant constellations.

Which other passages in Anderson's works describe such dramatic natural events with no input from intelligent beings?

The War II

See The War.

Contemporary novels become dated, then cease to be contemporary.

Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter was published in 1960. See here. Its main viewpoint character, Professor Kintyre, was aged nine in 1930. Thus, he was in World War II and, somewhere in the text, he tells us what either he or an acquaintance was doing in 1943. (I find it difficult to scan back and find relevant passages in an ebook.)

My interest, as before, is in fiction that was written when World War II was still a living memory. We are passing out of such a period. The longest running British TV soap opera began in late 1960 - originally intended as only a six-episode serial! In that opening episode, one elderly character spoke disparagingly about how a rather younger woman had conducted herself during the War. That whole period is becoming history. The cast of the soap has changed many times since then with only one character, originally a teenager, still played by his aging actor. I value Anderson's character, Manse Everard. Joining the Time Patrol in 1954, Everard both remembers the War and becomes able to revisit it.

And Dingle...

See Herbert Dingle (Wiki).

Poul Anderson and James Blish address technology and its effects on society. We have seen that their technological speculations encompass various alternative FTL drives and that both referred to Mach for this purpose. Blish had mentioned Mach, Einstein, Milne and his own fictional Haertel. In his second Jack Loftus novel, he adds Dingle!

In Milne's relativity, the light speed limitation is a mere mathematical convenience;

Dingle found two Einsteinian errors;

in 2011, Haertel showed that Einstein's relativity was a special case of Milne's relativity which was a special case of Haertel's own relativity;

in 2030, an FTL drive is one practical outcome of Haertel's theory;

in the 2050s, Jack Loftus and colleagues visit the Coal Sack nebula and the Heart Stars.

A project would be to write detailed accounts of every FTL drive in Blish's and Anderson's works.

The Future Of Humanity

Poul Anderson's works of futuristic sf project every possible fate for humanity:

early extinction in a dystopian short story;
gradual recovery from various kinds of disasters;
proliferation through the galaxy in several future histories;
unemployment and redundancy in some high tech futures;
replacement by Artificial Intelligences in a later novel.

James Blish addressed the future of human beings in a high-energy civilization here and in his second Jack Loftus novel where, again, most people are unemployed but are well provided for although they are denied the rights to vote and to procreate! (That will reduce the population quickly, surely? Are such drastic measures either feasible or desirable?)

It seems to me that the question, "What can the bulk of the population do in a high tech economy?" is wrongly put. Surely the question should be: How can society as a whole use enhanced technology to realize the full potential of each of its members? We stand on the threshold of Utopia yet fear a dystopia because we have not adjusted our thinking yet. (I think.)

Longevity And Mortality

Poul Anderson wrote three contemporary detective novels featuring Trygve Yamamura.
Isaac Asimov wrote four futuristic sf detective novels featuring Elijah Baley.
Anderson wrote the Dominic Flandry series.
James Blish wrote two Jack Loftus novels.

All three authors address longevity and mortality.

Baley deduces that the extrasolar colonists' longevity is a competitive disadvantage because it makes them overcautious.

Flandry's antagonist, Aycharaych, asks whether Bach, Rembrandt or Tu Fu could have created what they did if they had been immortal.

Jack Loftus' mentor learns that longevity can mean wisdom but can also mean stagnation and even senility whereas a short lifetime gives:

"'...a creativity, such that mankind has been pouring out in torrents for most of its recorded history.'"
-Mission To The Heart Stars, Chapter Eleven.

This blog records a small part of that creativity.

Murder In Black Letter

Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter has retained Kintyre instead of Yamamura as viewpoint character as far as Chapter 12. That chapter refers to:


Which Russell? Is it Bertrand?

Earlier, when a medieval manuscript had been removed from his room, Kintyre imagined small demons flying out with it, then reminded himself that, in the twentieth century, we do not believe in demons. In Black Easter, James Blish made the point that, if demons do exist, then they continue to do so whether or not they are believed in. In fact (or, rather, in fiction!), a demon swallows a sceptic who denies its existence.

The other Yamamura novels hinted at the supernatural but did not confirm it. So far, this volume has not hinted. Kintyre's momentary imagining hardly counts.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

John Milton

Either Chaos or Void preceded cosmic order, according to various mythologies and philosophies. Genesis has both: a formless void but also chaotic waters that have to be controlled and bounded as part of the creative process.

If Chaos was before, then where is it now?

Beneath Heaven, between the created universe and Hell, according to John Milton (see here);

in Hell itself, according to Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson (see here);

beyond Hell, according to Alan Moore...

Heinlein and Anderson contradict Milton on the location of Chaos. Before leaving this subject, let us note four modern allusions to Milton.

CS Lewis quotes:

"Where day never shuts his eye
"Up in the broad fields of the sky." (see here)

Philip Pullman quotes:

"His dark materials..." (see here)

James Blish quotes:

"A dismal universal hiss..." (Paradise Lost, Book X, line 508, see here)

- and applies this phrase to stellar radio noise, describing it also as "...that noise of chaos..." (The Star Dwellers, Chapter 12)

In Blish's The Day After Judgement, Milton is mentioned and Satan speaks Miltonic blank verse.

Finally, Blish almost quotes "His dark materials..." In Mission To The Heart Stars, Chapter Three, he describes "...dark areas..." in the galaxy as "...remaining raw materials..." and as the Creator's sign that He has not yet finished making this galaxy.

Contact Re-Established (Out Of The Silent City)

I have been in Birmingham for three nights without my laptop. When I try to sign in from a strange PC, Google sends a verification code to my old mobile number so we do not communicate. Any attempt to give them my new number fails. I have much to catch up on so please bear with me.

Poul Anderson and JRR Tolkien based fantasies on Norse mythology but Anderson also wrote in several other genres, mainly hard sf. Birmingham parks have been renamed the Shire Country Park after the Shire in Tolkien's Middle Earth. (Also, a town in Sicily has renamed itself after a fictional one. See here.)

Dwellers In Space
(i) Olaf Stapledon's pre-galactic nebulae.
(ii) Fred Hoyle's intelligent gas clouds.
(iii) CS Lewis' eldila.
(iv) James Blish's Angels.
(v) Poul Anderson's Aurigeans.
(vi) Larry Niven's Outsiders.

(i) and (ii) are gas.
(iii) are "hypersomatic."
(iv) and (v) are energy.
(vi) are solid.

Often, Anderson alone covers every option but sometimes, as here, he does it in cahoots with his illustrious colleagues. What authors' names to conjure with!

In Anderson's First Dominic Flandry Novel And Blish's Second Jack Loftus Novel
(i) Flandry visits Merseia while the Rhoidhunate plots to disarm Terra.
Jack visits Malis just as the Hegemony decides to annex Earth.

(ii) Flandry and his superior meet the Protector of the Roidhun's Council.
Jack and his superior meet the Hegemon of Malis.

(iii) Abrams and Flandry spy on Merseia.
An Angel concealed in the Earth ship spies on the Hegemony.

(iv) Merseians are less rule-bound than human beings.
Malans, even the Hegemon, are entirely ruled by their machine-interpreted laws.

(v) Flandry and one companion flee through hyperspace.
Jack and his two companions flee on the Haertel overdrive.

(vi) Land- and sea-dwelling Starkadians are natural enemies like men and wolves.
Land- and sea-dwelling Terrestrials (men and dolphins) decide to live in amity with each other and thus become able to live in amity with extraterrestrials.

(vii) Blish, like Anderson in other works, discusses the issue of freedom in future high-energy civilizations.

Dig it. Anderson fans, read Blish!

Jack Loftus heard not, as I had thought, the music of the spheres but a "dismal universal hiss," not quite the same thing! This will lead to reflections on:

chaos in Milton, Heinlein, Anderson and Alan Moore;
Milton as quoted by Lewis, Pullman and Blish.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Kinds Of Interstellar Adversaries

Whereas Poul Anderson's green, tailed Merseians were saved from supernova radiation by the Polesotechnic League, gained the hyperdrive from Technic civilization and strive to supplant the Terran Empire, James Blish's blue nine-foot Malans rule a confederation older than humanity and even than the extinct Martians and admit to that confederation only civilizations of demonstrated stability.

Of Anderson's future histories, only the Technic History shows future humanity facing a hostile interstellar empire whereas Blish imagined:

Earthmen overthrowing the Vegan Tyranny but later displaced by the Web of Hercules;

the Hegemony of Malis and a telepathic Central Empire occupying the galactic centre in different strands of the Haertel Scholium;

the Green Exarchy ruling half of humanity's worlds from the far side of the galaxy in yet another strand.

For the Angels with whom Earthmen unite against the Malans and a comparable Andersonian being, see here.

Kinds Of Interstellar Craft

Dominic Flandry's private spaceship, the Hooligan:

moves through the Technic History version of hyperspace;
is fast, spacious and luxurious;
has cabins, a galley, a gym and a stateroom.

Flandry's servant cooks and serves meals and dresses his employer for dinner.

In James Blish's The Star Dwellers, Howard Langer's personal cruiser, the Ariadne:

has an FTL Haertel overdrive;
also has Nernst generators as big as those in a liner, taking up more than half its space;
has a control cabin barely large enough for a crew of three, coffin-like personal cabins and no room for passengers;
is small, streamlined and bullet-like for fast atmospheric transit.

When the same three men make the two-year, sixty thousand light year round trip to the galactic centre, they need a converted liner full of cavernous storage areas.

Kinds Of Interstellar Conflicts

I have just reached a point in James Blish's The Star Dwellers where the hero's mentor, Howard Langer, comments on space opera and could even be referring directly to Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series. However, I discussed this passage in March 2013. See here. I found the post by searching the blog for the phrase, "Utter nonsense..."

See also the combox for that earlier post. By now, it is possible that a third sf author has written a novel taking into account the kinds of interstellar conflicts described both by Anderson and by Blish. I have not kept up with more recent sf but still find plenty to discuss from the Campbell era.

Endless Comparisons

Because I find it more convenient to read a book in the hand than an ebook on screen and because I prefer sf to detective fiction, I have easily been diverted from reading Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter to rereading James Blish's The Star Dwellers while comparing:

Blish's Haertel overdrive with Anderson's Mach drive;
Jack Loftus with Dominic Flandry;
Jack's mentor, Howard Langer, with Flandry's mentor, Max Abrams;
the Hegemony of Malis with the Roidhunate of Merseia;
Anderson's, Niven's and Blish's feline aliens (Blish's remain quadrupedal).

Other comparisons and contrasts are possible. Flandry's contemporary, John Ridenour, reflects that the universe produces sophonts as casually as snowflakes. Langer goes further, claiming that intelligences arises wherever it can. In Langer's period, the evidence has proved him right but he claims that this was expected. Is it?

For heuristic purposes, Blish's foreign service cadets are under an oath of celibacy whereas Flandry is anything but. In fact, Abrams plans to make Machiavellian use of his assistant's sexual activity: have the Ensign sent Home in disgrace - carrying military intelligence with him under the noses of the appeasers.

Blish's industrialist, McCrary, has got one of the energy beings called Angels to inhabit and control a fusion plant for him and wants to employ Angels to do this all over Earth whereas the Secretary for Space more prudently wants a treaty with the Angelic race or nation first. Would Anderson's capitalists be more cautious? CS Lewis (the character) knows that his friend, Elwin Ransom, receives visits and communications from extra-planetary angels and fears that Ransom is a beachhead for invasion. In the horror sf of Quatermass, any alien visitation could only be a threat.

Tomorrow, I will travel to Birmingham by train, carrying a book but not my laptop.

Feline Aliens

Why are Starkadian Tigeries called that? Their description is in Ensign Flandry, Chapter Four:

like a short man;
disproportionately long legs;
four-fingered hands;
large clawed feet;
stubby tail;
round head;
flat face;
narrow chin;
large slanted eyes;
scarlet irises;
fronded tendrils;
small nose;
single nostril;
wide mouth;
carnivore teeth;
large ears resembling bat-wings;
sleek black-striped orange fur, white at the throat.

I do not remember any of these details while reading the novel. I suppose it is a bit like an anthropomorphic tiger. An exercise would be to reread the description in The Game Of Empire to check whether it adds or contradicts.

Other Feline Aliens
Larry Niven's kzinti - Anderson wrote three kzin stories.
James Blish's Martian dune cats in Welcome To Mars, Aaa in The Star Dwellers and Chrestos in The Warriors Of Day.

Mach? II

See Mach?

Since there was an Ernst Mach, since Blish clearly refers to this real Mach and since the Mach referred to by Anderson also propounded a theory concerning the inertial frame of the entire universe, I am obliged to conclude that all three Machs are identical after all.

I had been misled into thinking that Anderson had invented a different Mach because it is usual, in sf, to supersede Einstein by appealing to imaginary post-Einsteinian discoveries - e.g., Blish refers to the fictional Haertel -, not by reverting to a pre-Einsteinian theoretician which is what Ernst Mach is. Live and learn. It is late so that is all from me tonight.

Saturday, 20 May 2017


Faster than light travel in Poul Anderson's The Star Fox and Fire Time is based on the theory of a man called Mach and is described here and here but I think that this must be a different Mach from the one mentioned by James Blish in The Star Dwellers:

the twentieth-century British astronomer, Milne, transformed the Lorenz-Fitzgerald expression of Einsteinian relativity from a natural law into a teaching convenience;

Adolph Haertel, by applying "Mach's axiom" or "the cosmological assumption," showed that the light-barrier disappeared if the whole mass of the universe was taken into account;

engineers inserted various values for M into Haertel's equations until they found one that worked.

This does not sound as if it should work but does sound like another of Anderson's various rationales for FTL. See here.

Cosmic Questions

Reading is unpredictable. Rereading The Star Dwellers was not on my agenda. However, recently (here), we contemplated:

"...the song the worlds sang..." (SM Stirling);
the "Song Of The Earth" (Elliot S! Maggin);
the Great Dance (CS Lewis);
the music of the spheres (I think) (James Blish) -

- and wondered whether Poul Anderson's Aycharaych has a telepathic equivalent of cosmic song, dance or music.

Trying to find the music of the spheres led to rereading The Star Dwellers. Anyone who enjoys Poul Anderson's interstellar sf, e.g., his Dominic Flandry series, should definitely read Blish's equivalent works. Jack Loftus begins as a foreign service cadet and winds up confronting the Hegemony of Malis. Dominic Flandry begins as a Terran Space Navy Ensign and winds up confronting the Roidhunate of Merseia. In both cases, the universe is shown to be full of interesting intelligent life forms and the nature of civilization is discussed. Blish and Anderson show us the cosmos and ask ultimate questions.

Juvenile SF

Heinlein, Asimov, Blish and Anderson wrote juvenile sf, Anderson less than the others:

one Time Patrol installment;
three Technic History stories;
"Escape the Morning" (see here, here, here and here);
Vault of The Ages.

I mention this because I am rereading James Blish's The Star Dwellers, which is Heinleinian in:

its insistence that education should not be painless and that car drivers should know calculus;
its pairing of a teenage cadet with an older mentor;
its presentation of a private company exploiting space and also of a Secretary for Space coping with potential interstellar crises -

- and I wish that our crises were interstellar, not just Terrestrial.

Dynamic Diversity

(Lancaster: Dalton Square, Queen Victoria, Town Hall.)

Today there will be a celebration of diversity in Lancaster. (Later: see here.) The City Council meets in the Town Hall. We will assemble in Dalton Square. Sometimes also there are gatherings in Market Square where the former Town Hall is now the City Museum.

From Monday to Thursday, I will be in Birmingham, a city that usually inspires posts comparing its diversity to that of Poul Anderson's multi-species Terran Empire. This time, I might learn more about that city's Tolkien connection. But I might not have much access to a computer while there.

The current agenda is to continue reading Anderson's Murder In Black Letter, then to read the next two volumes of SM Stirling's Emberverse series. As John Carter says, "We still live!"

Friday, 19 May 2017

Connections And Parallels

Because the Emberverse titles are listed in the wrong order in the back of my copy of The Sunrise Lands, I have got The Sword Of The Lady before The Scourge Of God but will acquire and read the latter before reading the former.

Of interest in the Acknowledgments of The Sword Of The Lady:

apparently, the opening paragraph of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword is quoted as an ancestral epic in Chapter Seventeen;

Stirling refers to the song, "Fiddler's Green," which is yet another link to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.

Gaiman's Fiddler's Green is a place in the Dreaming but escapes and wanders the waking world as a person called "Gilbert," modelled on GK Chesterton whose Fr Brown series we have just mentioned.

From (i) works of fiction by different authors and (ii) works of fiction about alternative histories, we can wind up with (iii) stories in which different authors' fictional narratives are set in alternative histories, as shown in Poul Anderson's Old Phoenix stories. In Bill Willingham's Fables graphic novels, characters from fairy tales live in hiding in New York, having been driven out of their homelands on parallel Earths. Since the Trygve Yamamura novel that I am currently reading features Italian characters and concerns and since Pinnocchio has a big role in Fables, I find a powerful if obscure conceptual connection between this Yamamura novel and that graphic novel series. The connection is strengthened by the fact that we have just discussed parallel universes in relation to detective fiction.

As Anderson's Time Patrol finds chaos lurking behind time criminals, Stirling's Emberversers seem to find something else lurking behind their human enemies?

(Tomorrow looks like being even busier and less blog-friendly.)

"Sherlock Nero Poirot"

To answer an earlier question, I have read:

no Nero Wolfe or Gideon Fell;
very little Miss Marple or Lord Peter Wimsey;
maybe two Fr Brown collections.

What I like about the Fr Brown series is that the villain reforms and becomes the detective's companion.

When Poul Anderson's Trygve Yamamura taunts a friend as "Sherlock Nero Poirot," we recognize at least two of these names and can easily learn the significance of the one that is less familiar. In fact, googling "Nero detective" brings up Nero Wolfe.

Anderson's text almost certainly means that Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot are known as fictional characters to Yamamura and his friend as they are to Anderson and his readers but there is another possibility. Fictional characters can be real to each other. There is some evidence that Holmes is real to Wolfe. See here. Both Holmes and Poirot become celebrities in their fictional worlds. Therefore, one or both could be known to Yamamura as a celebrity rather than as a fiction. Holmes' world contains not only the events of "A Scandal in Bohemia" etc but also Watson's published accounts of those events - thus raising the question whether Watson reported accurately. Fiction can go through some very strange stages. Holmes is real to Anderson's Time Patrol. However, if Holmes is real to Wolfe, it does not follow that the Patrol and Wolfe are real to each other because Holmes can exist in more than one alternative world.

Discussing detective fiction has led to discussing alternative history fiction. Imagine all the detectives existing in their parallel worlds - and someone communicating between them.

Re-Enter Trygve

Poul Anderson, Murder In Black Letter, Chapter 7.

Robert Kintyre has investigated and has fought a suspect. We learn a little about judo. Now Kintyre reports back to Trygve Yamamura whose office is above a drugstore in downtown Berkeley. Did we know that?

Yamamura taunts Kintyre as "Sherlock Nero Poirot." Three references in one! I have not read any of Nero Wolfe but (I think) James Bond said he liked him (as a fictitious character), (later: he did) which might have boosted Wolfe's sales. Also, is it true that the Wolfe series hints that its hero is a son of Sherlock? Sean has just asked me in the combox whether I have opinions about Fr Brown, Lord Peter Wimsey, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple or Gideon Fell. Mostly, no! But let me get back to you. Probably busy with other activities today.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A Second Song In The Same Bar

Poul Anderson, Murder In Black Letter, Chapter 6.

For the post on the first song, see here.

Poul Anderson quotes four lines of an Italian song, then attributes it to Lorenzo the Magnificent. Googling reveals this to be Lorenzo de Medici. Google also gives information, in Italian, about the song which begins:

"Quant' e bella giovinessa..."

- and I also found an English translation. See here.

"What beauty lies in youth..."

Thus, read detective fiction by Poul Anderson and learn some history.

Blog readers might notice that I post about whatever interests me even if it is not the main point of a text. I am not summarizing the plot of the murder mystery so far. I might or might not do that later. Here, I read back through three texts set on the fictional planet, Avalon, in order to summarize background information about the planet, the sort of information that we usually skip past to get to the action. As yet, I am three pages into Chapter 6 of Murder In Black Letter but this pace suits me fine. Reading, rereading and discussing Poul Anderson is a life-long project and I rarely know what the next post will be about.

A Song in A Bar

In Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter, Robert Kintyre enters a bar in North Beach, hears some lines from a song, recognizes the song and knows who wrote it. I did not. However, googling the quoted lines brings up the title, all of the words and a (possibly apochryphal) attribution to Rudyard Kipling.

The song was referenced in an Emberverse novel by SM Stirling and possibly also elsewhere in the Anderson canon. However, I have neither quoted nor linked to this song on the blog because I found the words distasteful.

It is interesting to keep finding these connections, though.

Reading Murder In Black Letter

I have read Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter as far as the beginning of Chapter 6 and so far the point of view character has remained Trygve Yamamura's friend, Robert Kintyre, not Yamamura himself, who has remained off-stage since the opening conversation between him and Kintyre. OK. No hurry. Not being a big fan of detective fiction, I will continue to read the novel but without any great involvement in its plot.

For me, the big three fictional detectives are Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Montalbano and Trygve Yamamura. Yamamura is of interest because he is written by Poul Anderson. Also, of course, Anderson managed to give this character an interesting background and a colourful setting. I will not solve the mystery before we are told the solution. How many readers of detective fiction are able to do this?

How many interesting series characters did Anderson write? How many interesting central characters of single novels did he write? Quite a lot.

Comparing Salamanders II

See Comparing Salamanders.

CS Lewis, The Silver Chair (London, 1998), Chapter 14, p. 191.


live in the subterranean fire;
are the only beasts that do so;
are too white-hot to look at;
but most like small dragons;
speak to the Underworlders out of the fire;
are witty and eloquent.

That is all that I can find but it is enough to make a comparison with the salamanders of Poul Anderson, Alan Moore, Tim Powers and Robert Heinlein.

Comparing Salamanders

For a salamander in Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos, see here.

For salamanders in Alan Moore's Jerusalem, in Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates and maybe also in CS Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, see here.

And I have so far neglected to cite the salamander in Robert Heinlein's Magic, Inc, which:

appears when summoned;
grows from a tiny spark into a living flame or fire-ball six inches across;
floats, dances, whirls and flames without needing fuel;
is perfect, beautiful, alive and a singing joy, neither moral nor human;
is harmoniously curved and coloured;
speaks in pure liquid notes while its colours vary accordingly;
can touch a man without burning him.

Each author takes the idea of a salamander and imagines it differently.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

New Narratives And Multiple Generations

SM Stirling's The Sunrise Lands ends with betrayals and mysteries so what can we do but read the next volume which should arrive soon but meanwhile I am reading for the first time Poul Anderson's second Trygve Yamamura novel which is an interesting text because, as far as I have read into Chapter 2, Yamamura has been on-stage briefly but not yet as the viewpoint character.

How many generations of Emberversers will Stirling show us? Anderson condenses five generations of Goths into "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth." See here and here. In Anderson's Technic History, Nicholas van Rijn's granddaughter marries David Falkayn and their grandson is the central character of one short story. That is also five generations. We want to learn more about van Rijn's and Falkayn's descendants and in fact we do meet one later direct descendant, Tabitha Falkayn, who, despite her human ancestry, is adopted and raised by Ythrians and identifies herself as "Ythrian" when the Domain is at war with Terra.

The Emberverse, Yamamura, the Time Patrol and the Technic History are four very different and fascinating fictional series. I am still reading the first and second and rereading the third and fourth.

"De Mortuis..."

"De mortuis nil nisi bonum."
-Poul Anderson, Murder In Black Letter, ebook, Chapter 2.

We have quoted so much Latin that I thought that another aphorism would be appropriate. This one is particularly appropriate in a detective novel. A man has been killed. A man who had argued with him says, "Speak no ill of the dead..." I don't agree with that. If I called a man dishonest or corrupt before he died, then I will continue to call him it after his death.

Would it be possible to find relevant Latin, Biblical and Shakespearean quotations as headings for every chapter in a novel? In Dante's Purgatory, not having heard of Shakespeare, they illustrate every moral point with a story from the Classics, the Old Testament and the New Testament, respectively. Earlier literature enriches later.

The top image shows Berkeley, the setting of the novel. Our small sf group meets tonight in the Gregson Centre. See second image.

Introducing "Trig"

You know where you are with a series, sort of. Starting to read Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter, I know in advance that it is the second of three mystery novels about the detective, Trygve Yamamura, and that I have already read the first and third installments. Thus, I do not expect any surprises. Yamamura will solve a murder. He will not marry, age, retire, die or experience any major life change. All of these things can happen to a continuing character and his series becomes more interesting when they do but they are not going to happen here. It is like watching an episode of a TV series.

I am reading the novel as an ebook and must continually alternate my screen between the text and the blog. That makes this a different kind of experience, visually. The text does not begin with Yamamura as its viewpoint character. The point-of-view character, Kintyre, is fencing with a man of whom we quickly learn that:

his surname is "Yamamura";
he is a private detective;
Kintyre addresses him as "Trig";
his first name is "Trygve";
he is tall, thin and of partly Oriental ancestry;
he prefers Japanese swords;
he smokes a pipe;
he has recently left the Berkeley police force to start his agency.

We stay with Kintyre when he and Yamamura part company but obviously more is going to happen.

Song Of The Earth

What patterns would we discern if we were able to perceive the world on a vaster scale? Lacking enhanced perceptions, we can instead consult the imaginations of a few creative writers and end with a question about a Poul Anderson character.

SM Stirling's Rudi Mackenzie has religious experiences on battlefields. He hears:

"...part of the song the worlds sang."
-SM Stirling, The Sunrise Lands (New York, 2008), Chapter Twenty, p. 493.

Elliot S. Maggin's Superman: Miracle Monday (Caveat Corner Books, 2017), Chapter 16, "Song Of The Earth," describes how the world sounds to someone with super-hearing.

CS Lewis' Elwin Ransom thinks that he sees the Great Dance. Somewhere (I think) James Blish's Jack Loftus hears radio noise as the music of the spheres.

Question: does Poul Anderson's universal telepath, Aycharaych, tell us how he senses the universe?


I have been thinking about Poul Anderson's universal telepath, Aycharaych, but it gets complicated.

Our Experience
When I overhear a conversation in English, perhaps three processes occur with at least apparent simultaneity:

(i) my ears detect sounds;
(ii) my brain processes data;
(iii) I understand the spoken words.

I know that (ii) can occur without (iii) because I had a dream caused by a ringing telephone.

When I overhear a conversation in Russian or Chinese:

(i) occurs;
some parts of (ii) can occur, e.g., I might recognize the language or remember some of the sounds;
(iii) cannot happen.

A microphone can do (i). A computer program can analyze sounds, speech patterns and linguistic structures but cannot generate semiconscious dreams or conscious perceptions. Thus, the kind of data-processing in (ii) requires an organic brain capable of consciousness and intelligence. (iii) requires actual consciousness and intelligence.

Aycharaych's Experience
His brain (i) detects and (ii) processes radiation from other nearby brains. Probably a sufficiently sensitive scientific instrument would be able to detect and process cerebral radiations but would not thereby become conscious - unless, of course, the instrument were also an AI that duplicated all of Aycharaych's brain functions. Aycharaych also (iii) immediately understands the thoughts that are associated with the radiations that he has detected. That sounds like the equivalent of me instantly understanding any language even if I had never learned it or even heard it before. Surely impossible?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Rule Of Thumb

There is a rule of thumb in sf but it can be broken. The rule is "save the appearances." What do I mean by that phrase in this context?

A premise of much sf is technological and social change. The future will be unlike the past and present. New things will happen in the future and the future begins tomorrow. Tomorrow, a large interstellar spaceship might enter the Solar System, approach the Earth and hover above the UN building. But, if there are ETs already here, then they are concealed or disguised. Thus, the appearances are saved. There has to be a sufficient explanation of why history went as it did and why the present is as it is even if tomorrow everything will be different.


the Cavorite sphere was lost;
the Time Traveller never returned;
the Martians will arrive tomorrow - even though, in this case, we read an account of their invasion after the event;
in various works by Poul Anderson, aliens, immortals and time travellers are concealed among us now.

It goes without saying that immortals or time travellers conceal themselves. We do not know anything about them, do we?

But how can the rule of thumb be broken? First, the story can be set in an alternative present - and Poul Anderson did this also. His goetic timeline will not diverge from ours tomorrow because it has already diverged earlier when Einstein and Planck cooperated on rheatics instead of independently originating relativity and quantum theory, respectively.

Secondly, much superhero fiction maintains the pretence that political and economic structures, even including the identities of current post holders in high office, would be able to remain unchanged despite the public presence of a host of superhuman beings whose mere existence should change everything utterly. Thus, their timeline is the same as ours except that superhuman beings appear in newspaper photographs instead of in comic strips.

Alan Moore showed twice that superhero fiction can only be set in a genuinely alternative timeline:

the US wins in Vietnam if it has a superhero;
the Warpsmiths teleport weapons of mass destruction into the Sun.

And, in the goetic timeline, World War II was fought against a Caliphate and with magic. Poul Anderson worked only in prose, not in a visual medium, but his ideas were at least as fantastic as anyone else's.

Feel Good

OK. I have finished reading a superhero novel and am back to reading straight sf, to be followed by Poul Anderson's detective fiction. However, there is something that might be of interest to Poul Anderson Appreciation readers. Anderson wrote fantasy and sf. Superhero fiction combines these genres. Thus, in Elliot S. Maggin's Superman: Miracle Monday, Kristin Wells travels by technological means from the twenty ninth century, then, after arriving in the twentieth century, is possessed by a demon from Hell! Anderson, like most writers of imaginative fiction, keeps technological time travel in one genre and demons in another.

The outcome of the temptation of Superman has theological implications that prompted me to compare it with the New Testament and Paradise Regained. See here. Miracle Monday is a feel good book that everyone deserves to know about.

A Route Through The Blogverse

Here, we compared passages in works of prose fiction by Poul Anderson, CS Lewis, James Blish and SM Stirling.
Here, we added a comparison with a work of graphic fiction by Alan Moore.
Here, we compared this work by Moore with a prose novel about graphic fiction characters by Elliot S. Maggin.
Maggin's novel was written to coincide with this feature film but otherwise is independent of it.
Here, I speculated about Poul Anderson writing a scientifically rationalized Superman novel with an otherwise real-world setting.

That is five previous posts, proceeding from Anderson to Anderson via Lewis, Blish, Stirling, Moore, Maggin, Superman, two blogs and three media.

The present agenda is:

to finish reading Miracle Monday;
to finish reading The Sunrise Lands;
to start reading Murder In Black Letter.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Demonic Possession

Does Poul Anderson describe a demonic possession anywhere? I might have forgotten and have not read all his short stories. He does use various standard fantasy threats in some works, e.g., here.

Is Poul and Karen Anderson's Dahut possessed? Surely some of her behaviour suggests this? See here and here.

I ask about possessions because I am currently reading about one in Miracle Monday. In the Inferno, Dante meets the soul of a guy who is still alive on Earth. The explanation is demonic possession. We have referred to a possession in CS Lewis' Perelandra and to another in Garth Ennis'
Royal Blood.

In real life, some people either are possessed or imagine that they are with comparable results.

The Devil Speaks III

See The Devil Speaks II.

Since then, I have read about Asmodeus in Alan Moore's Jerusalem (see here) and am currently reading Elliot S. Maggin's Superman: Miracle Monday in which Samael sends the curiously named demon, C.W. Saturn, to destroy Superman, not physically but morally.

It was because the Adversary had spoken in Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos that we listed these other cases of the Devil speaking in literature and fiction.

We have also listed human villains. Stirling's are the most evil, I think. Anderson's Aycharaych and Merau Varagan are (a) different from each other and (b) both psychologically interesting. There are many versions of Lex Luthor. Maggin's version has to express himself in ingenious, elaborate, expensive, flamboyant deceptions. His motivation does not seem to be evil and I do not expect him to seek common cause with C.W. Saturn but what do I know of the mind of a villain?

As Hamlet said:

"One may smile and smile and be a villain..." (see here


How are myths related? Who better to tell us than Poul Anderson, Neil Gaiman and Elliot S. Maggin?

Alternative mythologies can exist in parallel universes, e.g.:

Anderson's Holger Carlsen, trying to find his way back to the Carolingian universe, meets Aztec gods;
an inhabitant of Anderson's goetic universe, where scientifically rationalized magic works, visits Mimir's Well at the roots of Yggdrasil in the Norse mythological universe;
Hell is a full-entropy universe unto itself;
fictional characters who have become myths share a drink and a yarn between universes here.

In Gaiman's The Sandman, all gods begin in one place, the Dreaming, but might then disperse to parallel universes while remaining spiritually linked to their worshippers. When Lucifer closes Hell, other pantheons want it but a Higher Authority intervenes.

Elliot S. Maggin seems to fit all mythologies into a linear narrative, listing Achilles, David, Davy Crockett, John Henry, John Kennedy and Superman. He tells us that Achilles drove back the Trojans "...under a sun that was carried across the sky in Apollo's chariot..." and that David killed Goliath " a land where...the Creator of Heaven and Earth spoke through the mouths of men in rags whose eyes burned with the lights of Eternity."
-Elliot S. Maggin, Superman: Miracle Monday (Caveat Corner Books, 2017), Chapter 4, p. 35.

However, Elliot then adds:

"Real or imagined, the heroes lived..." (ibid.)

Across The Genres And Timelines

The Golden Slave by Poul Anderson is historical fiction and its central character, Eodan, is the original of Odin.

"The Sorrow of Odin the Goth" by Poul Anderson is historical science fiction and its central character, Carl Farness, is mistaken for Odin.

Thus, The Golden Slave and "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth" could occur in earlier and later periods of a single timeline.

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson is heroic fantasy and its characters include the god, Odin.

Thus, The Broken Sword could occur in a second timeline accesible from Anderson's inter-universal inn, the Old Phoenix.

World Without Stars by Poul Anderson is futuristic sf and its central character, Hugh Valland, refers to Thor who, we know, is a son of Odin.

However, the future of World Without Stars differs from the one described in the timeline of "The Sorrow..."

Therefore, World Without Stars is set in a third timeline.

three genres;
one composite genre;
at least three timelines.

However, this in no way exhausts either Anderson's genres or his timelines, although all might be incorporated into a single multiverse.

Addendum: And, of course, Tjorr, original of Thor, was Eodan's companion. It is very difficult to remember all the connections.

And the god, Thor, wields his hammer in the heroic fantasy, War Of The Gods.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Space, Time And Experience

We have discussed space travel and time travel and will now consider experience. We experience an empirically discerned spatiotemporal realm. The subject and objects of experience are both spatially differentiated and temporally enduring. If there were neither space nor time, then experience would shrink to an instantaneous point, i.e., would cease to exist. I think that experience is necessarily spatiotemporal and therefore that timeless consciousness is as impossible as a sideless square. Can there be transtemporal consciousness that would incorporate time just as three-dimensional space incorporates planes? I don't know.

If a fictional character has qualitatively different sensory experiences and/or thought processes, then how does the auther convey these qualitative differences to his readers? Poul Anderson describes the heightened sensations of werewolves, merpeople and Ythrians in flight. I was reminded of this by reading Elliot S. Maggin's accounts of Superman's ability to perceive the entire electromagnetic spectrum and of Lex Luthor's ability routinely to think his way out of any high security confinement.

Principles Of The Blog

The main purpose of this blog is to appreciate the works of Poul Anderson. An individual post might be about almost anything but the main purpose remains as stated.

Anderson's many and varied works cover several different kinds of imaginative fiction and address every important issue. Thus, there are at least two possible approaches:

(i) discuss every aspect of an individual work,e.g., the novel, A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows;

(ii) discuss an issue, e.g., political legitimacy, as it is addressed in different works, including in A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows.

Thus, a post on the political aspects of A Knight... and another post on this political issue as addressed in A Knight... could be classified under both (i) and (ii). However, the novel also has non-political aspects like characterization and descriptive passages and addresses other issues like personal loyalty and betrayal, religious beliefs and historical cycles.

I find a third approach illuminating:

(iii) discuss a sufficiently imaginative work by another author;
appreciate that work while also finding parallels and alternative perspectives.

I hope that blog readers can therefore understand why the name of some other author might predominate for a while.

The Next Millennium

A standard sf scenario is the expansion of our civilization onto an interplanetary, then an interstellar, scale in the next few centuries. The background details of many stories might be interchangeabale. It might even be possible, with minimal editing, to incorporate diverse short stories and novels into a common future history. In fact, Heinlein did partly cobble together the first part of his Future History. Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization begins with a University on the Moon and with the exploration of the outer Solar System in the mid-twenty first century.

Anderson's Time Patrol series is about time travel and history, not about space travel or the future. However, of necessity, it sketches a future history with the colonization of the Moon, Venus, Mars and the Saturnian moons in successive centuries. On exactly the same time scale, Elliot S. Maggin has people in the twenty ninth century celebrating Miracle Monday throughout the Solar System and in this part of the Galaxy. I used to assume that such a future was assured but now I am less sure.

From The Future

Which is more likely: that a lone nineteenth century scientist could invent and use a time machine (see here) or that a means of time travel will be discovered in the future, like maybe in 19352 AD, and that our descendants will travel pastward to observe us? Wells projected future societies. Time travel, suspended animation and precognition were means by which his characters learned about such societies. But no one in any of those societies time travelled.

Wells' successor, Olaf Stapledon, reversed the process. His Last Men observe us, the First Men. Poul Anderson, of course, did both. Modern men time travel in "Flight to Forever" and There Will Be Time whereas representatives of future civilizations time travel for different purposes in two other novels and a series. The Time Patrol recruits in past ages.

"Fellows like H.G. Wells have always been writing about us taking a jump into the future, to have a look at our distant descendants, but of course we don't. We can't; we don't know enough. But, what about them, taking a jump into the past, to have a look at us? That's far more likely, when you come to think of it.'"
-JB Priestley, "Mr Strenberry's Tale" IN Peter Haining, Ed., Timescapes: Stories of Time Travel (London, 1997), pp. 34-43 AT p. 41.

In Elliot S. Maggin's Superman: Miracle Monday, twenty ninth century time travel technology is expensive and a research student wanting to visit the twentieth century needs financial backing.


I already know what will happen in Elliot Maggin's Miracle Monday: Kristin Wells, time traveller, investigating the origin of the Miracle Monday celebration, will find that she is part of its origin. The only question is how well Maggin writes this - but he approaches it with a wealth of imaginative detail on every page.

Poul Anderson's Carl Farness, investigating the origin of a story about Odin betraying his followers, finds that he himself has to betray them. Anderson's Janne Floris, investigating what inspired Veleda's pagan prophecies, finds that she did. Michael Moorcock's Karl Glogauer, investigating the crucifixion, is crucified. Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long (I think) realized while proposing a toast in the twentieth century that he was initiating what would become an annual tradition among the Howard Families.

This is the time travel observer effect. It is usually, although not necessarily, also the circular causality paradox. Without Glogauer, Christianity would have existed but with even less historical truth. But, without Farness, that part of Northern mythology would not have existed. When Everard has deduced Carl's role, Carl has to do it. Hence, "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth."


In Ward Moore's Bring The Jubilee, time travel happens at a place called Haggerwells.
In Doctor Who, the TARDIS had a Victorian passenger called Herbert.
In Elliot S. Maggin's Miracle Monday, a time traveller is called Kristin Wells.
In Poul Anderson's There Will Be Time, one of the mutant time travellers gave the time travel idea to a young English writer...
In CS Lewis' That Hideous Strength, the Director of the National Institute for Coordinated Experiment is a Cockney...

Five references to HGW and, if it were not so late, I might think of more.

Addendum: "Herbert" and the writer are the real deal.

Supernatural And Science Fictional

Goth Night inspiration: Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Can the supernatural and the science fictional meet?
The apparently supernatural can be scientifically rationalized: The Interloper.
The genuinely supernatural can be written in sf style: Hard Fantasy.
Can Martians meet ghosts?
Yes, in works by Heinlein, Bradbury and Lewis.
On Mars, Ransom met beings that were extraterrestrial and supernatural.
Brian Aldiss' extrasolar Helliconians are observed by orbiting Earthmen and in touch with their own hereafter.
Poul Anderson's heroic fantasies are set in the Eddaic cosmology of the Tree whereas his hard sf is set in the scientific cosmology of clusters of galaxies.
Characters from both kinds of cosmologies can meet in the Old Phoenix between universes but never intrude in each others' universes.
Superheroes are a composite genre: a hero's power source can be cosmic or magical.
Hell and the Kryptonian coexist. (Whether this is coherent is another matter.)