Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Wreathed Horn

Today we had coffee in the Midland Hotel which reminds us of Hercule Poirot (see the link) who reminds me of Poul Anderson's Trygve Yamamura, an interesting character but a very junior member of the fictional detectives' fraternity, especially since he is only a supporting character in one of his three novels, Murder In Black Letter, where the concluding chapter comprises merely gunfire and fisticuffs between the viewpoint character, Robert Kintyre, and the villainous gang. (How's that for a long sentence?)

Tomorrow, I hope that my technical assistant, Ketlan, will publish on the blog an article by our regular guest writer, Sean M. Brooks. Ketlan should date
the article 7 June so that it will remain at the top of the blog for a week. That makes this current post the 160th and also the last for May. I will be back next month although my posts will appear under Sean's for a week. Please read his illuminating exposition of a very difficult Poul Anderson short story.

On the ceiling above a circular staircase, the Midland Hotel has a mural (see image) surrounded by the concluding line of the above sonnet by William Wordsworth, which is appropriate to our frequent discussions of monotheism versus polytheism.

Onward, Earthlings!


Fiction reflects life when series characters age and contradicts it when they do not. Whereas James Bond will be automatically taken off the 00 list and given a staff job at Secret Service Headquarters when he reaches the age of forty five, Dominic Flandry, thanks to antisenesence, can contemplate starting a family at the age of seventy. Twenty five years is a quarter of a century. I value extended lifespans. What is the alternative?

Increased life expectancy is a major indicator of social progress. Regional differences in life expectancy show social inequalities. In Britain at present, people are living longer, causing problems for hospitals, social care and pension funds. Better to have these problems than not. They will be addressed. Ian Fleming died at 56. One of my best friends from University died at 59, having lived a lot more than many of his contemporaries.

Sf writers, including Heinlein and Anderson, imagine longevity and immortality but ordinary extended lifespans are worthy of respect.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Change

If a force or Power can dampen technology, can that same force or Power enhance clairvoyance, thus making Earth more like a fantasy realm? Have the Wiccan Powers somehow been brought into existence?

I prefer Poul Anderson's "change," which enhanced intelligence. Which world would you prefer to live in? You would probably be among the dead in the Emberverse.

Does each generation have an equivalent of the Change, an event after which everything was different?

"Change" Events
World War I.
World War II.
The Holocaust.
The beginning of the nuclear age.
The beginning of the space age.
The invention of the Internet.

It would be trivializing to equate the Internet with the great atrocities of the twentieth century but the purpose is not to equate. It is to identify events after which everything was (seen as) different. Someone suggested that the only "generation gap" in history was between those born before the atom bomb and those born after it. There was a generation that thought, "Why take life seriously if our elders are about to kill us all, including themselves?"

Life is change so fiction about a Change reflects life.

High Priestesses

SM Stirling, The Scourge Of God (New York, 2009), Prologue.

The High Priestesses seeing visions are like the Nine Witch Queens of Ys. Both groups are told that a storm is breaking over the world.

One Priestess says:

"'An oracle's voice speaks like the wind in a forest, turning and twisting like Time Herself.'" (p. 11)

Wind and Time are Andersonian themes although we are not familiar with a feminine "Time." The Priestess continues:

"'They don't show us more than we can bear.'" (ibid.)

In meditation, too much self-knowledge too soon might be unbearable.

Are the Priestesses acquiring some of the clairvoyant powers of Yasmini in The Peshawar Lancers? Have I asked such a question before? I am getting some deja vu feelings.

Moral Smugglers

I imagine that:

the government of the Solar Commonwealth taxes imports;
therefore, some Polesotechnic League companies smuggle;
but Solar Spice & Liquors is too big and successful to need to do this.

Van Rijn's criteria for action are: is it profitable? and: is it morally acceptable? but not: is it legal?

Ian Fleming's James Bond meets Enrico Colombo, a flamboyant Mediterranean smuggler of many good things but not of (evil) drugs. That might have been van Rijn's attitude when he was getting started. Thus, Bond and Colombo fight the drug smugglers just as later Bond and the Unione Corse fight SPECTRE.

David Falkayn cooperates with the Gethfennu, organized crime, on Merseia and Dominic Flandry cooperates with Leon Ammon on Irumclaw. And I did not know that I was going to wind up making those comparisons when I started into this post. Sometimes the best policy is just to start writing. James Bond is a fruitful source of comparisons with various planes of the Anderson continuum.


This is the death warrant of Charles I who was beheaded in 1649. No doubt this event is reflected in many ways in works of fiction. I will mention just two. It is strange to find such an obscure link between Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest and Ian Fleming's "For Your Eyes Only."

Anderson's Prince Rupert, forewarned by travelers from the futures of two other timelines, is able to prevent the execution of the King in his timeline. See here. In Fleming's story, a family called Havelock owns a plantation in Jamaica that was given to an ancestor by Cromwell as a reward for signing Charles I's death warrant. Since there is no Havelock in the list of Regicides in our timeline (see here), it follows that the James Bond series is also set in an alternative history. Major events, like a nuclear explosion in the North Sea and an attack on Fort Knox, establish that Bond's twentieth century diverges from ours. His seventeenth century also differs by at least one signature.

And, if anyone can find a more obscure link between two works of fiction, then I will be very interested to hear about it.

The Lord Of The Dance

Poul Anderson wrote a convincing Odin and could also have handled Hindu gods but no one can do everything.

"The Lord of the Dance" is:

an unconventional Christian hymn;
a title of Shiva;
a fictitious pagan god in Hellblazer (see here);
an Irish dancer (see here).

There is one pagan rewrite of the hymn in Hellblazer and another in SM Stirling's The Scourge Of God, Prologue, which I am starting to read.

Post-War Crime III

I was fascinated by Poul Anderson's account in Murder In Black Letter of the revival of crime after World War II. See here and earlier. Anderson focused on the US Army in Italy. Comparisons with Ian Fleming made me realize how many of the latter author's villains are "post-War":

Le Chiffre was a displaced person, claiming amnesia;
Hugo Drax, also claiming amnesia, is a Nazi continuing the War;
former Luftwaffe officers help Goldfinger;
von Hammerstien was Gestapo, then ran Batista's Counter-Intelligence;
there are ex-Gestapo men in SPECTRE which uses Communist cell organization;
Tanaka, now an ally and friend, had volunteered for kami-kaze.

WWII has a long shadow.

Additionally, James Bond once goes after Italian drug runners. Read Yamamura, Flandry and Bond.

Two Cogs Of Empire

Dominic Flandry meets the Imperial resident on Diomedes:

"Flandry had met his kind by the scores, career administrators, conscientious but rule-bound and inclined to self-importance...Lagard had advanced methodically, by the book, toward an eventual pension.
"He was uncreative but not stupid, a vital cog of empire."
-Poul Anderson, A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, Chapter VII, IN Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (Riverdale, NY, 2012), p. 436.

James Bond meets the Governor of Nassau:

"He belonged to a routine type that Bond had often encountered around the world - solid, loyal, competent, sober and just: the best type of Colonial Civil Servant. Solidly, competently, loyally he would have filled the minor post for thirty years while the Empire crmbled around him..."
-Ian Fleming, "A Quantum of Solace" IN Fleming, For Your Eyes Only (London, 1964), p. 86.

Fleming goes on to mention the pension and describe the retirement.

The British Empire and the Terran Empire! Then, let's have no more of Empires...

Who Is The Lord?

SM Stirling, The Scourge Of God (New York, 2009), Prologue.

Wiccans invoke seasonal deities and plan to question the Powers. At this time of night, I will not analyze the text but will ask a question that is relevant to many passages in works by Poul Anderson and SM Stirling. Because of the immemorial custom of my ancestors, I spontaneously address the source of all things as "Lord." However, in some cosmologies, the universe is beginningless, therefore sourceless. And, if there were a source, would it be a (still existent) person? IMO, no. So is there any other person that we might address, like the Isvara of the Yoga Sutras, a special kind of being, perennially free, the teacher of the earliest teachers? Isvara is (i) not a Creator and (ii) IMO hypothetical. Patanjali recognized devotion to Isvara as a kind of yoga. However, devotional practices can occur, and may have beneficial psychophysical effects, whether or not the object of devotion exists. Isvara might be a concept, a focus, an ideal or a "higher fiction" (Alan Moore). But I still express awe, gratitude and remorse by saying "Lord."

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Intellect, Intuition And Imagination

In Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter, the detective work is done not by the detective, Trygve Yamamura, but by his friend, Robert Kintyre, who:

consciously reasons about possible motives and suspects in a murder case;
but also feels or intuits that he already knows more than he has as yet consciously realized;
has perhaps three moments of sudden realization.

We have already seen that moments of realization are frequent experiences for Anderson's problem-solving characters. Yamamura is a Buddhist and a practitioner of judo who knows about Zen. Thinking about Yamamura and Kintyre, I suddenly made a link with my own three main interests from earlier in life:

philosophy - intellect;
spirituality - intuition;
science fiction - imagination.

Philosophy is analysis of concepts or thought about thought.
Zazen is "neither trying to think nor trying not to think; just sitting with no deliberate thought."
Hard sf = imagination + intellect.

I find that coherent and comprehensive.

An End And A Beginning

(The image shows Marsyas, apparently.)

Reading the end of Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter and the beginning of SM Stirling's The Scourge Of God, suddenly there is a lot to post about, more than will fit into a single post.

"...his face the mask of flayed Marsyas..."
-Murder..., Chapter 19.

An abstruse mythological reference. See here.

In Murder...

Interrupted twice. Let's published this unfinished post now - and more later.

(Rereading a James Bond short story after reflecting on Post-War Crime recently.)

The Last Two Chapters

Just two chapters left to read in Murder In Black Letter but not tonight.

I do not enjoy the deductive processes.
Strangely, Kintyre does the deducing, not Yamamura.
The murderer has been identified but is still loose.
I dislike the fact that information was obtained by sensory deprivation which has to count as mental torture - if the victim did not suffer, then he would not be induced to answer questions against his will.
Is that all? I thought that I might find more to say.
I will report back on Chapters 19-20, probably some time tomorrow when we might walk to Morecambe for a brass band concert in a park. 

Post-War Crime II

For the literature of the second half of the twentieth century, World War II has a kind of temporal gravity. We are continually pulled back to it.

Recruits to Poul Anderson's Time Patrol identify themselves by name followed by place and year of recruitment, thus:

Manson Eeverard, New York, 1954;
Charles Whitcomb, London, 1947.

Despite that seven year difference, Everard and Whitcomb are members of the same Academy class which is recruited from the period 1850-2000 and which also includes a young physicist from 1972. Described as a girl, she must have been born post-War. Everard's and Whitcomb's dates of recruitment inform us that they had been in the War. In fact, Whitcomb had just been demobbed from the RAF. What better recruit to the Patrol? Except that his proximity to the War motivates him to commit a time crime: to try to prevent his fiancee's death in an air raid in 1944, just ten years before Everard's recruitment. The War is always close and even closer for Time Patrolmen.

When Everard becomes involved to help his friend, he loses any innocence that he might have retained after his first trip, in normal time, through World War II. At the very end of the opening story, "Time Patrol," Everard returns to his home base from London, 1944:

"Everard climbed weakly aboard the hopper. And when he got off again, a decade had passed." (Time Patrol, p. 53)

Of course a decade passes between 1944 and 1954 but the morals of the story are that:

Everard has now experienced time travel for real;
he feels as if he has aged ten years in a very short subjective span.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Post-War Crime

"He came to Italy as a Quartermaster officer in the war. Perfect chance for black marketing, if a man didn't mind taking a few risks. The miracle is not that a few QM people went bad but that most stayed honest...by the end of the war he was in touch with some pretty big figures in the Italian underworld, and saw the opportunities. He came right back after his discharge and went to work at it full-time... He got in on the postwar reconstruction of crime, along lines borrowed from gangland and Communism."
-Poul Anderson, Murder In Black Letter, Chapter 16.

It makes sense:

in the chaos of war and post-war reconstruction, there would be opportunities for black-marketeering and other criminality;

when legitimate society reconstructed itself, so did the Mafia;

there were opportunities for people in the US Army;

Communists had had to adopt a secretive "cell" organizational form that was adaptable to criminal activities.

Thus, in novels of the fifties and sixties, the War was more than a recent event. It and its aftermath provided motives for the characters. Some of James Bond's villains are WWII left-overs. In the recent UNCLE film, Napoleon Solo:

was in the US Army in Europe;
smuggled art works;
had to choose between prison and joining the new CIA;
worked with Waverley of British Naval Intelligence and Kuryakin of the KGB against a new common threat;
thus became part of a new team, UNCLE.

Pretty smart stuff.

Blue And Green Planet

"Somehow, the blue and green planet beyond the windows had become alien; they sat in a private darkness."
-Poul Anderson, Murder In Black Letter, Chapter 16.

Here is another intrusion of an sf author's perspective into a mystery novel. How often does anyone in a contemporary novel, or in real life, look out a window and think of what is beyond the window as a "planet"? Blue and green are ubiquitous enough. In fact, it suddenly seems appropriate to quote Leon Trotsky (sometimes, I do not know where I am going when I start a post):

"I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full." (See here.)

Looking, with Trotsky, to the future, I hope that mankind will avoid Anderson's Terran Empire and I have suggested a Terrestrial tricolor.

How tangential can I get? Yamamura and Kintyre are solving a murder while I pause to discuss the phrase, "...blue and green planet."

The Scourge Of God

My copy of SM Stirling's The Scourge Of God has arrived. Regular blog readers will know that we read Stirling not only for his interesting Andersonian allusions but also because he is interesting in his own right and in fact addresses many of the same basic themes as Poul Anderson:

practical problems of physical survival;
cannibalism dehumanizes whereas agriculture civilizes;
how to build a society out of personal loyalties, responsibilities and freedoms;
how not to build a society based on despotism and slavery;
just and unjust warfare;
religious experience, practice and belief;
society and technology;
the wonders of the universe;
enjoyment of the fruits of labour, in particular good food;
history and the generations.

What's not to like?


A contemporary novel is set about the time of its publication. However, if an author writes such a novel in his youth, is it still "contemporary" in his old age? Also, year dates have migrated from titles and texts to publication histories:

George Orwell, 1984 (1949);
Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968);
Poul Anderson, Past Times (1984);
Poul Anderson, Genesis (2001).

In the circumstances, the title, Past Times, is particularly appropriate.
Genesis was first published in 2000 but my paperback edition is dated 2001.
2001 is also relevant as the year of Anderson's death.

Yet To Come
James Blish, Year 2018! (1957)
Robert Heinlein, Revolt In 2100 (1953)

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

"...it 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.) (Later: I realized that I can search the ebook, e.g., for "1943.")

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.