Thursday, 29 June 2017

Military Hardware

Military sf describes military hardware, e.g.:

space battleships in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization (see here and here);

guns and tanks in SM Stirling's Draka History (see here and here);

swords and bows and arrows in Stirling's Emberverse (see here) -

- three technological levels but one militaristic theme. (I will link to a post listing some Pournelle/Stirling miltary hardware if I can find it!) (Later: I found it here.)

Because my field of expertise is philosophy, not warfare, I am more interested in the characters' world views than in their various ways of killing each other. However, a comprehensive response to these works would have to include a full analysis of weapons and also of scouting skills, battle formations, tactics, strategies etc but this is way beyond my capabilities. A lot more could be written but it would have to be a team effort.

I want to end this six month period with 800 posts so there will now be a short intermission. The 1st post of July will be the 801st of 2017.

Addendum: Meanwhile, on another blog, see here and here.

Mixed Marriages

Nicholas van Rijn is Catholic although he enjoys the company of a series of mistresses.

Dominic Flandry is secularist but becomes engaged to an Orthochristian.

Rudi Mackenzie is Wiccan but engaged to a Roman Catholic.

(Regular blog readers will know that I refer to series characters created by Poul Anderson and SM Stirling, respectively.)

If I were not already married, might I become engaged to a Christian? No. I would want my children to be educated about religions, not instructed and initiated in a particular religion. I gave my daughter a Bible and a life of the Buddha, made no objections when she attended church with friends and answered any questions that she asked. My niece suddenly realized an apparent contradiction when she said that her father was down in his grave and up in Heaven, then asked me how he could be both down and up. Instead of reinforcing body-soul dualism, I replied that we would find out when it happened to us and she was satisfied with that. If I had been fully honest, then I would have said, "...if it happened to us...," but I had to draw a line somewhere between honesty and not upsetting a child asking about her dead father.

For what it is worth, my daughter has expressed gratitude for the upbringing that she received and respects the beliefs of friends and acquaintances. And it seems that the works of Anderson and Stirling provide a launching pad for discussion of every significant issue.

At The Hour Of Our Deaths

Before battle, Father Ignatius prays:

"'....Father, forgive us for what we are about to do, and forgive us that we can see no better way. Lord who blessed the centurion, bless us also this day. But Thy will alone be done, for Thy judgments are just and righteous altogether.'"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Nineteen, p. 582.

Mathilda follows this up with:

"'Holy Mary, Lady pierced with sorrows, Queen of Heaven, intercede for us, now and at the hour of our deaths...For us, and for our foes.'" (ibid.)

I quote Ignatius because he recalls prayers that we have heard before here and here. I dislike the glorification of suffering implied by "'...Lady pierced with sorrows...'" But, in this timeline, Ignatius has met that Lady! The plot thickens.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

War And Life

Poul Anderson does not glorify war but does explain and describe it. In the past, and in many possible futures, there is one hell of a lot of killing. I have just read an account of a man's head being twisted around until his neck snaps. A dispassionate alien observer might wonder whether this species is attempting an elaborate self-genocide. However, from the point of view of the race, it does not matter how many individuals are killed as long as certain areas are protected from combat and the people living in those areas are able to continue reproducing in the normal way. In fact, life can continue to be enjoyed and celebrated at the same time as it is being ended. However, I hope that we will put a stop to this soon.

Futures

Fictional futures are either high- or low-tech. Some people would prefer to live in the latter. Anyone who is good with horses, archery and survival skills might be able to thrive in SM Stirling's Emberverse. To prefer to live in such a future would not be to approve of all the deaths by starvation and violence during the Change.

However, I would prefer to live in Poul Anderson's Technic civilization because:

I appreciate the benefits of civilization and technology;

we would be enriched by living in an interstellar civilization even if we were never among the few who travelled between planetary systems;

although I am not a scientific practitioner, I do want scientific knowledge to continue to increase;

Technic civilization would even provide opportunities to practise styles of living closer to nature, e.g., on Freehold or in secluded areas of Avalon.

The Good, The Bad And The Indifferent

Poul Anderson's Technic civilization is pluralist:

a small combat spaceship is crewed by a Jerusalem Catholic, a Muslim and a Cynthian;

some Wodenites convert to Terrestrial religions;

many human Avalonians join Ythrian choths and some practise the Old Faith;

the monotheism of the Roidhunate is exclusivist but not all Merseians subscribe to it.

Is a "Merseian" an inhabitant of Merseia or a member of that same species even if descended from generations that have lived on Dennitza? A human inhabitant of Hermes is a Hermetan, not a Terran. Human and Ythrian Avalonians fight Terrans to remain in the Domain of Ythri.

SM Stirling's Emberverse is also pluralist. We see good and bad Christians (Arminger and the Benedictines), good pagans and Buddhists and bad Muslims and Theosophists. Is any religion good or bad in itself? I doubt it - unless we include practitioners of human sacrifice but I think that we have left them behind both morally and historically.

It is people, whether individuals or groups, that use received ideas for either good or bad purposes. A sect or cult within any religious tradition can certainly be evil. Buddhism is the religious tradition with which I have the fewest philosophical disagreements and it teaches positive values of nonattachment and compassion. However, on television, a man dressed as a Buddhist monk said that it was not murder to kill Communists. He explained that Communism is not a living thing so it is not possible to kill it.

O Jerusalem!

OK. Today we imagine the destruction of a place that had been a centre of religious life. We have two examples from Poul Anderson and one each from James Blish and SM Stirling.

(i) "Where the Shrine had been, the road, the onsars, her companions: snow filled the vale, nearly as high as she was. A mist of crystals swallowed vision within fifty meters..."
-Poul Anderson, A Stone In Heaven, I, p. 11, IN Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (Riverdale, NY, 2012).

"'Avalanche. Wiped out Yewwl's whole family...and, oh, God, the Shrine, the heart of her clan's history - like wiping out Jerusalem -'" (p. 13)

(ii) "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem!"
-Poul Anderson, After Doomsday (Frogmore, St Albans, Herts, 1975), Chapter Seven, p. 77.

I misquoted this passage here.

(iii) In James Blish's The Day After Judgement, Rome has been nuked in World War III, which was part of Armageddon, so the Cardinals meet in Venice to elect a demon Pope.

(iv) Pilgrims to Mecca after the Change find "...nothing left in the Holy City except dry gnawed bones."
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eighteen, p. 559.

Thus:

a Ramnuan Shrine;
Jerusalem, and indeed Earth;
Rome;
Mecca.

As HG Wells proved in The War Of The Worlds, sf authors sure know how to wreck places - but, if we imagine destruction, then maybe we can prevent it.

Karel Capek

We have mentioned Karel Capek who bears comparison with Poul Anderson. Capek invented the science fictional concept of robots and incorporated God into sf. In Capek's The Absolute At Large, since God is omnipresent in matter, when matter is 100% converted into energy, pure divinity is released so that people standing nearby prophesy, work miracles, speak in tongues, have visions and mystical experiences etc. Anderson wrote a couple of robot stories and also addressed theological themes.

What I call the four Wellsian themes (see here) include alien invasion. Is there a sub-sub-genre in which the "aliens" are Terrestrial in origin? - e.g.:

The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham;
War With The Newts by Capek.

I also thought of Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes because its aliens come from the sea but googling reveals that they had first come from space. See here.

I have just bought War With The Newts, previously unread, and it might generate further comparisons with Anderson who, of course, addressed alien invasion at least twice.

Norse Cosmology

Having recently surveyed Norse cosmology (see here and also here) because of its importance to Poul Anderson's fantasies, I have concluded that this cosmology would have been a suitable setting for a series of novels by Anderson.

If, in the beginning, there was only a vacuum cold in the north and hot in the south, then where was the primeval cow born and where did the Tree grow from? The Tree, once grown, plays the role of the Absolute although it whithers and dies in Wagner's version. The Nine Worlds resemble the (former) nine planets and, in a different version of the story, we might imagine spacecraft flying between them.

Are dark elves and dwarfs the same or different? Is Hel part of Niflheim or separate? What happens in the new universe after the Ragnarok? There are more questions than answers.

Nithing-Staff

"'I will raise a nithing-staff and curse whoever did this, but I need a sword to do the work.'"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eighteen, p. 557.

Questions
What is a nithing-staff? See here.
Surely cursing is a misuse of mental energy?
Does the Law of Threefold Return not apply?
If a sword is necessary for vengeance, then was the curse itself not effective?

Major Turning Points In My Teens

Learning that:

Dominic Flandry was a series character;
the Merseians existed in van Rijn's period;
the Buddha was not a strange god but a compassionate man;
the Norse gods will die;
the founding of Rome connected back to the siege of Troy;
astronauts, robots and aliens existed not only in comic strips but also in novels addressed to adults;
Heinlein's Orphans Of The Sky was set inside an entirely artificial environment;
also, Orphans... was Volume V of the "Future History";
the future moves, i.e., the opening installment of the Future History was set in 1952;
space travel was beginning.

I did not yet suspect how many of these turning points would impact on the works of Poul Anderson or, of course, that, in the twenty first century - the science fictional future -, I would regularly discuss Anderson's works on a worldwide computer network.

The Nine Worlds

What are the Nine Worlds in the Tree? See here. Apparently, no list survives (see here) so it has to be reconstructed, e.g., see here.

How Do We Get Nine?
2 primordial opposites, cold and heat, Niflheim and Muspelheim;
2 kinds of gods, Aesir in Asgard, Vanir in Vanaheim;
2 kinds of elves, light and dark;
2 other kinds of beings, men in Midgard, giants in Utgard/Jotunheim;
Hel.

But Hel might be part of Niflheim. Dark elves and dwarfs may or may not be identical. One name for the world of the dark elves is Myrkheim (see here; see also Mirkheim.)

At the Ragnarok:

the giants, the dead from Hel (led by Loki), Fenris Wolf, the World Serpent and Muspel will attack Asgard;

former inhabitants of Midgard will fight on both sides (we do, don't we?);

elves will remain neutral (?);

Vanaheim will survive and some of the gods will return from it later.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Nastrond

In War Of The Gods and Operation Luna, Poul Anderson presents physical descriptions of the World Ash Tree, Yggdrasil, and of some of the Nine Worlds that are in the Tree.

Sometimes, it seems as if all literature and fiction is one long series where everything connects. Thus, the Marvel Comics Thor sends a doomsday device to Nastrond and Wikipedia informs us that Nastrond is a place in Hel which is the ninth world.

In speech balloon 1, panel 5, of the attached comic book page, Thor refers to "...the wastes of Nastrond."
-Mark Millar, The Ultimates, Vol 2, Homeland Security (New York, 2004), Chapter Thirteen, "How I Learned To Love The Hulk."

Regular blog readers might remember that, late at night, I switch from prose fiction to graphic fiction for a change of pace but then find something relevant in the graphic fiction.

This is a modernized, hippified Thor very unlike the oafish, boorish original (see combox here).

Powers

Queen Gunnhild contemplates three "powers" (see here):

the Man on the Cross;
the Man on the Gallows;
the Man with the Drum -

- Christ, Odin and a shaman. Odinism and Shamanism are old, familiar ways whereas Christianity presents a new combination of cultural and political power. Gunnhild makes an outer show of Christianity while still practising shamanism.

All three powers are present in SM Stirling's The Sword Of The Lady although, as with Gunnhild, it is women that practise shamanism, one beating the drum, the other entering a clairvoyant trance. Shamanism has the advantage that it focuses on someone who is living and altering consciousness here and now, not long ago or far away. The same claim can be made for Yoga and Zen which, of course, are beyond Gunnhild's mental horizons. I suppose that these Eastern practices could be ascribed to "the Man who Sits"?

Feast Before Seidh

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Seventeen, p. 499ff.:

potato soup;
braised red cabbage;
potatoes prepared in half a dozen ways;
moosemeat tortiere;
ale;
mead.

Since food has become a major sub-theme, here are some observations on it:

cook is an important position in a Buddhist monastery;
a few people claim to live without eating;
are they all fakers or is there a rare physical condition that would allow for this?;
it would change everything if everyone were able to do it.

Sf idea: an intelligent race able to get all the energy it needs from air and sunlight.

(i) Ythrians are canivores but also super-charge themselves by pumping oxygen into their bloodstreams. Would an improved super-charger system enable them to dispense with eating?

(ii) Kryptonian body cells store and maximally use solar energy, bestowing enhanced strength, speed, flight and visual powers and making eating an enjoyable extra, not a necessity. Is this feasible?

Magic Swords II

See Magic Swords. (Also here and here.)

In SM Stirling's The Sword Of The Lady, Chapter Seventeen, p. 523, Father Ignatius mentions Arthur's Excalibur and Roland's Durendal and Harberga mentions cursed Tyrfing. She is glad that the Sword sought by Rudi Mackenzie is not Tyrfing but what is it? How can mere possession of a particular sword make such a difference? The characters accept that this is the case because of a vision but I don't have visions! (My thought processes are verbal, not visual.)

While questing for the Sword, Rudi skirmishes with and weakens his enemies and also forges mighty alliances in every territory across the breadth of the former United States and the future Montival. Is this the significance of the Sword? It is at least part of it.

Poul Anderson never told us what became of Tyrfing.

Seidh II

"There was a man called Orm the Strong..."
-Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword (London, 1977), I, p. 15.

"There was a man named Orm the Strong..."
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Seventeen, p. 501.

A heroic fantasy novel on Earth Real becomes a chanted ancestral epic in the Emberverse. There are two versions of the text. I have a copy of the revised text whereas the Emberversers remember the original words.

Impressive Seidh (clairvoyance):

the repetition of  "'...Would you know more?'" (Stirling, p. 511) is from Voluspa;

"'The sword he seeks is more potent than Tyrfing...'" (p. 514) (see also here and here);

Mathilda intends to attend but not participate but instead questions Odin who manifests through the medium;

when, later, the enemy of mankind is identified as Loki (p. 521), this name is used because it fits with the local mythology.

Do Wiccans go to the Summerland and Asatruar to Valhalla? I am all for a "many mansions" approach to the hereafter.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Logos

We want to know more about Axor's quest. See here and here. I pose several questions, one being how can Axor differentiate between evidence for an Incarnation and evidence for belief in an Incarnation.

SM Stirling's Father Ignatius can compare only human traditions but these differ at least as much as any imagined alien world views. Ignatius thinks that the Buddha and Plato were holy men but without "'...the fullness of the Divine Logos to guide them!'" (The Sword Of The Lady, Chapter Sixteen, p. 487)

Why did they not have the fullness? The Logos/reality/source of enlightenment is within everyone. The Word is the light that enlightens everyone (see here) and the Buddha is the Enlightened One. I find his spiritual teaching more helpful than anyone else's.

Seidh

"'We always have a seidh session at Yule - it's a good time for divination...'"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Sixteen, p. 482.

The kind of Scandinavian magic called seid was regarded as unwholesome in Poul Anderson's Mother Of Kings (see here) but is respectable in the Norrheim of Stirling's Emberverse and maybe the divinations will shed some light on what is going down with all these suddenly active gods?

Gods Lost And Found

Poul Anderson
The Golden Slave: originals of Odin and Thor;
heroic fantasies: Odin and other gods;
"The Sorrow of Odin the Goth": a Time Patrolman mistaken for Odin and incorporated into the myths.

SM Stirling
The Draka History: an unsuccessful attempt to revive the Norse pantheon;
the Emberverse: a successful attempt, in more ways than one.

Marvel Comics
The Aesir are real and Thor joins the superheroes.

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman
The gods are dreamed and leave the Dreaming for a while.

Lancaster
A guy I know has a degree in Physics and a Masters in Western Esotericism and is a "hard poly(theist)," believing that the gods exist although not exactly as described in the Eddas. I am a philosophical/literary "soft poly," believing that gods are imagined but also that imagination is essential to humanity.

Addendum: In The Last Days Of The Justice Society by Roy Thomas, Hitler in the Bunker uses the Spear of Destiny to conjure Ragnarok but the members of the Justice Society merge with the Aesir, combine their superpowers with divine powers and thus transform the Ragnarok from a Divine Doom into a cyclical battle like the ones in Valhalla.

"...the Change made all the old stories real."

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Sixteen, p. 471.

In Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, all the deities coexist, including Odin and the White Christ, whereas, in SM Stirling's Emberverse, the deities have come into existence? Or something. I think. I don't know yet. Thus:

Rudi Mackenzie meets Odin and Father Bear in dreams;
Father Ignatius meets Mary in a waking vision;
we see someone else enter the Summerland;
a godwoman senses the Wild Hunt overhead.

It is comprehensible that, after the Change, several small groups took the opportunity to reorganize life on the bases of Wicca, Asatru, Tolkien etc but something else is happening as well. The old stories are becoming real.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

"Watch Out!"

There is probably no connection whatsoever between these passages.

When a bear attacks Rudi Mackenzie and his companions, both Rudi and Edain shout:

"'Watch out!'"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Fifteen, p. 436.

After a Terran spaceship has been hit in the attack on Avalon, Lieutenant Rochefort croaks:

"Watch Out!...Watch Out, are you there?'"
-Poul Anderson, The People Of The Wind, VIII, p. 536 IN Anderon, Rise Of The Terran Empire (Riverdale, NY, 2011).

"Watch Out" is the nickname of the Cynthian, Wa Chaou - who is dead.

Probably no connection although reading one work reminds us of the other.

Soulless?

(I disagree with CS Lewis but here he is again. His works of fiction and non-fiction assume but never set out to prove the questionable notion of survival after death. The Biblical idea of the resurrection of the body contradicts the Greek and Indian ideas of the immortality of the soul.)

Souls exist in many, though not all, religious belief systems and therefore also in works of fantasy that assume the reality of ghosts or a hereafter. How many works by Poul Anderson?

SM Stirling's Church Universal and Triumphant perverts Eastern religions by teaching that some human beings are soulless and can lawfully be killed. Either every person has or is a soul or none have.

Do I believe that people are souls? No. Do I believe that people are "soulless"? No. The adjective is metaphorical, not metaphysical, and implies the Nazi concept of a life without value.

Recurrent Villains

(A classic "hero and villain stalking each other" illustration. Look at Flandry's face.)

As a rule, recurring villains are never killed, because they are recurring characters, and never reformed, because they must return as villains. There are exceptions.

In Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series, when Aycharaych's motivation to work for Merseia, therefore against Terra, had been removed, he might have reformed but unfortunately he never returned. Also, he would have had to overcome his aesthetic pleasure in the manipulation of intelligent beings and the fomentation of strife.

IIRC, SM Stirling's Rudi Mackenzie spared his antagonist, Graber. Will anything come of this? Might Father Ignatius be able to exorcise whatever it is that possesses leading Cutters? I have a poor track record for anticipating authors but I wonder whether anything might come of this line of enquiry. In another timeline, I imagine that Stirling's Count Ignatieff was irredeemable.

Winter Meal

Last night was another Women's Blues Night at 44, Blades St, Lancaster (see here), so, although I sat in another room and later went out to Nygel's disco, I got some potato salad, egg mayonnaise and French bread.

I expect that shortly we will walk to Morecambe by Lancaster Canal for a brass band concert so let me briefly summarize another meal from SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Fourteen, p. 419:

glazed ham;
shepherd's pie;
glistening panfried potatoes;
vegetables;
loaves and butter;
blueberry pie with whipped cream -

- appreciated by guests who had never before this visit tasted baked goods, sweeteners other than wild honey or dairy products. Some have difficulty adjusting to this new diet. Even more importantly, they are indoors while outside there is snow that would have killed many of their children.

Heroes Change II

Heroes are of their times - Richard Hannay is not James Bond - except those that time travel. But even they carry their values with them and can experience extreme culture shock on arrival in another era, the first example being Wells' Time Traveller. Indeed, the time traveller in Poul Anderson's "Welcome" has exactly the same shock, the discovery of cannibalism in the future.

When Time Patrolman Carl Farness says that he grew up in a period of sexual freedom, a colleague based in a later century comments that fashions change. Manse Everard's "people," the Patrol, do not forbid a visit to the Temple of Asherat. Patrol medicine protects him from the infections of the ages. But Everard was a twentieth century post-Christian before joining the Patrol whereas other recruits would bring different sexual moralities with them. Everard's recruiter says that he has no interest in Everard's opinions except as reflections of his basic emotional orientation. The Patrol would be unable to accept anyone who was going to freak out at the revelation that his ideas and values existed alongside innumerable alternative world views up and down the ages.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Heroes Change

When Miriam Abrams Flandry returns to Terra in a luxury space liner, she could have sex with other passengers but:

"She'd rather wait for Dominic. The fact that he had probably not been waiting for her, in that sense, made no difference."
-Poul Anderson, The Game Of Empire, Chapter Twelve, p. 317 IN Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012).

Earlier in the Technic History, David Falkayn spent time with many women but eventually settled down with Coya.

The kind of hero that I used to read about met and married a heroine and remained married to her for the rest of the series: Tarzan/Jane; John Carter/Dejah Thoris. Dornford Yates' characters, reflecting the realities of their author's life, experienced a few bereavements or divorces between novels. Then James Bond had a different heroine in every novel - and also an odd attitude to women.

SM Stirling's Rudi Mackenzie is Wiccan but instantly becomes monogamously faithful to his Christian fiancee, not sharing but respecting her sexual morality. 

Human beings are not naturally monogamous. We do not all:

reach marriageable age;
instantly pair off with a life-long partner of the opposite sex;
never feel attracted to anyone else.

Anderson imagined a race that was like this. See here.

In human history, patriarchal monogamy was about identifying legitimate male heirs to inherit property and therefore was not, in my opinion, "...an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency..." (see here)

Behind The Scenes of History

Let us differentiate between four kinds of texts with overlapping contents:

news media reporting current affairs;

analyses of global economic and political power structures;

conspiracist claims that a single secret clique completely controls everything from the Presidency and the Papacy to Planned Parenthood;

works of fiction that fantastically reflect reality by creatively adapting conspiracist ideas.

In how many works by Poul Anderson do aliens or time travellers secretly manipulate society for their own ends?

There are at least three groups of aliens;

Wardens and Rangers wage their war through time;

how often does the Time Patrol not only guard but guide and even cause events in its timeline?

For comparison, in Marvel Comics The Ultimates Volume 2, Nick Fury briefs the members of his US Superhuman Defense Initiative that:

there are at least eleven alien species on Earth;
the Chitauri arrived in 1777 and have been responsible for several acts of genocide, including World War II;
eleven feet tall and reptilian, they can assume human form;
they caused Naziism and the rise of Hitler;
their Japanese training camps were destroyed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki;
they were believed annihilated on Earth but a fresh corpse was found in a river near Calcutta and there have been more sightings since;
in New York, five hundred and twenty eight sleeper agents organized mind-control drugs in the water supply and infiltration of the national media;
they are planning global annihilation from a base in Micronesia.

None of this is true but:

the world really is this dangerous;
the fantastic fiction has some elements of plausibility - the Chitauri have not been here forever, do not control everything and can be pushed back.

Routes Through The Blogs

Three posts comprise links to a lot of other posts. They are:

Literary Comparisons;
Great Cities;
The Food Thread.

Thus, I hope that any interested readers will be able to find non-linear routes through this and other blogs. There is also a circular sequence of links that can be entered here although I would have to rediscover the precise sequence by trial and error.

The authors listed in "Literary Comparisons" wrote prose fiction, drama, poetry or graphic fiction.

The cities include the mythical Ys, the Biblical Tyre, the present day Birmingham, the future Archopolis, the alien Ardaig, the small market town historically classified as the City of Lancaster and three versions of York (historical, alternative and "AI emulated").

Another route through the blog is to search, e.g., for Martians, immortality, humour/humor or unemployment. So I trust that readers will be able to find informative or interesting lines of thought during periods when less new posts are being published?

Friday, 23 June 2017

Indian Summer II

Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry does two things with Indian summer and autumn;

describes them beautifully;
uses them as an appropriate metaphor for stages in the decline of Technic civilization.

For both, see here.

SM Stirling's Mathilda Arminger experiences an Indian Summer:

"Indian Summer here in the Kickapoo Valley had a dishevelled beauty not quite like anything back home, full of a sadness that was like a recollection of childhood..."
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Thirteen, p. 375.

We are told that she does not recollect her actual childhood:

"...but somehow the world itself embodying the feeling the memory brought. The security she'd felt at [her father's] effortless strength, the bitterness not just of loss, but loss of that child's innocent trust." (ibid.)

Innocence lost is the pervading theme of Anderson's Time Patrol series. See here.

Stirling goes on to describe the Indian Summer:

"The leaves were still a mantle of old birch gold and maple crimson, lit at their tops with the last light..." (ibid.)

An Old Friend

A familiar line of poetry is like an old friend:

"Thy captains chase the morning down the sea!"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Thirteen, p. 373.

For previous discussion of this line, see here.
For further discussion of its author, see here.

And, since I am about to make a morning trip to a sea coast, that's all, folks!

Feast

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Twelve.

It has become a habit to summarize Mr Stirling's descriptions of food although I am thinking that I might take a break from it. It might become:

"A custom more honoured in the breach than the observance..." (see here)

However, here is a feast indeed:

onion, cheese and beer soup, cooked to a family recipe;
bratwurst simmered in beer broth with onions, then grilled, served with buttered crusty rolls, sauerkraut and sauteed onions;
honey-glazed chicken breasts;
steaks with garlic;
pork cops;
racks of ribs;
skewers of venison, lamb and onions;
potatoes with bacon, topped with grated cheese;
beer;
cider;
applejack;
cherry brandy;
peach brandy;
whiskey;
vodka;
pumpkin, apple, peach, cherry or rhubarb pies with thick whipped cream sweetened with maple sugar or honey.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Philosophy II

Poul Anderson's Ivar Frederiksen reflects that it is bleak to believe only in accident. I quote and reply here.

SM Stirling's Sandra Arminger reflects:

"'There are times when it's inconvenient to be an atheist...I simply don't have anyone to be thankful to. My eternal gratitude, O blind and ontologically empty dance of atoms just isn't very satisfying, somehow.'"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eleven, p. 319.

I completely disagree. Who says that the only alternatives are theism and an empty dance of atoms? That is theist propaganda. "Dancing atoms" are mechanical materialism, not dynamic materialism. The ultimate reality, philosophically called "matter" or "being" because it is independent of consciousness, is energy which takes every form, including the forms both of atoms and of conscious beings.

Blindness is a defect in sighted organisms but not in being as such. In any case, being becomes conscious in animals and human beings. "Ontology" means "knowledge of being" and atoms are one form of being, thus are not "empty" of being. The Buddhist ontological category of "emptiness" means not that nothing exists but that every subject and object of consciouness is a transient interaction, not a permanent substance.

I am "atheist" towards monotheism and agnostic but sceptical towards polytheism and I feel gratitude towards:

being, which takes every form and knows itself through us;
whatever gods may be;
the ancestors without whom we would have nothing.

Literary Geography II

I am reminded of Literary Geography because:

Ian Fleming stated that SMERSH HQ was in 13, Stretenka Ulitsa, Moscow, so a reader sent him a photograph of the building to show that it wasn't;

 much of North America is "Montival";

Nicholas van Rijn has a penthouse in Chicago Integrate (see here), a mansion on Kilimanjaro (see here) and an office in Djakarta (see here);

Terran Admiralty Center is in the Rockies (see here) but we are not told where the capital, Archopolis (see here), is.

I suppose that future and alternative geographies differ from allegedly real geographies. Fleming claimed in an Author's Note that his information was accurate. But, in terms of literary geography, SMERSH HQ is exactly where Ian Fleming says it is.

The Hardest Thing

SM Stirling The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eleven, p. 315.

The Lady Regent Sandra Arminger tells everyone, including her confidential secretary, to leave her, then reflects:

"Sometimes that's the hardest thing to take...Never really being alone anymore. They're always there, listening, watching, may their dear loyal souls fry." (p. 315)

Time Patrolman Keith Denison/Cyrus the Great tells his colleague, Manse Everard:

"'Sometimes I've thought that's the hardest thing to take about this situation, never having a minute to myself. The best I can do is throw everybody out of the room I'm in; but they stick around just beyond the door, under the windows, guarding, listening. I hope their dear loyal souls fry.'" (Time Patrol, p. 81)

The Time Patrol remains an endless source of quotations and comparisons.

Small Solutions To Big Problems

Turning to graphic fiction for a change from prose, I read:

"...downsizing conventional numbers and reinvesting in a small, Superhuman Unit for Twenty-First Century problems."
-Mark Millar, The Ultimates, Vol 1, Super-Human (New York, 2005), Chapter Two, Big, p. 7, panel 2.

This speech balloon describes a superhero team but also recalls two of Poul Anderson's time travel organizations. See:

An Army Of One;
Team Work And Individual Excellence.

A Time Patrol Academy graduate armed with weapons from uptime would be equal to Tony Stark who is the superhuman Iron Man only when wearing his suit. Both can replace a battalion.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Will There Be War?

Will the future be like the past, an endless succession of wars and transient civilizations? Not necessarily. Most of the past was not like that. Civilization is a recent invention. A civilization with advanced technolgy but still unresolved internal conflicts can be expected to destroy itself, not to endure through further millennia.

Many of Poul Anderson's works project future wars. However, in different timelines, the Time Wardens Period and the Star Masters period seem to have resolved social conflicts and to have ended wars.

High-tech low-population futures are shown in Midsummer Century by James Blish and in October The First Is Too Late by Fred Hoyle. However:

the Birds attack Blish's Rebirth IV civilization;
Hoyle's future society remains peaceful by staying small and avoiding scientific or technological advances - in other words, they give up.

Filling The Universe

Should human beings spread to fill the universe and try to survive beyond the end of it?

Poul Anderson's characters of whom he approves try to explore and colonize as far as possible and his artificial intelligences have plans to survive the universe. See here. Asimov has a story in which entropy is eventually reversed. See here.

CS Lewis' evil scientist, Weston, wants mankind's descendants to spread throughout the universe but he has no answer for what to do when the last star dies. In Fred Hoyle's October The First Is Too Late, a man living six thousand years in our future argues that stars and galaxies will die and that material continuity is impossible. Hoyle seems to have abandoned his theory of the steady state universe.

Having reread October... to the end, I find that I do not understand everything that happens in it but will leave that discussion to anyone else who wants to read the novel. It is certainly worthy of thought and discussion.

The narrator of October... compares human beings disturbed by the intervention of a higher intelligence to ants disturbed by a man lifting a stone. The same comparison is made in Wells' The War Of The Worlds. Hoyle's future humanity covers a quarter of the Terrestrial land surface, an issue that we discussed here.

I think that that completes current thoughts on this novel by Fred Hoyle. It has been a fascinating digression.

Wellsian Themes

I identify four Wellsian themes as:

space travel;
time travel;
alien invasion;
future society or, more specifically, future history.

We have on this and other blogs considered contributions to these themes by:

Olaf Stapledon;
CS Lewis;
James Blish;
Poul Anderson;
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle -

- and I do not think that it is necessary to enumerate these contributions yet again. Anderson, of course, makes massive contributions to three of these themes (Tau Zero for space travel!) and an original contribution to alien invasion. The present post is occasioned by my realization that Fred Hoyle also contributes to all four -

alien invasion: The Black Cloud and Rockets In Ursa Major;
space travel: Into Deepest Space;
time travel of a sort and a future history summarized: October The First Is Too Late.

Hail Hoyle!

Gods And The Future

(Apollo.)

Themes of this blog include:

gods;
future histories;
Poul Anderson's treatments of such themes;
comparisons of Anderson's with others' treatments.

In classical Greece:

"The gods represented a quintessence of human emotions and abilities."
-Fred Hoyle, October The First Is Too Late (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1974), Chapter 12, p. 127.

Thus, to sacrifice yourself to Dionysus and to act wildly and spontaneously are much the same thing.

Hoyle's narrator and his friend are shown a silent film summarizing six thousand years of history at an average rate of a century for every four minutes:

Africa and Asia become affluent;
a homogeneous civilization spreads quickly over the Earth;
cities spread and join;
they cover a quarter of the Terrestrial surface;
all other animal species become extinct;
people live in standardized small dwellings;
technology advances at the expense of freedom;
there is anger in the ant heap;
no one travels except on official business;
food, amusement and work are provided locally;
work is undemanding;
food is factory-produced and of poor quality;
the apparently homogeneous civilization splits in two;
there are bombs, rockets and fire;
movement, transport, food distribution and social organization cease;
a few small population centres survive;
centres expand;
technology improves;
a new language is spoken;
many books and other relics are recovered;
centres overlap and argue;
there is a war followed by global coherence;
life degenerates as before;
there is a second catastrophe and a second reconstruction;
each such cycle occupies just under a thousand years;
at last, after a catastrophe, just two centres survive;
they grow to a modest size, then stop for nearly a thousand years;
after so many catastrophes, the population is less heterogeneous;
people are restrained and reasonable, having learnt from the past;
there is friendly rivalry between the two centres;
both groups grow;
for a long time, they control the growth;
suddenly, it becomes uncontrolled;
rivalry becomes hostility;
in the next re-expansion, there are three groups;
when they reach a million each, they negotiate, merge and occupy a small area;
over a thousand years, there is little change;
they believe that they have reached genuine stability.

A more extreme version of Anderson's rise and fall of civilizations.

Jason And Odysseus

See Odysseus here.

"Jason and the Argonaut might have glided by."
-Fred Hoyle, October The First Is Too Late (Harmondsworth, Middlesex), Chapter 10, p. 102.

A ship is traveling from Britain 1966 to classical Greece. Just as Poul Anderson's Time Patrolman Manse Everard might have seen the ship of Odysseus and Everard met Hiram of Tyre, Hoyle's characters might have seen the Argonaut and Hoyle's narrator will meet Socrates.

Time And Consciousness

The relativistic view of time as a fourth dimension and of particles or objects as world lines is accepted in:

The Time Machine by HG Wells;
the Time Patrol series by Poul Anderson;
The Corridors Of Time by Poul Anderson;
October The First Is Too Late by Fred Hoyle;
The Quincunx Of Time by James Blish.

However, Wells contradicts this premise when his Time Machine is said not to extend but to move and even to accelerate along Time.

Wells and Blish refer to immaterial consciousnesses moving along Time whereas Hoyle compares each three dimensional state of the universe to a numbered pigeon hole containing written information about what is in pigeon holes with lower numbers and then postulates consciousness successively illuminating the contents of the pigeon holes. Surely it is sufficient to say that there is consciousness in some moments though not in others? Thus, some pigeon holes are lit by a small internal candle or bulb whereas others are not? No sequence of lightings of pigeon holes is necessary and indeed such a sequence would introduce a second temporal dimension although Hoyle denies this.

Of these four authors, Anderson alone avoids this particular set of conceptual difficulties.

Addendum: I could also have listed -

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut;
Jerusalem by Alan Moore.

Neither would have directly affected the point at issue but what names to conjure with!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Two Themes In Wells, Stapledon, Lewis, Hoyle And Anderson

The previous post referred to one work each by Wells and Hoyle, two by Anderson and several by Stirling. Because of the reference to Hoyle's October The First Is Too Late, I have started to reread it. Hoyle makes the point that an sf alien should be something other than a human brain in a reptile body or even a humanoid body. Perhaps Anderson's Merseians or Ythrians measure up to Hoyle's criteria?

Alien Invasion
Wells and Stapledon: Martians invade Earth;
Stapledon: Earthmen invade Venus and Neptune;
Lewis: a demonically possessed scientist from Earth mounts a moral attack on the sinless Venus;
Hoyle: an intelligent gas cloud enters the Solar System;
Anderson: Martians conquer Earth but are controlled by extra-solars;
Anderson: militarily superior extra-solars conquer Earth economically.

Time 
Wells: The Time Machine;
Stapledon: mental time travel;
Lewis: an argument that physical time travel is impossible;
Hoyle: serious discussions of the significance of time and the meaning of consciousness;
Anderson: the Time Patrol etc.

Thus, a powerful tradition of serious speculative fiction.

Mountain Valley And October First

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009).

Rudi explains Montival as "Mountain Valley" on p. 267 of Chapter Ten.

A few significant phrases have appeared in the text:

"game of thrones" (obvious);
"Chaos and Old Night..." (Milton);
"Principalities and powers..." (St Paul);
"'October first...'" (p. 286)

Why do I regard that date as significant? Maybe it isn't. I read the remainder of the page carefully but found no reference to lateness. See here.

In some sf, a superior technology intervenes and human beings must respond to events or circumstances beyond their understanding or control:

in Poul Anderson's The Avatar, an older civilization has distributed T-machines throughout the universe;

in SM Stirling's Lords of Creation books, a superior technology has terraformed Venus and Mars;

in Stirling's Nantucket-Emberverse series, some mysterious malevolent entities have caused the Event and the Change;

in Fred Hoyle's October The First Is Too Late, someone has generated a composite Earth with Greece in Socrates' period, France in World War I, Britain and Hawaii in 1966, the US apparently pre-1750 but really in the post-catastrophe fourth millennium, Mexico about 6966, Russia still uncivilized, China after the Sun has melted and fused the Terrestrial surface etc.

And sometimes it is natural events without any interventions by intelligent beings that change humanity or its circumstances, e.g.:

In The Days Of The Comet by HG Wells;
Brain Wave by Poul Anderson; 
The Peshawar Lancers by SM Stirling.

Force And Legitimacy

Swords suggest heroism but also mere force. Fictional heroes can be parodied as thugs.

Statements about swords:

"He who lives by the sword dies by the sword";
"I come not to bring not peace but a sword";
"The pen is mightier than the sword."

Governments need to combine force with legitimacy. For a discussion of Poul Anderson's views on political legitimacy, see here. For the similar views of an SM Stirling character, see The Sword Of The Lady, Chapter Ten, p. 262.

The hero of Anderson's After Doomsday becomes captain by leading a mutiny but then gains legitimacy by strong leadership at a time when the government that had authorized the mission no longer existed so that a new start had become necessary. 

The Sword

SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009).

What is the Sword?
Why should Rudi try to get it?
Why do his enemies try to prevent him from getting it?

Two beneficial consequences of the Quest:

en route, Rudi makes new friends and allies;
the Sword, if acquired, might be a potent symbol to unite the new kingdom that must be built.

But there must be more to it than that. Why was there a vision of the Sword? What do the Cutters know about it that makes them want to kill Rudi?

"'You-cannot-stand-against-us-without-It.'" (Chapter Nine, p. 240)

That sounds serious. We have contemplated Magic Swords before and this is clearly another.

Alternative Scenarios

SM Stirling, The Sword of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Nine, pp. 243-244.

Mathilda, Rudi and Father Ignatius fight soldiers of the Church Universal and Triumphant. Rudi invokes the Morrigu and the shadow of a great scythe seems to move with his sword. Ignatius invokes four angels and behind him are vast wings, wheels or eyes, a blue-mantled figure touching his forehead and sword and a shining radiance. Mathilda also sees something inside the Cutter...

I know of at least three scenarios that can encompass all of these phenomena:

a Christian world view in which the gods exist but as demons;
a pagan world view in which the Biblical figures are one of many coexistent pantheons;
an sf scenario where high tech beings are able to masquerade as mythological figures, as happens near the end of Poul Anderson's The Avatar (see here).

A variation on the pagan world view is Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, where the gods are dreamed, then exist outside the Dreaming for as long as they are believed in and worshipped. See here. I confidently expect SM Stirling to have devised an ingenious explanation that may or may not connect with any of these scenarios.

Demons II

See Demons.

As we proceed, Stirling's entity goes further, claiming:

"'We-are-abroad-and-loose-and-will-not-be-put-back...'" (Chapter Nine, p. 240)

Who and what are they? What do they want? The suspense has reached a crescendo. Are we reading sf or fantasy or has this series transcended that distinction? CS Lewis' eldila are both extraterrestrial and supernatural. That shook me when I read it.

Behind their assailants, Mary and Ritva glimpse:

"...something moved, planes of shining jet that receded into infinity, as if constructs greater than worlds squeezed down to interact with the tiny space of the planet, of this rooftop in one place and time." (Chapter Eight, p. 214)

That also recalls enormous eldila visiting Ransom on Earth. This is something cosmic and multidimensional.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Goddess Of Mercy

In Buddhism, mythological beings called Bodhisattvas personify wisdom and compassion. When Buddhism moved to China, a masculine Bodhisattva of compassion was transformed into the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin. Tonight, at the Zen group, we were informed about the significance of Kuan Yin who is represented by a picture on a scroll hanging behind the altar. I was reminded of Poul Anderson's account of the goddess, Nehalennia:

"Hers are the well-being of mortals and peace among them." (See here.)

- as well as the prayer that he wrote to the Virgin Mary. (See here.)

It is unusual to be reminded of a work of science fiction when receiving instruction in spiritual practice.

Demons

"WE WILL DO WITHOUT THE ANTICHRIST. HE WAS NEVER NECESSARY. MEN HAVE ALWAYS LED THEMSELVES UNTO ME...I WILL EDUCATE YOU. ETERNALLY, FOR A BEGINNING."
-James Blish, Black Easter, 17, IN Blish, After Such Knowledge (London, 1991), p. 423.

"'You-are-mine. Eternally. For-a-beginning...We have no need to buy men's souls. You give yourselves to us.'"
-SM Stirling, The Sword Of The Lady (New York, 2009), Chapter Eight, pp. 210-211.

Blish's speaker is a demon. Stirling's seems to think he is. He, or It, is certainly some kind of entity possessing a human being. Both Blish and Stirling use typographic devices and there is also some parallel phraseology.

Blish's premise is that demons are real. Stirling's is that some power has intervened on Earth. It should be regarded as demonic for practical purposes at least until more is learnt. Will an exorcism work? (It doesn't in Black Easter because there the demons are winning Armageddon.)

Addendum -

Blish's demon: "WE ARE ABROAD AND LOOSE, AND WILL NOT BE PUT BACK." (p. 424)

Stirling's entity: "'Soon. We-will-be-abroad-and-loose.'" (p. 215)