Saturday, 5 August 2017

A Four-Stage Conceptual Sequence

(i) In The Time Machine by HG Wells, the Psychologist suggests that a time travelling historian would be able to verify the accepted account of the Battle of Hastings but the Medical Man points out that such an extratemporal observer would attract attention and that our ancestors were intolerant of anachronism.

(ii) In Bring The Jubilee by Ward Moore, a time travelling historian trying to verify the accepted account of the Battle of Gettysburg does attract attention, thereby unintentionally changing the course and outcome of the battle.

(iii) In "Delenda Est" by Poul Anderson, two time travellers deliberately change the outcome of the Battle of Ticinus.

(iv) In The Shield Of Time by Poul Anderson, a random quantum fluctuation in space-time-energy changes the outcome of the Battle of Regnano.

For Ticinus and Regnano, see Battlefields.

Observations
Four historical battles: sf is not just about the future.
These four works could almost have been written in sequence. Sf writers tackle every aspect of a question.
The sequence begins with Wells, involves one other author and culminates in two works by Anderson.
The two works by Anderson are two instalments of his Time Patrol series.

11 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I'm not sure I understand what Wells Medical Man said about our ancestors at the time of the Battle of Hastings being "intolerant" of anachronism. I would have thought "bewilderment" or being "baffled" is more likely. Did anybody even THINK of the concept of time traveling before the 19th century?

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
It is odd. Normans and Saxons would certainly not have thought of time travel.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I agree! Most people would have had far more urgently IMMEDIATE things on their minds. Perhaps some theologians and philosophers might have had the leisure and ability to try grappling with the idea at that time.

Sean

David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
I suspect what the Medical Man meant was that the Saxons or Normans, whichever saw the interloper first, would've thought, "Not one of ours. Must be the enemy. Kill!" And if a time traveler displayed advanced technology, the "intolerant of anachronism" reaction would be, "Burn the witch!"
"And what do you burn, apart from witches?"
"MORE witches!"

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

Sadly, your suggestion makes sense! People were so much more TRIBALISTIC in those days than in ours. More to the point, in the anxious days leading to the Battle of Hastings, Saxons and Normans alike would be in little mood for making DISTINCTIONS. Anyone plainly not one of their own would very likely have come to a miserable end.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Saxons and Normans were pretty well instantly recognizable to each other; they had nationally distinctive styles of hair-cuts and facial hair, and differences in clothing too.

BTW, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of the time never refers to the combatants in 1066 as anything but "the English" and "the French".(*)

If you didn't look like either, you'd be regarded with suspicion but not necessarily instant hostility, particularly if you didn't look like a member of any other group they knew and disliked, like the Irish or Welsh or Danes or Norse.

People would be nervous near an enemy in the middle of a war, of course.

(*) they'd be speaking Old English and Old French, respectively; neither would be intelligible to a modern English or French speaker, though the French would be closer.

S.M. Stirling said...

Nb: the English in 1066 referred to themselves as "the English" (Englisc) and their language as "English" (Englisc tunge). They knew that their ancestors had been divided into Angles, Saxons and Jutes, but even by Alfred the Great's time that was rarely mentioned except when talking about history or regionalism.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

You made interesting points, the one most relevant here being that a time traveler in the England of 1066 would not necessarily be immediately scragged by either the English or Norman French conquerors. As long as the time traveler was discreet and did not arouse strong suspicions by either party.

Yes, I knew the "English" of that time was so different from our English that most today would not understand it. And the same, of course, for the French of that period.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Old English was on the verge of a period of very rapid transformation in 1066, even leaving aside the massive influence of French post-Conquest; it's an extremely interesting period. One point of uncertainty is how much the spoken tongue had already diverged from the formal written one.

Written Old English (the written vernacular was more widely used in England than in most of Europe) was based on the Winchester dialect, the court language of the Wessex kings.

As it happens, that was an extremely linguistically conservative area for some reason -- among other things, it was much less influenced by Old Norse than the innovative east-Midland dialects which became the foundation of modern standard English in the late medieval period.

There are a -lot- of Old Norse loanwords in modern English (nearly a thousand, and in the frequently used core vocabulary) and the widespread bilingualism in Old Norse and Old English in much of England probably helped along the process of grammatical simplification.

The two languages were similar enough to be mutually comprehensible on a very basic level -- bargaining over a horse or something like that. But much of the difference between them was in things like inflections and how nouns were declined, so leaving that off would increase mutual comprehension.

Note that written Old English is totally incomprehensible to a literate speaker of modern English without special instruction; you can recognize a word here and there, but basically you have to learn it like a foreign language. Its syntax and sound system are more like Icelandic than they are the modern language.

But Chaucer's mid-14th century Middle English is more or less comprehensible in written form, and you could probably learn to understand and speak it in a couple of months of total immersion. The grammar is about 3/4 of the way towards the modern form, and the main differences are a series of systematic sound-shifts (the "great vowel shift" being the most prominent) which took place immediately thereafter.

S.M. Stirling said...

So English has changed much less between say 1600 and 2000 than it did between 1100 and 1500. Linguistic change is constant, but the rate of change is extremely variable.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

I agree with your interesting comments about Old and Modern Current English. But, it's my view that the changes in the language seen, for example, by comparing Shakespeare's plays with works in our current language shows real changes. So much so that I think Shakespeare will need to be TRANSLATED into whatever English becomes in one or two more centuries.

Sean