Thursday, 19 October 2017

Carpe Diem?

Simon Hollister, a secret-service Un-man, spying on Venus, marries there. He thinks:

"Carpe diem. If he ever pulled out of this mess, he'd just have to pull her out with him..."
-Poul Anderson, "The Big Rain" IN Anderson, The Psychotechnic League (New York, 1981), pp. 201-280 AT p. 236.

These two statements are at variance. "Carpe diem" means "seize the day" whereas "...pull her out with him..." implies a longer term commitment to another person. While I approve of this latter attitude, it is not that of every undercover man. In Britain recently, undercover policemen infiltrated dissident groups, started relationships with women members and even had children with them. The women felt betrayed when the truth came out.

Uses Of The Bible

First read Sean's article here.

Simon Hollister asks a Venus colonial whether she believes in God and, when she says no, he replies:

"'You're wrong...Venus is your god...An Old Testament God...merciless, all-powerful, all-demanding. Get hold of a Bible if you can, and read Job and Ecclesiastes. You'll see what I mean. When is the New Testament coming...or even the prophet Micah?'"
-Poul Anderson, "The Big Rain" IN Anderson, The Psychotechnic League (New York, 1981), pp. 201-280 AT p. 232.

She replies that, after the Big Rain, Venus will be the Promised Land.

That is quite a good Biblically-informed dialogue:

the Old Testament;
divine characteristics;
Job;
Ecclesiastes;
the New Testament;
Micah, prophesying the Messiah;
the Promised Land.

I am particularly impressed with Hollister's understanding of the role of Micah.

Fabrications And Falsehoods

How to fool a "narcoquiz"?
Have false memories implanted.

How to lie to a telepath?
Use a drug that makes you believe falsehoods.

Similar answers to similar questions in Poul Anderson's first two future histories.

Anderson probably did not think of "Honorable Enemies" (1951) when writing "The Big Rain" (1954). However, they exemplify the proliferation of ideas through works of fiction.

"Honorable Enemies" has two contexts. Originally published in the pulp magazine, "FUTURE combined with SCIENCE FICTION stories," it is now republished as part of one of the seven volumes of The Technic Civilization Saga, which includes not only pulp short stories but also substantial novels about Dominic Flandry.

Although Anderson's later future histories leave the adventures of secret agents in the remote past, they nevertheless present post-organic intelligences as finding reasons to alter memories, in Genesis, or to falsify data, in The Fleet Of Stars. Conflict continues on vaster scales and in different forms.

The Golden Gate And The Summerland

SM Stirling, The Desert And The Blade (New York, 2016), Chapter One.

The Golden Gate looms again:

"...the fog-shrouded Golden Gate loomed before the Tarshish Queen's bow." (p. 5)

When dealing with people, certain basic issues recur. This time, I have formulated a mini-catecism.

Would I tell a child that she will meet her dead dog in the Summerland?

No.

Would I contradict a child's parents if I heard them telling her this?

No.

Is there a Summerland?

In the Emberverse, yes!

Can Emberversers be certain of this while still alive?

No.

So we are back where we started?

Yes.

The question of a hereafter is logically odd. An empirical question can be answered either yes or no on the basis of experience, e.g., there either will or will not be an eclipse tomorrow. If there is a hereafter, then we will know whereas, if there is not a hereafter, then we will not know so is it an empirical question?

Versions Of Venus

Robert Heinlein's Future History Volume II ends with "Logic of Empire," indentured servitude on an inhabitable swampy Venus that has yet to declare its independence from Earth, whereas Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic League Trilogy (earlier, incomplete edition) Volume I ends with "The Big Rain," political dictatorship on an uninhabitable desert Venus that has already declared its independence.

There can be a dictatorship on an uninhabitable planet because the colonists live in enclosed cities while gradually terraforming their environment. This Venus contrasts with Heinlein's version, with the (inhabitable?) oceanic Venus of Anderson's "Sister Planet," and with the also oceanic Venuses of Olaf Stapledon's future history and CS Lewis' Ransom Trilogy. (Posting over a hasty breakfast before a visit to the dentist, I hope that I can be excused from tracking down and checking the details in "Sister Planet.") There is a colonized Venus in Anderson's Time Patrol series and an incompletely terraformed Venus in his Technic History.

What are my points?

We appreciate Heinlein's Future History;
therefore, we appreciate reading something else like it, Anderson's early future histories;
however, we also appreciate Anderson's later future histories because these works go way beyond anything imagined by Heinlein and even surpass Olaf Stapledon's cosmic history.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A Cannibal

The Prologue of SM Stirling's The Desert And The Blade (New York, 2016), pp. 1-4, is narrated from the point of view of a cannibal whose vocabulary is severely limited because the founders of his tribe avoided despair and self-loathing by avoiding thought as much as possible. David's life consists of stalking, eating and minimal speech. This extreme human degeneration is common to Stirling's  Emberverse and Angrezi Raj timelines. Complete loss of speech would be loss of humanity but I do not think that that has happened in either timeline yet.

David does not believe most of the stories of the pre-Change world not only because they contradict his experience but also because, with his limited vocabulary, he probably cannot understand them. At the same time, however, he is sharp enough to understand and lead his fellow tribes people who, by comparison, are slow and stupid. Will it be possible to civilize David? I do not yet know whether he will become a continuing character in the novel.

This Evening

This evening, when I enter the Gregson Centre (and see image) to attend our small sf group, Kevin will be catching up with this blog on his mobile, having forgotten to look at it since last month. John will arrive late from farm work and will tell us about current super-hero films.

I will have taken along my newly acquired copy of SM Stirling's The Desert And The Blade and will recommend Stirling's alternative history fiction. None of us will drink much, if any, alcohol. We will arrange to meet again probably on the third Wednesday of next month. A meal at another venue, also involving our respective wives, might be discussed.

I will not need to tell them about the richness of the Time Patrol texts because they have heard all that before. Kevin and I first met at the inaugural meeting of an sf society on 4 November, 1976. John joined us much later from a comics group. Our group is called "Englishmen" for a very obscure reason. The greeting, if I ever remember to use it, is "England prevails," taken from Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. See here. For a short while, we were a Prisoner (also here) and sf group.

Combining Kinds Of Fiction

Poul Anderson wrote:

heroic fantasies;
alternative histories;
future histories;
post-apocalypse fiction.

SM Stirling's Emberverse combines these four kinds of writing. Apocalypses vary but minimally involve megadeaths and empty cities if not also radioactive ruins.

Anderson also wrote detective fiction. Stirling set at least two detective stories in the Emberverse. Thus, these stories might be collected in anthologies of different genres.

Asimov's and Niven's future histories each contain a detective fiction sub-series. Anderson combined detective fiction and sf at least once.

Decades ago, a comic book combined sf and sports fiction. I thought that that was strange but see also here.

A Crossroads In Fictional Time

Does a bear equidistant between two honeypots starve because he does not know which way to go? SM Stirling's The Desert And The Blade has arrived and its text is a massive 832 pages in length so will I continue to read Stirling's fascinating Emberverse future history series or continue to reread Poul Anderson's fascinating "The Big Rain"? First, I will eat some lunch.

The publication dates of the Emberverse novels get nearer to the present. Does the series approach its end or will it accompany us further into the twenty first century?

Future Historical Details

On Mars:

"...he eased the throttle of his sandcat..."
-Poul Anderson, "Un-Man" IN Anderson, The Psychotechnic League (New York, 1981), pp. 31-129 AT p. 39.

On Venus:

"A descending ramp brought them to a garage where the tanks were stored. These looked not unlike the sandcats of Mars, but were built lower and heavier, with a refrigerating tube above and a grapple in the nose."
-Anderson, "The Big Rain" IN The Psychotechnic League, pp. 201-280 AT pp.210-211.

This is a future historical detail. Earlier stories provide background material for later stories. Having introduced "sandcats" in "Un-Man," Anderson refers to them later in "The Big Rain."

In James Blish's Haertel Scholium, "dune cats," another future historical detail, are not vehicles but Martians.

In future histories, we have also learned to look out for details of how lifespans might be extended. Simon Hollister, immigrant to Venus, has a chronological age of thirty-eight Earth-years but a physiological age of about twenty five thanks to "biomedics." (p. 203) A dead-end form of immortality will be developed later in this future history. Again, comparisons are possible with several other future histories and futuristic novels or stories. See here.