Tuesday, 1 October 2013
Perish By The Sword
I do not make this stuff up. Poul Anderson books really are this interesting to read and discuss.
A novel about contemporary scientists and their current work is fiction about science but is not "science fiction" so what is it? (Someone once told me that she was not a "girl friend" but a "girl who is a friend.") Poul Anderson's Perish By The Sword (New York, 1959) is a detective novel about science with the information about Japanese swords adding almost a historical fiction element and even a fantasy element if we heed the legends about the swords. The Norse sword, Tyrfing, which features in Anderson's historical fantasy, is mentioned for comparison.
The detective is Trygve Yamamura but a surprising number of chapters are narrated from the point of view of his friend, Michael Stefanik. Stefanik is attacked with a stolen sword and I wondered if one chapter was going to end with his death. But things get more complicated.
Maybe an established science fiction writer should avoid references to sf when writing in another genre? For instance:
"(Part of Yamamura wondered why a terminated human being always appeared so much more dead than an animal, and thought that perhaps it was because man had no fur to cover his poor waxen skin, and speculated that a race of furry intelligent beings might be less afraid of their dead than man is.)" (p. 78)
That is just the sort of speculative detail that Anderson does include in his hard sf but does it fit here?
When confirming an alibi, one character says:
"'I wish I were enough of a scientist to invent a time machine and be in two places at once, but I'm afraid such talents as I have are more for business.'" (p. 89)
Exactly. This book is about business, not time travel! Readers unfamiliar with sf might ask, "How could a time machine let him be in two places at once?" If he travels back twenty four hours, then he necessarily coexists with his younger self of one day ago. I know from experience that some people would not understand this or would say that it was impossible or might even argue that his younger self was there yesterday but now his older self is so his younger self can't be as well. Or something.
It is good that different works interconnect and cross-refer even across genres but maybe, when immersed in a mystery novel, we are better off not being too directly reminded of issues in sf?