Monday, 31 July 2017

Myth Meets Economics

SM Stirling, The Tears Of The Sun (New York, 2012) is an fsf mix so it is appropriate to discuss it on an sf blog. There are gods but they are scientifically rationalized. Mind, sometimes manifesting as gods, evolved in an earlier universe and now transforms new universes from their beginnings. (Norse gods originated in a precosmic void so the origin of Stirling's gods is legitimate.)

Let's look at history in our universe before we get into Stirling's fiction. Why were kings powerful?

Mythological answer: because they were descended from and appointed by gods.

Economic answer: because social labour had produced a surplus that maintained, and was controlled by, a ruling class.

My response: appreciate the mythology and understand the economics.

In Stirling's fiction:

high technology stopped working in the Change;
economies retrogressed to cannibal, tribal, feudal etc;
many populations have taken refuge in diverse mythologies;
and beings answering the descriptions of gods, saints and demons have become active both in the Change and in the subsequent course of events.

Now, in this context:

"The Destined Prince with the Magic Sword is wonderful, but less wonderful when he asks you to cough up every tenth bushel and piglet and takes out a mortgage on your farm." (Chapter Fifteen, p. 463)

Myth meets economics. A divinely appointed High King must raise taxes to wage expensive wars against demonolaters. Why can't the gods be more helpful by making him financially independent, e.g., with a secretly located, privately owned gold mine?

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Hanno, Lazarus Long And John Carter

Poul Anderson's Hanno is the oldest mutant immortal.

Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long, the Senior, or oldest member of the human race, is a third generation Howard, bred for longevity, but also, coincidentally and inexplicably, a mutant who lives much longer than any other member of the Howard Families.

Edgar Rice Burrough's (ERB's) John Carter claims to remember only an extended adulthood without any childhood and to know nothing of his own origin even though he has a great-grand-nephew and must surely therefore also know his brother or sister and their parents? (ERB wrote glaring inconsistencies.) Carter died on Earth but was astrally projected to Mars where he still lives in a tangible undying body and speculated just once that maybe he is the materialization of a long dead warrior. Mysteries beyond mysteries. (SM Stirling, in his Martian novel, alludes to the cave near which Carter was astrally projected.)

Might Hanno and Long become like what Carter claims to be? Let me explain. Most people have lived for less than 100 years. Whatever age you have now reached, how much do you remember of your first two years? If you were to live for 1000 years, how much would you remember of your first 20 years? If you were to live for 1,000,000 years, how much would you remember of of your first 20,000 years? And so on. Hanno and his fellow immortals agree to meet again in another million years and expect to continue living after that.

Could there be an sf series as outlined below?

Vol I, set in One Billion AD: a man who seems to have lived forever remembers only the last ten millennia.

Vol II, set in Two Billion AD: a man who seems to have lived forever is by now known by a different name, has learned so much from experience that he has completely changed his personality and remembers only the last ten millennia.

Vol III, set in Three Billion AD...

Friday, 31 March 2017

Not Fanfic But

I cannot write fan fiction but can speculate about obscure potential sequels to existing texts:

What becomes of country roads in Cumbria after the fall of Poul Anderson's Terran Empire (see here)?

Might SM Stirling's Rangers and Tolkien's Elves meet in Anderson's Old Phoenix Inn between the universes (see here)?

What will become of Lancaster in James Blish's Okie History (see here)? (I do not think that it will go Okie.)

Might Ys have gone Okie if, instead of being inundated, it had survived into the Okie future history (see here)?

Might the Time Traveller, the Doctor and the Time Patrol interact (see here)?

Examples could be multiplied but I think that these five are sufficiently suggestive.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Ghosts And Time Travelers

Fantasy and science fiction concepts include ghosts and time travel. I have just read about a ghost and been fooled into thinking that he was a time traveler. See here. There were enough clues to Freddy's supernatural status.

There must be circumstances in which time travelers would be mistaken for ghosts, e.g., appearing and disappearing in deserted houses etc. The hero of HG Wells' "The Chronic Argonauts" moved into an empty and shunned house, time traveled within the house, was attacked as an intruder by the previous occupants, defended himself and fled into time leaving a man dead. In the absence of any evidence of an intruder, two young men were convicted of the murder of their father, which was why the house was empty and shunned.

When Wells' Time Traveler first glimpsed a wraith-like Morlock, he speculated that the latter was a ghost and further theorized that there would be more ghosts around by 802,701 AD. He had previously played some trick with a "ghost" on his dinner guests.

In Clifford Simak's The Goblin Reservation, a University Time Travel Department advertised a public lecture, "'How It Happened I Did Not Write The Plays' by William Shakespeare" while the Supernatural Department had conjured a ghost that was so old that he did not remember whose ghost he was. When Shakespeare met the ghost, the ghost remembered that he was Shakespeare.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


Book reviews should inform and sometimes do.

On p. i of SM Stirling, Dies The Fire (New York, 2005), Harry Turtledove informs us that this book asks how we would fare if we suddenly lost 250 years of technological progress. Stirling imagines not that a physical catastrophe destroys civilization but simply that the technology stops working. This premise is improbable but the question is important.

Science Fiction Weekly informs us that Stirling writes "...with the skill of a Poul Anderson." The comparison is both significant and valid.

Publishers Weekly informs us that the novel has the dual themes of "...myth and technology..." These themes are fundamental and Andersonian.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Kinds Of Sequels

A cliff-hanger ending requires a sequel whereas a happy ending completes and concludes a narrative sequence. In the latter case, a sequel remains possible but then must initiate a new narrative. Thus, Poul Anderson's The Star Fox (London, 1968), about a war against an alien species, has a happy ending. The second novel, Fire Time, features a war against another alien species - and a genuinely different alien species, not a mere repetition.

Anderson's happy endings are good for mankind and for the individual hero. First, as regards mankind:

"'If man is going to live throughout the galaxy, he's got to be free to take his own roads, the ones his direct experience shows him are best for his circumstances. And that way, won't the race realize all its potential? Is there any other way we can, than by trying everything out, everywhere?'" (p. 201)

This passage projects a fulfilled further future for mankind but also makes us want to read another sequel set in that further future.

As regards the hero - Gunnar Heim, having won the war, has become a citizen of the colony planet, New Europe (like New York or Nova Scotia writ large):

"'...a whole new world, elbow room, infinite possibilities.'" (p. 202)

When he has retired as the New European minister of space and the navy, Heim will:

experiment with pelagic farming;
prospect other planets and asteroids;
start a merchant spaceship yard;
do more -

- a natural leader in peace and war.

SM Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy Volume III ends with a major war won and several characters, now rich, planning the farms that they will build and own in South America. But another kind of sequel is also hinted at. The main villain has been killed but his daughter has survived and plans revenge...

The message may be that there will always be war? I do not agree that there will always be war but I do agree that we must always be prepared for unforeseen disasters, including renewed conflicts. Even if our descendants build a peaceful utopian civilization in the Solar System, they will never be sure that the Merseians or the kzinti are not going to arrive in the next interstellar invasion fleet - or the Draka from an alternative timeline? A utopian civilization should:

know its own history;
understand historical change and the role of the unpredictable in historical processes;
be prepared to adjust to major changes.

Larry Niven showed in "The Warriors," that technology can be turned back to destructive purposes. Lasers used for propulsion or asteroid defense can be turned against invading spaceships. The optimum human being will be someone who fully enjoys all the benefits of technology while also being able to adjust to the requirements of survival in the event of the loss of technology.