Friday, 30 May 2014

Ramnuan Society

Before The Golden Tide

On one part of Ramnu, each of the six dzai'h'u (clans), including Kulembarach, Arachan, Arrohdzaroch and Ngaru, occupies a territory and consists of households whose female leaders gather at a yearly moot to trade etc and also to "...make Oneness." -Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), p. 107.

Didonians also "make Oneness" but in an entirely different sense. On Dido, this phrase means three animals linking their nervous systems to form a single intelligent entity. One of the three units resembles a rhinoceros, as do the onsars used by Ramnuans but this is another coincidence.

Each clan is named from a different Forebear and Ramnuans outside the territories have different ways. 

During The Golden Tide

The volcano erupted, emitting the Golden Tide, and the land doubled its fertility. The population increased until kin-moots were insufficient to maintain law. Then, the clans raised a stone hall near the precipice for the Lords of the Volcano, its doors flanked by statues of the Forebears and also by a seventh statue representing the chosen family, bred out of the clans, from which the Lords of the Volcano are elected.

The clans live by ranching but the Lord's household by hunting because the country around the mountain is rich. Also on the mountain are artisans and the College where the Seekers of Wisdom keep books, instruments and ceremonial items.

The Ice Returns

Plants are dying. A landslide destroys the tomb of Kulembarach and the Shrine with its books and art. The clans hope that the star-beings can help but a senior Seeker opposes off-world influence.

A Ramnuan Landscape

When, in A Stone In Heaven, Poul Anderson describes a Ramnuan landscape, he makes clear that, apart from the autumnal light, the scene is unEarthlike:

a river flows too fast;
leaves are large, cup-shaped and several colors but not green;
tall grass-like "pyrasphale" hides herds of small animals though not the giant onsars, just large enough for a man to mount;
an onsar is like a rhinoceros with a hump, dorsal fin and extensors ending in clawed, prehensile tendrils.

Meter-high Ramnuans have emerged from forests and hills to conquer the plains by riding onsars from which they see prey and glide towards it. There is more to be said on a future occasion about Ramnuan society.   

Thursday, 29 May 2014


When Poul Anderson describes the planet Ramnu in A Stone In Heaven IN Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), I have to google phrases like "climax forest" (p. 86) and "graviportal" (p. 87). (The latter sounds like a science fictional device: a portal between gravitational fields?)

How Plants Have Adapted To The Frequency Of Fires
deep roots or bulbs;
rapid reseeding;
"pyrasphales " or "nullfire" - ubiquitous plants like Terran grasses or Hermetian yerbs but synthesizing a silicon compound that makes them incombustible and that herbivores either excrete unchanged or break down with symbiotic microbes whereas earlier species unable to digest or excrete the fireproofing became extinct. 

How Organisms Have Adapted To Long, Cold Nights
some plants secrete antifreeze;
others make freezing part of their life cycle;
some exotherms sleep where they won't freeze or be dug up;
others "...start a new generation by sunset whose juvenile stage can survive."(p. 87)

Ramnuan Animals
are generally small because of high gravity;
if larger, have cooling surfaces like big ears, dorsal fins or wings;
are often featherless flyers, because the thick atmosphere offsets gravity, but usually keeping low because pressure drops swiftly with altitude;
if "pleurochladoi," have intermediate false limbs, "extensors," aiding locomotion;
sometimes have membranes on extensors for cooling and gliding.

The Golden Tide

A nearby supernova causes a superjovian planet of 3000 Terrestrial masses to lose all its hydrogen and helium, over 90% of its mass, transforming it into Ramnu, a glacial globe of 310 Terrestrial masses, later inhabited by small, intelligent gliders.

The italicized passage above is copied from "Unusual Heavenly Bodies," which was originally published on the Poul Anderson Appreciation blog from where it was then copied to the current Poul Anderson Cosmic Environments blog earlier this month. 

The idea of the new blog was, first, to make it easier to find earlier-published posts summarizing information about the many extra-terrestrial environments described in Anderson's works of hard sf and, secondly, maybe to add to this information. 

One feature of the Ramnuan environment not mentioned before is sulfur:

abundant because of vulcanism;
redistributed by forest fires that are caused by oxygen concentration and lightning; 
metabolized by microbes;
vital to several biological functions, including reproduction.

Around an active volcano, the microbes multiply until they are visible as yellow smoke, the Golden Tide. Dying, they enrich the soil but their dwindling brings famine and the sulfur trade has dominated Ramnuan history.

I remembered the phrase "the Golden Tide" from earlier readings but not its meaning until I reread again in search of further details. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Through Space

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 6 March 2013.

Very often in science fiction, interesting events occur on another planet and space is merely the distance that has had to be travelled, or the void that has had to be traversed, in order to reach that planet. If events do occur en route, then they usually occur entirely within the closed environment of the spaceship. It is rare that space itself is presented as an environment where events can occur or where there is the equivalent of a landscape with distinctive features that can be discovered by travelling between them.

As can be expected, Poul Anderson does more than once focus on what space travellers see and fly past outside their ship while they are travelling. In "Starfog", we learn that, millennia earlier, a ship fleeing from a conflict had traversed two spiral arms and passed through a dark nebula before colonising a planet in a bright opaque cluster. Descendants of those colonists, travelling in an experimental interstellar ship, emerge from their cluster into what is to them the unfamiliar environment of dark space where stars are distant points light years instead of light months apart.

Remembering legendary accounts of space as dark and sighting the distant Dragon's Head nebula, they reason that their ancestors might have passed through such an even darker region in order to evade pursuit so they steer towards and through the nebula. There, on the far side of the nebula, they locate an industrialised colony planet by detecting its neutrino emissions and manage to reach it before running out of fuel. Thus, the journey itself has involved passing through physically different regions and steering by the landmark of the nebula.

In Tau Zero, a spaceship making an interstellar journey but accelerating uncontrollably must fly into the space between clusters of galaxies to attempt repairs but must then fly between clusters of clusters to effect the repairs, steers across a hundred million light years of dark and empty space to the next "clan" (cluster of clusters) but, unable to stop, keeps going between and through clans until the universe contracts at which point the ship orbits around the new monobloc until that explodes into a new universe.

The ship's crew colonises a planet in the new universe but, obviously, the main point of the story has been how they got there.

Stars Between Galaxies

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 6 March 2013.

In Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, a spaceship crossing intergalactic space passes a red dwarf star with planets. The astronomer on the ship does not know whether the red dwarf had originated in the normal way within a galaxy or in some unknown way between galaxies.

Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966) answers this question:

hydrogen clouds condensed into galaxies;
smaller condensations became intergalactic star clusters which, however, did not endure because

(i) their giants went supernova,
(ii) cosmic expansion dispersed matter, thus preventing any further star formation,
(iii) galactic gravitation broke the clusters up;

thus, only the long living red dwarfs were left.

Captain Argens, en route to a planet of such a star, explains all this to his two new crew members and thus to us. I thought that two spacemen would not need to be told how stars formed. Sure enough, Rorn complains:

" 'Please...Valland and I do know elementary astrophysics.' " (p. 19)

Valland agrees that he does but is beginning to realise the implications in intergalactic space: old stars and planets that are metal-poor because supernova enrichment stopped early but with lighter elements and life, including intelligent races that might have needed millions of years to industrialise and therefore have learned different things along the way.

These Yonderfolk can travel only to the galactic rim and then only with heavy radiation screening because the radiation level within any galaxy would kill them. Valland wonders whether they have natural immortality but Argens points out that quantum processes, viruses and chemicals can also mutate cells. Valland's speculation echoes Anderson's story "What Shall It Profit?" in which a man is made immortal by shielding him from all radiation in a very restricted environment deep underground. He is physically immortal but mentally undeveloped, an experimental dead end.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

In Space

 Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 6 Mar 2013.

This is an old question: can human beings leave Earth, cross space and colonise other planetary surfaces, whether solar or extra-solar? A lot of science fiction (sf) just assumes the answer "yes" although Poul Anderson at least questions whether it will be a straightforward matter to breathe the air, drink the water, eat the food etc on any terrestroid planet.

Here are some variations on the question. Might people instead colonise the Asteroid Belt, as they do in sf series by Poul Anderson and Larry Niven? Or might they just construct self-sustaining habitats in space itself as in another series by Anderson? Certainly, any group that crosses an interstellar distance at sub-light speeds must take its environment with it and therefore need not depend on the extreme improbability of finding a habitable environment awaiting them on arrival.

In Anderson's World Without Stars (New York, 1966), humanity has undergone three transformations.

(i) A spaceship can make a series of instantaneous interstellar or intergalactic jumps. Humanity is expanding, exploring, trading and regularly contacting other races.

(ii) Anithanatic prevents aging. People die only by accident or violence. Living indefinitely, they remain sane by allowing a machine to edit their memories. Thus, a man who has lived for thousands of years consciously remembers only several decades' worth of experience and must consult records about the rest of his past life.

(iii) They mostly live in space.

"...I suppose that a gene complex still crops up occasionally which makes the owner want to belong to a specific patch of earth." (p. 7)

Colonizers of planets:

"...wanted nature and elbow room. There is no other good reason for planting yourself at the bottom of a gravity well. The reason is not quite logical - after all, most of us can satisfy our ape instincts with an occasional groundside visit somewhere, or just with a multisense tape..." (p. 7)

So where do most of them live? The narrator, Captain Felipe Argens, describes the satellite starport called "City", which has grown over several centuries. Approaching it in a space boat, he sees:

"...towers rocketing from parapets, domes and ports glowing brighter than stars, the Ramakan memorial rakish across the galactic clouds; I could see ships in dock and boats aswarm; and as nearly as any spaceman (except Hugh Valland) ever does, I felt I was at home." (p. 9)

Argens is at home in City but has wives in several ports and each of them has several space travelling husbands who rarely meet each other.

He also describes the view from his wife Lute's porch:

"Space dropped dizzily from the viewport, thin starred black here on the rim. Huge and shapeless - we still being more or less within it - the galaxy streamed past and was lost to sight; we looked towards remoteness." (p. 12)

Here are true space dwellers. And Argens' guest, Hugh Valland, nearly three thousand years old, had "'...shipped on the first star craft.'" (p. 16)

After all these changes, can they still be human beings? Anderson describes them as such but he acknowledged elsewhere that a fiction set in the far future has to be regarded as a translation from a different language and worldview. And how long can they remain what we would recognise as human beings? A sequel set later might have shown greater physical and mental adaptations in these immortal space-dwelling organisms.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 28 Feb 2013.

Let us try to summarize the recent history of our immediate civilization-cluster since, in Poul Anderson's After Doomsday (St Albans, 1975), that is the only possible kind of galactic history.

On Kandemir, vast, fertile plains enabled nomads to domesticate animals, to sustain government, literacy and technology and to dominate the cities, where subject races labour in immobile industries like mining. T'sjudan space travellers arrived and began to trade. Kandemirian nomadism became an interstellar empire subordinating even T'sjuda but opposed by a coalition led by the Dragar of Vorlak, a warrior class who had displaced the Vorlakka imperium when space travellers reached Vorlak.

Monwaing which has spread through space by peaceful colonization, not by military aggression, supports the coalition but without joining the war. Other space-traveling races in the civilization-cluster are too weak to intervene. Like the Chereionites in Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, Monwaingi are descended from flightless birds but the latter are more avian in appearance, with beaks and feathers. I am reminded of Tomar Re in the Green Lantern Corps. Monwaingi introduce Terrestrials to space travel, then Earth is destroyed and Kandemir is suspected.

While American men fight for Vorlak against Kandemir, European women found Terran Traders, Inc. on Zatlokopa in a capitalist civilization-cluster. By the end of the novel, Terrestrials will have upset the balance of power in both civilization-clusters but, of course, the estimated million other civilization-clusters in the galaxy will not be affected.

More Ishtarian Superiority

In Poul Anderson's Fire Time (London, 1977) -
Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 9 Feb 2013.
(i) " 'The Ishtarian on foot can travel faster than a man, including a man on a horse, and for much longer at a stretch without tiring. He can see quite well by night, so the shorter day is no inconvenience. He rarely needs shelter, and if need be he can live indefinitely off whatever herbage grows along his path. It's no particular bother to camp out on the job. In short, he's a better traveler than we are, with more speed and scope.' " (p. 112)

Ishtarians can travel faster and further because they are quadrupeds. I had thought that a future evolutionary stage might be a being with at least human intelligence but with a body at home in the natural environment, not requiring clothes, shelter or specially prepared food.

(ii) Because of their longevity:

"A bright young Ishtarian might study under a master, be in the prime of life when the catastrophes began, and survive to teach in the next cycle." (p. 117)

This personal continuity, together with storehouses of books and instruments, enable the Ishtarians to weather periodic catastrophes that would otherwise destroy civilisation completely.

(iii) "(Also there seemed to be the factor of creativity. If most men are at their most original between the ages of, say, twenty and thirty-five, the corresponding Ishtarian ages would be about fifty to one hundred fifty, with all the advantages of accumulating wisdom and insight.)" (p. 117)

One hundred years of creativity and learning as against fifteen! One Lawspeaker with " excellent memory and a gift for seeing the total picture..." had presided in the Gathering for three hundred years (p. 117).

(iv) "Ishtarians...have less innate violence, power hunger, and general irrationality than men..." (p. 118)

(v) " 'Ishtarians are better than us at producing and hearing sounds. Their music, like their dance, is nearly always incredibly sophisticated by our lights.' " (p. 124)

Despite all this, Anderson did not set out to describe a perfect or, in theological terms, an unFallen race:

"...they were equally able to see that robbery often yields more fun and profit than honest labor..." (p. 118)

Hence the need for the legions:

"The legions were the nearest thing to governed organizations [but] they were autonomous." (p. 118)

There is another small detail. The Lawspeaker observes:

" 'No doubt this assembly will stand for longer than expected...' " (pp. 120-121)

A quadrupedal assembly does not sit but stands.

A Body Of Armed Ishtarians

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 9 Feb 2013.

A state is, most basically, a body of armed men. In Poul Anderson's Fire Time (London, 1977), Ishtarian civilisation has developed without a state, yet there are bodies of armed Ishtarians, the legions, with names like "the Zera Victrix". How does this work?

"Beronnen...had no government...The legions...were autonomous. They hired out to whoever would pay, on whatever terms could be mutually agreed on - though never to anyone who attacked Beronneners." (p. 118)

The legions sell ", plus valuable civilian services; a legion was by no means exclusively military." (p. 118) It begins to look as though "legion" is not a fully accurate translation.

For Beronnen and surrounding areas, it is considered a good idea to meet occasionally in order to share information, settle disputes and plan undertakings so societies of widely diverse kinds, some analogous to Terrestrial social arrangements but others not, send their leaders or representatives to an assembly that recommends but does not legislate. Minorities usually prefer conformity to isolation.

The assembly must discuss:

" much territory civilization might reasonably hope to hang onto..." (p. 114)

during the next approach of the red sun.

" 'The role of the legions in this latest chaos time is likely to be more civil than military, more engineering than fighting.' " (p. 116)

- so the speaker proposes that the assembly should request that the Zera return. As when writing, in the History of Technic Civilization, about the winged and carnivorous but intelligent Ythrians, Anderson imagines genuinely different politics for an alien species.


Originally published as "Fascinating Aliens" on Poul Anderson Appreciation, Fri 8 Feb 2013.

Why are human beings the way we are, biologically, psychologically, socially and spiritually? This question easily arises in science fiction when an author compares us with his imagined aliens, unless he pointlessly makes them exactly like us.

Characters in Poul Anderson's Fire Time (London, 1977) make two significant points:

(i) " '...beyond a certain point there is no selection pressure to increase brain power further, and indeed this would grotesquely unbalance the organism.' " (p. 83)

(ii) Hastily evolved human beings have three brains, the reptilian stem, the mammalian cerebellum and " '...the over-developed cerebral cortex...' " unharmoniously cobbled on top of each other, " '...hence ax murders, mobs...' " etc (p. 85).

All that I had remembered about the Ishtarians from an earlier reading of Fire Time was that they were quadrupedal. In hexapodal evolution, the forelimbs come to be freed from locomotion for manipulation so that the dominant species is quadrupedal, sort of leonine centauroids. In addition, however, a human colonist on Ishtar believes that the native Ishtarians " '...are a more advanced form of life than us.' " (p. 82)

(i) Not even their most violent barbarians are casually bloodthirsty. They have never tortured or massacred prisoners and have not exterminated the small, rarely seen, semi-intelligent "goblins" (p. 82).

(ii) Civilisation has developed without a state. (Neat.)

(iii) Regular scorching of Ishtar by the periodically approaching red giant star prevented reptiloid evolution and gave mammalian types longer to evolve.

(iv) They have evolved elaborate symbioses, including even plants that grow on their bodies, can be eaten in emergencies and then grow back quickly.

(v) They can live on a wide variety of foods and are less wasteful of water.

(vi) Their mutation rate is probably higher because their body temperature is.

(vii) Genes governing a metabolic function that is taken over by a symbiont are freed to do something else.

(viii) They have no insanity and little disease.

(vix) They are not culture shocked by the arrival of Terrestrials.

(x) They live for three to five hundred years which probably conserves their adaptations to the red star cycle.

Anderson indeed put a lot of thought into making Ishtarians different from human beings.


An extract from Continuing With The Star Fox III, originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, Mon 4 Feb 2013.

(i) Let's be more precise about the scientific rationale of Staurnian flight in Poul Anderson's The Star Fox (London, 1968). Staurnians are hydrogen breathers who should have less active metabolisms than oxygen breathers and Staurnian gravity is twice terrestrial. However:

they have bird-type bones;
the lower energy of hydrogen molecules is more than compensated for by their greater numbers in the Staurnian atmosphere;
the enzyme systems are efficient;
there is so much ultraviolet from the sun that the plants build very energy-rich compounds.

(ii) The basic Staurnian social unit is a patriarchal household which would not have been able to raise them above savagery. Somehow, possibly by conquest and slavery, they did build a global industrial civilization which, however, destroyed itself in a nuclear war. Staurnians were happy to revert to patriarchal households, especially since these are now armed with nuclear weapons with which they can attack each other and which they can sell to visiting outworld traders!

Staurnians are less adversely affected by radiation, having more of it in their environment, their Nests are mostly underground and there are no incendiary effects in a hydrogen atmosphere. A Guild of older males arbitrates, defends Staurn and deals with outworlders.

(iii) Staurn, an obvious anagram of "Saturn", also connotes to me "stern" and "storm". When Heim said that he would buy weapons from a place of that name, it seemed appropriate.

(iv) Staurnian wings are "...chiropteran..." (p. 74) I cannot find this word in a dictionary.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


The star Saxo, with its eleven major bodies, 254 light years from Sol, was found during the first Grand Survey but was not profitable for the Polesotechnic League and is outside the Terran Empire although a Terran mission now supports the land-dwelling Tigeries of Saxo V, Starkad, because the Merseians have begun to support the sea-dwelling Siravo. The two native species are natural enemies, like men and wolves on Earth, because the Tigeries' fisheries, seabeast hunts, weed harvests and drag nets disrupt the undersea ecology.

Terrans can breathe on the mountain tops but need helmets at sea level where the oxygen is too dense.

"'Under high atmospheric pressure, there's enough oxygen dissolved in water to support an active metabolism and a good brain. That must be why intelligence evolved in the seas: biological competition like you hardly ever find in the seas of Terra-type planets.'"
- Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), pp. 47-48.

(Serious scientific speculation in the dialogue of an action-adventure novel.)

The Archer, a merchant ship belonging to the Sisterhood of (the island of) Kursoviki, carries "...timber and spices from Ujanka port down the Chain archipelago." (p. 32) Although a ship has a captain and officers, no town or island has a ruler. Instead, females are organized into associations like the Sisterhood which:

have members not living in any one place;
have their own special languages;
"'...own all important property and make all important decisions...'" (p. 33);
employ males, for examples as crews serving under female officers.

Ujanka, the main Kursovikian port, is on Golden Bay, divided by the Pechaniki River. Sisterhood headquarters is in the West Housing. The homes and trained jungles (including venomous reptiles) of the wealthy are in the High Housing. Dragoika is captain of the Archer, share-holder in a fleet-owning kith-corporation and speaker for the corporation in the Sisterhood but nevertheless "[s] in the East Housing, on Shiv Alley itself." (p. 52)

We know nothing of Shiv Alley but the mere addition of the word "itself" is enough to inform us that it is significant, perhaps notorious. Seatraders' Castle guards the port.

The Kursovikians know of, and sometimes drop stones on, Tidehome and Reefcastle, two vaz-Siravo cities at the end of the Chain, but have never suspected the existence of Shellgleam, Vault, Crystal or Outlier, four cities which are on the verge of the Deeps and which complete the Sixpoint of Zletovar. Terrans including Ridenour and Flandry visit the Sixpoint and learn more but that is enough for this post.

Lunarians On Proserpina II

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 24 April 2012.

The Proserpinans have revived the old title of Selenarch because they still claim the Moon, now inhabited entirely by Terrans who must give birth in higher gravity in the orbiting Habitat. Three Selenarchs greet download Guthrie newly arrived from Alpha Centauri:

Velir, Convener of the Council of Forerunners, seigneur in Phyle Aulinn, Warder of Zamok Drakon, shareholder in spaceships and industries;
Catoul of Phyle Randai, who attends the Council for the Consultancy;
Luaine of Phyle Janou, Wardress of Zamok Gora, who attends for the Captains of the Outer Comets.

The tall, thin Lunarians usually stand in their low gravity, a telling detail that I have forgotten to mention till now. Of course, download Guthrie in his robot body does not sit, eat or drink.

Most Proserpinan buildings are on the surface because it is difficult to excavate in iron. Across the entirely urbanised surface, there are cultural and commercial nodes. Parks have outsize flowers, low gravity trees and fountains of water, fire or lightning. Passages and arcades with tiers of slender arches and colourful mirages on the ceilings are filled with softly moving Proserpinans accompanied by pets - birds, a squirrel, a monkey, a ferret, greyhounds, a dwarf bear, a leopard. Slowly falling water curtaining a door before flowing into a channel containing phosphorescent snakes stops falling when Guthrie approaches the door and resumes when he has entered a meeting room with an alabaster ceiling and gold-leafed walls where gems form calligraphic patterns.

The Proserpinans, who must always be inside an artificial environment, spaceship, spacesuit, space station, enclosed lunar or asteroidal dwelling, have moved to the cold and dark of the Outer System. Despite all this, they have materials, energy, technology, social and individual dynamism and ingenuity. Thus, they create and inhabit the kind of environment described here.

Lacking the copious solar energy of the Inner System, they must use all their fusion-produced antimatter except a reserve for emergencies and "defence" although it remains to be seen why defence is necessary.

Since the Oort Cloud overlaps with the cometary clouds of nearby systems, could the Proserpinans begin the colonisation of the Alpha Centaurian system in incremental stages falling short of a direct interstellar crossing?

Human beings by now inhabit six volumes of space, the inner and outer regions of the Solar System and four other systems, but it has not been easy and Anderson shows us this by taking four volumes to move his characters to this very early stage of galactic colonisation. 

Lunarians On Proserpina

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 24 August 2012.

Proserpina, a ferrous spheroid two thousand kilometers across, is on an eccentric two million year orbit that takes it between the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. Cometary impacts have deposited frozen water, organics and metal.

Lunarians, adapted to live and breed in lunar gravity, have inhabited Proserpina, now prosperous and populous, for centuries, covering its surface with domes, roofs, towers, masts, roads, rails and spacefields where ships come and go like fireflies. It is surrounded by satellites, habitats, factories, entrepots, supplementary harbours, naval bases, research centres and antimatter production facilities. A majority of Proserpinans are in lesser colonies on smaller bodies or in mining bases on comets.

Related families and their retainers form phratries. Related phratries form phyles to act cooperatively. Seigneurs, holding the balance of wealth and power, have strong bonds with their subordinate "companions." "Courai," either owned by seigneurial families or drawing their members from a single phratry, conduct most major enterprises. Because population is concentrated  on Proserpina, its phratries elect a Council of Forerunners which, by electronic consultation, sets policies, enacts safety regulations and organizes public undertakings, paid for by levies on their beneficiaries. The Council chooses a Convener. The Consultancy of seigneurs leading the phyles can review and veto the Council's acts.

Here is yet another of Anderson's carefully detailed future environments and societies.

Cosmic Life

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 11 August 2012.

In his History of Technic Civilisation, Poul Anderson imagined abundant galactic life, including planets where human beings could breathe and walk without having to transform either themselves or the environment first. His Harvest Of Stars (New York, 1993) has the opposite premise. Life is rare and cosmically insignificant until it spreads from Earth.

When human personalities have been downloaded into artificial neural networks, then carried at near light speeds across interstellar distances, then one download directs terraforming even of an initially lifeless planet while others are incarnated in newly grown human bodies. Thus, a single personality:

"...won't ever have to end..." but "...can have life after life, on world after world...Bringing life to the universe..." (p. 528)

Life triumphs against all the odds. Despite inhospitable environments, the light speed limit and the impossibility of transporting many human organisms across long interstellar distances, the downloads will spread organic life throughout the stellar universe whereas the Solar "sophotects", self-evolving artificial intelligences incorporating human minds but not independent downloads, endlessly refine their own inorganic intelligence, contemplating pure mathematics instead of the material universe.

It follows that the sophotects were wrong to think either that life was insignificant or that their theory enabled them to model all its possible forms. The leading download, Anson Guthrie, has:

"...a gut feeling that the universe isn't as lifeless as the sophotects on Earth claim." (p. 508)

But the universe, or what we see of it, was lifeless until Guthrie and his companions started to remake it, perhaps the ultimate achievement of Andersonian characters.

Olaf Stapledon had anticipated Anderson's download-sophotect dichotomy. In his future history, Last And First Men, successive human species inhabit Earth, Venus, then Neptune. Later species can direct evolution, thus create their successors. Some Third Men, valuing intellect, create, as the Fourth Men, disembodied, artificially maintained Great Brains, like conscious organic computers, which become hostile to organic life but which eventually realise that their merely cerebral understanding is frustratingly limited because they themselves lack insight into values and that they in their turn must be replaced by normally constructed though thoroughly perfected Fifth Men with brains as large as possible though no larger in a bipedal form. Unfortunately, however, Anderson's sophotects never do realise the limitation of their own merely intellectual approach. Consequently, conflict between them and free human beings continues throughout the Tetralogy, of which I have started to reread the second volume, The Stars Are Also Fire.

Monday, 12 May 2014


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 26 July 2012.

Twenty light years away, Rustum, a planet of e Eridani, hotter and more oceanic than Earth and with one and a quarter terrestrial gravities, has a semi-permanent cloud layer separating two life zones (eg, lower spearfowl are larger) and containing nebulo-plankton browsed on by occasionally glimpsed cigar-shaped, jet-propelled air porpoises.

Theory: the dense air carries fine particles scoured by wind from surface rocks into the clouds where water drops dissolve out minerals which are consumed by microscopic organisms preyed on by larger life forms like the porpoises which rise by filling a bladder with biologically generated hydrogen, eat by sucking in air and plankton and move by blowing air out.

Vegetation is blue-tinged green, brown or yellow. Sea level air pressure is too high for most human beings who therefore colonized an above-the-clouds plateau, High America, where the Swift and Smoky Rivers from the western Centaur Mountains join to form the Emperor River. Hercules Mountains are to the south.

Rustum has two moons:
the outer Raksh changes apparent size as seen from Rustum, sometimes appearing twice the size of Luna as seen from Earth, and raises tides in a lowland lake;
Sohrab moves fast enough for its motion to be seen, like the hurtling moons of Mars in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter series.

Three thousand colonists, transported from Earth in suspended animation, increase their numbers by both natural and exogenetic births. Little native life is edible so they grow terrestrial crops. Because the ecology supporting the crops is not yet firmly established, harvests are poor and most colonists must farm immense holdings with children transported to the Anchor village school in a publicly owned airbus. More scientifically oriented colonists become, e.g., iron miners or lowland explorers, competing with farmers for machinery and differing culturally, being more pragmatic and hedonistic.

The day-night cycle is longer than Earth's so Rustumites must be active at night although Dan Coffin wonders why they could not adapt to forty hours of activity and twenty of sleep. 

Public policy is settled by televisual discussion without formal government. Military defense is unnecessary and public services are voluntary but one elected official, the mayor, administers laws, presides in debates, judges disputes, oversees medicine and education and collects taxes.

Most sea level explorers must wear helmets but a minority who can live there comfortably settle and begin the colonization of the entire surface of Rustum.

The Avatar, jumps V-XI

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 28 June 2012.

The 5th Jump

A new system coalescing. Sun not yet compressed enough for thermonuclear reactions but energised by contraction. Asteroids plentiful, heating planets to incandescence and increasing their mass by falling onto them. In five million years, a planet will be like Earth - unless it is Earth?


In an old globular cluster with little free gas or dust. Stars, mostly ruby, others orange and golden, block out blackness. There is a planet overrun by life where human beings would be able to survive but only on the uppermost plateaus. Elsewhere, the atmosphere is too concentrated.


Near the dust clouds of the galactic core, a black hole with an orbiting observatory. Chinook does not stay because the forces, energies and shape of space are too strange.


Inside the clouds near the galactic centre in the far future. Radiation background moderate. In one direction stellar density increases into  "...a ruby globe..." (1) While Chinook is here, a nearly massless force field ship transits in 37 seconds. Joelle speculates that an intelligent being can send a recording of his personality to be activated in an artificial body, then to be returned as a pattern for transcription into the original. Thus, the ship in transit need have carried only a molecular recording.

The T machine is twice as big as any previous, for transport across bigger distances.


Maybe a billion years futureward and 50,000 light years out in intergalactic space. The entire galaxy is visible. Another big T machine.


 The biggest T machine yet. Back in the galaxy but between 70 and 100 billion years futureward. Only the dimmest stars survive and they are dying while the galaxy disintegrates. The universe is four or five times bigger and the Virgo cluster of galaxies is no longer visible.

One planet has life because the Others have transformed its moon into an artificial sun, a nuclear reactor with almost total conversion of mass to energy, possibly by forced inter-quark interaction in a hollow space protected by fields at the centre of the moon.


The Chinook is enclosed by a vast globe of moving colours containing the T machine, a white-hot sphere with lesser shapes moving around it and a curved ellipsoid extruding a delicate webwork like those seen at the neutron star and black hole observatories. A point of light moves from the ellipsoid to the Chinook. Something stirs in crew member Caitlin Mulryan... Another craft comes from the T machine to the Chinook. Two of the Others enter in the forms of Aengus mac Og and Brigit. Caitlin is an avatar.

Delicately balanced forces artificially maintain the place where they have met " at the end and the beginning of a universe...." (2) So the "...white-hot sphere..." must be a monobloc before its big bang?

A hyperdimensional ocean brings forth universes. Our expanding, dying universe intersects another. Their union will bring forth a new universe with different laws and constants of physics that the Others aim to understand.  

(1) Anderson, Poul, The Avatar, London, 1985, p. 347.
(2) ibid., p. 379.

The Avatar: jumps I-IV

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 28 June 2012.

1st Jump

The spaceship Chinook has jumped at random through a T machine field and is in an unknown planetary system. The bearings of other galaxies show this system to be about 500 light years from Sol towards Hercules. This makes Deneb and the Orion Nebula identifiable.

The new sun is a red dwarf with five planets, none like Earth. The Chinook crew detect artificial radio signals from a gas giant which they name Danu. The ship's boat investigates and finds inhabitants like flying whales with whom they exchange music. The Danaans have instruments made of metal which could not have been mined on a planet whose surface is hot liquid hydrogen so must have been donated by the Others who constructed the T machines.


10 to 20 billion years ago. Dark empty space with no stellar background. Gas clouds collapsing into galaxies. One supergiant star, 50,000 times as luminous as Sol, has been big enough to form this early but with just a single companion, not as part of a cluster.

The Others must have originated even earlier when an unusual concentration of elements in a nebula generated a star with life-bearing planets.


Bearings of other galaxies and shape of home galaxy indicate thousands of light years from Earth, same era. Chinook has emerged near a star temporarily green because leaving the main sequence and shortly to expand into a red giant, about ten billion years old but containing enough heavy elements to indicate that it might have formed near a supernova.

The crew detect repetitive radio signals from an old, dying planet they name Pandora. A force field protects uninhabited buildings with an empty spacecraft base and the radio transmitter. A landing party find ruins and three-eyed animals but is attacked by savages and leaves. Theory: the old race has left but sometimes returns to guide the savages who have evolved during the planet's decline.


Millions of years futureward, in the same spiral arm, thousands of light years closer to galactic centre. A "...whirling sword of light..." is a pulsar/neutron star with a quasi-solid quaking surface under a six millimeter atmosphere. (1) A curved shell around the T machine shields emerging spacecraft from the destructive pulsar ray. Near the T machine is a station for visitors of different species. Chinook's holothete, Joelle, a human being linked to a computer, communicates in binary code with the station which informs her that, on the pulsar's surface, interactions between raw nuclei generate self-replicating, thus living, structures lasting for mere seconds but so energetic that they experience the equivalent of more than a century so that to them human beings would be as inert as stones.

The station guides the holothete to contact with the Oracle, a self-aware Others' artifact on the pulsar, which:

is as intelligent as a human being in holothesis;
counsels pulsar life ("...the star dwellers..." (2)) to whom it is a gigantic shrine;
records and plays back pulsar history;
mediates between pulsar life and visitors to the station;
possibly modulates strong nuclear forces to communicate quasi-telepathically with the star dwellers;
communicates, possibly by quark beams, with the station which relays by radio etc;
slows or speeds communications as appropriate for receivers.

The star dwellers:

had no idea of a sky in the pulsar's radiation haze;
exploring through a billion generations, found the Fire Fountains;
to explore the Fountains, climbed thirteen millimeter high mountains, which last as long as a terrestrial year, through many generations and civilizations;
reaching the top of the atmosphere, tunneled up through a mountain;
a million lifetimes later, saw the stars through a transparent dome.

With knowledge from the Oracle, Joelle plans a route between T machines to take Chinook to the frontier where the Others still construct new T machines.

(1) Anderson, Poul, The Avatar, London, 1985, p. 319.
(2) ibid., p. 330.   

Comments On Holonts

Each of the two previous posts presents a different imaginary "Cosmic Environment." The problem (I think) is that Poul Anderson's descriptions of these environments are very condensed and my (attempted) summaries are of necessity even more so. Thus, it becomes possible to read the summaries very quickly without perhaps appreciating their full content and ingenuity.

In the first:

a black hole is surrounded by a volume of changeable space-time;
this volume is a vacuum but contains virtual particles;
among these particles, there are unstable quantum states;
(some of?) these states bear information, therefore are alive;
also, they communicate linguistically, therefore are intelligent;
they became living and intelligent because, having appeared, linked and multiplied, they then became an intricate set of codes, mutated by the uncertainty principle;
this is enough to make some of them thinking minds;
however, they are not separate, individual minds;
instead, they can divide and re-unite at will;
their lives and histories resemble memes in organic minds;
they act to change their own and others' states;
their actions are detectable as photonic, electronic and nuclear events;
they converse with a spaceship crew;
they may impose a permanent trace on the vacuum, thus surviving death;
their future selves, remembering communication with human beings, communicate with their present selves across time, thus instructing them in how to communicate with human beings.

Here, I have listed items previously compressed into three sentences in the two previous posts.

In the second imaginary (galactic) environment:

human beings will explore, colonize and trade throughout interstellar space;
they will hopefully build holontic temporal communicators;
after thousands or millions of years, there will be a holonitic-organic galactic civilization.

That differs from the further futures envisaged in Anderson's Harvest of Stars tetralogy and Genesis. We value both Anderson's creativity and his versatility.

The Holont: Second Potentiality

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 14 June 2012.

A common human-Holont language is established swiftly and surely because the contemporary Holont have received a message from the future Holont telling them that human beings would arrive and how they would try to communicate: trans-temporal communication and circular causality paradox. Unfortunately, we are told this but are not otherwise told very much about what passes between the two kinds of beings.

It is suggested that thousands or millions of years must pass before galactic civilization flowers as a result of interactions between organic and holontic cultures. Meanwhile, human beings, exploring, colonizing and trading in interstellar space, hope to build holontic time communicators which, like James Blish's Dirac transmitters, will not only receive messages from the future but will also operate instantaneously in the present, making the universe one.

A sequel to Starfarers could have shown a utopia like that in Blish's "Beep" and The Quincunx Of Time, where starfarers, receiving messages describing themselves preventing disasters and presiding over a peaceful, expanding culture, then did prevent disasters and preside over a peaceful, expanding culture: cosmic circular causality.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Starfarers And Holonts

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 14 June 2012.

How much does Poul Anderson tell us about the Holont in Starfarers? Not enough, really. They are quasi-stable quantum states in the virtual particles of the vacuum in the changeable space-time near a black hole, bearing information, therefore alive, and communicating linguistically, therefore intelligent. But we do not read any conversations with them as we do with the organic intelligences encountered by the starfarers. Instead, a human character summarizes communications for her colleagues and thus for the reader. Before that, the narrator had summarized holontic evolution.

Forms of quantum states appeared, linked, multiplied and became an intricate set of codes, mutated by the uncertainty principle, until some were a thinking mind differentiating itself into individually living waves or avatars that re-coalesce and redivide at will, experiencing lives and histories that resemble memes in organic minds, but also, like organic minds, acting to change their states and those around them, their actions detectable as photonic, electronic and nuclear events, then as dialogue with organic beings when the latter approach the black hole in spacecraft.

Anderson's account is extremely condensed. I found it difficult to paraphrase but otherwise would have understood little and would have retained even less of what he had written. I hope that my account is interesting and informative for other readers.


 Thought requires symbols which require language which is social so I suggest that holontic differentiation preceded thought.

The Holont have two obvious unrealised potentialities. I am sure that there are more but I do not know enough science to draw them out.

First Potentiality

A sympathetic human character, Jean Kilbirnie, dies in the black hole. Or does she? In fiction, and particularly in fantastic fiction, when no body has been found, the author might reverse the death. Two of Jean's colleagues later suspect that holontic configurations are not transitory but permanent, imposing a trace on the vacuum, a direction on randomness, a change in the metric, thus lasting and surviving death, implying that organic patterns and processes might last also.

So could the Holont rescue Jean's consciousness from the death of her body? This is my speculation, no one else's, but it is implied by passages that otherwise are left undeveloped. Anderson's intention is to show us that there is always more to be learned so there will at any stage be still unanswered questions.

Starfarers, a long novel that had already incorporated the Kith series, could, like other Anderson works, have had a sequel. Jean had not returned by the end of this novel but -

To be continued.


A ship of the Grand Survey discovers the planet Ythri:

sun G9, half Solar luminosity;
Ythrian gravity 0.75 terrestrial;
thinner, drier but humanly breathable atmosphere;
red, moss-like ground cover;
two small moons;
modest oceans;
woods, lakes, plains, mountains;
winged carnivores lifting bodies heavy enough for intelligence by pumping oxygen with adapted gills, each needing a large territory for hunting or herding meat animals.

There are more data about Ythrians in the post "Who Knows Of Avalon?" (April, 2012) (here).


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 28 May 2012.

In the Wilderness between the Terran Empire and the Merseian Rhoidunate, the system of the star Siekh includes many asteroids but only four planets, including Talwin: 

eccentric orbit, probably disrupted by early passage of another star;
distance from Siekh varying from 0.87 astronomical units to 2.62 a.u.;

three degrees of axial tilt;
planet-wide seasons;
twice-Terran year;
six month summer, six week autumn, fifteen month winter, six week spring;
eighteen hour day;
no moon;
blue vegetation;
ankle-high equivalent of grass;
many scattered islands;
one continent (400 kilometers wide, wedge-shaped, stretching from north pole to equator, divided by an east-west mountain range);
huge icecaps forming, extending 45 degrees, then melting each year;
spring floods;
in summer, snowless mountain peaks, northern swamps, boiling southern lakes and rivers;

Domrath, winter hibernators, feast and copulate all autumn;
Ruadrath estivate as sea animals all summer.


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 24 May 2012.

Wayland is an atmosphere-bearing, Luna-sized moon of the giant planet Regin which is in orbit five astronomical units from the newly condensed metal-rich blue giant star Mimir. Martian Minerals, Inc. mined Wayland from a robot base run by a consciousness-level computer. Five hundred years later, the base remains. Dominic Flandry investigates.

I find Anderson's account of Wayland somewhat unsatisfactory. As Flandry and his companion approach:

" was a mystery towards which they descended: where a complex of robots ought to have been at work, or at least passively waiting out the centuries, an inexplicable crisscross of lines drawn over a hundred square kilometres in front of the old buildings, and a traffic of objects like nothing ever seen except in bad dreams." (1)

Unusually for Anderson, he does not tell us what Flandry sees while Flandry is seeing it. Instead, he tells us that Flandry has already seen something disturbing but does not describe it. This could generate suspense, with the reader wondering what is to come. However, Flandry does not encounter anything very frightening. First, his spacecraft is attacked by winged, beaked, clawed, metal fliers. I acknowledge that these sound frightening but in the event they are too weak to damage even Flandry's small vessel and its guns easily destroy them. By sheer weight of numbers, they obscure his vision so that he crash lands in Wayland's half terrestrial gravity but this is an inconvenience rather than a disaster.

Next, he is attacked by about twenty metal "bugs", each thirty centimetres long with ten claw-footed legs, a tail ending in twin spikes and a head with half a dozen moving antennae but he destroys all of these with his blaster. He learns that fliers, bugs and other, e.g., dog-like, robots roam around fighting each other.

Crossing the immense squares near the computer centrum, Flandry's companion, Djana, is attacked by a lance-bearing equine robot which Flandry destroys. They pass near a robot like a tower with merlons which stays in its square, then are attacked by a diagonally moving cylinder with a partially split conical head. Flandry realises what is happening.  It was not immediately apparent because the computer had not needed to colour the squares or the pieces to identify them. However, there had been some hints for the reader: Flandry had applied Looking Glass terms ("rockinghorsefly"; "bread-and-butterfly") to the forms they had encountered.

Avoiding squares where they can be attacked, they reach the centrum where Flandry addresses the conscious computer which had passed the centuries by splitting its attention into at least one part playing combat games and two playing chess-with-combat.

Rather a lot of time has been taken up dodging or fighting robots before Flandry solves the puzzle. Anderson does not, as he might have, incorporate an actual game of chess into the plot. And, although the computer greets Flandry, there is no further dialogue between them. Surely Flandry and thus the reader should have been given the computer's account of its "...long and empty..." time alone on Wayland? (2) 

Flandry agrees with me. When in the centrum:

"What he learned fascinated him so much that he regretted not daring to spend time exploring in depth the history of these past five centuries on Wayland." (3)

Flandry's time is limited because his trip to Wayland is illicit but we could have been told the history. We are told that he learned about the chess game, e.g., that the kings were unarmed because they captured by divine right, and that he held technical discussions with the prime computer but we do not hear the computer's voice in these discussions although it had spoken briefly when first addressed. This is far too cursory. 

Flandry soon has urgent business elsewhere and the Wayland incident fits well into the novel but the incident itself deserved further attention.

(1) Anderson, Poul, A Circus Of Hells, London, 1978, p. 33.
(2) ibid., p. 68. 
(3) ibid., p. 69. 


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 23 May 2012.

The planet Chereion is in the Merseian Rhoidunate. Landing on it is forbidden by each new Rhoidun. Merseian warcraft protect its system to the death.

Chereion's sun is a red dwarf star, billions of years older than Sol or Zoria, with seven planets. Chereion has polar caps, barren deserts, uncultivated saline plant life, a few shrunken seas and a small scarred moon. Chereionite gravity is half terrestrial. Much atmosphere and hydrosphere have been lost. There is overwhelming age and desolation. Cities are in good repair with fusion power but little energy use and with no visible traffic or ground or satellite defenses. There are lighted towers in the middle of rock and sand wastes.

A Chereionite city is surrounded by low glittering rainbow bushes, then by lifeless desert and eroded mountains. The city, enclosed in an ellipse, comprises, at the perimeter, single-storied, slenderly colonnaded buildings. Beyond these, other buildings lift towards slim towers. There are harmonious colors but few windows and no sounds. Landscape erosion has revealed the city's azure foundations.

Streets are broad and blue. Man-sized floating ovoids with tentacles holding tools and sensors maintain the buildings. In a mosaic plaza, computer-generated holograms of extinct Chereionites walk in apparent contemplation and mind to mind communication, preventing the Merseians from realizing that only one Chereionite survives. Aycharaych, who trained high ranking Merseians in his castle at Raal, preserves recordings not only of his planet's art and literature but also of its spiritual leaders and philosophers. He says that the Chereionites were the Ancients whose ruins are found on many planets. 

Sources: Anderson, Poul, The Day Of Their Return, Doubleday, 1973; A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, London, 1978; A Circus Of Hells, London, 1978, p. 116.


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 22 May 2012.

The star Zoria is an F8 sun, a third again as luminous as Sol. The terrestroid planet Dennitza is half covered by ocean. Axial tilt and rotation period cause extreme weather and climate. Less than a million years ago, a shower of giant meteoroids caused an ice age. Now, sea levels rise in the Great Spring.

Terrestrial human beings colonized Dennitza about 2450. About 200 years later, Merseian immigrants arrived and in 3047 comprise 10% of the population. Their self-designation is "ychani," seekers. The human Dennitzan term, possibly contemptuous in origin, is "zmayi." Displaced by political conflicts at home, ychani provided labor for new Dennitzan industries. Able to endure cold better than humans, they mainly live on the Obala, the east coast of Rodna, the main continent in the northern hemisphere, where they specialize in fishing and pelagiculture. The legendary ychan hero Gwyth dared the storms and sea beasts of the Black Ocean.

In Dubina Dolyina province, Danilo Vymezal is both the voivode (hereditary aristocrat) and the nachalnik (governor chosen both by the Gospodar {planetary head of state} and by the popular assembly).
Cultural influences: Vymezal's bugle call is an immemorial Merseian war song; his wife sings an Eriau lullaby to their daughter, Kossara: Dwynafor, dwynafor, odhal tiv.

Religions: human Dennitzans, Orthochristians worshiping in St Clement's Cathedral, later canonize Kossara Vymezal, who has a large tomb on Founders' Hill. Some ychani of the Black Ocean remain pagans referring not to "the God" of Merseian religion but to Afherdi of the Deeps, Blyn of the Winds and Haawan who lairs on the reefs.  

Yovan Matavuly led the human pioneers who, like other emigrant groups at the time, wanted to preserve traditions, customs, language, race etc. They speak Serbic and Imperial Anglic while the ychani/zmayi speak archaic mutated Eriau. 

Dennitza, still in its ice age, has limited habitable areas. Mahovina turf and woodland duff are soft and springy. Evergreen equivalents are low and gnarled with blue-black plumes. Firebush burns spontaneously to ripen and scatter its seeds. There are no ornithoids but orliks are winged theroids. Flocks of yegyupka fly south; guslars trill; a horned bull leads a herd of yelen; riba caught from the Lyubisha River can be fried to eat. 

The original colonists, having to survive without sophisticated technology, developed a baronial clan system which persisted under industrialization. The Shkola, university and research center, preserved learning almost from the beginning of the colony. Lake Stoyan and the capital Zorkagrad are in the center of the Kazan, an astrobleme containing woods, farms and rivers, on Rodna. In Zorkagrad, the fountain before the Capitol in Constitution Square contains bronze statues of the hero Toman Obilich in combat with wild Vladimir. On a rock hill beyond the Square are the battlements of the Zamok or Castle, the executive center.

The Gospodar, elected out of the Miyatovich family by the plemichi, clan heads and barons, has supreme executive authority subject to Grand Court rulings on constitutionality. Court verdicts are reversible by the Skuptshtina, a Parliament with chambers for plemichi, commons and zmayi, although more than once in history a demonstration of zmayi has marched into the House of the Zmayi and been heard. One demonstration in 3047 carries the white star on blue standard of Yovan Matavuly and the red axe on gold of Gwyth. A militia, the Noradna Voyska, has been basic to Dennitzan society since the Troubles.

The nachalniki, i.e., heads of okruzhi (baronies or prefectures), are hereditary or elected by resident clans or appointed by the Gospodar depending on ancient usage. Towns and rural districts have elected councils. Ychani have preserved the Merseian organizational form, Vachs. For example, Ywod is Hand of the Vach Anochrin as well as steadcaptain of the fishing village of Nanteiwon on the Obala. Kyrwhedin is Hand of the Vach Mannoch, a member of the House of the Zmayi and moot-lord of the Obala steadcaptains. In this third capacity, he presides when the steadcaptains meet around a table made from timbers of Gwyth's ship in Council Hall at Novi Aferoch at the Elena River mouth.

Gospodar Bodin Miyatovich, having supported the Imperial usurper Hans Molitor, was rewarded with governorship of the Taurian Sector which faces the Merseian Rhoidunate. Ychani, not wanting Merseian rule, are loyal to Gospodar and Emperor. The Dennitzan poet Andrei Simich celebrated the deeds of the Founder and other ancestors but, in the absence of Simich, we must make do with a prose account of Bodin's raid into Merseian space.

Source: Anderson, Poul, A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, London, 1978.

(For convenience, dates are as given in Sandra Miesel's Chronology of Technic Civilization.)


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, Tues 24 April 2012.


in the system of the Sol-like star Korych;
four moons - Neihevin, Seith, Lythyr and Wythna;
lethally close (about one parsec) to the supernova, Valendary.

When visited by a ship of the Grand Survey:

an industrial revolution starting by the Wilwidh Ocean in the northern hemisphere;
scientific method invented;
heliocentric astronomy;
post-Newtonian, pre-Maxwellian physics;
chemistry beginning;
a well-developed taxonomy;
speculations about evolution;
steam trains;
political power fragmented among the Vachs;
scientists, engineers and teachers each under the patronage of a Hand of a Vach.

When visited, two hundred years later, by the trader team:

the Vachs have confederated;
in the social dislocation following the industrial revolution, the baronial tradition survives as the Gethfennu, organised crime;
the most powerful Vach, Dathyr, is based in Castle Afon in the city of Ardaig;
other Vachs - Hallen, Ynvory, Rueth, Isthyr, landless Urdiolch;
the Republic of Lafdigu in the southern hemisphere;
interplanetary travel;
inconclusive space battles;
a Gethfennu colony on the planet Ronraud;
Star Believers regarding galactics as divine;
Demonists regarding them as demonic;
Adzel addresses a Believer gathering of clients, commoners and city proletariat. 

When visited, several centuries later, by Ensign Dominic Flandry:

the capital planet of an interstellar empire, the Roidhunate;
unified under the Roidhun, who is of Vach Urdiolch;
Brechdan Ironrede, current Hand of the Vach Ynvory, is Protector of the Roidhun's Grand Council;
twin capitals, ancient Ardaig on the bay of the River Oiss on the Wilwidh Ocean and modern antipodal Tridaig;
Castle Afon, the Roidhun's official primary residence, and the newly built Admiralty House are in Ardaig.

When Flandry is an Admiral:

his opposite number, Tachwyr the Dark, has become Hand of the Vach Dathyr and Protector of the Grand Council.

Sources: "Day of Burning"; Ensign Flandry; The Game of Empire.

Life On Aeneas

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 23 April 2012.

Anderson does not just tell us that his characters are on another planetary surface but presents enough colorful details to evoke an exotic environment.


Year nearly twice Terran; rotation: 20 hours, 19 minutes, a few seconds.

Little rain; no snow; dead seas; drought; cold; hurricane winds; drifting dust; scouring sand; water rare and precious but some rivers, canals, marshes and salt lakes.


The Aenean equivalent of grass, fire trava, is "...onyx tinged with red and yellow..." (1) Its daytime odor is "...flint and sparks..." (1) It curls into a springy mat at night. There is also bloom trava and sword trava as well as starkwood and daggerbushes. Trees are "...native delphi and rahab, Terran oak and acacia, Llynathawrian rasmin, Ythrian hammerbranch." (2) 

We are told that:

"True blossoms had never evolved on Aeneas, though a few kinds of leaf or stalk had bright hues." (2) 

Beside a spring, "Plume trava nodded white above mossy chromabryon; spearflies darted silver bright..." (3)


Horses and green, six-legged stathas were imported for agricultural use. Terran-descended but gene-modified and adapted cattle are a new genus. Small, three-eyed "lucks," kept as pets or mascots by tinerans, are extra-Aenean but pre-human. Tinerans also keep big, well feathered neomoas. An ula flaps overhead. There is a native tadmouse. Hazards on the Ironland plain include spider wolves and catavales. On the river, "...long-bodied webfooted brown osels..." are used to herd "...fat, flippered, snouted chuho - water pigs..." which "...browsed on wetcress." (4)
There is more. As with Avalon, Anderson evokes not only a planetary environment but also the adaptation to that environment of human beings and their imported species.
(1) Poul Anderson, The Day Of Their Return, London, 1978, p. 9.
(2) ibid., p. 37.
(3) ibid., p. 79.
(4) ibid., p. 120.


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 21 April 2012.

The planet Hermes:

is in the system of the star Maia in Sector Antares;
has two moons, Caduceus and Sandalion;
has one large continent, Greatland, with an arid interior;
was colonized early mainly by northern Europeans;
was developed by private corporations which became the basis of the Hermetian state;
began as a Grand Duchy with a stratified society;
gained stewardship of the industrially valuable planet Mirkheim after the Babur War;
at that time also became an ordinary crowned republic while remaining nominally a Grand Duchy;
during the Troubles, developed a military-oriented society with authority concentrated in the executive and rule by whoever commanded the greatest armed force;
lost Mirkheim when Hans Molitor became Emperor;
rioted against forced demilitarization under Molitor and was pacified by the Marines;
prospered under Grand Duke Edwin Cairncross who reclaimed the interior with canals, landscaping, imported species, urbanization, commerce and a castle on an extinct volcano.

Greatland divides the Auroral Ocean to the east from the Corybantic Ocean to the west. The city of Starfall is on the east coast where the Palomino River flows into Daybreak Bay. Tilirras sing from millionleafs and there are colourfully winged, trilling nidifexes.

When Hermes declared independence from Terra, its new constitution recognized the Kindred as the Thousand Families controlling the "domains": either landed estates or corporations. The presidents of the domains elect the Duke or Duchess of Hermes from the Tamarin family which must not own a domain. Ancestors of Kindred and Tamarins were the first to arrive from Earth but, instead of founding a corporation, the Tamarins free lanced as scientists etc. "Followers," holding entailed shares, are junior partners in domains, each holding a single vote in domain affairs whereas Kindred have ten. "Travers," hirelings or unaffiliated business people, descended from latecomers, are not taxed and have no vote. The Liberation Front demands full rights for Travers who, as a result of "Libby" campaigns, gain a vote in choosing municipal officers. Travers bow to the Duchess, Followers salute, Kindred shake hands.

The Asmundsens, Followers of the Runebergs and tenants on the Brightwater estate, manage the Runeberg's copper industry. A younger Asmundsen, who explores and develops other planets in the Maian system, is obliged by custom to give preferential promotions to fellow Followers but acknowledges that his strike-threatening Traver employees have legitimate grievances which he tries to address by negotiating in person with their leaders and offering compensations like extra vacations. Hornbeck, the estate of the Falkayn domain, is on a plateau jutting from Mount Nevis in the Thunderhead Mountains. Sam Romney, independent ship-owner, fisherman and loyal Traver, does most of his business with the Falkayns. 

Baburite invaders appoint Benoni Strang, an embittered Traver, as High Commissioner for Hermes. Strang, as Bayard Story of the Galactic Developments company and the Seven in Space cartel, had secretly armed Babur. As Commissioner, he intends to impose a social revolution, democratizing the domains and obliging them to conduct all operations through a central trade authority. Through Duchess Sandra Tamarin-Asmundsen, he announces that a Grand Assembly to draft a new constitution, as provided for in the existing constitution, will be held when procedures for the election of delegates are in place. Christa Broderick, the Liberation Front leader welcomes Strang's proposed social reforms but Strang bypasses the Front, many of whom oppose the invasion, and his Traver supporters form a new party.

Broderick's city and farming Followers snipe and sabotage while guerrillas operate in the Arcadian Hills and the Thunderheads. Both groups attack Starfall while the returned Ducal Space Navy engages orbiting Baburite craft. After the liberation, the Duchess receives a petition. Revolutionary terror has weakened the domains and the Liberation Front has gained confidence. It is agreed that a constitutional convention must await a firm peace but then Hermes, while remaining nominally a duchy, will become in practice a republic. Later, Cairncross is not a Tamarin though he is remotely descended from the Founder of the Empire, Manuel Argos.

Hermes, like Avalon, Aeneas and Vixen, is an entire inhabited planet imagined in detail by Poul Anderson.

Sources: Mirkheim and A Stone In Heaven.