Sunday, 28 September 2014


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 12 June 2013.

I am trying to imagine being a Didonian:

my "body" comprises three temporarily linked animals, A, B and C, of different species;
I exist as a discrete entity only when A, B and C are temporarily linked;
between them, when they are not linked, these three animals carry all my memories and skills but in latent form;
when A and B instead link with D, it is as if I have come into existence but one third of my memories have been replaced by D's memories of every other three-way linkage that it has been in;
when A links with D and E, it is as if two thirds of my memories have been replaced or as if another entity has had one third of heesh's memories replaced by some of mine;
that other entity could be DEF or DEG etc;
when A dies, B, C, D, E etc retain their memories of linkages with A;
thus, other entities can remember having been me;
when A, B and C are all dead, other entities will remember having been in linkages with them;
thus, memories of an entity persist long after it has ceased to be possible to assemble that entity but the memories of memories fade with time.

I started out by imagining an individual self-consciousness, then trisecting it, but the Didonian starting point is the separate species linking together so that experienced "thirds" can share their experience with new members that have not linked before. These entities directly experience both the gradual fading of a sense of identity based on accumulated memories and the on-going history of their community. Thus, they cannot possibly imagine that each entity corresponds to a discrete soul that preexisted embodiment or reincarnates or survives as a unit in another realm after the cessation of its physical embodiment. Their supreme aim is universal oneness, not individual survival.

In The Rebel Worlds as in several other works, Poul Anderson has successfully imagined a genuinely alien mode of consciousness.


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 22 May 2014.

Let's try to get a better grasp of what Didonians looks like. Flandry sees what initially resemble rhinoceroses but, on closer examination:

each of these "nogas" does have the size, general build and horned nose of a rhino;
but their skin is nearly hairless, slate-blue and smooth;
they have no tails;
their ears are big and fan-like;
the shoulders extend sideways as small platforms;
when a goose-like "krippo" and an ape-like "ruka" sit on the platforms and join their "tongues" to the noga's extensible "tentacles," then and only then is a rational Didonian present.

As with other complicated situations described by Anderson, I had remembered in a general way how tripartite Didonian consciousness works; however, the details have become clearer through writing an account of them. Each complete Didonian has partial memories of experiences of other such entities that its members have temporarily participated in. Thus, their concept of self cannot possibly be anything like ours and they say things like:

"Make oneness.
"I/we: Feet belonging to Guardian of North Gate and others who can be, to Raft Farer and Woe who will no longer be..."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 369.

The novel begins like that without any explanation but it all makes sense if we persevere.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 9 June 2013.

The planet Shalmu is thrice important:

it is mentioned in the very early "Sargasso of Lost Starships";
Dominic Flandry visits it in The Rebel Worlds;
it is where his servant, Chives, is from.

The Shalmuan slave trade and crucifixions in The Rebel Worlds remind us that we are reading about a future version of the Roman Empire.

Why do Shalmuans and Merseians look so similar when they are products of unrelated evolutions?

Chives is elderly in A Stone In Heaven and I suspect that he has died by the time of The Game Of Empire because he is not mentioned in that concluding Flandry novel.

When not coerced to enslave their fellows by a corrupt sector governor:

"...Shalmuans were less ferocious, less able to treat their fellow beings like vermin or machinery, than humankind is." (Poul Anderson, The Rebel Worlds, London, 1973, p. 24)

- with the consequence that the global hegemony of a technological culture spreads more slowly. If only human history had been like that.

In The Rebel Worlds, Flandry's first officer, Rovian, like an ERBian green Martian, has two arms, two legs and intermediate limbs that can be used as either. He asks why oppression on Shalmu is bad unless it provokes rebellion. As Spock lacks emotions, Rovian lacks morality but he obeys orders, abides by his Oath and is loyal to his captain. Another interesting character, too soon killed in combat.


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 22 May 2014.

Fans of Poul Anderson's History Of Technic Civilization know somewhat of the major planets such as Terra, Hermes, Merseia and Avalon but what do we know of Llynathawr apart from its name (which we do not know how to spell)? Yet another entire planet sketched briefly by Anderson, Llynathawr was discovered by Cynthians and bought by the Terran Empire, has good climate and scenery and rich natural resources, is close to Sector Naval HQ on Ifri and has trade opportunities with both Imperial and barbarian planets.

Llynathawr's single (?) city, Catawrayannis (population: two million), on the Luana River, houses the hill top palace of the Governor of Sector Alpha Crucis. This frontier Sector also contains the Virgilian System, with inhabited Dido and colonized Aeneas, and the industrial rogue planet Satan which, at the time of the McCormac Rebellion, was an ancient possession of the Duke of Hermes, a colony planet in Sector Antares.

In the previous volume, the planet Irumclaw, with its empty suburban mansions, was described as:

" a piece of wreckage at the edge of the receding tide of empire."
 -Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 204.

Llynthawr has seen not a receding tide but a false dawn. The planet was bought in order to "...strengthen this frontier by attracting settlers." (p. 400) However, few people any longer leave comfortable environments for new beginnings in remote places and those few prefer town to country. Also, nearer colonials like Aeneans are already settled and unwilling to move. Thus, Catawrayannis is surrounded by sparsely lit wilderness.

The new Governor's audience chamber has a gold and black " carpet..." (p. 402). A living surface, like grass underfoot? It also has many moving lights and dynasculps, incense, low music, an animated Imperial court masquerade covering one wall and an enormous inscribed portrait of the Emperor behind the chair of state. Subtle bad taste, reflecting Governor Snelund's personality.

An interesting place: we see too little of Llynathawr - although we are learning to spell it.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Venus And Prosperity

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 16 July 2014.

Many fictional Venuses, including Burroughs', Kline's, Heinlein's and Lewis', are humanly habitable;

in Poul Anderson's "Delenda Est," Venus, presumably habitable, has been colonized;

in Anderson's "The Big Rain," a desert Venus has been colonized but has yet to be terraformed;

in his "Sister Planet," an oceanic Venus has yet to be terraformed and colonized;

in his Technic History, Venus has been colonized despite incomplete terraforming;

in SM Stirling's "A Slip in Time," we retroactively learn that the colonized Venus of "Delenda Est" had been paradisally terraformed - lawns, gardens, vines, flowers, trees, a canal, bioengineered colorful singing birds and a cat-dog-chimp hybrid companion-nurse.

Surely a civilization with the power and wealth to effect this transformation would be able to solve all socioeconomic problems? Despite this, conflicts and wars continue for many millennia - although not indefinitely.

In "Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks," we learn that the Time Patrol suppresses the Trazon matter transmuter, able to transform any material object into any other...

Wings Of Victory

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 5 July 2014.

From orbit around a newly discovered terrestroid planet, Vaughn Webner, chief xenologist on the Olga, a spaceship of the Grand Survey, detects:

Stone Age cultures, probably based on hunting-gathering-fishing by carnivores;
Iron Age cultures, probably based on herding of meat animals with cultivation for fodder but not agriculture.

Webner wonders how the Iron Agers maintain their metallurgic culture with so little trade and communication:

a few clusters of buildings, without defensive walls or streets, near primitive mines;
a few dirt tracks between buildings, mines and docks;
otherwise, only small isolated settlements or single buildings;
immense unpopulated areas.

This kind of hard sf story about a spaceship crew exploring a new planet is like a (much better) Star Trek episode and also a detective story:

 the characters and the readers receive clues in the shape of discrete data about a planetary environment;
a single explanation, when discovered or disclosed, integrates disparate data;
sometimes, as in this particular story, it is not initially obvious which species is dominant.

When it is revealed that the planet is called Ythri by its most advanced culture, regular readers will understand that:

the dominant species is indeed carnivorous;
each Ythrian needs a lot of territory;
Ythrians do not need roads for rapid communication.

Because "Wings of Victory" is a story, not a speculative essay, there are not only mysteries about the xenosophonts but also conflicts between the human beings but I am not going to post about those at 2.10 AM. 

The Exploration Of Gray IV

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 4 July 2014.

See previous posts.

Like some later Terran invaders of Avalon, Olga Berg is dying of hell shrub poisoning, although Pete and his Ythrian companions do not yet know the cause. Pete leaves the camp so that he can be alone when he screams at heaven:

"'Why did You do this to her, why did You do it?'"
-Poul Anderson, "The Problem of Pain" IN Anderson, The Earth Book Of Stormgate (New York, 1979), pp. 26-48 AT p. 44.

After kneeling for an hour, he is able to say, "Your will be done," (p. 45) and return. Like an Ythrian, he has fought with and honored God, although Pete would not see it like that.

"Israel" means "he struggled with God"?

"Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
"to mould me man? Did I solicit thee
"From darkness to promote me? -"
(Adam in Paradise Lost, quoted by Frankenstein's Monster.)

"Lord who made me as I am,
"Would it upset some divine plan,
"If I were a wealthy man?"
(Fiddler On The Roof, from memory.)

I ask similar questions although I cannot address them to a personal Creator.

After the death of Arrach, the crippling of Enherrian and Olga's mortal illness, the climax of "The Problem of Pain" is reached when Pete returns to the camp. He had sedated Olga so that she would sleep peacefully till death. Instead, he finds her awake and in extreme pain and a second injection has little effect. He must hold her till she dies:

" was like seeing a light blown out." (p. 45)

Enherrian says it is well that she is fallen. Thinking that Pete had miscalculated, he gave her a stim shot. Enherrian honors both Pete and Olga too much to deny Olga her deathpride. Did Pete not want her "' give God a battle?'" (p. 46)

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Mixed Ecology

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 3 July 2014.

Poul Anderson conveys the richness of the Avalonian environment with detailed descriptions of what can be seen from particular vantage points. From a balcony of the tower of the Weathermaker Choth, Nat Falkayn sees, first, the imported organisms:

meadows full of grazing meat animals brought from Ythri;
Terrestrial grass, clover, oak and pine;
Ythrian starbell, wry, braidbark and copperwood -

- then, beyond the cultivated area, native Avalonian organisms:

the red mat of susin;
intensely green chasuble bushes;
delicately blue janie;
a flock of leather-winged draculas.

Susin must be the local equivalent of grass, surface-covering vegetation that can be cropped down to ground level without being killed. Anderson always describes this on each colonized planet.

Again, the view from a hospital window displays the mixed ecology:

"...a lawn and tall trees - Avalonian king's-crown, Ythrian windnest, Earthly oak - and a distant view of snowpeaks. Light spilled from heaven. The air sang."
-Poul Anderson, Rise Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2012), p. 321.

These are the moments to be savored in Anderson's works. There are many such passages, to be found when rereading since they are usually forgotten soon after a single reading.

(Ythrian hammerbranch has found its way to Aeneas: see here.)

Yhtrian Society Is Not A Civilization

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 30 June 2014.

Ythrians are winged carnivores but intelligent. The flapping of their wings pumps enough oxygen into their veins to generate the energy needed to lift bodies capable of intelligence in Earth-like gravity. Each Ythrian family needs territory for hunting or herding. The sexes are equal. Parents are bonded by care of children who cling to them in flight, not by sex, which is only when they are in heat.

Their Stone Age was ended not by agriculture but by herding and domestication. Agriculture developed later for fodder. Later, larger, more complex social units are not civilizations because winged Ythrians have never needed cities. Sedentary centers for specific purposes, like mining, industry, trade or religion, are small with floating populations. Since contact with Terrans, machines have mostly replaced wing-clipped slaves while, simultaneously, the Empire reintroduces slavery.

Families are grouped in "choths", diverse in size, organization and tradition. All free adults can participate in democratic meetings called "Khruaths" but the only way to enforce a Khruath decision, if enforcement becomes necessary, is for the presiding officers, the Wyvans, to cry Oherran, calling on everyone in the territory to attack the defiers of the decision. Oherran is a deathpride matter. Wyvans whose call of Oherran is rejected have no honorable course but suicide.

Aeneas And Barsoom

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 26 May 2013.

Poul Anderson's fictional planet, Aeneas, has some features in common with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom:

a breathable atmosphere, even though Barsoom is the ERBian Mars;
dead sea bottoms;
thus, a wharf now on dry land;
military traditions, defensive on Aeneas but barbaric on Barsoom;
buildings of an ancient race used by a current race;
custodians (therns, Companions) of a mystery (the Valley Dor, the Ancients);
knowledge of the next Sunward planet (Barsoomians observe Earth, Aeneans study Didonians);
a visibly moving moon;
six-legged green draft animals, although the Aenean stathas are imports.

When I seek parallels, I find more than I expect. However, the differences are greater. No one in his right mind would think that Aeneas was a copy of Barsoom - although Anderson could have written a good Barsoom novel (Sword and Science), just as he contributed to the Conan series (Sword and Sorcery), but I do not think that the Burroughs Estate commissions continuations? (Later: It has done.)

One Fictional Planet

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 25 May 2014.

For many of his fictional planets, Poul Anderson seriously considers:

the astrophysical conditions of the condensation of this planetary system from the primordial gas and dust;
the current planetary environment and climate;
every facet of the social life of the inhabitants;
their galacto-political relations to other planets during a changing history.

In the case of Dennitza, there was no astrophysical accident - no nearby supernova or passing neutron star etc. However, there was a more recent collision with "...a shower of giant meteoroids..." -Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 498. Results: craters, extinctions, tsunamis, clouds, an Ice Age and, at the time of human colonization six hundred years ago, a Great Spring, now submerging coastal towns. The Kazan or Cauldron is a huge astrobleme containing woods, farms, rivers and the capital city.

Four hundred years ago, immigrants fleeing the modernization of Merseia, and better adapted to cold environments, provided labor during industrialization and now do most of the fishing and pelagriculture. They retain Vach organization and are represented in a third House of the Parliament. Anderson demonstrates that both species have developed new legends and traditions during their centuries on Dennitza.

Two Cosmic Accidents And Some Other Details

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 24 May 2014.

I discussed the freak planet Diomedes before but did not mention one detail - two cosmic accidents caused the planet's unusual features.

(i) The electromagnetic activity of a passing neutron star chemically fractionated a cloud of gas and dust which therefore condensed into a metal-poor system. Consequently, Diomedes, compared with Terra, has 4.75 mass and 2.00 diameter but only 1.10 gravity. Such a large planet generates a dense atmosphere supporting many large flying organisms, including one intelligent species with a sophisticated Stone Age technology, trading their organic substances for off-world metals.  

(ii) Some other unspecified accident placed the poles at the equator. Therefore, each hemisphere has an annual sunless season and most organisms either hibernate or migrate.

I am rereading A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, a novel rich in details, many of which I have already discussed. Because this novel falls so late in the Technic History series, it incorporates many already established background details, including Diomedes. While Dominic Flandry is on that planet, he recalls a meeting with two opponents on Talwin where he claimed to be dressed in a style from Ramanujan. All these entities and planets have appeared or been mentioned earlier in the series.

Four works are set during the Molitor dynasty and all four could be collected under the title "Children of Empire" since they feature:

for Molitor - two sons and one granddaughter plus mention of a grandson;
for Flandry - one son and one daughter plus mention of a few other children;
for Max Abrams - one daughter;
for the Starkadian Dragoika  - one son.

James Bond-like, Flandry really does combine sex with espionage. He gathers intelligence by sleeping with the Diomedean resident's wife. Currently, each British town has a Mayor and some also have a Duke. In Flandry's time, Britain has a Mayor Palatine and Mars has a Duke!


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 22 May 2014.

"'They think [Dido] started out to be a Venus type, but a giant asteroid collided with it. Shock waves blew most of the atmosphere off, leavin' the rest thin enough that chemical evolution could go on, not too unlike the Terran - photosynthesis and so forth, though the amino acids that developed happened to be mainly dextro- 'stead of levorotatory. Same collision must've produced the extreme axial tilt, and maybe the high rotation. 'Cause of those factors, the oceans aren't as inert as you might 'spect on a moonless world, and storms are fierce. Lot of tectonic activity: no s'prise is it? That's believed to be the reason we don't find traces of past ice ages, but do find eras of abnormal heat and drought.'"
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 448.

In this passage, Poul Anderson gives us a flavor of how an Aenean speaks Anglic and also outlines yet another unusual planet, although with features that are becoming familiar:

an early collision;
an atmosphere (mostly) blown off;
an extreme axial tilt;
high rotation (eight hour days!);
fierce storms;
unusual natives.

What does Anderson mean by "...Venus type..." here? The Rebel Worlds was published in 1969, one year before Russian Venera probe 7 first transmitted data from the Venerian surface but two years after Venera 4 had measured the Venerian atmosphere. We do not see the Venus of the Technic History but are told that it has been colonized and partially terraformed. I had assumed that it was a jungle type Venus, similar to the way Dido is described.

Flandry lands in a jungle of brown, red, purple, gold, but not green, trees, vines, multi-shaped foliage and spongy, springy ground cover. To film a Flandry novel, it would be necessary to reproduce the planetary environment as described in Anderson's text, not merely to shoot such scenes in a South American or African jungle.


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 16 May 2014.

"Ardaig was sizeable, must hold two or three million souls. This quarter was ancient, with buildings of gray stone fantastically turreted and battlemented."
- Poul Anderson, "Day of Burning" IN Anderson, David Falkayn: Star Trader (New York, 2010), pp. 208-272 AT p. 223.

Ardaig is a city on the planet Merseia. Anderson must make it different from a Terrestrial city but not very different because Merseia is terrestroid and Merseians are oxygen-breathing bipeds. When Merseia is unified, Ardaig becomes the planetary capital. Later, it is joined in this role by modern antipodal Tridaig, where most of the government's business is conducted, although Ardaig remains the cultural and artistic center, the location both of the Roidhun's primary residence and of his Grand Council's annual meetings, and also becomes the location of the new Space Navy offices.

Ardaig and Tridaig embody tradition and technology, respectively. Ardaig differs from a Terrestrial city because:

it is neither bright nor busy at night;
ground vehicles are confined to tubeways or a few avenues;
streets are for pedestrians or gwydh riders;
recreation is at home or in ancient theaters and sports fields;
shops are small and have been run by the same family in the same house for generations - although there are also mercantile centers with communicator and delivery systems;
pavements are luminous;
street signs are not words but colorful heraldic emblems.

Those last details in particular are different and imaginative.

The Surface Of Mirkheim

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 20 June 2013.

Mirkheim, the supermetal-coated remnant of a giant planet of a massive star that went supernova, is unlit by any sun so might resemble a rogue planet except that its surface is:

not covered by dust or frozen atmosphere;
not cratered;
metallic, hard, blank, dimly shining, almost mirror-like;
in some places, fantastically ridged and corrugated by congealed moltenness;
with five Terrestrial gravities and enough radioactivity to kill in weeks.

Rogue planets, which feature in more than one work by Anderson, are sunless because they move through interstellar space. Mirkheim, which appears in a short story and a novel, is sunless because its sun exploded a long time ago. Sunlessness suggests sameness but Anderson takes the trouble to imagine the differences, as summarized above.

Shortly before Sandra Tamarin visits Mirkheim, David Falkayn has visited the sub-Jovian Babur. Thus, although Anderson describes many beautiful humanly colonized planets like Hermes, Avalon and Dennitza, he also envisages planetary surfaces that are as inhospitable as space itself and also shows us what his characters see when they explore such places.

Living beings venture to Mirkheim not to live there but to mine the supermetals which are so valuable that a war is fought over them.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Center Of The Cloud Universe

Copied from Poul Appreciation Appreciation, 4 May 2014.

Poul Anderson, "Starfog" IN Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), pp. 709-794. 

The "Cloud Universe" in Poul Anderson's "Starfog" is simultaneously both a globular cluster and a gaseous nebula. I have tried to convey the richness of Anderson's imagination by summarizing his accounts of this spatial environment but there is always more. The accounts permeate the narrative rather than being confined to an introductory passage.

At the center:

nebular gas and dust are so dense that they present "...a nearly featureless glow..." (p. 772);
the glow is pearl-colored, with rainbows;
the stars are so close that thousands are visible despite the "starfog";
the plasma is actively energetic;
denser clouds conceal hazards - drifts of dust, rogue planets and dead stars;
the hazards, "...more than fog...," are compared to "...shoals, reefs, and riptides" (ibid.);
the two exploratory spacecraft are compared to "...frigates on unknown seas of ancient Earth..." (ibid.), but this sea is not flat and has no horizon;
gas and dust are so gravitationally concentrated that there is an unbelievable rate of star-production;
every time the cluster gathers material from the clouds of the galactic center, there are several supernovae per century for at least a million years;
radiation has sterilized every planet within a fifty light year radius;
atoms have been through a dozen supernova explosions, far more than elsewhere;
giant planets do not have shells of frozen water and smaller ones do not have silicate crusts;
iron, gold, mercury, tungsten, bismuth, uranium and transuranics abound;
some planets will have to be explored only by heavily armored robots;
the planets will be intensively mined for heavy elements rare elsewhere but abundant here;
the discoverers, drawing royalties on millions of the richest mines in the galaxy, will "'...command more resources than many civilizations...'" (p. 791).

Wealth beyond the dreams of Nicholas van Rijn: Satan and Mirkheim were each only one planet. An entire new phase of interstellar history, now spread across several spiral arms, is about to begin as the series ends.

In Space

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 2 May 2014.

In much sf, space is a mere void to be crossed to reach a planet whereas, in several of Poul Anderson's works, space is an environment that his characters spend time in:

a spaceship attracts spores as they spread through asteroidal space;

one spaceship tracks another through interstellar space;

a Bussard ramjet accelerates at relativistic speeds through intergalactic space;

Commonalty Ranger Daven Laure's self-aware spaceship, Jaccavrie, explores the opaque space of a globular cluster where glowing gas and dust conceal over a quarter of a million stars mere light-weeks or light-months apart.

I am still studying the "Cloud Universe" of Anderson's story, "Starfog." The crowded and clouded cluster is called "the Cloud Universe" because, when human beings who had been isolated for millennia within the cluster finally re-emerged into dark space, the difference between the two spatial environments was so complete that they thought that they had traveled between universes.

The cluster on its eccentric orbit has passed through the dense clouds near the galactic center twenty or thirty times, each time scooping up vast quantities of matter which then condense into several generations of giant stars.

It is impossible to navigate because:

the clouds of gas and dust absorb and diffuse the light even of supergiant stars;
the supergiants emit detectable neutrinos but so do many other sources;
the stellar proximity produces many magnetic effects;
many of the stars are doubles, triples or quadruples which revolve rapidly, thus twisting the force lines;
radiation keeps much of the interstellar medium in plasma form;
there is every kind of electromagnetic activity, synchrotron and betatron radiation and nuclear collision;
these and other unstated factors generate too much noise for any theoretically possible instrumentation;
inertial navigation would work at kinetic velocities but hyperdrive is necessary to cross parsecs and too rapid a change of gravitational potential between stars so close moving on such complicated paths would cause uncontollable perturbations;
the high cosmic ray background implies a high rate of nova and super-nova production which in turn indicates large numbers of navigational hazards like neutron stars, rogue planets, large meteoroids and thick dust banks.

Another Unusual Planet

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 2 May 2014.

In Poul Anderson's "Starfog," a subjovian planet had had:

a cloudy hydrohelium and methane atmosphere;
a core surrounded by ice and frozen gases;
an orbit a billion and a half kilometers from its primary, which:

received an abnormal infall of matter;
swelled and cooled;
consumed its inner planets;
blew away atmospheres, boiled oceans, melted ice and unleashed tectonic forces on the outer planets.

Consequently, the former subjovian is now an Earth-sized ball of metal and rock with mountains, cratered plains and an immense blue-red sun. However, a newly formed star, as bright as a thousand Sols, passes close while at the same time the glowing cluster of red, golden, emerald and sapphire stars rises behind the expanded sun.

Events on uninhabited planets become as fascinating as activities on inhabited planets.

Inside The Cloud Universe

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 1 May 2014.

Space is never completely empty. In "Starfog," Poul Anderson imagines a volume of space full of gas and dust illuminated by hundreds of thousands of closely packed stars at every stage from condensation to explosion. Gas, condensing into stars, is enriched by novas and renewed when the cluster's eccentric orbit approaches the galactic center.

Standing on the bridge of his spaceship, Daven Laure sees clouds and colors glowing, streaming, eddying, piling into cliffs and darkening into grottoes. He traverses not apparent emptiness but landless cloudscapes, hears sounds, feels vibrations and remembers fire and ice meeting in the Void of Norse mythology.

His computer remarks that the external view is an illusion:

the interstellar medium is not as dense as a planetary atmosphere but appears so because absorption and reflection effects are cumulative over light years;
the swirling appears accelerated because the ship is under hyperdrive;
space does not shine - excited atoms fluoresce;
the sounds heard are from instruments within the ship;
quantum micro-jumping across variable magnetic fields, the ship interacts with them and thus seems to be buffeted by tangible currents.

Pele II

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 16 Apr 2014.

Poul Anderson imagines yet another unexpected hazard in a strange planetary system. As a gas giant of ten Jovian masses falls toward its sun, Pele, planetary convulsions spew iron into the upper atmosphere where Pelean ultraviolet splits molecules into ionized atoms. Next, the chaotically interacting Pelean and planetary magnetic fields form vortices that pull ferromagnetic atoms into charged pellets which, accelerated to escape velocity, are thrown like shotgun fire into space where they riddle an exploratory kzinti spaceship.

Anderson understands three kinds of psychology:

human beings who know the kzinti are unwilling to attempt a rescue;
a human being of good will who does not know the enemy does attempt a rescue;
a kzin can only attempt to kill his monkey rescuers...

More On The Macromolecule

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 1 Apr 2014.

Anderson, Poul, "Iron" IN Niven, Larry, Ed. The Man-Kzin Wars (London, 1989), pp. 27-177.

We learn more about the organic matter covering Prima and also about the yellow matter covering the other airless bodies in the red dwarf system. Both kinds of matter are cleverly integrated into the plot of "Iron."

Cosmic radiation within galaxies and quantum mechanics between galaxies caused random changes in the supermolecule that had covered Prima. Chemical structures that assimilated fresh material more efficiently were naturally selected, including:

atom-grabbing and catalytic components;
ways of -
passing atoms between receptors;
extracting planetary material;
breaking down carbonates and silicates;
incorporating metallic atoms;
growing and combining through clathrate formation.

The thin surface-covering mantle, strongly bound to the underlying rock and activated by approaching light, ripples in waves that emanate from darker nodes while it knits a landed spaceship's landing jacks into its structure, then gradually eats the ship.

The supernova-produced yellow material, comprising faceted spherical molecules of linked carbon atoms, each molecule surrounding a single metal atom, acts in aggregate like a fluid and possibly played a basic role in the origin of planetary life. When Saxtorph falls into a hole filled with such matter, he can neither climb nor swim out and it blocks his radio but Laurinda, knowing that he is there, rescues him with a cable.

Thick plastic heat-sealed bags of yellow matter superglued to landing jacks enable a spaceship to land and stand safely on Prima for hours because:

"The devourer could not quickly incorporate atoms so strongly interlinked. As it did, more flowed in to fill the gaps." (p. 175)

Thus, the yellow problem solves the organic problem.

Jinx And The Old Red Dwarf

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 29 Mar 2014.

Anderson, Poul, "Iron" IN Niven, Larry, Ed., The Man-Kzin Wars (London, 1989), pp. 27-177.

Jinx is a massive, egg-shaped, humanly colonized satellite of a gas giant in the Sirian system. Carita Fenger, a Jinxian, is almost as wide as she is high and:

"Ancestry under Sirius has made her skin almost ebony..." (p. 51)

Black skin that comes not from Africa but from centuries on Jinx!

Very soon after the Beginning, a galaxy formed as soon as it was possible for this to happen. (I think that the cosmic voyagers of Anderson's The Avatar visited a very early galaxy.) The stars of this galaxy lost mass in their red giant phases. This mass, containing oxygen, nitrogen, silicon, neon, magnesium and iron but few or no heavier elements, enriched a cloud from which the red dwarf formed. This dwarf and its five surviving planets have abundant hydrogen and helium because they condensed so soon after the Big Bang.

Displaced probably by an encounter with a larger body, the system has been moving between and through galaxies for fifteen billion years. Carita says:

"'A relic - hell, finding God's fingerprints...'" (p. 69)

Most science fiction readers know only that there are stars and planets with nuclear fusion inside stars transforming lighter into heavier elements which, blasted into space by novae, enrich later generations of stars and planets. Anderson gives us a lot more detail, shows us why it is important and imagines dramatic and unusual events within stellar processes.

Iron 1-8

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 29 Mar 2014.

I have reread the first eight of the twenty four numbered sections of "Iron" by Poul Anderson.

Markham, the unsympathetic character with an ambiguous attitude to the kzinti, is reminiscent of Magnusson who turns out to be pro-Merseian.

The characters investigate a remote, mysterious red dwarf that is reminiscent of unusual stars in other works by Anderson. This metal-impoverished dwarf star with scarcely any iron has an estimated age of fifteen billion years, making it almost as old as the universe. It moves quickly through our galaxy, having been ejected from its parent galaxy very early, probably by an encounter with larger bodies.

Unexpectedly, it has planets, which, even from a distance, are seen to be odd and unlike each other. We probably wonder whether they are inhabited but they can't be, can they? However, something else completely unexpected will emerge.

Thus, although the human characters hail from every planet in Known Space and have recently fought the kzinti, we recognize that we are in a Poul Anderson universe and that, like his contribution to Asimov's Robots, this story is very much part of Anderson's complete works.

Escape The Morning II

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 27 Mar 2014.

Anderson, Poul, "Escape The Morning" IN Anderson, Space Folk (New York, 1989), pp. 52-63.

A Lunar station is an isolated enterprise. Jordan Station mined ice but exhausted their vein and, in any case, so much water has been found that the price has gone down so they now mine copper and, when they have saved enough capital, might extract oil.

Lunar oil is "'Heterocyclic compounds formed by photochemical reactions in the original dust cloud that became the Solar System'" (p. 57), and can be used to make rocket fuel.

Mr and Mrs Jordan died two years ago in a pit collapse before it had been learned "'...that ferraloy cross-braces can change into a weaker crystalline form under Lunar conditions.'" (ibid.) Mark Jordan and his younger brother and sister now run the automated station, receive education by two-way television from Tycho Crater and entertainment broadcasts from Earth and deliver ore to Copernicus Town and Keplersburg. Next year, when Mark moves to the Tycho University dorm to take lab courses for an engineering degree, Tom, who is two years younger, will run the station and hire an assistant.

Thus, Anderson briefly sketches economic, educational and social features of life on the Moon and underlines, for his younger readers, that:

"'Pioneers have always had to grow up fast...'" (p. 58)

Friday, 12 September 2014

Fifteen Billion Years

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 29 Mar 2014.

Anderson, Poul, "Iron" IN Niven, Larry, Ed., The Man-Kzin Wars (London, 1989), pp.27-177.

(This time, I really will try to regard 160 as a good round number of posts for a month and hold off on any more posts until 1st April.)

"Iron" is the kind of speculative fiction that I have come to expect from Poul Anderson - speculation totally transcending the Man-Kzin Wars setting of this particular story.

A red dwarf star and its five planets numbered by their human discoverers from Prima to Quinta have moved between and through gaseous nebulae for fifteen billion years. That has been long enough for the gravitational fields of the planets and their moons to attract atoms and molecules from the nebulae and even from intergalactic space. This matter affects the surfaces of those planets or moons that have no atmosphere to counteract it. Thus, a carbon compound from space yellows the airless surfaces of the Secundan and Tertian moons.

That carbon compound is too cold to interact with complex organic compounds which therefore are a minor part of the downdrift. Because the sun emits negligible ultraviolet and solar wind, carbon-based molecules reach the airless Priman surface intact and, because Prima is only 0.4 AU from the sun, its surface is warm enough for the organics to interact. Sand, dust and meteor powder provide colloidal surfaces where the organics cluster and concentrate until complicated exchanges occur, seizing free carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms from the downdrift and possibly also adapting to extract matter from surface rocks. Growing patches meet and interact to form a single multiplex molecule or polymer covering the planet with differently colored areas displaying diverse local interactions. Other planetary systems are not old enough and have not passed through enough nebulae for these processes to have occurred in them.

On the atmosphere-bearing Tertia, organics from space evolved into intelligent beings who, lacking metals, became extinct in their stone age when their planet chilled, plants died and rocks bound the atmospheric oxygen. The planetary polymer is a more ingenious extrapolation than the extinct intelligences and the dramatic history of this wandering planetary system makes the Man-Kzin Wars seem very parochial.

Archopolis And Earth In Flandry's Time II

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 25 January 2014.

We want to know more about Earth in Dominic Flandry's time but our information is limited to certain passages in Poul Anderson's texts. (I think that I speak for more Poul Anderson fans than just myself?) A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows begins with an unusually up front statement from the omniscient narrator:

"Every planet in the story is cold - even Terra, though Flandry came home on a warm evening of northern summer. There the chill was in the spirit."

- Poul Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (New York, 2012), p. 342.

The two opening words immediately establish for anyone who did not already know that this is a science fiction novel. And here is a first datum about Terra, that it is cold in spirit. When we have read the novel, we should pause to remember the other planets in the story:

Diomedes, previously visited by Nicholas van Rijn;
Dennitza, newly created for A Knight...;
Chereion, its environment postulated in earlier installments but here visited for the first and last time.

Regarding Earth, A Stone In Heaven clarifies that, although nothing has occurred to reduce the extent of the oceans, the land masses have become a single city although it is one that preserves many open green spaces. The urbanized areas consist of towers stretching around the planet. The urban nexus is the capital, Archopolis, where Sir Dominic, now a Vice Admiral, lives and works. He eats breakfast looking out onto a roof garden of Terrestrial and extraterrestrial flowers, beyond them two-century old towers and, above the towers, blue sky, white clouds and sparkling aircars.

Then, unfortunately, the text must return to the plot of the novel...

Archopolis And Earth In Flandry's Time

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 25 Jan 2014.

"...[the towers] went on beyond sight, multiplied over and over around the curve of the planet. Archopolis was merely a nexus; no matter if the globe had blue oceans and green open spaces - some huge, being property of nobility - it was a single city."

- Poul Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), p. 44.

In Isaac Asimov's Galactic Empire, the capital, Trantor, is both a city covering a planet and a planet covered by a city. Both city and planet are named "Trantor." As far as I can remember, the only green growth is in the (large) garden of the Imperial Palace and there are no oceans or at least none left after the total urbanization of the planet.

In Poul Anderson's Terran Empire, the capital, Archopolis, is "...a nexus..." in a city covering the land areas of the planet Terra. Large open spaces do not prevent the Terran continents from being a single city any more than Central Park negates New York's status as a city. However, Terra is not completely urbanized like Trantor and there is a forest in the High Sierra.

The Hadal Abysses

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, Jan 2014.

Poul Anderson's vocabulary continues to surpass mine. On p. 175 of Murder Bound (New York, 1962), we find "...the hadal abysses." I had never come across "hadal" before and had to google it although the context had enabled me to guess its derivation from "Hades." Thus, I expect that it is pronounced something like "haydle" rather than "had-al" ?

When the private detective, Trygve Yamamura, goes to sea, Anderson is not content to describe the view from the deck or through a porthole: the sky, the weather and the surface of the sea. Instead, Yamamura's "...primitive awe..." (ibid.) inspires him to contemplate the (to coin a slightly less obscure adjective) Hadean abysses. (Other Anderson characters venture bodily into those deeps in his historical fantasy novel, The Merman's Children.)

Yamamura imagines:

"...sunless cold silence" (ibid.);
pressure that would crush the steel ship;
"...beings that were little more than glowing heads..." (ibid.);
thousand year old squids that have continued to grow all their lives;
closer to the surface, the sea serpent, a hypothetical "...great plesiosaur-like mammal..." (p. 176);
porpoises possibly as intelligent as human beings;
ocean currents potentially shifting to bring an ice age;
plankton either feeding future mankind or surviving all land life after a nuclear war.

Again, Anderson summarizes potential material for several more novels. When Poe, Wells and Doyle wrote science fiction, parts of the sea and the upper atmosphere remained unexplored and were possibly inhabited by beings as exotic as extraterrestrials. Anderson recaptures the feeling of that earlier speculation about the Terrestrial environment.

A Populated Galaxy?

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 15 Nov 2013.

I smell a very large rat here, folks. Please let me explain. But it will take a while.

The blurb on Poul Anderson's Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963) says that Anderson:

" the startling conclusion that intelligent life is widespread throughout the cosmos." (back cover)

I am still reading the book but its argument is definitely pointing in that direction. Was such a conclusion really startling? In any case, one reservation here is that the book is now fifty years old. It is always necessary to check current scientific thinking on such issues. I will return to this point.

Meanwhile, however, for what it is worth, did the book when it was published provide a theoretical underpinning for the many sf works by Anderson and others who populated the galaxy with more or less humanoid sophonts? The matter is not quite that straightforward. There are two parallel traditions: literary and scientific. Hard sf is one literary tradition that does try to keep abreast of current science although the latter sometimes dates quickly.

Brian Aldiss points out somewhere that the earliest pre-literary and literary traditions populated Earth with many non-human intelligences that most of us now think do not exist. Next, fiction populated the Solar System with Wellsian Selenites or ERBian Moonmen, Martians, Venerians, Jovians etc. We now think that such beings do not exist. Literature may lag behind science. Thus, the early Asimov wrote about Martians and Venerians although he knew by then that they did not exist. CS Lewis wrote about Martian "canals" because they were part of the mythology, not because he still thought that they existed.

Aldiss thought that the populated galaxy was as mythical as the supernaturally populated Earth and the naturally populated Solar System. Of course, whether there really is any intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy remains a scientific question but I think that we can be certain that, if there are any extra-Solar intelligences, then they are completely unlike any that have been imagined.

Back to the rat: in Anderson's much later future histories, Harvest Of Stars and Genesis, life is rare and extra-Solar intelligence is not encountered. Was Anderson merely trying out alternative sf premises or was he, as I strongly suspect, acknowledging more recent scientific thinking as to the likelihood or otherwise of life on other worlds?

Thursday, 11 September 2014


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 14 Nov 2013.

We are used to characters in science fiction traveling around within the galaxy although inter-galactic travel is rare. It is worthwhile to reflect on facts about galaxies as summarized in Poul Anderson's Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963, pp. 24-28). (Some blog readers might be able to update this information in the light of data gathered in the last fifty years.)

1963 Information
There might be a million million galaxies, each containing billions of stars, within range of the Mount Palomar telescope which cannot see to the end of the universe.

Clusters of galaxies are millions of light years apart.

The Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy are the largest of the nineteen galaxies in the Local Group.

Our galaxy is 100,000 light years across. Its nucleus is 20,000 light years across with an axis of 6,500 light years. The galactic halo of thinly spread stars and gas has a volume fifty times that of the galaxy.

Several spiral arms with empty spaces between them radiate from the nucleus. Our sun, near the inner edge of one spiral arm, 100 light years from the galactic equator and 30,000 light years from the centre, travelling at 130 miles per second, revolves once around the galactic centre every 195 million years.

If possible, sf writers need to keep reminding us of the shape and size of the galaxy every time they describe their characters travelling around within it. Anderson's Terran Empire is only four hundred light years across but, later, mankind spreads through several spiral arms.

Atlantean Animals

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 1 Nov 2013.

Only birds are mobile enough to survive and flourish in the Atlantean environment made turbulent by the tidal influences of the giant planet and four other inner moons. Tides are variable but always high, up to seven times  Terrestrial.

The inner hemisphere has fish, reptiles and birds but no mammals. The following are all birds except the orcfish and maybe the carnivores.

Orspers: "horse-birds," used for riding, bigger than ostriches, with white, blue-tipped feathers and hawk-like heads;
aquils: swoop down from the rafters for food in the dining hall;
stampers: larger grazing herds, hunted for meat;
jacklins and wolfers: dangerous carnivores;
peepers: small and round with large eyes, parrot-like beaks and a lethal poisonous bite;
"seal-birds" (unknown to Freetooners, first encountered after crossing the Ridge): like large, penguin-feathered seals with dangerous flippers, beaks and jaws, they attack but can be roasted and eaten;
not named in the text: tame birds with colored tails in the garden of Lysum;
corvoids: they moult;
muckbirds: they are not regarded highly;
orcfish: military tunics are made from their scaled hides.

Atlanteans have "birdnaps," not catnaps (p. 38).

Anderson tells us in the Author's Note, not in the text, that there are a few primitive mammals, never seen by the colonists, on the outer hemisphere that is permanently turned away from the primary, Minos.

If we cast the net wider to include animals elsewhere in the Minoan system, then the Mars-like moon Theseus has an atmosphere and, according to the novel, "...signs of intelligent life..." (Virgin Planet, New York, 1982, p. 63). Thus, when the Stellar Union integrates Minos, it will have to deal both with the Atlantean colonists who have been isolated for three hundred years and with Thesesian natives.


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 19 Nov 2013.

I was surprised when Larry Niven's Known Space future history included humanoid Martians. They live under the dust and water destroys them - so they use wells for burial, or for their equivalent of cremation. A protector exterminates the Martians in the Solar System by diverting an ice asteroid onto a collision course with Mars but they survive on the Map of Mars in the Great Ocean on the Ringworld.

Poul Anderson summarizes information about Mars in Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963):

most of the surface is red-yellow desert broken by bleak scarps and ranges and meteoric craters;
the very thin atmosphere comprises nitrogen, argon, too much carbon dioxide and no oxygen;
the surface is extremely cold, receiving 43% of the radiation of Earth, although this would suffice for vision and photosynthesis;
maybe a few Terrestrial plants could live and grow there;
the polar caps seem to be water;
as on the Moon, there could be ice underground;
dark areas and "canals" change color, as if with vegetation, when the ice caps melt;
Martian plants might split oxygen from iron oxides;
plants could mean animals, even large and intelligent ones.

Suddenly, Anderson's section on Mars ends by reopening the question whether there might be intelligent Martians. However, fifty years later, no such beings have been detected so I think that their existence remains very unlikely.  

The Moon And Mercury

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 19 Nov 2013.

(See Addendum.)

 In Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Poul Anderson summarizes data about the Moon:

weak gravity so no atmosphere or water vapor on the surface;
temperature varying from over 200 F to below -250 F;
no protection from Solar ultraviolet or charged particles;
however, large areas insulated by dust have underground temperatures of 30 F to -95 F;
irradiated dust in vacuum congeals into material that could hold organic matter;
low gravity plus probable absence of a core could mean protected caverns and tunnels;
organisms could have originated during the 10 or 100 million years before the Moon lost its air and surface water;
other organic matter could have arrived during the meteoric bombardment, even including Terrestrial organisms;
subsurface ice could become liquid or vapor during the Lunar day;
some organisms could have adapted as the atmosphere was lost and might also use the organic matter left by those that had died.

Scientists speculate at most about microscopic organisms but Anderson imagines:

cactus-like plants;
one symbiont growing a membrane to screen against ultraviolet and retain water;
others using Solar energy to metabolize minerals;
buried nodules manufacturing enzymes to repair radiation damage;
worms or beetles distributing seeds in return for nourishment;
all, when dying, providing matter to the underground ecology.

The Wellsian Moon seems to return if only in Anderson's imaginative projections from current data. He speculates similarly about life in caverns on Mercury, then also hypothesizes very hot liquids as lubricants as in his short story, "Life Cycle", set on Mercury.

Addendum: I try to summarize Poul Anderson's intricate arguments comprehensively and accurately but this time missed a point:

"...because there is no atmosphere and hence no convection, anything that casts a shadow is a barrier to light and radiation. The many Lunar crevasses and caves are never subjected to the Sun's attack." (p. 63)

Thus, in addition to congealed surface dust plus underground caverns and tunnels, all of which I did list, we are to imagine cactus-, worm- and beetle-like organisms in shadows and caves on the surface. (Although I think that the Apollo astronauts would have seen some of them.)

Superjovian Planets

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 21 Nov 2013.

When Poul Anderson's There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963) was published, it was known that there were extra-Solar planets sixteen times as massive as Jupiter. The size of superjovians would vary from just sub-stellar to just super-Jovian.

Superjovians that had formed either before or outside of metal-rich galactic regions would be solid hydrogen with enormous hydrogen-helium atmospheres. If superjovians, like the large Solar planets, rotate fast, then they are flattened at the poles. Although massive, they might be no bigger than Uranus because gravity should compress their cores, reducing even the size of their atoms. They can be closer to their suns than Jupiter because, if the latter were too close, then Solar heat would boil away its hydrogen.

Hydrogen and helium would fatally dilute any prebiological compounds, like methane or ammonia, in a superjovian atmosphere. However, multiple star systems can contain superjovians whose moons could be big enough to be terrestroid. Thus, although terrestroid planets are unlikely either to form or to retain stable orbits in a multiple system, terrestroid moons might, and since:

"Probably more than half the stars are double or triple..." (p. 86)

Anderson argues that this capacity of superjovians to support terrrestroid moons in multiple star systems significantly increases the likelihood of life. I had known that terrestroid planets were unlikely to form or to survive in multiple systems but not that terrestroid moons could do so. Thus, this fact, highlighted by Anderson, is indeed significant.

Further, Hal Clement suggests fictionally in Mission Of Gravity that oil- or fat-based life might exist in liquid methane on superjovians. 

Subjovians And Superterrestrials

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 22 Nov 2013.

The subjovian planets, Uranus and Neptune, are intermediate in mass between jovians and hypothetical superterrestrials. Not large enough to retain jovian quantities of hydrogen or helium, they instead have stone and metal cores, atmospheric methane and probably also solid ammonia. If such a planet received more solar heat, either in a closer orbit or from a hotter sun, then it would lose even more hydrogen and helium, retaining an atmosphere of hydrogen, methane, ammonia and inert gasses.

Poul Anderson argues in Is there Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963) that on such a planet, i. e., a hot subjovian, organic compounds should form and become more complex although the remaining excess of hydrogen would prevent the formation of any cellular chlorophyll plus which, if any oxygen were released, then it would combine with the hydrogen to form water, thus circumventing an Earth-like plant-animal system - although not necessarily preventing the evolution of other kinds of complex organisms. In fact, Anderson argues later in the book that hydrogen-breathers are possible and even probable.

It is important to read this passage carefully because its conclusion:

"...subjovians at reasonably high temperatures seem very likely to be inhabited..." (p. 87)

refers not, as I initially thought, to Uranus or Neptune, but instead to hypothetical hotter subjovians in other planetary systems.

A superterrestrial:

would have higher gravity, therefore a thicker atmosphere with a stronger greenhouse effect;
thus, would be like Venus if near its sun but cooler further out;
should in the latter case have photosynthesis and an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere but with more concentrated pre-biological matter leading to faster evolution, also air that would both burn and poison human beings;
but, if smaller, might have habitable mountaintops, like Anderson's Rustum or Niven's Plateau.

(A week away with only one Anderson book means not less blogging but more blogging about a single text. However, this one nonfiction work contains a lot of concentrated information.)

With my granddaughter, who is of Jewish descent through her father, I have just watched Fiddler On The Roof which ends with Russian Jews about to embark for New York where Anderson's works were published...