Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Dido And Aeneas

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 29 Sept 2014.

Dido and Aeneas, the third and fourth planets in the Virgilian system, are like a (barely) habitable Venus and a habitable Mars with no Earth between them. See here and here.

Dido has no moon but its eccentric orbit with average radius of one a.u., extreme axial tilt of 38 degrees and rapid rotation period of 8 hours, 47 minutes, cause turbulent seas and weather. Approaching the planet, Flandry sees dazzling, stormy white clouds on the dayside and aurora and lightning on the night side.

The oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere is unacceptably hot and dense, although breathable, but the tropics are lethal to unprotected human beings. Tectonic activity is intense. Vegetation is brown, red, purple and gold. The ground cover, "carpet weed," resembles small red-brown sponges.

Yet again, Poul Anderson imagines a planetary environment differing in fundamental details from the terrestrial: different colors and ground cover and a much shorter day - also, very dissimilar inhabitants. See here and here

Diomedean Geograpy

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, Wed 29 Oct 2014.

More maps of planets in Technic Civilization would be helpful.

The Holmenach archipelago, stretching north for hundreds of kilometers from the Britain-sized island of Lannach, separates the Sea of Achan from the colder Ocean. The north coast of Lannach slopes in broad valleys from the uplands towards the Sea and Sagna Bay where the Flock of Lannach have several towns:

Yo of the Carpenters.

Fish called trech have changed their habits and moved from Draka waters (where?) to the Sea of Achan.

Well to the north of the archipelago is the ice-covered island of Dawrnach. The Flock of Lannach takes several Earth-days to fly there, resting on skerries usually visited only by birds. Somewhere to the south of Lannach are the jungles of Swampy Kilnu.

Thursday Landing, the League trading post across the Ocean, deals with the Tyrlanian Flock.

There may be a little more geographical information in the text, which I have not yet reread in full.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 18 Sept 2014.

See here.

Large flying animals evolved in the dense Diomedean atmosphere. Flocks of intelligent Diomedeans winter in the tropics. The exertion of a long flight causes hormonal changes so that, upon arrival, there is a mating orgy. Females are pregnant when they return home in spring and give birth before the next migration when parents carry infants who can fly independently the following year.

Towns, vacated every autumn but reoccupied every spring, are centers of stone working, ceramics, carpentry and limited agriculture although the main economic activities are hunting and herding. The Great Flock of Lannach is indolent, artistic, ceremonious and matrilineal whereas Diomedeans of the Fleet of Drak'ho have abandoned annual migration in favor of fishing and seaweed harvesting from large, oceangoing rafts where the exertion of navigational activities exercises the body, maintaining year-round sexuality and reproduction and patriarchal monogamy. The Fleet, able to accumulate stores, machines and books, is richer but authoritarian.

On Starkad (see here), land-dwelling and sea-dwelling intelligent species were natural enemies. On Diomedes, Flock and Fleet are the same species but initially regard each other with mutual horror although extra-planetary traders encourage tolerance and cooperation. In the Imperial period, Drak'ho can adapt to living on land and to engaging in new economic activities whereas the migratory Lannachska culture, used to summer time indolence, cannot survive the introduction of high-energy technology but, without it, must remain poor and powerless.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Two Unusual Planets Early In The Nicholas Van Rijn Series

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 23 Oct 2014.

"Diomedes' poles are in the ecliptic plane. Each spends half the year in winter and night. Intelligent Diomedeans are winged migrators."
-copied from "Unusual Heavenly Bodies" (see here). 

For more information on Diomedes, see here

In the second installment of the Nicholas van Rijn series (see attached image), Old Nick is stranded on Diomedes. The third installment, "Hiding Place," briefly mentions yet another unusual planet:

"'They're under three Gs...Even so, their planet has oxygen and nitrogen rather than hydrogen, under a dozen Earth-atmosphere's pressure. The temperature is rather high, fifty degrees. I imagine their world, though of nearly Jovian mass, is so close to its sun that the hydrogen was boiled off, leaving a clear field for evolution similar to Earth's.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009), p. 596.

Large planets made habitable by cosmic accidents are among those listed in "Unusual Heavenly Bodies." Although they begin to sound familiar, each is a unique creation of Anderson's scientifically informed imagination. I may be posting more about events on Diomedes.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


The sub-Jovian planet Babur:

is more than six a.u.'s from its sun, Mogul (more than six times as bright as Sol);
is twelve and a third times as massive as Earth and two and four-fifths times as large;
has -
four moons,
a hydrogen/helium atmosphere,
red clouds in a purple sky,
eight times the Terrestrial surface, most of it land because ammonia is less plentiful than water,
large arid continents,
ice mountains,
melting volcanoes,
black vegetation,
hot underground ice that explodes with changes of pressure, causing some lands to sink beneath the ammonia seas while others emerge as yet lifeless,
a three-sexed, sex-changing, four-eyed, octopedal dominant species, living in buildings of ice.

Each Baburite "Band" is an association of beings united but not subordinated into a single personality by what might be telepathy with traditions neither oral nor written but perceived. Bands recruit by reproduction and adoption. The Imperial Band of Sisema leads a united planet without a government. 

Friday, 17 October 2014


Ivanhoe is not very odd as Andersonian planets go:

in the Pleiades region;
a cold planet of a red dwarf star;
air pressure higher than Terrestrial;
at least two moons;
no food edible by Terrestrials;
used by the Polesotechnic League only as a site for an emergency repair depot until, between stories, a valuable herb is discovered and a trade base established.

The two stories set on Ivanhoe are about interactions with the natives: furred, tailed, three-fingered bipeds with below-jaw breathing apertures instead of noses and leonine manes on males. Like the Merseians and the Ythrians, the Ivanhoans encountered in the first story are monotheists. When their Chief Consecrate bans a new idea that threatens his preferred social structure, he must show from scripture, tradition or reason that this new idea contradicts the Word of God.

To this extent at least, the Ivanhoan Sanctuary sounds like the Catholic Church. A wily Jewish trader disrupts Sanctuary theology by introducing the Kabbalah. Later, other traders disarm native hostility by introducing the idea of the Christmas truce. Thus, both stories could be included in an sf anthology on religion, as could the earlier "The Problem of Pain" about the Ythrian New Faith of God the Hunter. (We learn that the word "God" can have different connotations.)

In Poul Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009):

"...a Master Merchant of the Polesotechnic League..." (p. 178);
"...Master Polesotechnician Martin Schuster [on Ivanhoe]..." (p. 204);
"...Master Trader Thomas Overbeck [on Ivanhoe]..." (p. 319)

Are Merchant, Polesotechnician and Trader three ranks or three different translations of a single Anglic term into English?

The first Ivanhoe story serves to introduce the series character, David Falkayn. However, both stories are also rich in other characters like the two named Masters.

Other Environments

Two other Technic History planets meriting discussion and documentation are Ivanhoe and Babur:

"The Three-Cornered Wheel" and "The Season of Forgiveness," both set on Ivanhoe, are collected in the first Technic Civilization Saga volume, The Van Rijn Method;

Mirkheim, with a passage set on Babur, is collected in the third volume, Rise Of The Terran Empire.

My next agendum is to reread these two stories and the relevant passage of the novel, then to summarize details of these planetary environments here on Poul Anderson's Cosmic Environments. Meanwhile, however, blog readers are of course welcome to preempt me with any information on either of these planets?

18 Oct 2014: See Ivanhoe and Babur.

T'Kelan Psychology

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 27 May 2013.

(Please bear with me while I discuss philosophy and religion on a Poul Anderson Appreciation blog. It is relevant.)

Human beings were active social organisms long before they became reflective individual subjects. Motivations precede morality. Immature and insensitive behavior existed long before the ability to feel any guilt about it. I think that this fact is the truth behind the myths of original sin or of karmic consequences from previous lives.

Each of us is born with baggage that is not of our choosing but I think that the baggage comes from biology and society, not from a "soul", whether created bearing original sin or transmigrating with bad karma - although "karma", meaning action and its consequences, certainly operates both in individual lives and in world history. Our origin as a species was a Darwinian ascent from animality, not a Biblical descent from innocence.

I discuss these profound issues here because that famous religious philosopher, Nicholas van Rijn, discusses them profoundly in "Territory", where he points out that our animal ancestors were arboreal herbivores before they became plains carnivores whereas t'Kelan animal ancestry was entirely carnivore. This explains otherwise puzzling t'Kelan behavior. They have more powerful killing instincts and are less gregarious:

"'Carnivores can't be. You get a big concentration of hunters in one spot, and by damn, the game goes away.'" (David Falkayn: Star Trader, New York, 2010, p. 56)

They never built nations. Individuals and small groups fight but larger groups, even when they exist, organize no wars. Prides wage no vendettas because one individual killing another is not regarded as bad. In fact, those who do not fight or own and defend territory for hunting are regarded as odd. Human beings who deny that they come to invade must be either lying or weak so van Rijn must prove his strength and courage before he can even begin to negotiate and trade. (Like PG Wodehouse's Jeeves, although in a completely different context, van Rijn has the knack of doing what looks like precisely the wrong thing, for example insulting a native leader, then turns out to have been precisely the necessary thing to do.)

"'We was animals long before we became thinkers and, uh -' van Rijn's beady eyes rolled piously ceilingward - 'and was given souls. You got to think how a race evolved before you can take them...I mean understand them.'" (p. 55)

But I think the evolution rules out the need to postulate souls. I have come to accept that van Rijn's Catholic faith is sincere - his dickering with St Dismas being merely the humorous expression of his mercantilism - but he thinks about business, leaving theologians to do what, as he says in "The Master Key", they are paid to do, for example to think about whether aliens have souls.

T'Kelan Society

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 27 May 2013.

Right now, I am so immersed in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization that I feel as if I am living inside it: not a bad place to be but how long can I stay here?

Meanwhile, here we go with t'Kelan society:

the basic social unit everywhere on the planet t'Kela is the pride;

a pride is is the oldest male, his wives (there are about three females to every male), their children and some of the leader's father's widows;

all hunt but only males fight;

the largest pride is about twenty which is "' many as can make a living in an area small enough to cover afoot, on this desert planet...'" (David Falkayn: Star Trader, New York, 2010, p. 32);

savages have no organization beyond the pride;

in the most advanced, Kusulongo, society, covering half the northern hemisphere, ten to twenty prides form a cooperative "clan," claiming a common male ancestor, each following wild herds through its own large territory, with all clans loosely federated into a "Horde," each of which annually meets at a traditional oasis for trade, socializing, marriages and also arbitration or combat because clans often argue over honor or ammonia wells;

Kusulongans nearly always marry within their Horde which is distinguished by dress, customs, gods ("Real Ones") etc;

there are individual clashes and Volkerwanderungs but no organized wars between Hordes (is this for pragmatic economic reasons as Joyce suggests or for deeper psychological reasons as van Rijn suspects?);

the Ancients, survivors of the lost civilization in their mountain city, are paid for their services as record keepers, physicians, metallurgists, weavers, gunpowder manufacturers, magicians and astronomers able to predict solar flares.

The next topic, which will complete the picture, is t'Kelan psychology.

Making Sense Of T'Kela

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 26 May 2013.

Would it really be possible to make a profit selling drink and spices after crossing interstellar distances at super-light speeds and negotiating with alien intelligences? It sounds like an astronomically expensive way to do it.

In "Territory," Nicholas van Rijn visits the planet t'Kela:

t'Kela's sun is a very old type M dwarf with few heavy atoms;

half an AU out, t'Kela is about 40% more massive than Earth with a low specific gravity but some iron and copper;

suns like t'Kela's emit so little ultraviolet that they do not energize "...primordial organic materials..." to interact very fast (David Falkayn: Star Trader, New York, 2010, p. 24);

so life starts slowly in the liquid ammonia oceans;

it usually uses carbon dioxide and ammonia to photosynthesize carbohydrates and nitrogen, the latter breathed by animals;

but, possibly because of some catalytic agent, life sometimes evolves differently, for example on t'Kela and, in another planetary system, Throra;

oceanic ammonia hydroxide contains some liquid water;

t'Kelan and Throran plants use gaseous carbon dioxide and "dissolved" water to photosynthesize carbohydrates and free oxygen;

animals reverse this process but a specialized molecule holds the released water in their tissues so that plants have to retrieve it from decaying organisms;

oxygen from plants attacks ammonia but slowly because solid ammonia sinks to the bottom of lakes and oceans where it is protected from the air;

gradually, "...ammonia and oxygen yield free nitrogen and water..." (p. 25);

water freezes, seas shrink, air loses oxygen, deserts grow;

on Throra, a bigger planet with a denser atmosphere, therefore more heat conservation, nitrogen-fixing bacteria halted the drying-out a billion years ago;

on t'Kela several thousand years ago, so much ammonia was lost that the greenhouse effect, dependent on carbon dioxide and ammonia vapor, was significantly reduced;

increasing quantities of ammonia solidified and fell to the bottom where they were protected from melting;

carbon dioxide seasonally condensed or even solidified;

plants, needing carbon dioxide and ammonia, died and animals with them;

continent-sized areas became barren, agricultural civilization was destroyed and nitrogen-fixing bacteria were annihilated;

higher animals will be extinct within a thousand years, all life in ten thousand;

however, human beings from Esperance will reintroduce nitrogen-fixing bacteria;

a microagricultural program using soil chemistry will produce a suitable ecology;

the Esperancians will also melt and electrolyze water, releasing oxygen both to refresh the air and to burn t'Kelan petroleum, thus generating carbon dioxide to strengthen the greenhouse effect;

released chemical energy will supplement newly installed nuclear power stations "' do the electrolysis and to energize the combination of hydrogen from water with nitrogen from the atmosphere, recreating ammonia.'" (p. 27)

The Esperancian Joyce explains this process, then t'Kelan society, to van Rijn, thus enabling him to deduce why t'Kelan and human psychologies differ. He articulates some basic insights about the evolutionary and biological bases of psychology but these will have to wait until a later post.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


Osman, a white star twice as bright as Sol, is beyond Antares. Its one inhabited planet, Suleiman, is sub-Jovian with an atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, methane and ammonia and seas of ammonia. Life is based on hydrogen, ammonia and methane. Natives use the plant bluejack as a spice and tonic and collect it for the Solar Spice and Liquor Company which sells it to the hydrogen-breathing Baburites.

A Suleimanite city is built of ice. Suleimanites communicate by sound, gestures, ripples and scents. A Suleimanite has one large eye and two smaller ones for binocular and peripheral vision. (At last another alien without two eyes on the front of its head: the octopedal Baburites have four.)

Suleimanite leaders eat special food said to be poisonous to anyone else and killing a king is unthinkable, possibly because of pheromones. Suleimanites have abundant ceremonies but no discernible animism, magic or religion. The SSL employs trading base staff who double as xenologists and biologists, motivated by the scientific study of Suleimanite life and society.

Source: Poul Anderson, "Esau" IN Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (New York, 2009), pp. 519-553.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Winged Cross

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 19 May 2012.

The Winged Cross, a tower in Chicago Integrate, is connected to other towers by skyways. Aircars fly between them and cabs or flitters land on the roof where there is a garden and a penthouse belonging to Nicholas van Rijn. Several characters visit him there as also in his palatial Djakarta office and in his mansion on Kilimanjaro.

Interesting background details, for example about a character's residence(s), accumulate over the course of a series, possibly the most famous being certain rooms in Baker St. In Poul Anderson's works, another striking example is the New York apartment of Manson Everard of the Time Patrol.

Later in the future history featuring van Rijn, we learn that van Rijn's protege, David Falkayn, had lived with his family in a house on First Island in the Hesperian Sea on the colony planet Avalon but, because Anderson could not possibly write all the details of such a long fictitious history, we learn about this residence only long after Falkayn's death. An interesting exercise for the reader is to reread the van Rijn stories to uncover whatever details are revealed about the Winged Cross.

Addendum, 20 May 2012: Colorful details about the penthouse on the Winged Cross: several sources reveal that it has a live butler, an expanse of trollcat rug and a wall that can be rendered transparent giving a good view of the spires and towers of Chicago Integrate. Van Rijn reclines in a lounger drinking beer and does not stand to greet guests. His height as well as his width would overwhelm them.

Irumclaw II

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 22 Sept 2014.

In the pioneer days on Irumclaw, beehive-shaped native adobes were remodeled for other lifeforms but are now crumbling. As Flandry enters Old Town at night, Poul Anderson as ever addresses three senses. There are glowsigns, noises and smells. The last of these are unpleasant: body odors, garbage and smoke, although there also incense and dope, but why not some cooking smells?

An Irumclagian chanting with a vocalizer advertises games, stakes, food, drink, stimulants, narcotics, hallucinogens, emphasizers and sex with seventeen intelligent species. Thankfully, he does not mention unintelligent species although presumably anything goes.

Flandry seeks to enrich himself and a local vice boss but everything that he does has a purpose. That the Empire will abandon Irumclaw and let the Merseians move nearer has become a self-fulfilling prophecy:

an increasingly incompetent garrison;
able citizens withdrawing themselves and their capital;
defensibility and economic value spiraling downward.

But an enriched local boss with a stake to protect and a reason to stay will lobby and bribe to keep the Empire on Irumclaw.


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 22 Sept 2014.

In Ensign Flandry, there are Irumclagians and, at the beginning of the following volume, A Circus Of Hells, Flandry is on Irumclaw.

Any sf writer can tell us that an interstellar empire is declining and withdrawing from its periphery but Poul Anderson is also able to present imperial decline in social terms with a hint of the pathetic fallacy to back it up.

First, the pathetic fallacy - Flandry leaves the naval compound:

"Soon after the red-orange sun had set..."
-Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), p. 203.

Anderson gets his readers to imagine sunset colors - not only has the sun just set but it was red-colored to begin with - immediately before he discusses declining empire. I have used the accompanying color illustration, although we have had it recently, because of its appropriate background coloring.

Next, as Flandry walks between the homes and private parks of the wealthy, he reflects that "...they epitomized man's trajectory." (p. 204) When the settlement had been large, prosperous and well inside the Imperial boundaries, it had attracted both mercantile commerce and aristocratic culture but now the mansions are either empty or owned only by those who prey on the declining numbers of spacemen and Navy personnel while, outside the treaty port boundaries, the natives revert to barbarism.

"Tonight Irumclaw lay like a piece of wreckage at the edge of the receding tide of empire." (ibid.)

Here again is the pathetic fallacy. Irumclaw is not in decline only at night! However, it is appropriate that Flandry's somber reflections occur just after night fall. They prefigure the Long Night of Empire that haunts Flandry's life.