Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Last Temptation III

More curious features of James Blish's "A Style in Treason" (Anywhen, New York, 1970):

(i) Some professional traitors are valuable because they can never have an identity crisis but Simon is High Earth's most distinguished traitor because he has them regularly (p. 15). I am not sure what this means.

(ii) "'...Gro's own horns...'" (p. 54) ER Eddison's Gro was a member of a horned race, as far as I remember, although this cannot be true of the Traitors' Guilds' Lord Gro.

(iii) Lord Gro writes that the question why entrust traitors with important information should never be answered but he writes this in The Discourses which therefore are not public documents?

(iv) Simon's original mission was simply to bribe the Boadacean Traitor-in-Chief, Valkol, but, when this failed, he had to devise an alternative plan. However, I am still not clear how offering Valkol documents damaging to High Earth, then adding further documentation for a Boadacea-High Earth alliance when Valkol was not expecting this was supposed to work.

(v) Gro writes that traitors should have no personal loyalty to rulers because it "...tears the economic tissue..." and that "For the professional, loyalty is a tool, not a value." (p. 28) But Simon is motivated throughout by obligation to High Earth and hatred of the Green Exarch, not by economics, and the story would have taken a strange turn if he had suddenly accepted a large payment from Boadacea and hidden from High Earth, as Da-Ud suggests.

(vi) Did Simon come to Boadacea to bribe, "...to gull..." or to forge an alliance? (p. 29)

(vii) High Earth has ways of showing displeasure with "...failed traitors..." (pp. 38-39) So they expect him to forge an alliance with Boadacea, not to sell them out, even though he is a "traitor" with no personal loyalty to them?

There may be more but that is it for now.

28/4/13: (viii) Why will Simon be no further use to High Earth after his experience on Boadacea?

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Last Temptation II


Despite his status as a "traitor," Simon de Kuyl remains loyal to High Earth throughout James Blish's "A Style in Treason" and we would be shocked if he did anything else. Simon tells Da-Ud that he, Simon, must complete his mission but does not tell him what it is.

Since the Boadacean Traitors' Guild has killed Da-Ud's half-sister while she was with Simon, both have a motive to cheat the Guild but how is Simon's deception meant to accomplish this? Using the Rood-Prince's "...toposcope-scriber..." and "...brain-dictation laboratory..." (I am not sure what these are), he generates documents purporting to show that he has sold to Da-Ud partial evidence that High Earth has conspired against several major human powers "'...for purposes of gaining altitude with the Green Exarch." (Anywhen, New York, 1970, pp. 33, 34) Both High Earth and the Exarch would pay for such documents. Da-Ud is to tell the Guild that the remaining evidence is also for sale at a higher price. However, this is a "...double blind..." (p. 35)

When Da-Ud has dealt with the Guild and suggests that Simon directly sell them the remaining evidence instead of cheating them, Simon senses that Da-Ud is helping the Guild against him. He proposes to sell the remaining evidence to the Rood-Prince so that the Guild can acquire it by attacking the Principality, thus saving Simon from assassination by a hypothetical second agent from Earth if he is seen to approach the Guild directly with the information.

When Simon, having been captured, is interrogated by the Traitor-in-Chief of Boadacea, he informs the latter that the apparently human representative of the Exarch who is with him is in fact a vombis, a metamorph entirely loyal to the Exarch. Then he turns his coat under Guild laws, offering the information which was not found in the attack on the Principality but to Boadacea, not to the Exarch. His stated motive is that he wants to deal fairly with Boadacea, then become honest with himself. His offer accepted, he writes the requested document, whose authenticity can be confirmed toposcopically, and adds an alliance with High Earth, which was his object from the start.

An alliance with High Earth would not have been acceptable as long as Boadacea was linked to the Exarch but Simon has severed this link by revealing the identity of the vombis and by the impressive elegance of his surrender. Does this make sense?

The Last Temptation

Sometimes we read a work of fiction trusting that it will make more sense as we proceed - or if we remember to think about it afterwards - or maybe if we read the sequel?

The Covenant governing magic is invoked in James Blish's Black Easter but not explained until the later conceived sequel, The Day After Judgement. In his "A Style in Treason" (Anywhen, New York, 1970), why do governments employ self-proclaimed "traitors"? Has the word changed its meaning? Are they merely intelligence officers whose self-description recognises that they might be double or triple agents? They do not work in secret but can be identified because they "'...wear the traitor's clasp...'" (p. 24).

 A man currently called Da-Ud tam Altair is Court Traitor to the Rood-Prince on the planet Boadacea. His duties include "...singing the Rood-Prince to sleep to the accompaniment of the sareh...," a native instrument (p. 31). He finds and sells secrets like "'...how to make bombs...'" (p. 25). Does he steal them from his employer?

When the central character, Simon de Kuyl, reveals himself to Da-Ud as the Traitor-in-Chief of High Earth, Da-Ud responds:

"'I have nothing to sell but the Rood-Prince...and a poor stick he is.'" (p. 32)

In what way precisely would Da-Ud sell the Prince? And is this what he is employed to do as soon as the opportunity arises? And, meanwhile, do his duties include anything more serious than playing the sareh? The text raises more questions than it answers.

Lord Gro explains in one of his Discourses that, despite political separation of extrasolar colonies from High Earth, "...a roughly uniform interstellar economy..." enforces "...a more thorough rule..." (p. 27). OK so far. He then addresses, not entirely satisfactorily, the central puzzle of the story:

"In this [economic] connection, one often hears laymen ask, Why do the various worlds and nations employ professional traitors when it is known that they are traitors? Why would they confide to the traitors any secret valuable enough to be sold to a third party? The answer is the same, and the weapon is the same: money. The traitors act as brokers in a continuous interstellar bourse on which each planet seeks to gain a financial advantage over the other. Thus the novice should not imagine that any secret put into his hands is exactly what it is said to be, particularly when its primary value purports to be military." (p. 27)

Brokers buy and sell shares but how does this relate to the traitors? A government might buy disinformation from a novice but real intelligence from an adept? I will continue to analyze the story.

Some Details

Three ship's surgeons, opposite numbers of Dr McCoy:

in "Nor Iron Bars," Dr Hoyle on the Flyaway II to Alpha Centauri;

in "A Dusk of Idols," Dr Rosenbaum on an unnamed ship returning from the Heart stars;

in "And Some Were Savages," Dr Clyde Bixby on the UNSS Brock Chisholm.

Three references to Canes Venatici:

in "This Earth of Hours," the planet Calle orbits a star in the Canes Venatici cluster which, in this context, has to mean a star cluster in the Canes Venatici constellation, not a cluster of galaxies;

in "Beep"/The Quincunx Of Time, the planet Hathshepa orbits a star on the rim of the eleven light year distant galaxy NGC 4725 in the constellation of Canes Venatici;

in "A Style in Treason," there is an Emperor of Canes Venatici.

In its timeline, Calle is an outpost of the Central Empire of the galaxy, thus is not part of any cluster empire. The galaxy of "A Style in Treason" is rich in empires since the Green Exarch "...drew tithes from six fallen empires older than man..." (Anywhen, New York, 1970, p. 19).

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Dirac

In "Nor Iron Bars" by James Blish (Galactic Cluster, London, 1963), a new faster than light drive:

"...involved giving the whole ship negative mass...Only a physicist who knew Dirac holes well enough to call them 'Pam' would have thought of the notion...'" (p. 63)

It took me a long time to learn that Paul Dirac's initials were PAM.

The physicist, Gordon Arpe, who thought of the negative mass drive did not know Dirac holes as well as he thought. His idea was that the ship, no longer a material object, would accelerate away from Earth, surpassing the speed of light. Instead, unable to exist in the positive mass macrocosm, it collapses into the microcosm where, having some of the properties of a Dirac hole, it is echoed by an electron elsewhere in the universe so that, when it is returned to positive mass and thus to the macrocosm, it re-enters the macrocosm at its other location much further away from Earth than intended, so far away that locating the Sun is problematic.

The ship can cross interstellar distances by jumping in and out of the microcosm but expands and loses air with each jump so that it soon becomes unreuseable. Another means of interstellar travel has to be found. This story could easily have been written as a comedy.

The ship's passengers include the planetary explorer Hammersmith so the story "Beep"/The Quincunx Of Time, referring to a planet called Hammersmith, can be regarded as a sequel. In "Beep"/Quincunx, electrons echoing each other are used not for interstellar travel but for instantaneous communication by means of the Dirac transmitter which is found to receive all such messages transmitted from any point in the four dimensional continuum, past, present or future.

Thus, Blish fully explores every possible fictional application of Dirac holes.

The Haertel History II

By summarising plot elements and background details, I have made four works, with some input from a fifth (see below), sound like a much longer Heinleinian future history with successive interplanetary and interstellar periods.

Haertel's anti-gravity device is not fuelled whereas the DFC-3 is. Therefore, the Haertel overdrive is not merely an interstellar application of Haertel's anti-gravity. The latter is his theoretical and practical discovery of the late 1980's whereas the former follows from his theoretical discovery of 2011 according to one of the Jack Loftus/Heart Stars novels. The Haertel and Loftus timelines diverge at some point which may be after 2011 in Terrestrial history but has to be much earlier in terms of galactic history because Loftus' galactic center is occupied by the ancient Hegemony of Malis, not by any telepathic "Central Empire."

There are similarities but also differences of which some can be incorporated into a single timeline whereas others cannot:

Loftus and his colleagues serve a UN world government in the mid-twenty first century, not a Matriarchy in the futher future;
Like a handful of Matriarchy diplomats and Marines in that alternative future, Loftus and two other Earthmen make a long journey home to warn of a threat from a heart stars civilization;
their FTL drive is not a Standing Wave that has replaced the Haertel and Arpe drives but a modified Haertel overdrive that is called "the Standing Wave;"
Loftus' mentor refers to Garrard's strange temporal experiences with the Haertel overdrive Mark I;
an "Angel" allied to the UN informs us that Earthmen have withdrawn in confusion from the Centaurian beadmungen.

Thus, even a novel set in an alternative scenario imparts some information about the primary Haertel timeline.

Having introduced and defined a galactic conflict between telepaths and their natural opponents, Blish saw no reason either to recount or to resolve the conflict. This sequence of stories would have been extended only if some later story idea had required a reference to the Matriarchy or to the Central Empire just as the story introducing them had required a reference back to Arpe's discovery of microcosmic telepathy and as Arpe in turn had referred back to Garrard as the first man to reach Alpha Centauri.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Haertel History

One novel (Welcome To Mars) and three short stories ("Common Time," "Nor Iron Bars" and "This Earth Of Hours") generate a long sequence of fictitious historical events in a galactic context.

Cosmic Setting And Galactic Context

"Parapsychological fields" are part of the fine structure of subatomic space as electromagnetic fields are part of the fine structure of cosmic space. Therefore, telepathy is too weak to be detected, except fleetingly, by brains evolved to function on planetary surfaces. However, stellar radiation affects biological evolution. Any sentient organism that has evolved on a planet of a Population I star thinks not with a single brain but with multiple ganglia which are able to detect the weak field.

Such organisms communicate telepathically so that (i) a planetary population has a single identity and (ii) instantaneous telepathic communication unites the crowded galactic center into a "Central Empire" - although this terminology might be inappropriate both because there cannot be any individual Emperor and because military conquest of colony planets is unnecessary. (American sf authors became used to writing about interstellar "empires.")

Telepaths regard brained inhabitants of Population II planets, who fight, and eventually exterminate, each other, as diseased. The Central Empire, expanding along the spiral arms, finds natural allies in the clusters, where all the stars are Population I. Thus, mutually hostile Population II civilizations, will be outnumbered and surrounded by a united opponent...

The Future History

By the late 1980's, NASA has not yet landed anyone on the Moon;
Adolph "Dolph" Haertel discovers anti-gravity and flies a tree hut to Mars;
Nanette Ford follows Haertel to Mars;
knowledge of Haertel's discovery inspires the development of an ion drive;
a UN fleet reaches Mars by ion drive;
Dolph and Nanette meet an intelligent dune-cat and a last, dying member of the dominant Martian race;
("No Jokes On Mars" presents essentially the same vision of Mars differing in a few details);
in 2011, Haertel's theory, superseding Einstein's and Milne's relativity, allows faster than light (FTL) travel;
Brown in the Haertel overdrive spaceship DFC-1 leaves for Alpha Centauri but fails to return;
Cellini in DFC-2 suffers the same unknown fate as Brown;
Garrard in DFC-3, on the first round trip to Alpha Centauri, experiences problematic subjective effects of the overdrive and communicates incomprehensibly with indescribable Centaurians called "beadmungen," then, after returning home, discusses his experiences with Haertel;
ferries transport passengers between Satellite Vehicle 1 and larger, orbiting spacecraft;
3V comedienne Celia Gospardi regularly travels to shows on the Moon;
a spaceman named Oestreicher is captain of passenger ships to Mars for ten years;
Daryon Hammersmith "conquers Titan," according to newslines;
the Flyaway I takes twelve years to reach Alpha Centauri by ion drive;
Gordon Arpe invents a new FTL drive that involves giving a spaceship negative mass;
negative mass cannot exist in the macrocosm so Flyaway II (with Arpe as captain, Oestreicher as first officer and Gospardi and Hammersmith among its passengers) collapses into the microcosm where everyone on board becomes telepathic;
Arpe and Gospardi land on an electron;
a subatomic negative mass has to be echoed by an electron elsewhere so the ship occupies two locations simultaneously and, when the Arpe drive is switched off, returns to the macrocosm in the other location, eight hundred light years away from Sol and Alpha Centauri;
after a second microcosmic jump, the ship, no longer useable because its hull, expanded by each jump, now leaks badly, reaches Alpha Centauri;
the colonists retreat in confusion from the incomprehensible beadmungen;
an FTL drive called the Standing Wave replaces the Haertel and Arpe drives;
sperm electrophoresis enables parents to predetermine a child's sex, thus causing a glut of males;
Earth becomes a Matriarchy;
the Matriarchy becomes an interstellar military and colonial power;
Calle and Xixobrax, two planets of the Central Empire, destroy a large Matriarchy invasion fleet;
a small group of Earthmen begins a long journey home to warn about the threat from the Central Empire...

Blish leaves the issue there. Further comments to follow. (See here.)

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Proposed Publication Schedule


I now suggest that this is how James Blish's major works could be republished:

Haertel Scholium
Boxed set, seven paperbacks, none long, in fact three very short, colour coded covers.

Haertel Diptych 1: Welcome To Mars.
Haertel Diptych 2: The Galactic Cluster Trilogy.

Loftus Diptych 1: The Star Dwellers.
Loftus Diptych 2: Mission To The Heart Stars.

Wald/Dirac Diptych 1: The Quincunx Of Time.
Wald/Dirac Diptych 2: Midsummer Century.

Coda: Anywhen, minus the completely unconnected story, "None So Blind".

(Midsummer Century is "Haertel Scholium" because it refers to Wald who refers to Haertel.)

After Such Knowledge
Boxed set, three paperbacks. The cover of A Case Of Conscience should show that it is Volume III and also "Haertel Scholium".

Cities In Flight
Boxed set, four paperbacks.

The Seedling Stars
One volume.

Possible Covers

Haertel 1: Young Haertel before the last Martian.
Haertel 2: Older Haertel with Garrard.

Loftus 1: Jack watching Angels congregate in the Coal Sack.
Loftus 2: Jack before the eight foot plus Hegemon.

Wald 1: Wald viewing the Anywhen cover on a Dirac screen.
Wald 2: Martels falling down the telescope of time.

Coda: a map of the galaxy divided between High Earth and Green Exarchy, with a cameo of an Earthman before an eighteen foot Chandalese.

After Such Knowledge I: Roger Bacon before the giant army of Antichrist.
After Such Knowledge II, split cover: the magicians before the Goat seated on an altar/the magicians before the upper part of Satan's body in Pandemonium.
After Such Knowledge III: an Earthman before a twelve foot Lithian.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Comparison

The post, "Length And Brevity," on the Poul Anderson Appreciation blog today, compares Poul Anderson's long future history, the History of Technic Civilization (seven omnibus volumes), with James Blish's much shorter future history, Cities In Flight (one omnibus volume).

There is much to compare:

"The Saturn Game" with "Bridge";
the Polesotechnic League with the Okies;
the Terran Empire with the Hruntan Empire;
the Merseian Roidhunate with the Vegan Tyranny;
the post-Imperial period with the post-Okie period;
also, Tau Zero (not part of the Technic History) with the post-Okie novel, The Triumph Of Time.

The point of the comparison is that both authors combined scientific knowledge with creative imagination and literary ability but that additionally Anderson was able to write a lot more. A bigger output from Blish would have meant not a longer Cities In Flight but completion of very different works like the unfinished "King Log" and "Breath of Brahma" and the proposed time travel novel.

Anderson also wrote variety, not just quantity. The Technic History could have been even longer but instead he went on to write the very different Harvest Of Stars future history.

Two High Earth Timelines

OK. To answer a question posed here:

There are two High Earth/Traitors' Guild/Green Exarchy timelines, one in The Quincunx Of Time with the Dirac communicator, another in "A Style In Treason" without it. A teacher in a school where I worked suggested this model exam question:

"Difficult things have simple explanations. Discuss."

We read James Blish's works because they are imaginative hard science fiction with human characters responding to fantastic situations in alternative futures:

a journey through the microcosm, including landing on the surface of an electron;
messages from the future;
the end of this universe;
encounters with intelligent energy beings;
judgement by an older, more powerful race;
adaptation to microscopic aquatic life;
expansion through the galaxy in many adapted forms;
the demon fortress, Dis, appearing in Death Valley after a nuclear war.

In one very important sense, this is realistic fiction. If the human race survives, then it will encounter many fantastic situations. (Sf writers, including Blish, also present scenarios where we do not survive.) When anything that has been imagined, like space travel, does happen, it usually happens very differently from the way it was imagined. However, any speculative writer's resources comprise only current scientific knowledge and his own creative imagination. This is enough to generate masterpieces like Cities In Flight, The Seedling Stars, After Such Knowledge and the three diptychs.

With the Haertel Scholium, comprising After Such Knowledge Volume III, the diptychs and a few short stories, we can get tied up trying to fit together cross-referencing novels and stories that do not form a linear sequence but this should not detract from appreciating individually high quality works.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Attention-Grabbing Ideas

Robert Heinlein first caught my attention with his "generation ship" (slower than light multi-generation interstellar spaceship) idea. I read Orphans Of The Sky long before I knowingly read anything else by Heinlein. I had already read Starman Jones in a large format illustrated omnibus collection of juvenile adventure novels by different authors but I did not notice authors' names that far back.

I associated Heinlein only with the "Universe" of levels of corridors so it was a wrench later to read works of his in which characters inhabited the familiar environment of a planetary surface. (The characters in Glory Road once visit not a planet but a place in a different kind of universe.) Generalising from a single instance, I imagined that this Heinlein had written very few, quite short works of uniformly high quality, the exact opposite of the truth.

Of course, I did not yet know that Orphans was the concluding volume of a series called the Future History although I soon became sold on science fiction future history series.

James Blish first caught my attention with his flying cities. I read Earthman, Come Home, not yet knowing that it was one volume of a future history, then "Bridge," which ends with the invention of the spindizzy, a basic prop of Earthman, then Year 2018!, which not only incorporated "Bridge" but also ended with the Chronology of Cities in Flight. It was a wrench later to read Blish works in which the characters traveled in mere spaceships, although an enormous ship is necessary to take a crew of just three on the Mission To The Heart Stars.

Generation ships and flying cities are two, very different, means of interstellar travel.

One of Heinlein's juvenile novels is The Star Beast. This and others of his juveniles contain a menagerie of alien animals and pets. Blish has some in ...And All The Stars A Stage and The Triumph Of Time. Superman had an alien zoo in his Fortress of Solitude and Dan Dare had Stripey but alien pets are not an idea that I will be writing any more about.

Home Is Where Earth Is


"...my Earthmen will come home again...but I hope they won't stay." (James Blish, Cities In Flight, London, 1981), p. 129.

Wagoner wrote that because Blish wrote They Shall Have Stars as a prequel to Earthman, Come Home. Strictly speaking, it is not Wagoner's Earthmen, the first wave of Colonials, that return but the interstellar traders who are the heirs of a later Exodus from Earth. And they certainly do not stay. Some are killed by the Earth police whereas others migrate to the Greater Magellanic Cloud where John Amalfi says:

" '...now we're home...Home on Earth, for good...Earth is more than just one little planet, buried in another galaxy than this. Earth is much more important than that.
" 'Earth isn't a place. It's an idea.'" (pp. 464-465)

With that idea, we can be at home anywhere, even in the Greater Magellanic Cloud. The planet on which Amalfi speaks is in the following volume named "New Earth" and, appropriately, he had flown there in New York. In New York, New England, Nova Scotia, on New Earth and Terra Nova, people take their homes with them.

(In Larry Niven's Known Space future history, the Puppeteers' home planet turns out to be called "Hearth," a clever pun on "Earth" and "Heart.")

Spirals


James Blish's The Seedling Stars collects his pantropy stories. This linear sequence or chronological series spiraled outwards from its center, i.e., the order of writing was:

a story set on a colonized extrasolar planet;
a second story set on the same planet;
a story set on a second planet;
a story about the ultimate outcome of extrasolar colonization;
a story about the beginning of extrasolar colonization.

The first two stories to be written are amalgamated as Book Three with the very earliest story incorporated as "Cycle One" between "Prologue" and "Cycle Two." Further, there is progress even within this single Book since Cycle One describes microscopic aquatic life in a single pool whereas Cycle Two describes the voyage of a wheeled, wooden "spaceship" to a second pool.

What Blish does not write is a TV-style series with many interchangeable episodes that could be read in any order. 

Complete Works Syndrome

With Poul Anderson and James Blish, I try to imagine an optimal reading order which is also potentially a way to repackage the volumes for any future Complete Works editions. Several of Blish's works fit together as two-volume sequences or "diptychs." Thus:

Welcome To Mars
the Galactic Cluster trilogy

The Star Dwellers
Mission To The Heart Stars

The Quincunx Of Time
Midsummer Century

Further, the Cities In Flight Tetralogy makes sense as a "double diptych":

They Shall Have Stars
A Life For The Stars

Earthman, Come Home
The Triumph Of Time

These four titles express or evoke a prelude, a life, a return and an ending, thus a complete Wagnerian Tetralogy. Neat.

Of the ten volumes listed here, five are adult novels, four are juvenile novels and one is a collection - in fact, a very short collection if we include only the "trilogy." Of the adult novels:

two are in fact amalgamations of shorter, previously published, works;
one is an expansion, still very short, of such a work;
and another, Midsummer Century, is itself very short, less than a hundred pages of text;
thus, perhaps only The Triumph Of Time is a full-length adult novel written as a unit.

Adolph Haertel, Jack Loftus and John Amalfi are, respectively, the unifying characters of the first, second and fifth diptychs listed above. The third diptych is unified by the presence of Thor Wald in the first volume and a reference to him in the second. The fourth is unified by the presence of Dillon and Wagonner in the first volume and the existence of the Dillon-Wagonner graviton polarity generator in the second.

Black Easter and The Day After Judgement formed a further diptych with a common cast of characters but came instead to be classified and published as a single novel and as Volume II of a Trilogy. Volume III, A Case Of Conscience, comprises "A Case Of Conscience," set on Lithia in 2049, expanded as Book One, and a continuation or sequel, set on Earth and the Moon in 2050, as Book Two. Thus, of the After Such Knowledge Trilogy, only Volume I, Doctor Mirabilis, was originally conceived as a single novel.

Thus, this "diptych" analysis has enabled us to summarize or survey the contents of Blish's Haertel Scholium, Cities In Flight and After Such Knowledge.

My motto is "There is always more."

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Steam

I am currently running out of steam on this blog. I have enjoyed rereading and posting about the bulk of James Blish's interstellar novels and series. However, I am approaching a limit in this direction at present.

Next week, I will be away from a computer Monday to Friday. My reading matter will be a Poul Anderson short story, two Inspector Montalbano novels and some extracts from Caesar in the original with a Latin dictionary and grammar book as back up for the Caesar.

Having, before this blog started, written articles on Blish's After Such Knowledge Trilogy and his interconnected series, I did not expect to get back into rereading Cities In Flight, the Haertel Scholium and The Seedling Stars in such detail and this by no means exhausts Blish's works but it is probably as much as I am going to address for a while.

A Style In Treason II

On internal evidence alone, James Blish's "A Style In Treason" (Anywhen, New York, 1970) does not connect with any of his other futuristic fiction. Instead, it stands alone, referring to a faster than light Imaginary Drive instead of to the "overdrive" or "Haertel overdrive" that is standard outside the Okie series.

Further, there is a particular feature of this story that rules out any attempt to place it in a single Blish timeline. As a drastic disguise, Simon de Kuyl, the Traitor-in-Chief of High Earth, takes the transduction serum which not only somehow changes his appearance, blood group and retina- and finger-prints but also fills his head with the memories and motivations "...of persons who had died a hundred years ago and at least that many parsecs away in space." (p. 28)

Either he takes the antiserum within fifteen days or he forgets his own identity completely and permanently.

This story had first appeared in shorter form as "A Hero's Life" but, when it was collected in Anywhen, Blish took the opportunity to expand it as "A Style In Treason," adding information about the means of interstellar travel and about a group called "the Baptized" who have their minds "...rechannelled with only a century's worth of memories..." and who consequently have identity problems (p. 14). Presumably, along the lines of the transduction serum, the memories with which they are "rechannelled" are donated by others although this is not explicitly stated.

The point that I am leading up to, however, is that, when we overhear some of Simon's induced thoughts, we recognize many of them as quotations from several other Blish works. Thus, we realize that they come from much further away than "...many parsecs..." There is even a reference to a spindizzy. Two of them are partially disguised by translation into German and French, respectively. They also include some incomprehensible syllables that were a coded Dirac message received in "Beep"/The Quincunx Of Time.

A sequel might present an ingenious explanation as to how such phrases from entirely different periods and timelines wound up among the memories crowding into Simon's brain but this is unnecessary. Blish was merely using impossible echoes from unrelated works to convey an induced mental confusion.

The Traitors refer to an authority called "Gro" and we read an extract from Lord Gro's Discourses. This Gro describes the Traitors' Guild system so he can hardly be the same Lord Gro mentioned in Quincunx by Weinbaum who, living much earlier than the High Earth/Traitors' Guild period, has just received a Dirac message from that period. But, here again, Blish is merely playing with his characters and Gro was a traitor in ER Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros.

Watershed

Book Four of The Seedling Stars (London, 1972) by James Blish, "Watershed," is an eleven page short story recounting three conversations on a spaceship bridge, yet it is a fitting culmination for this series about seeding the galaxy with Adapted Men.

It is a "spaceship story" as I defined these in a recent post although it ends with the ship still approaching the planet:

"...what was its name again? Oh yes, Earth." (p. 182)

The story's point, about the nature of humanity, has been made in the  conversations.

"Using pantropy, man has seized thousands of worlds that would have been inaccessible to him otherwise. It's enormously increased our chances to become masters of the galaxy..." (p. 185)

Any other imperialistic race will be outnumbered - as by now is the original human form. So much time has elapsed that Earth, now a desert planet, is to be seeded with Adapted Men. This is the "watershed." The basic type can no longer claim any superiority, either in numbers or in ownership of the original planet.

An Adapted pantropist comments that gas giants are not seeded because:

"'You cannot totally change the form without totally changing the thought processes...such worlds are the potential property of other races...'" (p. 190)

Policy makers in Poul Anderson's Terran Empire would agree because they sell Jupiter to the hydrogen-breathing Ymirites whereas the title character of Anderson's "Call Me Joe" would disagree because he is a human psyche beginning a second life in an artificially grown quadrupedal body on the Jovian surface.

Galaxy And Beyond

Conceptually reconfiguring several works by James Blish:

(i) "The Writing Of The Rat" (a single short story);
(ii) The Haertel History (Welcome To Mars and the Galactic Cluster trilogy);
(iii) The Heart Stars (the Jack Loftus novels);
(iv) The Seedling Stars;
(v) Cities In Flight;
(vi) The Quincunx History (The Quincunx Of Time, "A Style In Treason" and Midsummer Century).

(i)-(iii) end with humanity beginning to engage in conflict with a powerful race at the galactic centre.
In (iv), humanity has forestalled such a conflict by early colonization of the entire galaxy with Adapted Men.
In (v) and (vi), human activity becomes intergalactic.

(iii) is also intergalactic in scope because the star-dwelling "Angels" communicate across the universe and interacted with civilizations in ten other galaxies before the Milky Way.

Space travel in sf is usually within the Solar System or within the galaxy but does not often go further. Exceptions are these works by Blish, two novels by Poul Anderson and Into Deepest Space by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

And Some Were Savages

"And Some Were Savages" by James Blish is a proto-series, a story that could have become a series. Several of Blish's fictitious technologies provide the background for more than one work:

spindizzies and anti-agathics;
the Haertel overdrive;
the Dirac communicator;
the science of pantropy.

And two appear in only one work each:

tetraploidy in Titan's Daughter;
the science of gnotobiosis in "And Some Were Savages."

Like "The Writing Of The Rat," "And Some Were Savages":

is a one-off story, not part of any series, despite a joking reference to "...a very young Marine private named Oberholzer..." (Anywhen, New York, 1970, p. 79) (Marine Sergeant Oberholzer, who cannot be the same character, is prominent in "This Earth Of Hours");

is one of several Blish futures in which the UN becomes a world government.

It is in some ways a companion story to "A Dusk Of Idols," also collected in Anywhen, although the latter has a "Heart Stars" background.

Both:

are "spaceship stories" in which an Earth ship visits an extrasolar planet;
highlight medical issues on the planet with the ship's medical officer playing a key role;
reflect on evolution, "...brutal for the spawn, but kind to the race. That's evolution for you every time..." (p. 102), "...death is now and always has been the drive wheel of evolution..." (p. 134).

Gnotobiosis is the science of germ-free life. There could have been a series about these characters dealing with the consequences of previous contamination on other planets but the fact that the characters themselves have lived in "...a totally germ-free environment..." (p. 80) from birth marks them off from their counterparts in any other work by Blish even though one of them is given a familiar name.

A Story Idea

"He had nothing worth stealing but his honor, which was in his right hip pocket. Oh, and of course, High Earth - that was in his left." (James Blish, Anywhen, New York, 1970, p. 24)

When I first read "A Hero's Life," the original shorter version of "A Style In Treason," I thought that the above passage was intended literally. The entire story was so bizarre that even that seemed possible. It later turned out that the protagonist went to Boadacea not to sell High Earth to Boadacea but to strengthen High Earth against the Green Exarchy by allying it with Boadecea so I remain uncertain as to what role any real "treason" played in his career as Traitor-in-Chief of High Earth.

But, meanwhile, let us imagine the planet Earth miniaturized and in stasis enclosed in a transparent sphere carried in the pocket or on a key ring of someone who has just arrived at an inn on an extrasolar colony planet. And he has it for sale? How and why was it miniaturized? How did he acquire it? What will he accept in exchange for it? What will its purchaser do with it? Will it be returned to its correct size, temporal rate and orbit? (If so, then its inhabitants will notice some astronomical anomalies.) Presumably, some loyal Earthmen, who were not included in the miniaturization, will want to get it back?

I imagine that there is a potential story here although I cannot write it.

Mars

Unfortunately, I think that Welcome To Mars and "No Jokes On Mars" are too incompatible to fit into a single timeline. Some editing would have become necessary if any attempt had been made to fit them into a Haertel equivalent of the Cities In Flight sequence.

The Martian desert, lichen and animals are identical in detail. However, "Jokes," informs us that it is sometimes suggested that the dune cat "...may be descended from the long-extinct Canal Masons of Mars..." (Anywhen, New York, 1970, p. 145), whereas, in Welcome, the "canals" are impact fissures around craters and the last member of the dominant Martian race died in front of the first man on Mars, Adolph Haertel.

Other than this, it is clearly the same vision of Mars in both works. Thus, some editing or further explanation would have sufficed to fit them into a single series.

Galactic Conflicts

Because James Blish's Cities In Flight Tetralogy is a fictitious history, it informs us that an interstellar empire called the Web of Hercules displaced Earthman culture which, earlier, had overthrown the Vegan Tyranny, replacing it as the main civilization of the Milky Way. Also, there was one even earlier interstellar civilization of which we are informed only that it existed. Thus, we perceive a process.

By contrast, no less than four works by Blish present merely the beginning of a major galactic conflict. Blish thought that the vastness of the galaxy implied that such conflicts could remain unresolved in works of fiction.

(i) In "The Writing Of The Rat," a race near the center of the galaxy is enslaving entire rational species on a massive scale. A second race, moving inwards from a planet at the outermost end of this spiral arm, occupies emptied planets in the hope that it will eventually be able to return them to their original inhabitants. The second race sometimes meets and fights the slavers and also finds one isolated slaver colony, Earth...

Although Earthmen still produce tyrants and torturers, they have also started to develop creativity, sanity and decency. For this reason, the rat-catchers do not exterminate us but instead ask us to join them. Thus, a point about the nature of humanity is made against a frankly fantastic galactic setting.

(I say "nature of humanity," not "human nature," because the latter phrase is commonly misused to mean something bad and unchanging whereas Blish rightly contrasts slaver cruelty, sadism and destruction with emerging creativity, sanity and decency.)

Unlike other stories or novels mentioned in this post, "The Writing Of The Rat" is a one-off not even loosely linked to any other work, whether published or projected. It refers to Vegans but these are not the Vegans of Cities In Flight. Vega III is one of the planets occupied by the rat-catchers but its original inhabitants were the Cro-Magnons brought as slaves to Earth, where our slaver ancestors exterminated the indigenous South African semi-simian species...

"The Writing Of The Rat" is one of several Blish works in which the UN has become a world government. When a colonel negotiating with the rat-catchers says that there is only one man empowered to accept the offered alliance, he turns out to mean not the President but the Secretary-General. Another telling detail about this future Earth is "...the blasted remains of the British Isles..." (Anywhen, New York, 1970, p. 69).

(ii) In "This Earth Of Hours," the planets of Population I stars in the galactic center and clusters are inhabited by telepathically linked brainless organisms hostile to the brained organisms of Population II systems who are also hostile to each other.

(iii) In the Jack Loftus novels, the Heart Stars cultures are a stable hegemony hostile to younger dynamic races like Earthmen.

(iv) In "A Style In Treason," the Traitor-in-Chief of High Earth makes an alliance with a major human colony planet against the Green Exarch which, however, remains to be overthrown.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Spaceship Stories

This is one standard format for a science fiction (sf) story:

a spaceship from Earth has crossed an interstellar distance, sometimes by unspecified means but usually faster than light (FTL);

the ship approaches an inhabited planet;

characters on the bridge or in a spaceship cabin discuss what, if anything, is known about the planet;

there is a landing or some other kind of interaction with the planet's inhabitants;

the story might present speculation about planetary environments, alien biologies, alternative societies etc;

lessons about humanity may be learned by comparison or contrast.

It makes sense for such stories to be written as series and Star Trek is an obvious example. Several of James Blish's works follow this "spaceship story" formula. They can be compared with Star Trek and we can sometimes imagine them being adapted as Star Trek episodes. Cities In Flight is such a series in which the "ships" are flying cities.

In "A Dusk Of Idols," an Earth ship stops at the planet Chandala where the ruling class uses epidemics to control the population. The ship's surgeon and a passenger who is a famous society doctor discuss the situation on Chandala and I could not help thinking that Dr McCoy, from the Enterprise, would have belonged here but the author, of "A Dusk Of Idols," pointed out that McCoy did not even exist in his creator's mind yet when the story was written.

The ship's surgeon, narrating, tells us that he knows how his famous colleague was "lost" so we expect the latter to die on Chandala and it is a relief when he merely learns a lesson - that the idols are falling.

Other Blish "spaceship stories" are:

"Tiger Ride" (with Damon Knight);
the three that I call the Galactic Cluster trilogy ("Common Time," "Nor Iron Bars" and "This Earth Of Hours");
"And Some Were Savages";
the last pantropy story, "Watershed";
the second Jack Loftus novel, Mission To The Heart Stars.

A Style In Treason

James Blish's speculative hard science fiction (sf) addresses the questions: how can human beings live indefinitely, control gravity, travel faster than light (FTL), colonize other planets and communicate instantaneously or telepathically? Also, in particular works: what is life and should society be stable or dynamic?

(Incidentally, They Shall Have Stars prefigures The Star Dwellers:

("...there was no logical reason to rule [life] out even on the Sun - some animated flame no one would recognize as life..." (Year 2018!, London, 1964, p. 138))

Despite its interstellar setting, "A Style In Treason" concentrates not on hard sf but on colourful images and descriptions and exotic settings. It was written as a pastiche of Jack Vance who wrote the kind of sf in which technological advances like FTL are merely assumed, not carefully rationalized. The FTL drive in "A Style In Treason" is called the Imaginary Drive as an auctorial comment on the implausibility of this standard sf prop.

A battle is described as:

"...like a raid by the twenty-fifth century upon the thirteenth, as imagined by someone in the twentieth - a truly dreamlike sensation." (Anywhen, New York, 1970, p. 43)

- thus not intended to be taken seriously as either sociological or technological extrapolation. The battle includes ornithopters, wing-flapping aircraft, which are also to be found in Dune.

Sometimes, when reading a fictional narrative, we do not yet fully understand the context or motivations of the characters' actions but expect to understand more fully later. If this expectation is not fulfilled, then either we feel cheated or we accept that the narrative had other merits in any case. I am not sure that it is necessary to understand the convoluted intrigues of the self-described "Traitors." I remarked to Blish that I did not understand how a system based on treason could work and he replied that he did not understand it either. A further novel would have been written.

Textually, there is a contradiction between internal and external evidence. Internally, the text states:

"Neither the [faster than light] ultraphone nor the Imaginary Drive permitted the extension of human hegemony over a radius of more than ten light-years..." (ibid., p. 27)

- but explains that "...a roughly uniform interstellar economy...," in which the traitors "...act as brokers..." enforces a rule that is not widely recognized as such.

Externally, the characters in The Quincunx Of Time receive on their instantaneous Dirac transmitter a message describing the civilizations of "A Style In Treason" and addressing an audience within one of those civilizations. The Dirac transmitter is used to extend human hegemony across galaxies. Indeed, the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds had been federated two and a half millennia before the Traitors' Guild period.

However, the use of the Dirac is deliberately limited and the Traitors' Guild system is based on deception so no doubt it would have been possible to devise some way to fit these ostensibly incompatible narratives into a single timeline.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Far Future

In the future history of James Blish's The Quincunx Of Time (New York, 1983) and Midsummer Century, human civilization has spread over at least eleven million light years, several galaxies away, by 8873 AD, so how much further will it have spread by 25,000 AD?

Midsummer Century is set in the latter year but unfortunately, from this point of view, it imparts information only about what has been happening on Earth over twenty three millennia. This is of interest, of course. There have been several successive civilizations as well as climatic and evolutionary changes.

However, since the single datum from 8873 is that a "world-line cruiser" on a planet in another galaxy will set off to travel from that year to 8704 but will send a distress call en route, we cannot help wondering what even stranger events will happen even further away in the millennia after 8873. The characters share our interest:

" 'At headquarters on Earth, there's a whole building full of specialists who are trying to construct a coherent history of the future from the beep, and speculate their way between the gaps, but for the really far future it's a sterile task.'" (p. 109)

The character who had discovered that the almost instantaneous audiovisual beep received by Dirac communicators is the simultaneous reception of every past and future Dirac message and, further, that individual messages can easily be extracted and slowed down also realized that:

" '...the Dirac simply slides the bead of consciousness forward a certain distance from the present. Whether it's five hundred or five thousand years still remains to be seen. At that point, the law of diminishing returns sets in - or the noise factor begins to overbalance the information, take your choice - and the observer is reduced to traveling in time at the same old speed. He's just a bit ahead of himself...'" (p. 86)

Since this view was expressed in 2091, the character would certainly not have expected to understand much from extragalactic messages as late as 25,000 AD. In fact, her companions do understand one message from that year but this message is transmitted on Earth and is spoken in the universal mathematical language Machine in case any of its recipients do need a record of it. Any other message from 25,000, especially one from a remote galaxy, would be spoken in an unknown language and would describe events and situations that would be well beyond twenty first century comprehension.

Despite its Terrestrial setting, Midsummer Century fits well with the "earlier" interstellar works because it is the source of a Dirac message that significantly informs the inventor of the Dirac transmitter. All that can be said about events after 25,000 is that some of them will occur in galaxies at the edge of the expanding universe and that any Dirac messages describing such events will be incomprehensible not only linguistically but also conceptually because they will express different conflicting scientific paradigms or preconceptions (future successors of Ptolemaicism, Copernicanism, Galileanism, electromagnetic theory, Einsteinianism and Haertelism) between which it is inherently impossible to choose because the scientific method by which we try to choose is itself one of the paradigms.

Something Basic

There is something very basic about James Blish's account of the meeting with the Hegemon of Malis in Mission To The Heart Stars but it took me a while to realize what it was:

our juvenile hero, his companion and their mentor enter an audience room so vast that its ceiling is not visible;
there are machines, no two alike, standing along the walls;
the three Earthmen must walk to where the Hegemon waits;
he is blue, humanoid, over eight feet tall and simply clad in black with bare arms and legs (see image of book cover);
guided both by ancient customs and by machines, he simply states that the Hegemony will forcibly incorporate humanity as a subject race.

On reflection, I realised that I would have accepted without question such an account of an alien contact when I was at primary school. Identifying with the young hero while imagining the companionship of both a peer and an elder, I would expect a hostile alien to be humanoid but menacingly large, also that his civilization would have the, for us, paradoxical features of ancientness, as represented by large, old buildings, and of high technology, as represented in this case by "machines" simply placed along the walls of the vast chamber.

This reads like an archetypal account of human-alien contact. Another such is Dolph Haertel's meeting with the last surviving member of the dominant race of Mars under Lacus Solis in Welcome To Mars.

Rationales For ESP

James Blish's works include at least four fictitious scientific rationales for telepathy or ESP:

Jack Of Eagles;
"Get Out Of My Sky";
"Nor Iron Bars" and "This Earth Of Hours";
Midsummer Century (London, 1975).

However, when telepathy has been rationalised, it is not always clear that it remains telepathy. In Midsummer Century, Martels discovers that:

telepathy does diminish with distance;
"...it had probably started as nothing more than a sort of riding light by which like minds and like intentions could be detected..." (p. 61);
in that case, it would be selected out in favour of intelligence, leaving "vestiges" (which are explained differently in "Nor Iron Bars");
the vestiges might include mob psychology (not what we think of as "telepathy") which is anti-survival and should be selected out;
telepathy conveys emotions but not thoughts or images and requires mutual visibility;
it is simply a field force interacting with other such forces -

- but this seems to leave out everything that we would describe as "telepathy"?

Time Travel Logic Strikes Again

In James Blish's Midsummer Century (London, 1975), when John Martels falls into a new radio telescope, the apparatus accidentally generates a field that projects Martels' personality to 25,000 AD, when it is picked up by a suitable receiver. When Martels has helped the men of that era to defeat their evolutionary enemies, the Birds, he is told that:

(i) they can return his personality to his body the moment before it fell;

(ii) his knowledge acquired in the future will return with him;

(iii) he will not slip (because he will know not to try to climb down?);

(iv) but " '...your additional knowledge will last only a split second...'" (p. 104);

(v) "You will never come to our century, and all the gains you have made possible will be wiped out.'" (p. 104)

But he is in their century! I think that (i)-(iii) make sense if Martels is returned to the past of a divergent timeline (timeline 2). In timeline 2, there is no reason why he should not retain his knowledge so (iv) is wrong. (v) is true in timeline 2 but not in the original timeline (timeline 1). In timeline 1, he did come to the future and help humanity against the Birds. It is in that timeline that this conversation is taking place.

Like The Time Machine, Midsummer Century is a good short novel or long story about travel to the future but it would be conceptually better, in my opinion, if this conversation were to be revised somehow.

The War Against The Birds

One page of James Blish's Midsummer Century (London, 1975) presents a magnificently understated war for global domination between two intelligent species, men and Birds:

suddenly, the sky was full of attacking Birds;

two of the three surviving human cities "...had fallen after only a brief struggle..." (p. 102);

tribesmen died in great numbers;

bombs and torpedoes planted by descendants of penguins cut off communication between the Antarctican city and its outposts;

albatross squadrons bombed Antarctica;

however, human aircraft retaliated;

an underground laboratory released back-bred, plague-carrying birds;

Martels' free-floating intelligence "...entered and confounded the mind of the reigning King of the Birds..." (p. 103);

the glaciers will end the Birds remnant.

Obviously, this war could have filled a series of novels but here a single page suffices. Another understated war in a Blish novel is Armageddon in Black Easter/The Day After Judgement: we are simply informed that the released demons have defeated the angelic host although we do see them destroy the Strategic Air Command when it attacks Dis.

Literary Allusions

In Midsummer Century (London, 1975), James Blish makes several literary references.

"...that merciless story that Ambrose Bierce had written about an incident at Owl Creek Bridge." (p. 17)

"...the verses of Goethe about the misanthrope which Brahms had set in the Alto Rhapsody: 'The grasses rise behind him; the waste receives him.' " (p. 54)

"Memories of Macbeth and Edgar Allan Poe..." (p. 56)

"A line from James Thomson's The City Of Dreadful Night came back to Martels: 'No hope can have no fear.'" (p. 56)

"...Martels' imposed Drang nach Sueden..." (p. 62)

"...a vague memory of Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym..." (p. 69)

"Had great gull-like Birds flown toward him out of the mist crying Tekeli-li, he could not have been more sure..." (p. 70)

"...that territory which Poe had described toward the unfinished end of Pym." (p. 80)

I have thought of two further comparisons. Martels recalls both the Time Traveller and Fred Hoyle. Like the latter, he is a British astrophysicist with a working class accent. At one point, he explains:

"...the 'steady state' theory of Fred Hoyle." (p. 22)

Hoyle also wrote science fiction, including October The First Is Too Late, which, like the companion volume to Midsummer Century, The Quincunx Of Time, is a haunting novel of time though not of time travel.

Reading Midsummer Century made me think of Wells and Hoyle though not of Poe until Martels made that comparison.

Welcome To Mars: Conclusion

In James Blish's Welcome To Mars, before Dolph Haertel, then Nanette Ford, travel to Mars, NASA has not yet put anyone on the Moon. Over one Martian, two Terrestrial, years later, the Cold War has ended and a UN Space Force fleet reaches Mars.

The rapid deployment of such a fleet has become possible because:

Dolph's and Nanette's parents and one influential contact had remained irrationally convinced that "the children" were still alive on Mars;

the knowledge that Dolph had discovered antigravity had facilitated the development of an improved ion-drive for spaceships.

Is it either politically or technologically plausible that so much could be achieved so soon with so little? I think that it is as implausible as the Martian organisms that Dolph and Nanette find. Thus, either no one could survive on Mars long enough to be rescued or a very different story needs to be told about it.

I think that Jim Blish said that the film of Welcome To Mars would have shown Nanette giving birth on Mars although, of course, this does not happen in the juvenile novel.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Quincunx Of Ancient Trees

The characters in "Beep" by James Blish, living in our future, receive messages from several periods of their future. While Blish was expanding "Beep" into The Quincunx Of Time, he was also writing Midsummer Century (London, 1975). Thus, these works became connected.

Midsummer Century refers to "...a quincunx of ancient trees..." (p. 48).

Further, a message transmitted as a Dirac beep circa 25,000 AD in Midsummer Century is received in the Dirac beep in 2091 AD in Quincunx. The message is sent in this form:

"...so that all receivers [past, present or future] who might have any reason to care about the problem should have a record of it." (p. 86)

The receivers include the inventor of the Dirac transmitter, Thor Wald, a major character in Quincunx, referred to early in Midsummer Century, who draws inferences about the dimensional structure of time from:

a reference in this Dirac message to the projection to 25,000 of a personality originating in 1955;
a Dirac message, in both "Beep" and Quincunx, from a world-line cruiser travelling from 8873 to 8704 along the world-line of a planet in Canes Venatici.

This diptych is a worthy successor of HG Wells' The Time Machine. Blish said that readers of Midsummer Century would probably not realize that it had been written according to an old formula: the action must start in the here and now before quickly moving to an exotic location. Its hero, John Martels, the personality temporally transmitted to 25,000, begins his adventure in 1985 in a milieu of brain-drain, Pakistani immigrants, British "public" schools, new redbrick polytechnics, a class division between the two sides of a British bar, a First in astrophysics for a man with an "atrocious" working-class accent and a new radio telescope in an American University.

Like Wells' Time Traveller, Martels:

travels thousands of years into the future;
meets evolutionarily changed human beings in a paradisal environment;
spends some time in a museum.

Also like the Time Traveller, Wald expounds the theory of time as a fourth spatial dimension.

Just as we want to know when the Time Traveller went, we also want to know more about the future disclosed in the Dirac beep.

The Wavicle

" '...Haertel proved that there is only one fundamental particle...'" (James Blish, The Quincunx Of Time, New York, 1983, p. 60).

And, in Blish, Midsummer Century (London, 1975), there is only one wavicle with many aspects and with a "...psychology..." based on not thought but willed behavior (p. 22).

Does it make sense to speak of will without thought? In my opinion, the most basic term in philosophy of mind is not "thought" but "consciousness," although the latter term is not used in the Midsummer Century discussion summarized here.

It does make sense to speak of unconscious motivations but only within conscious beings. We do not say that the wind is unconsciously motivated to blow around the Earth.

Consciousness without any thought would be mere immediate sensation. But an immediate sensation that was unaccompanied by memory of any previous sensations would be instantaneous, thus, I think, unconscious. Since to remember a sensation is to think, "I sensed that before...," it is arguable that some fundamental level of thought is necessary for any consciousness. However, the Qvant in Midsummer Century does not say whether consciousness accompanies the will of the wavicle and, if anything, implies otherwise, although he also states that the origin of inner space is explicable in terms of the psychology of the wavicle and that power from the source is tapped by meditation.

Short Stories


Earlier, I identified three diptychs by James Blish -

Haertel: Welcome To Mars and Galactic Cluster;
Loftus: The Star Dwellers and Mission To The Heart Stars;
Wald/Dirac: The Quincunx Of Time and Midsummer Century.

A curious feature of these diptychs is that each of them is also loosely linked to a single shorter work and that these three shorter works are all included in Anywhen which, like Galactic Cluster, is a collection, not a novel.

Welcome To Mars shares its background with "No Jokes On Mars";
the Loftus novels share their background with "A Dusk Of Idols";
The Quincunx Of Time refers to the background of "A Style In Treason".

In each case, there is a query as to whether the shorter work is fully consistent with the novel or novels in question. Welcome To Mars explains the Martian "canals" as natural phenomena whereas "No Jokes On Mars" refers to Canal Masons but both the novel and the short story feature the Martian dune-cats.

I will shortly reread "No Jokes On Mars" to check whether any further comparisons are appropriate.

Martian Organisms

In James Blish's Welcome To Mars (London, 1978),

(i) lichen:

grows in limonite sands in the Martian craters;
cracks molecules of oxygen and water from the sands;
is spread by the wind like tumble weed;
feeds (ii) nematode- or worm-like organisms.

(iii) Black arthropods or mites eat the nematodes.

(iv) A hard-shelled burrowing invertebrate eats mites and nematodes and drinks from lichen.

(v) A large, intelligent, cat- or kangaroo-like organism whose forelegs have hands with opposible thumb eats invertebrates and browses on tumble-lichen. Another lichen on the dune-cat's hide "...drew nourishment from the cat's bloodstream, but it returned oxygen." (p. 132)

(vi)The floor of the crater Lacus Solis is ice that focuses sunlight into a cavern beneath it containing a dead crystalline city. In the city, an amphitheatre reflecting the light back at the sky contains a fourteen foot high, fluid-filled box on a stone dais. On a throne in the box sits a tall serpentine figure with several arms near the head. This last member of the dominant Martian race knows all Terrestrial languages from radio broadcasts.

This was all highly implausible even at the time of writing.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Survival On Mars II

See here.

In James Blish's Welcome To Mars (London, 1978), as soon as Dolph Haertel realises that he is stranded on Mars, he makes an inventory of all his resources, in Chapter 4.

(I am summarising this to confirm that it holds together.)

Oxygen: "He had started with five flasks, totalling...45 gallons..." (p. 42) One is probably almost empty after the journey (three days?) and less than one day on Mars. Dolph can leave his hut wearing respirator and goggles.

Water: "...three 17.5 gallon drums..." (p. 42). He would need to drink at least a gallon a day and would lose a gallon through evaporation.

Food: Two weeks' supply of K rations.

Power: Rechargeable batteries. Power needed for air pressure and heat and to electrolyze water (if found) for oxygen.

On his first full day on Mars, in Chapter 5, called "Morning on Mars," he:

locates and closes leaks;
makes an electric motor from metal and wire;
uses Sterno and blowpipe to make a pump from glass tubes and nails;
pumps Martian air into his hut so that he can slow the rate of oxygen use;
plans to build a generator with a magnetized steel rotor and to make windmill sails from canvas;
finds water in some of the Martian lichen sacs.

After this, I find that the chronology becomes uncertain. Chapter 6 is called "Evening on Mars" and seems to follow directly after Chapter 5. Nanette follows Dolph to Mars, with little delay it seems. Meanwhile, Dolph makes a wine press, uses lichen sap to keep his air moist and discovers that the apparently empty sacs contain oxygen. Collecting more lichen, he sees Nanette arrive.

Chapter 7 changes the scene to Earth where twenty nine days pass, after which it is believed that "the children" cannot still be alive on Mars. The chapter ends with Dolph rescuing Nanette from the wreck of her ship with the implication that he is doing this after the twenty nine days have elapsed. Chapter 8 confirms that he has been on Mars for weeks although he had only had two weeks of K rations and has not yet experimented with Martian food sources.

In any case, Nanette brings fresh supplies. Dolph goes on to learn that Martian lichen is not only edible but also slows the metabolism, thus reducing breathing, and he mines water.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Welcome To Mars III

Jack Loftus stars in The Star Dwellers and in its immediate sequel, Mission To The Heart Stars;

Adolph Haertel stars in Welcome To Mars and appears in "Common Time," the first of three connected short stories in the collection, Galactic Cluster;

Thor Wald appears in The Quincunx Of Time and is referred to early in Midsummer Century.

Thus, there are three instances of two volumes linked by one character. Loftus and Wald also refer to Haertel but only in the same way as they refer to Einstein.

Haertel:

was introduced in "Common Time";
became a historical character common to alternative futures inhabited by Loftus, Wald and others (Arpe in "Nor Iron Bars" and Ruiz-Sanchez in A Case Of Conscience);
then, in a third and final stage, was adapted as the teenage hero of the juvenile novel Welcome To Mars - although we might ask whether this younger Haertel is quite consistent with any of the various older versions.

Mission To The Heart Stars was written after The Star Dwellers;
Galactic Cluster was written before Welcome To Mars;
Midsummer Century was written while "Beep" was being expanded as The Quincunx Of Time.

Non-technical readers usually trust the scientific information imparted in works of hard sf. In Welcome To Mars, we:

(i) understand that Haertel, in this work called "Dolph," has the urgent problem of how to survive indefinitely when marooned on Mars;
(ii) soon come to accept that he has solved this problem;
(iii) might come to wonder whether we have been given enough information to warrant the transition from (i) to (ii).

The information is there but maybe, for some of us, needed to be spelled out a bit more. More on this later. (See here.)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A Short Interstellar Trilogy

Three short stories by James Blish are a better written and more imaginative interstellar-themed science fiction trilogy than Isaac Asimov's famous Foundation Trilogy. This Blish trilogy, which can be called "Galactic Cluster" after the collection containing these stories among others, has a definite beginning, middle and end:

"Common Time": a first faster than light interstellar crossing with the Haertel overdrive;

"Nor Iron Bars": a second FTL crossing with the Arpe drive;
                        exploration of the microcosm with the Arpe drive;
                        discovery of the microcosmic basis of telepathy;

"This Earth Of Hours": FTL on the Standing Wave;
                                 early contact and conflict with a telepathic interstellar empire.

FTL, interstellar empire and mental powers are all familiar from Asimov but Blish does far more with these ideas in far fewer words.

Since "Common Time" features the scientist Adolph Haertel and since Blish's juvenile novel Welcome To Mars features the teenage Haertel, the latter volume can be seen as a prequel to the Galactic Cluster trilogy but there the linear sequence ends, with Blish's "Haertel Scholium" volumes presenting several alternative or divergent futures rather than a single series.

Because, in the Haertel Scholium, it is Thor Wald that invents the Dirac communicator and because Wald, while appearing in one volume, is referred to by name in another, he might count as the unifying character of his diptych as Adolph Haertel and Jack Loftus are of theirs.

I have yet to finish rereading and posting about Welcome To Mars but meanwhile wanted to commend the short trilogy to which it can be seen as a prequel.

Survival On Mars

In James Blish's Welcome To Mars (London, 1978), how do Dolph and Nanette manage to continue breathing, drinking and eating on Mars long after their imported supplies have run out? The Martian lichen, which grows all over the surface in the area where they have landed and which they manage to store in sufficient quantity during the long winter, provides oxygen, water and food. In fact, it is beneficial and invigorating. Would this single source suffice? And how plausible is it?

Writing in 1965, Blish tried not to contradict then known facts although new data were due from a Mariner probe and are noted in the Afterword. I think that such complex organisms were unlikely on Mars even then. Having got us to accept the lichen, Blish moves on to animals and even intelligence.

He wrote in the Foreword that Mars was:

 "...apparently the only other planet in the Solar System on which a brave man might just barely manage to stay alive, if he never stopped trying." (p. 10)

- but he gives his characters a lot of help and I do not think that his claim could be made of Mars now.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Structure Of Welcome To Mars I

James Blish, Welcome To Mars (London,1978): three Parts, each with five chapters; chapters numbered 1 to 15.

Part One: On The Beach.
Chapter 1, The Tree House, ends as Dolph leaves Earth.
Chapter 2, The Sea of Streams, ends as Dolph approaches Mars.
Chapter 3, Down...and Out, ends with Dolph marooned on Mars.
Chapter 4, A Little Detection, Dolph's inventory; Nanette's deduction.
Chapter 5, Morning on Mars, first day on Mars.

Part Two: Friday.
Chapter 6, Evening on Mars, Nanette arrives.
Chapter 7, Children in the Sky, twenty-nine days after Dolph left.
Chapter 8, Wine and Storm, Nanette has just arrived but Dolph has been on Mars for weeks (p. 80)!

That is as far as I have reread. I am trying to resolve the chronology. There was a four-day weekend coming up. Dolph said he would go camping for at least one more day and he "...had accumulated the extra day off from school..." (p.23) "...at least one more day..." implies that he might be away for slightly longer than five days whereas "...extra day off from school..." implies an obligation to return after just five days. In any case, he should certainly not have been away for longer than a week.

"Nanette had noticed that the tree-house was missing, on the very morning of its departure." (p. 46)

Before following Dolph to Mars, she leaves a note for her and his parents, saying that he has not gone camping but has gone to Mars and that she has followed him. She must have left the note, before leaving Earth, shortly after realising that he had gone and within the five or so days when Dolph was believed to be camping.

The novel describes, in this order:

Dolph seeing Nanette's arrival on Mars (end of Chapter 6);
the "Children in the Sky" news story on Earth, ending twenty nine days after Dolph left Earth (Chapter 7);
Dolph rescuing the unconscious Nanette, with the auctorial comment, "For him, it was very clear, the case of the Children in the Sky was very far from over." (p. 77) (end of Chapter 7);
Nanette, the day after her arrival, finding "...the root of the irregularity in the pump cycle, which had been eluding him for weeks." (p. 80) (early in Chapter 8)

Has this chronology of fictitious events become inconsistent? I wish that I had read the text this closely while Blish was still alive.

Later: I did not address above the question of how long it takes Dolph and Nanette to travel to Mars. But the implication is that it is not long. Dolph intended to be away for about five days and:

"By the middle of his second day in space he was already slightly more than half-way there..." (p. 28)

Nanette should not have taken much longer and, in any case, could not have survived for weeks in space.

Welcome To Mars II

James Blish's Welcome To Mars (London, 1978) is a very unusual novel because it contains no conversations until almost exactly its midpoint. The novel ends on p. 154 and the conversation starts on p. 78 which would be nearly the midpoint except that the text of the novel starts on p. 13.

There are fifteen chapters but there is no conversation in the first seven. That is because the central character, Dolph Haertel, works alone and in secret as he discovers anti-gravity and flies a tree hut to Mars, where he is marooned. We are informed about his parents and a girl friend only by a narrative summary, not by any dialogue involving these characters.

When the girl friend, Nanette, deduces where Dolph has gone, follows him and is also marooned, she too has worked alone and in secret, without engaging in any conversations that are recounted to the reader. When the two sets of parents realize that Nanette's farewell note saying that they have gone to Mars is nothing less than the unvarnished truth, and try to arouse official and public interest in rescuing the stranded teenagers, we read a summary account of a news story and a publicity campaign but are not told any of the conversations that would have been involved.

Thus, the very first conversation in the novel is between Dolph and Nanette on Mars. I am reminded of the Prisoner episode, "Many Happy Returns," in which No 6, waking in a deserted Village, builds a raft, leaves the island, reaches an as yet unidentified mainland and first speaks to another character about midway between the two commercial breaks.

This Mars is not lifeless; there is vegetation. I am not sure of the chronology - Nanette seems to leave Earth soon after Dolph but to reach Mars much later - but I will have to reread to check.

Wells, Lewis And Blish

As mentioned two posts ago, Haertel's "...breadboard rig..." (James Blish, Welcome To Mars, London, 1978, p. 19) works like Cavor's sphere: first, insulate the vessel against Terrestrial gravity; then, let it fall towards either the Moon or Mars. The two novels have similar titles: First Men In The Moon and Welcome To Mars.

As Haertel approaches Mars, he considers explanations of the "canals," including that they were "...made by intelligent life..." (p. 14). This Wellsian explanation is the one that Blish presents elsewhere - in his first Cities In Flight novel, his second Jack Loftus novel and the short story, "No Jokes On Mars," which, in every other respect, is consistent with Welcome To Mars.

I compared and contrasted Lewis and Blish in a much earlier post (here) so will merely summarize salient points here:

HG Wells was unique;
Olaf Stapledon was Wellsian and more;
CS Lewis was anti-Wellsian and anti-Stapledonian;
James Blish was Wellsian and post-Lewis;
Philip Pullman is anti-Lewis;
Lewis, Blish and Pullman in different ways refer to John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic Classical in form but Biblical in content.

Lewis' character, Ransom, en route to Mars, directly experiences an invigorating influence from solar radiation, and the physicist Weston confirms the scientific basis of such an experience, whereas Haertel, on the same journey, is all too conscious of the deadly cosmic radiation surrounding his vessel;

later, Ransom travels to Venus in an angelically propelled coffin, Garrard experiences sensory deprivation and "psuedo-death" in a Haertel overdrive spaceship en route to Alpha Centauri and electromagnetic "Angels" enter and propel the Nernst generators of Haertel spaceships;

both Lewis' and Blish's characters encounter supernatural fallen angels, demons.

Blish's After Such Knowledge Trilogy overlaps by one and a half volumes with (what I call) his curious "post-Lewis trilogy." In the successive volumes of Lewis' Interplanetary or Ransom Trilogy:

Ransom visits Mars;
Ransom visits a sinless planet;
demons manifest on Earth -

- and in the "post-Lewis trilogy" formed by Welcome To Mars, A Case Of Conscience and Black Easter:

Haertel visits Mars;
Haertel's successors visit a sinless planet;
demons manifest on Earth.

Of course, the dissimilarities outweigh the parallels. For a start, Lewis, basing his science fiction on Biblical and Classical mythology, identified his sinless planet with Venus whereas Blish, basing his sf on science, located his sinless planet, Lithia, forty light years away. Further, Blish's sinless aliens are Godless and his demons win: two scenarios that were impossible for Lewis.

The Ransom series, which becomes a tetralogy if we include the unfinished and posthumously published "The Dark Tower," systematically addresses the four basic Wellsian themes of space travel, time travel, interplanetary invasion and future society, which Blish addresses in Welcome To Mars, "The City That Was The World," VOR and, for social change, a few other novels.