Wednesday, 7 June 2017


Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation, 7/6/2017.

This essay had its origins in a comment by Dr. Paul Shackley in a blog piece he wrote called "Space, Time and Experience" (POUL ANDERSON APPRECIATION blog, Sunday, May 14, 2017): "If a fictional character has qualitatively different sensory experiences and/or thought processes, then how does the author convey these qualitative differences to his readers?"  The story by Poul Anderson which best fitted what Dr. Shackley said was "Night Piece" (to be found in the Anderson pocket paperback collection THE GODS LAUGHED, TOR, 1982).  It's my belief that "Night Piece" is the toughest story to understand of all the works of Poul Anderson.  And I meant that as a compliment, not a criticism, because Anderson strove in that story to give us some idea of what a truly alien, superior, non human mind might be like.

Unusually for him, Poul Anderson attached some fairly lengthy prefatory remarks to "Night Piece": "It's quite unlike anything else I've done.  But that's precisely why I'm fond of it."   Instead of writing "Night Piece" in a straight forward narrative fashion, Anderson experimented with very different methods, as he wrote: "I have no pretensions to being a Kafka or Capek, but it did seem to me it would be interesting to use, or attempt to use, some of their techniques."  Lastly: "Therefore "Night Piece" is at least three concurrent stories, two of them symbolic. I'm not likely to do anything of this sort very often--some of those archetypes scared the hell out of me--but I hope that I succeeded in getting across a small part of  that which I was trying to get across" (all quotes in this paragraph taken from pages 33-34 of THE GODS LAUGHED, to be mostly cited hereafter as "TGL"). 

The unnamed POV character was a scientist studying ESP phenomena, such as telepathy, and had been  working at his laboratory on an "ESP amplifier," a device apparently designed to sense the radiations from the minds of beings with ESP abilities.  This POV character had also hypothesized that another "intelligent" race had evolved on Earth alongside mankind with abilities so different from ours that normally human beings would not sense that other race's existence.  And, somehow, this amplifier had "sensitized" his mind so much that he had stumbled onto the plane of existence inhabited by Superior, at that simplest level of activity sometimes engaged in by Superior most like those familiar to mankind, conflict or strife.

I need to backtrack and give some explanation of how a race alien to and superior to mankind could  have evolved alongside ours on Earth.  The POV character, after briefly reviewing what unicellular life forms, plants, animals, and human beings had in common, such as tropisms, instincts, and varying degrees of intelligence, said of the human race: "Man, of course, has made this [conscious intelligence] his particular strength.  He also has quite a bit of instincts, some reflexes, and maybe a few tropisms" (TGL, pages 45-46).  This scientist then wondered WHAT would make such an alien race truly different from, or superior to ours: "To surpass us, should Superior try to out-human humanity?  Shouldn't he rather possess only a modicum of reasoning ability by our standards, very weak instincts, a few reflexes, and no tropisms?  But his speciality, his characteristic mode, would be something we can't imagine.  We may have a bare touch of it, as the apes and dogs have a touch of  logical reasoning power.  But we can no more imagine its full development than a dog could follow Einstein's equations" (TGL, page 46).

This scientist's wife asked what could be the unique speciality of a superior race which had evolved alongside mankind.  Her husband replied, "Conceivably in the ESP field--Now I'm letting my hobby horse run away with me again.  (Damn it, though--I am starting to get reproducible results.)  Whatever it is, it's something much more powerful than logic or imagination.  And as futile for us to speculate about as for the dog to ponder Einstein" (TGL, page 46).

I admit to finding the idea that an "intelligent" race could have a speciality, a characteristic mode of acting or "thinking" far beyond anything we can imagine to be puzzling.  How could such an alien race have "only a modicum of reasoning ability" and still be superior to ours?  How could such a race even be able to use this speciality and characteristic mode without also having the intelligence needed to know HOW to use it?  Would a mere "modicum of reasoning ability" truly be enough for Superior?

Another quote from "Night Piece," from pages 46-47 of THE GODS LAUGHED: "But, assuming Superior does  Do mice know men exist?  All a mouse knows is that the world contains good things like houses and cheese, bad things like weatherstripping and traps, without any orderly pattern that his instincts could adapt him to.  He sees men, sure, but how can he know they're a different order of life, responsible for all the strangeness in his world?  In the same way, we may have co-existed with Superior for a million years, and never known it.  The part of him we can detect may be an accepted feature of our universe, like the earth's magnetic field, or an unexplained feature like occasional lights in the sky; or he may be quite undetectable.  His activities would never impinge on ours, except once in a while by sheerest accident--and then another "miracle" is recorded that science never does find an explanation for."

The scientist's wife then asked whether these beings could have come from another planet.  He replied: "I doubt that.  They probably evolved here right along with us.  All life on earth has an equally ancient lineage. I've no idea what the common ancestor of man and Superior could have been.  Perhaps as recent as some half-ape in the Pliocene, perhaps as far back as some amphibian in the Carboniferous.  We took one path, they took another, and never shall the twain meet" (TGL, page 47).

Getting back to a point I mentioned earlier, how did this POV character, the scientist, stumble onto the Superior mode of existence?  Again quoting from "Night Piece": "He wasn't sure how he had blundered onto the Superior plane of existence, or, rather, how his mind or his rudimentary ESP or whatever-it-was had suddenly begun reacting to the behavior-mode of that race.  He only knew, with the flat sureness of  immediate experience that it had happened."  The next paragraph reads: "His logical mind, unaffected as yet, searched in a distant and dreamy fashion for a rationale.  The amplifier alone could hardly be responsible.  But maybe the remembrance of his speculative fable had provided the additional impetus necessary?" (TGL, page 47). 

Before grappling with how a Superior mode of existence might affect a human mind, I need to define more clearly what Superior's plane had in common with that of mankind.  The scientist had happened to stumble into accessing Superior's mode of acting at the point where it was most like that of mankind: "The activities of Superior were always and forever incomprehensible to him, but he could describe their general tendency.  Violence, cruelty, destruction.  Which didn't make sense!  No species could survive that used its powers only for such ends."  The scientist reasoned further: "Therefore, Superior did not.  Most of the time, he/she/it? was just being Superior, and  as such was completely beyond human perception.  Occasionally, though, there was conflict.  By analogy, mankind--all animals--behaved constructively on the whole--but sometimes engaged in strife.  Superior?  Well, of course Superior didn't have wars in the human sense of the word.  Conflicts of some kind, anyhow, where an issue was decided not by reason or compromise but by force.  And the force employed was (to give it a name) of an ESP nature" (TGL, pages 51 and 52).   

Poul Anderson mentioned in his prefatory comments to "Night Piece" : "I have no pretensions to being a Kafka or a Capek, but it did seem to me it would be interesting to use, or attempt to use, some of their techniques."  Which means I have to briefly discuss what kind of writer Franz Kafka was, what it was in his works that Anderson took over to use in writing "Night Piece."  In the ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA'S  article on Franz Kafka I found this: "The characters in these works [of Kafka] fail to establish communication with others, they follow a hidden logic that flouts normal, everyday logic; their world erupts in grotesque incidents and violence.  Each character is only an anguished voice, vainly questing for information and understanding of the world and for a way to believe in his own identity and purpose" (ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, MICROPAEDIA, volume 6, page 678 [Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 2002])

After the POV character in "Night Piece" was "sensitized" to Superior's mode or plane of existence, the scientist suffered strange torments and grotesque experiences of a truly Kafkaesque kind.  He first experienced Superior as alien sounding footsteps coalescing into this description: "The footsteps picked up. They weren't loud, which was just as well, for they seemed less human each second he listened.  There was a slithering quality to them: not wet, but dry, a scaly dryness that went slithering over dirty concrete. He didn't even know how many feet there were.  More than two, surely.  Perhaps so many that they weren't feet at all, but one supple length.  And the head rose, weaving about in curves that rippled and rustled--becoming less sinuous as the hood swelled until the sidewide figure eight upon it stood forth plain; a thin little tongue flickered as if frantic; but there was an immortal patience in the eyes, which were lidless" (TGL, page 37).  This should not be understood as being an actual description of Superior--rather, it was how the POV character strove to understand what he was experiencing in comprehensible metaphors.

One of the methods used by Kafka in his works is for his characters to lose contact with others, to fail in establishing communication with them.  Anderson first showed this as happening to his POV character's reaction to a police officer finding him: "For a moment he considered asking the policeman's help.  The fellow looked so substantial and blue.  His big jowly face was not unkind.  But of course the policeman could not help. He can take me home, if I so request.  Or put me in jail if I act oddly enough.  Or call a doctor if I fall boneless at his feet.  But what's the use?  There is no cure for being in an ocean" (TGL, page 40).    

An explanation of what made Kafka's works "Kafkaesque" and how it applies to "Night Piece" is necessary: "Many of Kafka's fables contain an inscrutable, baffling mixture of the normal and the fantastic, though occasionally the strangeness may be understood as the outcome of a literary or verbal device, as when the delusions of a pathological state are given the status of reality, or the metaphor of a common figure of speech is taken literally" (ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, MICROPAEDIA, volume 6, page 678).

The unnamed POV character stumbled into the Superior mode or plane of existence in that aspect most comprehensible to men: strife or conflict.  But this character could only "understand" Superior's plane of existence in an "inscrutable, baffling mixture of the normal and the fantastic."  Two beings of this Superior race were at fierce conflict with each other and one of the ways the human character perceived this strife was as a mountain: "Across many wild miles he saw the mountain rise from the waters.  Black and enormous it was lifted; water cascaded off its flanks, fire and sulfur boiled from its throat.  Shock followed shock, flinging him to and fro, over and under.  He felt, rather than saw; the whole sea bottom lifting beneath him" (TGL, page 49).

In his daze the POV character had sought refuge in a bar, and, after it closed he walked to a bus: "Habit had taken him over the street to the bus.  He stopped in front of the doors.  What was he doing here?  The thing was an iron box.  No, he must not enter the box.  The hollow people sat there in rows, waiting for him.  He must tear down the mountain instead" (TGL, page 50). Here we see another of this mix of the normal and the fantastic characteristic of Kafka's writings: ordinary things like walking across a street to a bus and perceiving it as a menacing iron box filled with "hollow people."

How did the scientist/POV character finally escape from perceiving what was to him Superior's intolerable plane of existence?  He had blundered into that mode partly because of both his speculations and the ESP amplifier he had been working on "sensitizing" him to that alien, non human mode of existing.  The means he found of saving his sanity and returning to the human plane of thought/existing was, oddly, to keep STILL.  As Anderson wrote: "Of course.  Consider the pattern.  Forward and backward, you are still moving within the currents.  But if you remain still--" (TGL, page 54).  But to do this "keeping still" would cause the POV character intolerable anguish.  However, he managed to get through this pain and entered the bus, thus snapping out of perceiving Superior's plane of existing. 

In one sense, the ending of Anderson's "Night Piece" is not characteristic of Kafka's style of writing, because the POV character SURVIVED.  In stories and novels like "The Judgment," "The Metamorphosis,"  THE TRIAL, AMERICA, THE CASTLE, etc., Kafka's POV characters die miserably and in anguish.  Poul Anderson chose not to have his POV character suffer a similar fate.  My view is that either kind of ending is legitimate, depending on many factors, such as the differences in authors characters and the logical ways the plots of the stories they were writing determining the most artistically satisfying endings for their tales.

Poul Anderson's "Night Piece" is not only the single most difficult to understand of his stories but also one of the toughest to  write about.  Because of both his use of Kafka's methods/techniques and striving to show us how a truly alien and superior "intelligent" species could have evolved alongside the human race on our Earth.  The very idea is difficult to understand for many reasons.  One being HOW two such races could co-exist with each other on the same planet without mankind eventually and unequivocally discovering such a species.  Even if Superior's mode of existing was based on him having powers or abilities impossible for men to naturally perceive, wouldn't both races need many of the same kinds of RESOURCES to merely live?  Wouldn't members of the Superior species need to EAT, for example?  How would human and Superior farmers be able to practice agriculture without getting in each other's way?  Or has Superior somehow transcended the need for food, clothing, shelter, etc?   I do not believe it is possible for an intelligent race with physical BODIES to somehow skip the need for such things.  Or could I be wrong?

I want to go back to a point made by Poul Anderson in his prefatory remarks about this story: "Therefore Night Piece is at least three concurrent stories, two of them symbolic" (TGL, page 34).  I argue that the non-symbolic story can be found largely in the POV character's discussion with his wife on WHAT would make Superior a race superior to mankind.  And the first symbolic story would be how the POV character reacted to blundering into Superior's mode of acting and existing.  And the second symbolic story is how the human character perceived Superior's mode of acting, with all the pain and anguish that gave him.

One last point should be discussed: Poul Anderson cited Karel Capek as one of the two authors whose works helped to inspire him in writing "Night Piece."  I focused on Franz Kafka's influence because I believe it was largely that writer's work whose mark is most clearly seen in "Night Piece."  That is why I have not thought it necessary to discuss Capek's possible influence on "Night Piece," aside from me noting here that he too wrote science fiction.

Thursday, 26 January 2017


I have long been dissatisfied by most allegedly "science fiction" movies and TV shows.  I've seen very little of either real science or at least semi-plausible speculative advances of science in them.  And I have to say that most of them are also unsatisfactory when it comes to extrapolating possible changes, advances, retrogressions, etc., in both human and non human societies in the future.  And that reminds me of how unconvincing I've seen speculative depictions of what non human alien races LOOK like.

Poul Anderson was and is one of the few science fiction writers who have really pleased and satisfied me as regards the points I listed in the prior paragraph.  Even when he goes beyond what we currently know in the sciences, he is careful to explain how things like a FTL drive MIGHT work (and SOME scientists don't totally dismiss FTL as a possibility).  Anderson is also very convincing in showing how human societies of the future might arise and work.  And I especially admire the skill and care in how he worked out ways non human intelligent races might evolve, live, think, organize themselves into societies, etc.

I have long wished some adventurous movie producer or director would take a chance and try filming versions of some of Anderson's stories and novels. It's my view that cinematic versions of his Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry tales would be good candidates for such an effort.  I have thought that a good choice for such an experiment would be a filmed version of Anderson's "The Game Of Glory."  Because that story might need only minimal special effects and could be filmed mostly in, say, the Bahamas Islands.  I think a film like that would be a good way for a producer/director to gain experience in how to satisfactorily produce cinematic versions of some of Anderson's stories.

Here I digress a bit.  Many of the STAR WARS movies famously begins with a textual crawl beginning with the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."  The purpose of the textual crawl is to impart to viewers some background information and help set the mood desired for watching the movies.  It's my belief that any filmed versions of the Nicholas van Rijn or Dominic Flandry stories should begin with a similar textual crawl.  AND, a text that could be used for introducing any Flandry movies already exists.  I have a first edition hardback  copy of Anderson's collection FLANDRY OF TERRA (Chilton Books: 1965).  The jacket cover text for this edition would, with some editing, make a very good textual crawl for these hypothetical Flandry movies.  The text below was copied from the book jacket.
Captain Sir Dominic Flandry of Terra's Imperial Naval Intelligence Corps returns, dashing and debonair as ever, for more adventures among the stars

Long before Flandry was born, mankind had spread widely through the galaxy.  Humans had colonized many strange planets.  Then came a Time of Troubles out of which eventually arose the Terran Empire, rich and peaceful.  But some of those ancient colonies had been lost, and in these lost colonies, civilization had gone its own curious ways.

Now the Empire has grown old.  It wants nothing but peace in which to enjoy the pleasures of its wealth.  No longer are the barbarians and the rival, non-human powers held at bay.  Hungrily, they press inward.  Only a few devoted men risk their lives to stop the march against mankind.

Captain Flandry is one of these.  Spying, intriguing, fighting--joking, drinking, wenching--he goes from world to world on his lonely missions.
The text quoted above was a general summary--next came material specifically relating to the stories in FLANDRY OF TERRA.  The material I'll be quoting should be included after the text quoted above for the movies made for different stories.  For Nyanza, the planet seen in "The Game Of Glory," the book jacket said: "One such involves a world of ocean, settled by humans of African descent long before.  Somewhere, hidden from prying eyes, is an enemy agent--and what an agent!  He has to be found, and found at once, all one hundred feet of him!"

The text I'll be quoting here should be placed after the indented material I quoted above for any filmed versions of "A Message In Secret":  "Next, rumors reach Flandry of suspicious goings on through the chilly plains and polar snows of Altai, the lost ice world settled by clans of Mongols.  He suspects that Merseia, Terra's great enemy, is somehow involved, and goes there to see for himself.  At first the Kha Khan receives him hospitably, even sending him a girl from the royal harem.  But this girl blurts out the truth, that Merseian agents are indeed at work to turn Altai into a military base.  Flandry has to escape the palace to save his life and hers.  Then he has to warn Terra--and he is cut off in the wilderness, with no way to get at a spaceship. The best of fighting men can accomplish only so much; after that, he must depend on his own wits."  And I especially admired the ingenious way Flandry found for getting a message sent to the Empire!

This is what the book jacket said about the last story in FLANDRY OF TERRA, "The Plague Of Masters": "Unan Besar is almost the opposite of Altai.  This is a warm, rainy planet whose civilization has developed from a Malayan stock.  It looks peaceful, backward, even idyllic.  But Flandry soon finds it is under a ruthless scientific tyranny.  And almost at once, the agents of that government are out to kill him.  He takes refuge in the slums, is captured by Kemul the mugger, and brought before beautiful, catlike Luang.  His first need is a supply of those pills without which men soon die in the poisonous atmosphere of Unan Besar.  After that he must get off the planet and break the stranglehold of its government.  But Luang shows no particular interest in helping him."

I think the text about Unan Besar should be edited before being placed at the beginning of any filmed version of "The Plague Of Masters."  First, I would eliminate as unnecessary the mention of Altai.  Second, I think too much is given away about the plot of the story with the mention of how a special medicine is needed for human beings to continue living on Unan Besar.

IF done well I think any filmed versions of stories featuring Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry would be better, more convincing, than the STAR WARS or STAR TREK shows and movies.

Sunday, 31 July 2016


In this essay I wish to summarize, quote, and comment on what I found in some of the works of Poul Anderson on the issue of political legitimacy. One very important point to be found in his thought where it touches on politics is his insistence on the need for the state, any state, to be LEGITIMATE, for it to believe itself having the right to govern and for its people to also believe it is legitimate.  And it does not matter what form, republic or monarchy (or any other form), a state has--it still needs to be regarded as legitimate if it is to govern reasonably well (or at least not too badly).

In THE REBEL WORLDS we see Dominic Flandry doing his best to ruin the revolt of an Imperial admiral, Hugh McCormac, against the reigning Emperor, Josip III.  And this despite McCormac being a vastly better and more able man than Josip.  In Chapter XV we see Flandry explaining to McCormac himself why a successful usurpation would have been disastrous for the Empire: "You'd have destroyed the principle of legitimacy.  The Empire will outlive Josip.  Its powerful vested interests, its cautious bureaucrats, its size and inertia, will keep him from doing enormous harm.  But if you took the throne by force, why shouldn't another discontented admiral do the same in another generation?  And another and another, till civil wars rip the Empire to shreds.  Till the Merseians come in, and the barbarians.  You yourself hired barbarians to fight Terrans, McCormac.  No odds whether or not you took precautions, the truth remains that you brought them in, and sooner or later we'll get a rebel who doesn't mind conceding them territory.  And the Long Night falls."

I quoted the bit about the principle of legitimacy to Poul Anderson in my first letter to him and asked why Flandry later supported a usurper who had seized the throne by force.  In a letter dated 8 May 1978 Anderson replied: "As a matter of fact, you are not the first to point out the inconsistency in Flandry's remarks about legitimacy as the basic necessity of government, in THE REBEL WORLDS,  and the fact that later he supported Hans Molitor, whose only claim to the throne was sheer force.  Perhaps I should have spelled out in more detail what was left implicit: that Flandry was making the best of a bad situation."

An admirably clear statement of Flandry's views about legitimacy can be found nearly forty years later in Chapter VI of A STONE IN HEAVEN: "Once as a young fellow I found myself supporting the abominable Josip against McCormac--Remember McCormac's Rebellion?  He was infinitely the better man.  Anybody would have been.  But Josip was the legitimate Emperor; and legitimacy is the root and branch of government.  How else, in spite of the cruelties and extortions and ghastly mistakes it's bound to perpetrate--how else, by what right, can it command loyalty?  If it is not the servant of Law, then it is nothing but a temporary convenience at best.  At worse, it's raw force."

As a conservative/libertarian Poul Anderson was very skeptical of the state and frequently warned in his works of how easily tyranny can arise.  And he declared democracies were more prone in some ways to becoming tyrannical than other forms of government.  A good example of one of his characters expressing libertarian skepticism about the state or a society can be found in Chapter XXI of OPERATION CHAOS,  Steven Matuchek speaking: "I wouldn't think much of a youngster who never felt an urge to kick the God of Things As They Are in his fat belly.  It's too bad that most people lose it as they get old and fat themselves.  The Establishment is often unendurably smug and stupid, the hands it folds so piously are often bloodstained."  I immediately thought of "legalized" abortion as one of those bloody horrors we tolerate too easily and smugly.

However, Poul Anderson was also a conservative and realist who knew the state was a necessity, as this additional quote from the same Chapter XXI of OPERATION CHAOS shows: "And yet...and's the only thing between us and the Dark Ages that'd have to intervene before another and probably worse Establishment could arise to restore order.  And don't kid yourself that none would.  Freedom is a fine thing until it becomes somebody else's freedom to enter your house, kill, rob, rape, and enslave the people you care about.  Then you'll accept any man on horseback who promises to bring some predictability back into life, and you yourself will give him his saber and knout."  In other words, every state has bloody origins or will have blood on its hands. And I argue that one means for any state becoming less tyrannical is for it to become accepted as legitimate.

In the Introduction he wrote for the Gregg Press (1978) edition of THE LONG WAY HOME, one of his earlier novels, Poul Anderson said on page v: "You'll note where a born-and-bred slave, intelligent and well-educated, argues in favor of slavery as an institution with the shocked hero.  I intended the incident as a touch of character and background.  After all, people usually do support the regimes under which they live, if only passively.  No government which lacked that kind of acceptance would last a day.  It is a sad commentary on our species--a commentary I thought I was making--that by and large, the most monstrous tyrannies have been endured, yes, excused by their most immediate victims."  The points I'm stressing being how that ACCEPTANCE fits in with what I quoted from OPERATION CHAOS and how it's a necessary condition before any government can survive and be thought legitimate.  I want to prevent a possible misunderstanding about THE LONG WAY HOME: the regime ruling Earth in that book, the Technon, is NOT that bad.  It compares favorably to many actually existing regimes in our real world.

It's my belief that what matters is whether a government rules not too intolerably badly, more or less respects the rights of all its people, and accepts limitations on its powers, not what form it has.  If a republic or monarchy is accepted by its people as rightful and governs not too badly, then I have to say that kind of government is legitimate for that nation. Which means I disagree with dogmatists who rigidly insist that only ONE kind of government is right for everybody, for every nation.  And Poul Anderson would agree with me as this additional bit quoted from his letter of 8 May 1978 shows: "...I've long felt that legitimacy is the basic problem of any government and demand ["insist" might have been a better word, SMB] upon it.  Legitimacy can have any number of sources in different societies, such as tradition, religion, or heredity; in our country [the USA],  the Declaration [of Independence] and the Preamble [to the US Constitution] spell out  quite explicitly the basis on which the government claims its own rights.  But what does one do when this set of principles is no longer taken into account?  I doubt that much is possible except supporting whatever strong-arm contender seems likeliest to give the people a breathing spell."

In his letter of 31 December 1978, Poul Anderson wrote to me discussing, among other things, responses to my comments and questions in a letter I had written asking why so many in the Flandry stories despised (somewhat unfairly, in my opinion) the Terran Empire.  Part of his reply was a summarizing of the American theory of legitimacy in greater detail: "Perhaps the most succinct formulation is in the Declaration of Independence--though it takes for granted a contractual theory of legitimacy, whereas in fact governments have claimed legitimacy on many different bases.  The ultimate point is that most people will accept their government as rightful, and be prepared to make great sacrifices for it, as long as they perceive it as serving--however imperfectly--the larger interests of its society.  When it ceases to do that, it loses all claim on their loyalty, and any service it gets is mostly from expediency or, still more, fear."

I discussed the Chinese Confucian theory of legitimacy, the Mandate of Heaven, in a later letter (dated 18 November 1979)  to Poul Anderson, who responded (21 November 1979) that he was aware of the Chinese theory of legitimacy.  Anderson said that the Maoist conquest of mainland China fitted the Mandate of Heaven pattern in many ways, despite the Communists denying that and trying (for many years, SMB) to "scrub" (PA's term) Confucius from the culture. He even wondered if, even then (about 1979), the  Mandate of Heaven theory was not yet dead.  I mentioned the Confucian theory of legitimacy to give another real world example of a theory of rightful government.  Only time will tell if the old Chinese theory of legitimacy is dead or not.

Poul Anderson was a masterful writer deeply knowledgeable not only in the sciences but also in history and philosophy.  All of which gives unusual depth and  nuance to his works. Who were some of the saints and philosophers who helped to shape his beliefs about history?  To answer that question I'll again quote from his letter of 31 December 1978: "Turning to less profound matters, you ask why my imaginary Terran Empire is so despised by so many characters in the stories.  To explain in detail would require a book on the philosophy of history, with references to authors as diverse as St. Thomas Aquinas, Rousseau, Locke, Toynbee, Voegelin...well, the list alone would take longer to write down than I have time for." Anderson would soon include the work of John K. Hord as a major influence shaping his philosophy of history, especially as regards how civilizations rose and fell (see Anderson's article: "Concerning Future Histories," BULLETIN OF THE SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS OF AMERICA, Fall 1979, pages 10-11).

(I have argued with Poul Anderson that he was sometimes too hard on the Terran Empire.  I gave arguments  in others of my letters for believing it was not as bad as some of his characters thought it was.  I wrote that compared to many actually existing regimes, the Empire looks far better, even very GOOD, compared to them.)

I must urge readers not to be deceived by my ponderous commentary on some of the works of Poul Anderson--they are FUN to read, well written, and with very plausibly described backgrounds and character development.  Anderson never let his deep and learned interest in philosophy and history to get in the way of what he modestly called his primary job: telling stories readers will enjoy and want to read and reread.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Andersonian Themes and Tropes, by Sean M. Brooks

Dr. Paul Shackley's "Poul Anderson Appreciation Blog" focuses on the works of Poul Anderson.  And he has also discussed other writers whose own works he believes are appropriately compared to those of Anderson.  One of these writers is S.M. Stirling, whom Dr. Shackley rightly considers a worthy colleague and successor of Poul Anderson.  Mr. Stirling has sometimes left his own comments in the blog.  On January 30, 2016, in the combox for Dr. Shackley's "Wealth and Labor" piece, Stirling wrote: "It's pretty safe to assume themes and tropes from Poul's work carry over into mine--he was an inspiration, and we corresponded and occasionally visited for many years."

I have more than once found very Andersonian echoes, allusions, themes, tropes, and homages to Poul Anderson in Stirling's own works.  I felt the wish to point out some of these "echoes" myself.  For example,  one theme or trope to be found in both writers works is how they agreed all organized societies need to have SOME signs of respect or ceremonial for their leaders or states.  In Chapter 7 of Poul Anderson's novel THERE WILL BE TIME (Nelson-Doubleday: 1972, page 63) Caleb Wallis, Sachem of the Eyrie, said: "I am the founder and master of this nation.  We must have discipline, forms of respect.  I'm called 'sir.' "  Another example can be found in Chapter 7 of THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN (Nelson-Doubleday: 1973, page 54) after Tatiana Thane showed resentment at the idea of the planet Aeneas reestablishing its loyalty to the Terran Empire Commissioner Desai said: "The loyalty I speak of does not involve more than a few outward tokens of respect for the throne, as mere essential symbols.  It is loyalty to the Empire--above all, to its Pax, in an age when spacefleets can incinerate whole worlds and when the mutiny in fact took thousands of lives--it is that I mean, my lady.  It is that I am here about..."

Echoes and allusions of this Andersonian respect for due and proper ceremony can be found in Stirling's novel CONQUISTADOR (Roc: March 2004, pages 363 and 364), in Chapter Fourteen.  The Founder of the Commonwealth of New Virginia, John Rolfe VI, was formally greeted like this: "Adrienne stepped forward first, bowing low, taking his outstretched left hand in hers, and kissing it."  Then she said, in Italian: "Baciamo le mani."  Both Piet Botha and Roy Tully (with a slight shrug to Tom Christiansen by the latter) repeated the ceremony.  Tom felt embarassed and foolish, but he too performed the ritual.  The Chairman Emeritus, noticing Tom's discomfort said: "In any organized society there must be forms, gestures of respect. I am founder and master of this nation.  My fellow Virginian Washington followed a similar policy of emphasizing formal etiquette during his presidency, for much the same reason; I've often found his solutions useful when an analogous problem came up."  Notice how "I am founder and master of this nation" is nearly a word for word quote from THERE WILL BE TIME.  To say nothing of how close Stirling's "gestures of respect" is to Anderson's "forms of respect"!

In my letter of January 21, 1995 to Poul Anderson I discussed how the Later Roman Empire, in both West and East, developed increasingly elaborate and seemingly exaggerated gestures of respect for the Emperors. To such an extent that it seemed to me the Romans, even after they became Christians, gave their sovereigns virtually divine honors.  This disturbed me until I came across these texts in Thomas Hobbes LEVIATHAN (Collier Books: 1973), Chapter 45, on page 467: "The worship we exhibit for those we esteem to be but men, as to kings, and men in authority, is civil worship; but the worship we exhibit to that which we think to be God, whatsoever the words, ceremonies, gestures or other actions be, is divine worship.  To fall prostrate before a king, in him that thinks him but a man, is but civil worship: and he that putteth off his hat in the church, for this cause, that he thinketh it the house of God, worshippeth with divine worship."  And on page 469, in the same Chapter 45, I read: "To be uncovered, before a man of power and authority, before the throne of a prince, or in other such places as he ordaineth to that purpose in his absence, is to worship that man, or prince with civil worship; as being a sign, not of honouring the stool or place, but the person; and is not idolatry."

I then became convinced that the seemingly exaggerated respect shown by the Romans to their Emperors (or the New Virginians to their Chairmen) were merely gestures of respect meant to show patriotic loyalty to them. Which meant I could no longer scorn such rituals as the proskynesis or the kowtow.  In his reply letter of January 28, 1995, Anderson wrote: "On the matter of elaborate gestures of submission to royalty and the like, I suspect that, while the extreme forms of the late West Roman and the Byzantine Empires were theoretically just gestures of respect, in fact they reflected an attitude derived from the ancient Orient.  The distinction between a king or emperor who was a god and one who was God's anointed got somewhat blurred.  There was something supernatural about a crowned head--which didn't prevent some rather murderous changes of personnel!  I think that in our own time we have seen the same basic psychology at work in the--from your viewpoint or mine--obscene degree of adulation accorded Hitler and Stalin, even though in those cases all connection to the divine was disavowed."  The even more grotesque adulation shown to Mao Tse-tung, during his misrule of China, also comes to mind.

However theoretically unobjectionable the proskynesis or kowtow might be, such ceremonies still caused problems when ambassadors from foreign nations refused to perform them to the Emperor of China .  As Anderson wrote, from the same letter cited above: "It's a nice question whether the British ambassador to China in the 19th century did right when he refused to kowtow to the Emperor.  On the one hand, he definitely compromised his mission; on the other hand, as Queen Victoria's representative he was not going to admit, even symbolically, that any other monarch was superior to her.  If nothing else, that could have set an awkward precedent."

Poul Anderson then ended by saying he had no personal objection to such ceremonial gestures: "As a private citizen, I don't face such problems, and would in general go along with whatever forms and titles, such as "your Majesty" are customary.  Partly that's a matter of courtesy, partly respect for the office, especially within one's own country."  In the last part of that sentence Anderson was about to discuss the propriety of showing customary respect for Members of the U.S. Congress.

It was interesting to see a clear example from two of Poul Anderson's books, THERE WILL BE TIME and THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN, of "themes and tropes" carrying over to Stirling's  CONQUISTADOR.  I think this would have happened only if Stirling had agreed with Anderson on the desirability, even necessity, of a society's leaders being accorded some ceremonial respect and deference.  To again quote Anderson's letter of January 28, 1995: "Symbolism IS important.  It may act subtly, but it often has very practical consequences."  That is, I argue the ceremonial accorded a nation's leaders will reflect how that society regards its rulers and how power should be used.  I would even suggest that ceremonial SOFTENS the hard, sharp edges of the state's power, by helping to make sure, at least sometimes, that power is used only in  accordance with fixed laws, rules, and customs.

Saturday, 26 September 2015


I have wondered how S.M. Stirling was inspired to write his four Draka books (MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA, UNDER THE YOKE, THE STONE DOGS, and DRAKON).  One source to investigate is what Stirling himself said, such as the Introduction he wrote for DRAKAS! (a collection of short stories featuring the Drakas he had consented to other authors writing).  This is what Stirling wrote on page 2 of  DRAKAS! (Baen Books, 2000): "So a thought came to me, suppose everything had turned out as badly as possible, these last few centuries.  Great change make possible great good and great evil. The outpouring of the Europeans produced plenty of both."

I agree that Mr. Stirling's Draka books are dystopian alternate history science fiction, based on the premise of everything turning out as badly as possible.  BUT, what if, unbeknownst to Stirling, he had also been influenced in shaping the basic premises of the Draka stories by Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization stories?  Assume a small group of people with ideas similar to those of the Draka had left a hostile Terra soon after a FTL drive was invented to settle a planet deep in what became the dominions of Merseia in Anderson's Technic stories.

There actually was a human ethnic group within the Terran Empire whose ideas might have developed along the lines taken by the Draka if circumstances had been different!  I refer to the Zacharians, whom we see in THE GAME OF EMPIRE.  Matthew Zachary and Yukiko Nomura, the founders of the Zacharians, lived around the time when a FTL drive had been invented and mankind was beginning to leave the Solar System.  Their desire was to use genetic science to create an improved form of humanity which would provide the leaders of the human race.  To quote Kukulkan Zachary, from Chapter 17 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE: " ' Travel beyond the Solar System was just beginning.  Matthew Zachary saw what an unimaginably great challenge it cast at humankind, peril as well as promise, hardihood required for hope, adaptability essential but not at the cost of integrity.  A geneticist, he set himself the goal of creating a man that could cope with the infinite strangeness it would find.  Yes, machines were necessary, but they were not sufficient.  People must go into the deeps too, if the whole human adventure was not to end in whimpering pointlessness.  And go they would.  It was in the nature of the species. Matthew Zachary wanted to provide them with the best possible leaders.' "

All too predictably, the appearance of the genetically modified Zacharians aroused suspicions of them wishing to become a master race tyrannizing over mankind.  It caused the Zacharians to be alternately shunned or persecuted (with Kukulkan Zachary admitting the Zacharians MIGHT have become such a caste in the right circumstances).  It ended with the Zacharians settling the island they called Zacharia, on the planet Daedalus, orbiting the star named Patricius.  By the time the Terran Empire arose and restored order after the Time of Troubles, the Zacharians had become merely one more ethnicity in an Empire containing thousands of them.  Their resentment at this eventually led them to become traitors, co-conspiring with Merseia to place its agent Olaf Magnusson on the throne as a puppet Emperor.  Kukulkan Zachary tried to justify this in Chapter 20 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE by saying: " ' We owe the Terran Empire nothing.  It dragooned our forebears into itself.  It has spurned our leadership, the vision that animated the Founders.  It will only allow us to remain ourselves on this single patch of land, afar in its marches.  Here we dwell like Plato's man in chains, seeing only shadows on the wall of our cave, shadows cast by the living universe.  The Merseians have no cause to fear or shun us.  Rather, they will welcome us as their intermediaries with the human commonality.  They will grant us the same boundless freedom they desire for themselves.' "

Oh, the irony!  From aspiring to becoming the leaders of mankind, leaders who MIGHT have become like the Draka, the Zacharians eventually decided they would settle for becoming Quislings governing mankind under Merseian supervision.  And I disagree with Kukulkan Zachary--nothing prevented Zacharians from either enlisting in the Imperial armed forces or entering the Civil Service.  Being able and intelligent, many would rise to be among the leaders of the Empire.  But that would have meant adopting the preferred view of the Empire taken by both the other humans and non-humans within its domains, of becoming ASSIMILATED by the Empire, and renouncing the dream of ZACHARIANS being the leaders of mankind.

I wish to examine what we know of the ideology of racial supremacy which dominated Merseia in the days of the Terran Empire, to see how closely it resembled the beliefs of the Draka.  A few quotes from Chapter XIV of A CIRCUS OF HELLS will help: "They [the Merseians] didn't want war with Terra, they only saw the Empire as a bloated sick monstrosity which had long outlived its usefulness but with senile cunning contrived to hinder and threaten THEM..."  And: "No, they did not dream of conquering the galaxy, that was absurd on the face of it, they simply wanted freedom to range and rule without bound, and "rule" did not mean tyranny over others, it meant just that others should not stand in the way of the full outfolding of that spirit which lay in the Race..."

I did not believe a word of this!  As the Merseians expanded into the galaxy they contacted other intelligent races with as much right to exist as theirs.  Yet their reaction was to scorn them as beings inferior to them, and to dominate them because they were not Merseians.

In Chapter XIII of A CIRCUS OF HELLS we see some of Dominic Flandry's reflections about the Merseians and the beliefs driving them: "You gatortails get a lot of dynamism out of taking for granted you're the natural future lords of the galaxy," the man thought, "but your attitude has its disadvantages.  Not that you deliberately antagonize any other races, provided they give you no trouble.  But you don't use their talents as fully as you might.  Ydwr seems to understand this.  He mentioned that I would be valuable as a non-Merseian--which suggests he'd like to have team members from among the Roidhunate's client species--but I imagine he had woes enough pushing his project through a reluctant government, without bucking attitudes so ingrained that the typical Merseian isn't even conscious of them." 

The points I wish to stress about this otherwise out of context quote are these: Merseian belief in their superiority and destiny as rulers of the galaxy, their at best condescending attitude toward non-Merseians, a hint of how ruthless the Merseians could be to any who opposed them, etc.

The human ruled Terran Empire was Merseia's greatest and most powerful rival among oxygen breathing races.  How did at least some Merseian leaders regard humans and how would they treat humans?  An answer to these questions can be found in Chapter 10 of ENSIGN FLANDRY.  Brechdan Ironrede, Protector of the Roidhun's Grand Council, said of the human race: " ' They were magnificent once.  They could be again.  I would love to see them our willing subjects.'  His scarred features drooped a little. ' Unlikely, of course.  They're not that kind of species.  We may be forced to exterminate.' "  Note the casually chilling acceptance of the idea of exterminating an entire intelligent race.  And, by extension, all other non-Merseian races who dared to resist Merseian domination.

In ENSIGN FLANDRY we see one Merseian who did not believe in the evil ideology of racial supremacy and felt betrayed by his own leaders.  As Dwyr the Hook said in Chapter 12: " ' What was the conquest of Janair to me? They spoke of the glory of the race.  I saw nothing except that other race, crushed, burned, enslaved as we advanced.  I would have fought for my liberty as they did for theirs.' "  Dwyr concluded; " ' Do not misunderstand.  I stayed loyal to my Roidhun and my people.  It was they who betrayed me.' "  Dwyr thought like that because he had discovered how badly his own superiors had lied to him as regards being healed of severe war injuries.

To see how humans inside the Empire reacted to Merseians claiming their race was superior to all others I'll quote from Chapter XII of A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS what Bodin Miyatovich, Gospodar of Dennitza and governor of the Taurian sector said: " ' The Empire would have to get so bad that chaos was better, before I'd willingly break it.  Terra, the Troubles, or the tyranny of Merseia--and those racists wouldn't just subject us, they'd tame us--I don't believe we have a fourth choice, and I'll pick Terra.' " Here we see Merseian rule considered so harsh it amounted to treating non-Merseians as mere animals.

I have reviewed Merseian ideas of racial superiority and how both humans and non-humans reacted to them.  What was the political form desired for giving Merseian ambitions a practical shape?  In Chapter 9 of ENSIGN FLANDRY Lord Hauksberg remarked that the electors from the landed clans chose the Roidhun from the landless Vach, the Urdiolch, dismissing that, however, as an unimportant detail.  Commander Max Abrams disagreed, saying: " ' It's not a detail.  It reflects their whole concept of society.  What they have in mind for their far future is a set of autonomous Merseian ruled regions.  The race, not the nation, counts with them.  Which makes them a hell of a lot more dangerous than simple imperialists like us, who only want to be top dogs and admit other species have an equal right to exist.  Anyway, so I think on the basis of what information is available. While on Merseia I hope to read a lot of their philosophers.' "

That last bit, about Merseian philosophers, reminded me of what S.M. Stirling's character, William Dreiser, had done on page 64 of MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA (Baen Books: 1988): "He had done his homework thoroughly: histories, geographies, statistics.  And the Draka basics, Carlyle's PHILOSOPHY OF MASTERY, Nietzsche's THE WILL TO POWER, Fitzhugh's IMPERIAL DESTINY, even Gobineau's turgid INEQUALITY OF HUMAN RACES, and the eerie and chilling MEDITATIONS OF ELVIRA NALDORSSEN." It's disturbing to think there might be Merseian analogs of Draka philosophers like Naldorssen.  I can think of one possibly modifying factor: the Merseians belief in "the God" MIGHT soften the ruthless logic of their racist ideology.

To give a more adequate idea of what the Draka and their ambitions were like I'll quote from Stirling's fictional Draka philosopher Elvira Naldorssen's MEDITATIONS: COLDER THAN THE MOON (possibly the same invented book as the one mentioned in the previous paragraph), from page 230 of Stirling's MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA: "The Draka will conquer the world for two reasons: because we must, and because we can. Yet of the two forces, the second is the greater; we do this because we choose to do it.  By the sovereign Will and force of arms the Draka will rule the earth, and in so doing remake themselves.  We shall conquer: we shall beat the nations into dust and re-forge them in our self-wrought image: the Final Society, a new humanity without weakness or mercy, hard and pure.  Our descendants will walk the hillsides of that future, innocent beneath the stars, with no more between them and their naked will than a wolf has.  Then there will be Gods in the earth."

In conclusion it will help if I listed the ways Merseia resembled the Domination of the Draka:
1. Racial superiority of Merseians over all non-Meseians.
2. Inferior status, within the Roidhunate, of all non-Merseian races.
3. Willingness to exterminate entire races.
4. Enslaving of conquered non-Merseians.

In Poul Anderson's Terran Empire stories the focus was on the decline of the Empire and the urgent need to defend it, to prevent civilization from falling, not primarily on Merseia (except as the enemy of the Empire). Still, I believe I have collected enough evidence to show that the Roidhunate was a nasty place for non-Merseians.  I regret how Poul Anderson never thought of writing a few stories set entirely inside the Roidhunate, showing us the views of both Merseians and non-Merseians.  If he had, and if based on the evidence I collected, Merseia would strongly resemble a non-human Domination of the Draka, on an interstellar scale.

S.M. Stirling is a known fan and admirer of the works of Poul Anderson. I think it was at least possible that, besides experimenting with writing dystopian science fiction, unconscious reflection on Merseia's racism and its consequences was a factor shaping how Stirling developed the Draka.  To say, nothing, of course, of how the Zacharians might have contributed to this process.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sensory Deprivation, by Sean M Brooks

This essay discusses how Poul Anderson used "sensory deprivation" as the means used by some of his characters in WE CLAIM THESE STARS and MURDER IN BLACK LETTER to obtain information.  I also want to examine the question of whether sensory deprivation can be used as a legitimate intelligence method or has to be rejected as torture, and thus unethical to use.

I also wish to stress the need to not assume that the ideas, beliefs, or actions of an author's fictional characters are what that author himself believes or that he approves of all that his characters do.  Sometimes, of course, he does--and at other times does not.

The first quote from the works of Poul Anderson showing how sensory deprivation was used to obtain information is from Chapter X of WE CLAIM THESE STARS, one of the stories he wrote for his Technic Civilization series, in the time of the Terran Empire, more than a thousand years in the future. Captain Sir Dominic Flandry, an officer in Terra's Imperial Naval Intelligence Corps, had, with guerilla assistance, captured Clanmaster Temulak, commander of the alien garrison occupying the human town of Garth, on the planet Vixen.  Temulak was an officer belonging to a race called the Ardazirho which had invaded and seized Vixen, a planet colonized by humans belonging to the Empire.  The Ardazirho captive was unwilling to answer questions, so Flandry took recourse to measures designed to break that resistance, using sensory deprivation.  To quote from Chapter X:
    He nodded to Dr. Reineke.  The physician wheeled forth the equipment he had abstracted from Garth General Hospital at Flandry's request.  A blindfolding hood went over Temulak's eyes, sound deadening wax filled his ears and plugged his nose, a machine supplied him with intravenous nourishment and another removed body wastes, they left him immobile and, except for the soft constant pressure of bonds and bed, sealed into a darkness like death.  No sense impressions could reach him from outside.  It was painless, it did no permanent harm, but the mind is not intended for such isolation.  When there is nothing by which it may orient itself, it rapidly loses all knowledge of time; an hour seems like a day, and later like a week or a year.  Space and material reality vanish.  Hallucinations come, and the will begins to crumble.  Most particularly is this true when the victim is among enemies, tensed to feel the whip or knife which his own ferocious culture would surely use.
Clanmaster Temulak, a moderately high ranking Ardazirho officer, would be CERTAIN to have information which would be extremely useful for the Terrans to know.  The story goes on to say Temulak finally cracked after "Three of Vixen's 22 hour rotation periods went by, and part of a fourth, before the message came that Temulak had broken" (WE CLAIM THESE STARS, Chapter XI).

In 1979, when I first read Poul Anderson's mystery MURDER IN BLACK LETTER (Macmillan: 1960), I was surprised to come across this text on page 133: "They're just now beginning to study the mental effects of eliminating sensory stimuli," said Kintyre.  "The mind goes out of whack amazingly fast.  My friend Levinson, in the physiology department, was telling me about some recent experiments.  Volunteers, intelligent self-controlled people who knew what it's all about and knew they could quit any time they wanted--none of which applies to O'Hearn--didn't last long.  Hallucinations set in."  Plainly, it was in the middle or late 1950's that Anderson first came across the idea of using sensory deprivation as a means of obtaining information from subjects unwilling to truthfully answer questions.

Here we see characters from two of Poul Anderson's novels using sensory deprivation to force prisoners they knew had valuable information to answer questions truthfully.  The issue to be examined is whether what Flandry and Kintyre did was torture and hence unethical or whether it was morally licit.  One reason why torture as such is not used by responsible intelligence officers is because of how unreliable it can be.  To again quote from one of Anderson's novels, about eight years later in the Technic History, in Chapter V of A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS, he has Flandry saying: "Let me explain from the ground up.  Interrogation is an unavoidable part of police and military work.  You can do it on several levels of intensity.  First, simple questioning; if possible, questioning different subjects separately and comparing their stories. Next, browbeating of assorted kinds.  Then torture, which can be the crude inflicting of pain or something like prolonged sleep deprivation.  The trouble with these methods is, they aren't too dependable.  The subject may hold out.  He may lie.  If he's had psychosomatic training, he can fool a lie detector; or, if he's clever, he can tell only a misleading part of the truth.  At best, procedures are slow, especially when you have to crosscheck whatever you get against whatever other information you can find."   We see torture, defined as either the crude inflicting of pain or prolonged sleep deprivation, dismissed as slow and unreliable.

For a look at how torture should be regarded ethically, I will quote what the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (Image Books, 1995), an official and authoritative summarizing of Catholic doctrinal and moral teaching, says about it in Nos. 2297-2298: "2297 ....*Torture* which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary for respect for the person and for human dignity.  Except when performed for strictly therapeutic, medical reasons, directly intended *amputations, mutilations,  *and *sterilizations *performed on innocent persons are against the moral law."  And 2298 says: "In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture.  Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy.  She forbade clerics to shed blood.  In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person.  On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading.  It is necessary to work for their abolition.  We must pray for the victims and their tormentors."

Given all that has been previously written, the question to be answered is whether or not the use of sensory deprivation is or is not torture.  If it is not torture, or not always thus, its use as a means of extracting information from those unwilling to answer questions truthfully is ethically permissible.  Those who would defend the use of sensory deprivation will point out that Temulak was not tortured in the senses given above: pain was not inflicted on him nor was he even deprived of, or prevented from sleeping.  All that happened to him was being made temporarily unable to see, hear, smell, or move.  And this was done only as long as it took for persuading Temulak to cooperate in being interrogated. However, those who would argue against the use of sensory deprivation as a means of obtaining information would say that having one's senses deprived of outside stimuli is torture because prolonged lack of stimulation for the senses becomes unendurable.  I believe both sides would agree that to deliberately prolong sensory deprivation beyond the point of inducing the subject to cooperate in being interrogated does becomes torture, and thus immoral to use.

What conclusions can be reached to resolve this question?  Sensory deprivation, when strictly limited and used solely for persuading persons being interrogated to cooperate in being questioned, can be legitimately used.  Two preconditions are necessary: first, the cause or reason for using sensory deprivation on an unwilling person must be so strong that this unwillingness can be rightfully overruled.  Second, interrogators must also be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the person they are trying to question DOES have information they need to discover (because to use sensory deprivation on a prisoner reasonably likely not to know the information being sought is indisputably torture).  For example, a private will know far less information of military value than a colonel or general.  That was certainly the case with Clanmaster Temulak, the captured enemy officer we see in WE CLAIM THESE STARS.  Recall, Temulak was captured by Flandry and his guerrilla assistants on a planet seized and occupied by enemies, in circumstances where discovery and seizure by those enemies was a very high possibility.  Flandry did not have the TIME or means for lengthy, weeks long interrogation of an unwilling prisoner.

I am, of course, open to being corrected in my view that sensory deprivation can be a legitimate interrogation method by REASONED and logical arguments.  I would also be interested in finding out what professional, law abiding, and ethical interrogators and intelligence officers think of this question.  I have tried to find out how sensory deprivation was used in actual cases.  However, I have found none where this method was described as used with the care ordered by Flandry for the treatment of Temulak.  Merely emotional or ad hominem arguments for or against sensory deprivation are rejected out of hand.

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1960's and 1970's, British security forces came to use five "sensory deprivation" methods which eventually caused the Republic of Ireland to sue the United Kingdom in the European Court of Human Rights for alleged torture of terrorists or guerrillas (see European Court of Human Rights, "Ireland v. the United Kingdom," January 18, 1978).  The disputed methods were: wall standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink.  In the final judgment handed down by the European Court in the above mentioned case, it examined the United Nations definition of torture and ruled that these five methods did not meet the intensity of pain and suffering laid down by that definition.  However, the Court ruled these methods amounted to "inhuman and degrading treatment," violating Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (another treaty binding on signatory nations).

Except for the hooding of Temulak, none of this applies to the case we see in WE CLAIM THESE STARS.  The prisoner was not subjected to wall standing, loud noises, depriving of sleep, or depriving of nourishment.  So, I am not satisfied the British case gives us a clear example in actual history of the use of sensory deprivation as seen in WE CLAIM THESE STARS.  Nor have I found any US cases using "sensory deprivation" as seen in those of Poul Anderson's works I have quoted in this article.  Rather, the cases I read of were roughly similar, in some of the methods used, to those seen in the British case.

And, speaking personally, I have wondered what it might be like to experience sensory deprivation.  I have actually thought of being tied down, having my ears plugged, eyes blindfolded, etc., for one hour.  What would it be like to endure sensory deprivation for even so short a time? I know there are persons who have found the limited use of sensory deprivation to be restful or useful.

Sunday, 24 May 2015


This article outlines and dates the three phases of Poul Anderson's career as a writer, with representative examples taken from his works. Considering how vast Anderson's output was from 1947 to his death in 2001, it will not be practical or desirable to cite more than a few of his many short stories and novels.  And one weakness of this essay is how I have completely ignored his mysteries, historical novels, and non fictional works.  One last point: this arbitrary carving up of a writer's career into phases is an artificial construct by critics, commentators, and fans, and should be done cautiously, with a grain of salt.

Strictly speaking, it would be correct to date Anderson's career as beginning in September 1944, when AMAZING published his first short story, "A Matter of Relativity."  However, dating the beginning of the early phase of his career to the publication of "Tomorrow's Children" (ASTOUNDING, March 1947) is more realistic.  Because Anderson only began to write regularly from 1947 onwards.

I argue for dating Anderson's early phase from 1947 when "Tomorrow's Children" (which became the first part of TWILIGHT WORLD) was published. And I date the end of this early phase in Anderson's career to 1958, when THE ENEMY STARS was published.  This early phase was when Anderson was still learning how to write, to find his natural voice as a writer, and when he began writing about many of the ideas and themes dearest to his mind.  This early period is also when we can detect a few false starts, or perhaps merely a change of mind in how he thought about and wrote his stories.  The clearest example of that being the Psychotechnic stories (found in collections such as THE PSYCHOTECHNIC LEAGUE, COLD VICTORY, STARSHIP, and novels like VIRGIN PLANET and THE PEREGRINE).

One of the false starts I believe can be found in Anderson's early phase is "Genius"  (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, December 1948). I base this on comments by a critic whose name I cannot convincingly recall (it may have been Sandra Miesel) who argued this very early story contradicted the moral values and beliefs of Poul Anderson.  I wish I could cite the author by name and quote the exact text.  I apologize for this vague and unsatisfactory paragraph and hope I can replace it if I find the text I am incompletely remembering.

Besides hard science fiction Poul Anderson also wrote a smaller but still impressive amount of fantasies, both novels and short stories.  The most significant example of that, during his early phase, being THE BROKEN SWORD (Abelard: 1954).  It's interesting to note how he became dissatisfied with the original form of that novel and published a revised version 1971. Which means THE BROKEN SWORD can be found in both his early and middle periods.  The following bit from Anderson's "Foreword" to the 1971 Del Rey/Ballantine Books edition of THE BROKEN SWORD gives us some understanding of why he became dissatisfied with the first version: "I would not myself write anything so headlong, so prolix, and so unrelievedly savage.  My vein is more that of THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS."

Going back to the Psychotechnic stories, in an "Author's Note" that Anderson placed at the end of THE PSYCHOTECHNIC LEAGUE (New York, Pinnacle Books, 1981) we are given some comments about his first "future history" and why he eventually became dissatisfied with it.  On page 284 Anderson wrote:
    A good reason for this abandonment was that the real world had, predictably, not been behaving as described.  For example, World War Three remains ahead of us, rather than behind.  No doubt I could have fudged my dates a bit. However, I could not explain away important scientific discoveries and technological advances which I had failed to foresee.
    People and institutions had also changed profoundly, as had my view of them. Once I was a flaming liberal, a fact which is probably most obvious in "Un-Man." Nowadays I consider the United Nations a dangerous farce on which we ought to ring down the curtain.  (In justice to it and myself, though, please remember that when I wrote this novella the U.N. had quite a different character from that it has since acquired, and looked improvable.)
I date Anderson's middle period as beginning with the publication of WE CLAIM THESE STARS! (Ace, 1959).  This middle period is marked by the confidence and strength with which Anderson wrote.  Two of his most prominent series of stories which began in his early phase, the stories featuring the Polesotechnic League/Terran Empire and the Time Patrol, reached their full maturity in this middle phase (although Anderson wrote one last Time Patrol story late, in 1995).  I would date the end of this middle period to 1989, when THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS was published. BOAT shows both definite similarities with Anderson's earlier works and touches on the ideas and themes which would dominate the works he wrote during the last twelve years of his life.

David G. Hartwell contributed a prefatory essay to the fourth volume of NESFA Press' reprinting of many of Anderson's shorter works in ADMIRALTY: THE COLLECTED SHORT WORKS OF POUL ANDERSON (2011).  What he said on page 10 admirably describes qualities which can be found in the stories Anderson wrote during his middle period (in fact, in all three phases).  Hartwell wrote: "Instead, again in the hard SF tradition, he most often wrote about strong men and women pitted against the challenge of survival in the face of the natural universe.  Some of them die.  But Anderson was optimist enough to see beyond the dark times into both a landscape, sometimes a starscape, and a future of wonders--for the survivors.  Anderson's future is not for the lazy or the stay-at-homes.  He was fairly gloomy about current social trends, big government, repression of the individual, so he catapulted his characters into a future of new frontiers, making them face love and death in vividly imagined and depicted environments far from home.  I recall the power and beauty and pathos of his fine black hole story, "Kyrie," the wit of THE MAN WHO COUNTS (THE WAR OF THE WING MEN) the good humor of "A Bicycle Built for Brew," the enormous scope and amazing comprehension of "Memorial."  His range was impressive."

(Hartwell's mentioning of "Memorial" puzzles me, I can't find it among Anderson's works.  The item closest to it being "In Memoriam," which can most conveniently be found in ALL ONE UNIVERSE, published by Tor Books in 1996.)

And I would date the beginning of Anderson's middle period in his writing of fantasies to the publication of THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS in 1961. However, since this edition was only an expanded version of the original form of the novel first published by the MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION in September/October 1953, this story belongs more to Anderson's early phase.  A truer representative of Anderson's work in fantasies dating to his middle phase is A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST (Doubleday, 1974).  An especially interesting thing to note about this book is how it was written almost entirely in blank verse, the form of poetry used by William Shakespeare for his plays.  In other words, TEMPEST was written as an act of homage to the Bard.

I am convinced Poul Anderson was a master short story writer.  In both fantasy and hard science fiction.  By turns poetic and elegiac, and scrupulously faithful to known science or not too impossible extrapolations from what was known.  He also excelled in describing his characters and the backgrounds of his stories.

What were some of the ideas and themes which Anderson took up with, in my opinion, magnificent success, in his later years?  Immortality, artificial intelligence based on computer technology (AI, for short), the uploading of human personalities into computer networks (and their downloading into human bodies created for them via DNA engineering and cloning), nanotechnology, even raising animal species to human levels of intelligence, etc. Albeit, as of this writing, we are seeing results in the actual world only in cloning and nanotech.  I am skeptical some of the themes Anderson speculated about in his later years will ever actually come to pass, such as immortality and AI.

One of the ideas which came most strongly to me as marking Anderson's late phase was how WELL he wrote during the period 1989-2001.  It is my opinion that THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS marks both the end of his middle phase and the beginning of his late period.  These years shows Anderson as not being content to rest on his laurels and rehash old ideas and themes from his earlier years.  Instead, his late phase is marked by how boldly he tried out new ideas, some of them very strange to me!  I refer, of course, to his four HARVEST OF STARS books, STARFARERS, GENESIS, and the posthumously published FOR LOVE AND GLORY.  I ardently recommend readers to try out the HARVEST OF STARS books, despite the difficult ideas found in them (some of which, as noted above, I am skeptical will ever actually come to pass).

One of the themes which marked Anderson's later years was how he preferred to speculate about STL means of mankind reaching the stars.  Mostly, of course, because that was, given our current knowledge of science, more likely than having a FTL drive.  But he did use FTL for his last novel, FOR LOVE AND GLORY.

Compared to his early and middle phases, Anderson wrote fewer fantasies during his late period, 1989 to 2001.  The first being "Faith" (co-authored with Karen Anderson) published in AFTER THE KING (1992).  And the first of only two fantasy novels he wrote during his later years was WAR OF THE GODS (Tor: 1997).  Truth to say, I consider WAR to be one of Anderson's very few weaker books.  The second being OPERATION LUNA (1999), placed in the same "world" as OPERATION CHAOS.

I should also note that during his later years Anderson continue to write short stories, both hard SF and fantasy.  Examples being "Death and the Knight," and the posthumously published "Pele" (set in Larry Niven's Man/Kzin wars series) and "The Lady of the Winds" (set in the Thieves World fantasy series).