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Friday, September 18, 2009

A Limerick

This is very 90s.  Nowadays that makes it dated, but someday it'll be historical.

If you can't glide on skates like Lipinski
And you're not filled with hate like Kaczynski
But you hunger for fame
You're ahead of the game
If you learn to fellate like Lewinksy

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quotations from The World of Null-A

Many of the chapters in Van Vogt's classic The World of Null-A have epigraphs, most of them taken from  Alfred Korzybski's magnum opus Science and Sanity, the bible of non-Aristotelianism.  Most of them are credited by initials, and while some are obvious (AK is Korzybski; BR is Bertrand Russell) others are more obscure.

Chapter 1

Common sense, do what it will, cannot avoid being surprised occasionally. The object of science is to spare this emotion and create mental habits which shall be in such close accord with the habits of the world as to secure that nothing shall be unexpected.

Bertrand Russell,  The Analysis of Matter

Chapter 2

The gifted ... Aristotle ... affected perhaps the largest number of people ever influenced by a single man. ... Our tragedies began when the "intensional" biologist Aristotle took the lead over the "extensional" mathematical philosopher Plato, and formulated all the primitive identifications, subject-predicativism ... into an imposing system, which for more than two thousand years we were not allowed to revise under penalty of prosecution. ... Because of this, his name has been used for two-valued doctrines of Aristotelianism, and, conversely, the many-valued realities of modern science are given the name non-Aristotelianism. ...

Alfred Korzybski

Chapter 3

To be is to be related.

Cassius J. Keyser, Charles Sanders Peirce as a Pioneer

Chapter 4

Science is nothing but good sense and sound reasoning.

Stanislaus Leszcynski, King of Poland, 1763.

Chapter 7

To be acceptable as scientific knowledge, a truth must be a deduction from other truths.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Circa 340 B.C

Chapter 16

The human nervous system is structurally of inconceivable complexity. It is estimated that there are in the human brain about twelve thousand millions of nerve cells or neurons, and more than half of these are in the cerebral cortex. Were we to consider a million cortical nerve cells connected with one another in groups of only two neurons each and compute the possible combinations, we would find the number of possible interneuronic connection-patterns to be represented by ten to the power of two million, seven hundred, and eighty-three thousand. For comparison ... probably the whole sidereal universe does not contain more than ten to the power of sixty-six atoms.

Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity

Chapter 17

We copy animals in our nervous processes. ... In man such nervous reactions lead to non-survival, pathological states of infantilism, infantile private and public behavior ... And the more technically developed a nation or race is, the more cruel, ruthless, predatory, and commercialized its systems tend to become ... all because we continue to think like animals and have not learned how to think consistently like human beings.

Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity

Chapter 19

Even Leibniz formulated the postulate of continuity, of infinitely near action, as a general principle, and could not, for this reason, become recon¬ciled to Newton's Law of Gravitation, which entails action at a distance and which corresponds fully to that of Coulomb.

Herman Weyl

Chapter 20
Excitation rather than inhibition is important in correlation because from what has been said it appears that so far as is known, inhibition is not transmitted as such. The existence of inhibitory nervous correlation is, of course, a familiar fact, but in such cases the inhibitory effect is apparently produced not by transmission of an inhibitory change but by transmission of an excitation, and the mechanism of the final inhibitory effect is obscure.

Charles M. Child

Chapter 21

A famous Victorian-era physicist said, "There's nothing for the next generation of physicists to do except measure the next decimal place." In the next generation ... Planck developed the quantum theory that led to Bohr's atomic structure work ... Einstein's mathematics were proven out by some extremely delicate decimal-place measuring. ... Obviously, the next question is going to involve the next set of decimal places. Gravity is too little understood. So are magnetic field phenomena. ... Sooner or later somebody will slip in another decimal place, and the problem will be solved.

John W. Campbell, Jr.

Chapter 22

Quisnam, igitur sanus? (Who, then is sane?)

Horace, Satires, Circa 25 B.C.

Chapter 26
Nevertheless, the consuming hunger of the uncritical mind for what it imagines to be certainty or finality impels it to feast upon shadows.

Eric Temple Bell, Debunking Science

Chapter 30

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Builders

Chapter 34

"What you say a thing is, it is not" ... It is much more. It is a compound in the largest sense. A chair is not just a chair. It is a structure of inconceivable complexity, chemically, atomically, electronically, etc. Therefore, to think of it simply as a chair is to confine the nervous system to what Korzybski calls an identification. It is the totality of such identifications that create the neurotic, the unsane, and the insane individual.

Anonymous

Thursday, September 3, 2009

No one goes to Mordor in February.

The scene in Lord of the Rings where, after the Orc attack, Aragorn and company decide to rescue Merry and Pippin, leaving Frodo and Sam to their own devices, has never made sense to me.  Two of these hobbits hold the Fate of the World™ on their finger, while two are just these guys, and Our Heroes go after the wrong ones.  Tolkien doesn't show us how that decision was really made, which I think went something like this...:

"We need to protect Frodo and Sam, even if it means following them all the way to Mordor."

"Mordor?  In February? No one goes to Mordor in February.  There's the bugs."

"Yes, the bugs."

"And the orcs."

"I'm not afraid of the orcs."

"Well, the bugs, then."

"There are the bugs."

"Minas Tirith, then."

"Shouldn't we at least try to find Frodo?  He does have the thingy, you know."

"The thingy?"

"You know, the thingy."

"Oh, the thingy.  Of course he does.  He's the thingy-bearer."

"We were supposed to help protect the thingy."

"But if we go after him, we'll just bring attention to the thingy."

"Bring attention?"

"Exactly.  It's a brilliant bit of misdirection. We'll fool him"

"Fool whom?"

"You know very well whom.  Him.  He has eyes everywhere."

"I thought just the one."

"Well, eye everywhere.  But if we go after Pippin and Merry, he'll think they're the important ones."

"Then he'll kill them!"

"It's a chance we'll have to take."

Childe Cycle: Odds and Ends

  • The Childe Cycle was published over a period of 48 years (41 years during Dickson's life.) Given that, it's a bit astonishing how closely Dickson kept to the original conception of, at least, the SF portion of the Cycle: Donal Graeme, over multiple lives, shepherding the human race through the next phase of its evolution. The only major change was the decision (which, as I've earlier, I consider unfortunate) to give Bleys Ahrens his own sub-series of books, parallel with the Hal Mayne books. Otherwise it would have been possible to finish off the Cycle with one last book, for a total of seven rather than six. (Or even to finish in six by expanding The Chantry Guild to include the final struggle between Hal and Bleys.) Compared to many other series that bloated and got out of control over time, Dickson did an admirable job of sticking to his original conception.
  • Dickson used a variety of narrative styles for the thirteen Childe Cycle works, which include nine novels and four short stories.  (There are also two early stories, "Act of Creation" and "Lulungomeena", sometimes listed as part of the Cycle because they both feature soldiers from a world called "Dorsai".  They seem to me, other than the use of this name, completely unrelated, and in fact Dickson never placed them in any of the Childe Cycle collections.)  Each of the main characters has a characteristic style:
    •  Donal (Dorsai!)/Paul(Necromancer)/Hal(The Final Encyclopedia and The Chantry Guild)
      Third person.  With each lifetime, it's a closer third person, so that the reader sees Donal from the outside, is told about Paul's feelings, and experiences Hal's.  This helps portray the additional empathy he gains with each life.
    • Cletus (Tactics of Mistake)
      Cletus is like Donal, seen from a fairly distant third person.
    • Bleys (Young Bleys, Other, and Antagonist)
      Bleys is treated like Hal; the reader experiences his feelings (such as they are.)
    • Amanda Morgan the First ("Amanda Morgan")
      Amanda is also close third person. Her story is an illustration of the Dorsai character; either first person or close third would work. I don't know of any Dickson works written in female first-person.
    •  Ian ("Warrior" and "Brothers")
      Both of the stories in which Ian is the main character are told from the point of view of another character: "Warrior" in the third person and "Brothers" in the first. Ian, a cold and distant man, is most naturally seen from outside.
    • Tam Olyn (Soldier, Ask Not)
      Tam tells his story in first person. He undergoes the largest change of any of the characters, and first person allows the reader to experience it directly.
    • Corunna El Man ("Lost Dorsai")
      Corunna is the other first-person narrator, for the opposite reason.  "Lost Dorsai" is the only story that has several equally important main characters, and having Corunna (who isn't one of them) narrate it helps provide unity. (Though it does require the somewhat clumsy device of having Corunna overhear a number of conversations.)
  • In the Warrior/Philosopher/Faith-holder paradigm that informs the Childe Cycle, the Philosophers get the short end of thestick.  We meet many heroic Dorsai, and no evil ones.  (We're told of one evil one, at the beginning of Dorsai!, but he's been utterly defeated by the rest, his home burnt and none of the survivors even willing to admit being related to him.)  We see some evil Friendlies, like Amyth Barbage from The Final Encyclopedia and the fanatic who murders Dave Hall in Soldier, Ask Not, but we're often reminded that they're exceptions, and Barbage is redeemed by Rukh Tamani.  The Philosophers are represented by Walter Blunt, who is at best an equivocal character, and Sayona the Bond, who has spent his life looking for the next step in human evolution but can't see it in front of his nose.  The most sympathetic Exotic we meet is Padma, but he's an observer and a bystander, like a court wizard who explains the situation so that the hero can actually do something about it. We never meet an Exotic as impressive as Jamethon Black or Henry MacLean.
  • The Cycle contains a mixture of non-genre material (politics and military science), science fiction proper (spaceships and advanced technology), and mental powers that amount to magic (the Chantry Guild's Alternate Laws and Donal's ability to control space and time).  Each work is a different mix of the three. Dorsai! and Tactics of Mistake contain just one scene of magic each (respectively, Donal's ability to levitate and Cletus's to heal his wounded leg, and the latter could be viewed as merely self-hypnosis and biofeedback), while Necromancer has real, working magic in conflict with technology from beginning to send.  In the Cycle, magic is always done via the human mind's ability to draw power from a different sphere of reality (which is eventually called the Creative Universe), never by contacting supernatural spirits.  The Exotics have a non-theistic faith in the destiny of mankind, and the Dorsai a similar faith in their own strength and self-reliance.  While the Friendlies can accomplish great things through theistic faith, it's because their faith makes them stronger and braver, not because of any literal truth it might contain.  There's no sign that their God exists or has any effect on reality.  The Others seem to have no faith of any kind.  Dahno lives only to manipulate people and enjoy the wealth this brings him, while Bleys finds the universe cold, empty, hostile, and frightening.  What's ironic is that the Others' success at conquering the human worlds comes from Bleys's oratory about a great destiny for humanity that he himself has no faith in.
  • Resources:
    In addition to reading (and re-reading) the Childe Cycle books themselves, I found these two resources quite valuable:
    • "A Childe Cycle Concordance" by David W. Wixon (Dickson's assistant for many years and later the co-author of Antagonist), which can be found in the collection Lost Dorsai. It's an encyclopedia of the Cycle, with entries describing the worlds on which it takes place, the stars they orbit, the various human cultures, and the important characters. Published in 1993, it contains information about all the books though Young Bleys.
    • An interview with Gordon Dickson, which can be found here. It appears to have been recorded between the publication of The Final Encyclopedia and The Chantry Guild and discusses the Cycle in some detail.  Among the things it reveals is that the compression of the early novels, which many readers find preferable to the greater length of the later ones, wasn't Dickson's choice; his publisher at the time wouldn't allow anything longer.  Dickson would have preferred the books be longer, and indeed wrote longer ones once he was able to.
  • Triads:



    Triads, (e.g. lists of "the three XXX") are common in legends; in particular, the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh legends which includes some of the earliest King Arthur tales, is chock-full of them. The Cycle also contains many triads, including:
    • The Cycle itself, originally planned to be a triad of triads: three books set in each of past, present, and future. (The list of books set in the future was later expanded to six because of publishing length restrictions.)
    • The three main Splinter Cultures


      • Warrior -- Dorsai
      • Philosopher -- Exotic
      • Faith Holder -- Friendly
    • The three Amanda Morgans
    • Donal's three lives:


      • Donal Graeme
      • Paul Formain
      • Hal Mayne
    • The women who love Hal:


      • Amanda Morgan (the Third) -- Dorsai
      • Ajela -- Exotic
      • Rukh Tamani -- Friendly
    • The three men whose death Tam caused, and who forgave him in The Chantry Guild:


      • Dave Hall
      • Jamethon Black
      • Kensie Graeme

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Childe Cycle: Speculations on Childe

Suppose Dickson had lived to publish Antagonist.  Having brought the stories of Hal Mayne and Bleys Ahrens to more or less the same point, he would be poised to complete the series by writing Childe.  What would that look like?  To answer that question, let's reflect on the structure of the Cycle, and how often its past and future resemble each other.  The most obvious example is Tactics of Mistake and Dorsai!, and how they're almost the same story, one played out against a background of recent interstellar colonization and one in the context of the mature Splinter Cultures.  

Childe would have been the resolution of the battle between Hal, representing the outward-looking, creative part of mankind, and Bleys, representing our inward-peering, destructive side.   We've seen this battle before in Necromancer, where Walter Blunt wanted to destroy complex, technological society to build something that to him seemed simpler and more natural.   But that struggle between Kirk Tyne's vision and Walter Blunt's never becomes a war; instead, space travel allowed each one to pursue its goals, the technologists on Casssida and Newton, the mystics on Mara and Kultis, where, free of the need to battle stultifying over-mechanism on their own worlds, the Exotics turned from destruction to creation.   That is, the thesis of the Super-Complex and its antithesis of DESTRUCT! are resolved into the synthesis of the Splinter Cultures. 

Bleys is reminiscent of Walter Blunt;  when faced with a society that he dislikes, his plan is to destroy it, and not let the collateral damage worry him.  Bleys is generally seen as a dark version of Hal, but he's more specifically a dark reflection of Donal.  Like Donal, he has a vision of the future of humanity that's rooted in his childhood.  Both, by a series of clever tactics, gain near-supreme power in the universe in order to impose their vision on humanity.  Neither realizes the essential instability of a system that depends upon one mortal man who has no successor of the same caliber.  And both are responsible for the destruction of their brother/rival, though Donal is guilty of negligence and Bleys of malice. 

Let's assume that Necromancer gives us a template for Childe.  Some new development (in Necromancer it was space travel) provides a way for the thesis of Hal's faith in the human spirit and its antithesis of Bleys's pessimism about the dangers of the universe to become a new synthesis.  What could it be but the Creative Universe, which is, in Paul Formain's words "Something to which your Alternate Laws bear the same relation alchemy does to modern chemistry."  (Note also that to discover the Creative Universe, Hal has to join the Chantry Guild, which is based on a new reading of Blunt's original ideas.  The connections to Necromancer are everywhere.)  The essential difference between Hal and Bleys isn't only that they represent different halves of the race-mind; it's also that Hal, during the multiple lives that the Creative Universe has allowed him to live, has been able to develop empathy for and faith in humanity as a whole, which Bleys is still stuck in Donal's trap of needing to lead people to where he wants them to go.  

One more point: in The Chantry Guild, the final bridge needed to reach the tower in the Creative Universe, which represents Hal's goal of understanding the Universe and mastering its use, is Tam's Newsman's Cloak.  What does this Cloak represent?  I suggest two things.  First, Tam's conversion, so many years ago, from a purely destructive force to a positive one.  Second, the essential function of a Newsman, which is to seek out the truth and make it known, but not to fight: Newsmen are recognized everywhere as non-combatants.  

So, I think, the Creative Universe isn't used as a weapon against the Others; it's used as a means to persuade them, to educate them, and in particular to teach Bleys in one lifetime the empathy Donal learned in three and to remove the fear that motivates his destruction. Even to teach Bleys how to be, as he so desperately desires, Hal's friend. 

Highly principled people

Here we see highly principled journalist Chis Wallace cheerleading for Dick Cheney's torture regime.  What could be worse, you ask?  Someone defending Hitler as a misunderstood champion of peace?  Surely, not even someone as highly principled as Pat Buchanan would claim that.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Childe Cycle: Pefectly Adjusted

"Perfectly Adjusted" is a short story that Sandra Miesel calls the "Satyr Play" of the Childe Cycle.   She refers to the custom among ancient Greek playwrights of accompanying a trilogy of dramatic plays with a burlesque comedy, often featuring satyrs, as an ancient form of comedy relief.  Often the satyr play would be thematically related to the tragedies.  While "Perfectly Adjusted" was originally published in 1955, well before any of the Cycle books, they do seem to share some ideas.  It's a kind of story which was common during the 50s: a traveler, arriving at a planet he's never seen before, finds that the inhabitants act in ways that seem inexplicably odd.  Moreover, their actions interfere with his goals and perhaps even threaten him.  He needs to determine what lies behind their behavior.  Having done so, he can find a solution to his problem, either by discovering an advantageous side of their oddness or by using his new insight to change them.  Sheckley must have written a dozen of these stories, and others came from Kuttner, Silverberg, Vance, and so on.  (Asimov's "Homo Sol" is the reverse case, where an alien finds that humans are strangely unlike the other galactic intelligences.)  These stories range between straightforward problem stories and broad farce.  In general, they subscribe to the clich├ęs in which a planet is less diverse than the real New York City, and spaceships are roughly as sophisticated and damage to them as easily repaired as a used Buick. 

In "Perfectly Adjusted", the hero finds a world with two societies: one a violent and dictatorial police state all of whose members dress in black, and the other a gentler group of psionic adepts who dress in bright colors.  They occupy the same city, yet neither seems aware of the other; for each, seeing people of the other sort is a pernicious (if common) hallucination.  (Note that this idea isn't original with Dickson; it goes back at least to "Ulan Dhor Ends a Dream", one of Vance's early Dying Earth stories.)  The hero alternates between almost being killed by the dictator and being mentally controlled by the chief adept.   In his spare time, he tries to help a pretty adept he's befriended.  She has been excommunicated for her persistent hallucinations and is only slowly persuaded that the hero isn't a hallucination too.  Having figured out that each society has a mental block against seeing dressed people in the other's color, the hero invents a machine that will disintegrate all the clothing in the city.   The result is that everyone can now see everyone else, half of whom they'd never heard of before (and all of them naked); escaping in the confusion, the (also naked) hero makes it back to his ship.  He and the pretty girl take off, fighting over the single spare suit of his clothing they've got left. 

I trust it's clear from the description that this story is about as broad as farce gets.  Still, it has some points of interest.  The two societies were originally different factions in the city; each assumes that it had conquered the other, which proceeded to die out.  The police state, which also runs a murderous space station that almost shot up the hero as he first approached the planet, exhibits the worst features of the military.  The adepts, convinced that their only accomplishment, their psi powers, make them homo superior, are like idiot savant parodies of the Exotics.  Both share a fanatical faith in their own virtue and the inferiority (technically, nonexistence) of any competing culture.  And what's necessary to end this division of humanity is a man who can see both sides and help them blend back together.  Given when this story was written, it's probably foolish to make too much of the similarities between it and the Cycle, but they are amusing. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

Childe Cycle: Other and Antagonist

Other (1994), a direct sequel to Young Bleys, is the story of Bleys's conquest of New Earth, Cassida, and Newton.  The three planets have tightly coupled economies: the pure scientists live on Newton, and Cassida has the engineers that turn Newton's discoveries into products, which New Earth manufactures and sells.  Other is essentially the story of Bleys finding the right pressure points to bring all three worlds under his control.  I don't see much value in describing how he does this in detail. 

Henry MacLean's elder son is grown and married, and his younger son has been sent off-world to fight and been killed.  His responsibility is now, he feels, to Bleys, whom he sees as having been seduced by Satan.  A former mercenary himself, Henry volunteers to lead Bleys's bodyguards, as a way of staying near Bleys and if possible turning him away from evil, even though this endangers Henry's own soul; he gave up fighting long ago because he enjoyed the violence too much.  Henry loves Bleys, and is completely unselfish in his desire to help him.  Along with Jamethon Black, Henry represents the Friendlies at their finest.  (Both are military men, for what that's worth.) 

Dahno, more and more, realizes that Bleys is leading the Others, and he's merely along for the ride.  He will object to a scheme of Bleys's if it seems unlikely to work, or won't produce immediate practical results, but Bleys  either reassures Dahno or simply overrides him.  Since Bleys's past schemes have all worked, Dahno gets no support in his objections.  We can sense that eventually there will be a showdown between the two, but it doesn't occur in this book. 

Towards the end of the book, after these three worlds fall to the Others, Bleys announces that his next conquest will be Ste. Marie.  When he was very young, still living with his mother, and very alone, he'd read about the assassination of Kensie Graeme, and felt that in his isolation he was like the bereaved Ian Graeme.  He wants to bring Ste. Marie under the rule of the Others, because with no rebels there will be no political violence; he imagines, conscious of his sentimentally, that this will help Ian rest more peacefully.  That Bleys could believe that a government powerful enough to suppress its enemies would please any Dorsai, especially Ian, makes it clear how little be really understands people; he sees himself as their benevolent parent, making sure they won't so anything silly and hurt themselves. 

At the very end of Other, Bleys learns that Hal Mayne has escaped from his prison cell on Harmony, which helps place this book with respect to The Final Encyclopedia, in which Hal is about to travel to the Exotic worlds for the first time.   Bleys says in so many words something that's been implied throughout: Hal is the only person in the universe Bleys considers an equal, and he wishes they could have been friends. 

Antagonist (2007) was completed by Dickson's long-time assistant, David W. Wixon.  (To the best of my knowledge, it's a coincidence that they rhyme.)  This is a "posthumous collaboration", as Gordon Dickson passed away in 2001.  David Wixon had been Dickson's assistant for many years.  In fact, my copy of Lost Dorsai, published in 1993, contains a section written by Wixon called "A Childe Cycle Concordance", full of information about the Cycle's setting and characters.  I've referred to it extensively in writing these reviews.  Unfortunately, Antagonist was published without a foreword, an afterward, or notes of any kind, so there's no way to tell how much of it is Dickson and how much Wixon.

Antagonist is the only book in the Cycle that's told out of order.  It  begins with Bleys and his usual entourage (Dahno, Antonia Lu, and Henry MacLean, as Drama, Shauna, and E respectively) on Ceta, which is not yet controlled by the Others, and which is in the midst of a civil war.   While traveling in an armed column between cities, Bleys is ambushed, his vehicle disabled, and his group forced to fight for their lives.  The next chapter goes back to Bleys's decision to visit Ceta.  Eventually the story gets back to the battle, which all the major characters survive.  Antagonist is a lot like Other.  It consists largely of political intrigue, in this case about the Other takeover of Ceta.   While on Ceta, Bleys concludes that there's an underground group that's been trying to sabotage the Dorsai and Exotics for many years, and have infiltrated the Others there.  Once uncovered, they explain that they're admirers of the long-dead William of Ceta, whom they think would have united the universe under Cetan rule had Donal and his Exotic supporters not defeated William, and they still resent that.  Given Bleys's plan for destroying both Exotic and Dorsai cultures, it's easy enough to make them his allies, and the Others' conquest of Ceta is assured. 

Dahno, resentful of the way Bleys has effectively taken over the Others, decides to strike out on his own.  He assures Bleys that they're not enemies; he simply wants to be in charge of his own enterprises.  For this purpose, Dahno moves to Earth, to set up the sort of consulting and lobbying organization the Others had been.  Bleys eventually discovers that Dahno has been plotting against him, and he kidnaps Dahno, stranding him on a remote, uninhabited island on the Dorsai with enough food and supplies to last the rest of his life.  To guard against the remote possibility that someone will run across Dahno and Dahno will be able to use his vast powers of persuasion to make him an ally, Bleys renders Dahno mute. 

Back on shipboard, in a scene reminiscent of the beginning of The Final Encyclopedia, Bleys's soldiers take some prisoners but fail to secure them properly.  In the ensuing melee, Henry is mortally wounded, ending once and for all the possibility of his finding a way to save Bleys's soul.  Bleys now travels to the Encyclopedia to speak to Hal Mayne, and the book ends as we see once again the conversation they had at the end of The Final Encyclopedia.

Dickson has set himself a difficult task with the three Bleys books.  They're the story of someone who's isolated, humorless, full of himself, self-pitying, and almost completely unsympathetic.  Moreover, he's static.  None of his accomplishments and none of the people who come to love and admire him really change him;  he remains his mother's emotional victim throughout.  This makes thematic sense: he projects his insecurity on the entire human race, and wants to return it back to the womb represented by the Earth.  But it would be hard enough to make the reader care enough about such a character to keep him interested through one book, let alone three.  I felt that I understood Bleys quite well enough after Young Bleys, and the next two books were simple a collection of incidents, as unnecessary as the rescue sequence in The Chantry Guild

There are some inconsistencies between the Hal Mayne sequence and the Bleys Ahrens sequence.  


Hal books(The Final Encyclopedia, The Chantry Guild) Bleys books(Young Bleys, Other, Antagonist)
At the time of the attack on Hal's home, the Others control almost all of the human worlds. The Others control only the Friendly worlds at that point.
Bleys's mother was a Friendly, and his father a Dorsai/Exotic crossbreed.Bleys's mother smelled of elderberries is an Exotic and we never learn anything about his father.
The Others try to keep hidden that their power to persuade comes from their Friendly background. Bleys first becomes a public figure as a member of the Friendly parliament, and it's well-known that he grew up on Association.

There is a revised version of The Final Encyclopedia that was published in 1997.  I've never seen it, and I don't know whether it addresses these issues.

Quick Take on the Pen and the Sword

Obama Administration:
There's a big controversy over whether carrying loaded guns should be allowed at town-hall meetings  The conclusion: Yes, that's a constitutional right.
Bush Administration:
There's a minor controversy over whether anti-war T-shirts should be allowed at town-hall meetings.  The conclusion: Book 'em, Dan-o.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Childe Cycle: Young Bleys

Young Bleys (1991) begins the story of Bleys Ahrens,  the nine-year-old child of an Exotic woman who's a sort of courtesan, moving from lover to lover.  She doesn't love Bleys or anyone else, really, but enjoys the attention her prodigy of a son gains her.  Bleys, who can't bear living with his mother any more, insults her in a way she can't forgive, even though he know that she's quite capable of killing or seriously injuring him in response.  (After her current lover has told her she's beautiful, Bleys says quite coldly and, what's worse, truthfully "You're not, and we both know that.")  Restraining her temper, she sends Bleys away to live with Henry MacLean, a farmer on Association and the brother of a former lover with whom she's remained friendly.  It's the same place she had previously sent her elder child, Bleys's half-brother Dahno.  (We never do learn who either Bleys's or Dahno's fathers are.) This is the last we ever see of Bleys's mother; she's never even given a name.

Henry is a widower with two sons (Dahno, a grown man, no longer lives there.)  He's very religious in a fundamentalist way, as are both of his boys.  He clearly loves both of them very much, though he's very strict with them as his way of raising them to be good and Godly men. They are not wealthy; all of them work hard on the farm, and they have no luxuries of any sort. Henry is building some farm machinery out of whatever parts he can accumulate, but most of their work is done by hand.  Life with the MacLeans could not be more different than Bleys's life with his mother.  Henry is equally stern with Bleys, who works with the rest of them. Henry's sons accept Bleys, especially the younger boy, of whom Bleys starts to grow fond.  The only gulf between Bleys and his adopted family is their faith; he has none, and even though Bleys would like to attend church with the rest of them, Henry won't allow insincere prayer.  Bleys, wanting to fit in with his new family, tries to discover faith within him, but it is not to be: somehow, the community finds out about his mother, and attacks him (both verbally and physically) as a "whore's son".  It's not possible for his to live there anymore, and he's sent away again, this time to live with Dahno

Dahno is a giant of a man: tall, broad, heavily muscled, with a booming voice.  He also has an outsized personality, unlike the introverted Bleys.  Dahno has turned the Others, originally a social club for Splinter Culture crossbreeds, into a successful business.  Teaching its talented members to dig out politically valuable information, Dahno has become the most successful political consultant and lobbyist in the Friendly worlds, and he's beginning to organize the off-world Others as well.  For this he'll need underlings he can trust, and it's soon clear that it was Dahno who leaked the information about their mother.   He makes it clear to Bleys who the boss is and what the price of disloyalty would be by slapping him around some.  Dahno is his mother's son.

Bleys learns the Others' business quickly, and is full of ways to improve it.  Bleys, who like many of the Cycle's main characters, grows to be extremely tall, builds himself up via exercise, masters martial arts, and works to overcome his introversion and becomes a spellbinding speaker.  In addition, he becomes active in Friendly politics, cultivating the Eldest (the leader of both worlds), and becoming his chief assistant.  Dahno feels the need to remind Bleys repeatedly who's in charge: Dahno is the chairman, and Bleys merely the vice-chairman, but more and more Bleys is the real leader.  Dahno's goals stop at wealth and power, which Bleys is helping him achieve, but Bleys's go much further.  He fears that humanity has expanded into the universe too fast and may have fatally overextended itself.  He wants to lead all of humanity back to Earth where it will be safe again, letting the Younger Worlds eventually die of neglect.  Bleys sees the Others' growing political power as a lever with which to accomplish this.

While looking for a martial arts instructor, Bleys meets Antonia Lu, a beautiful Eurasian teacher.  They're instantly drawn together, and she gives up her other work to become his full-time instructor and lover.  Their relationship is very different from Hal and Amanda's: where Amanda is independent, Antonia is subservient, accepting that if Bleys doesn't really love her or have time for her, it's because his goals for humanity take up too much of him, and that being there when he needs her is all the purpose she requires.  Bleys and Dahno now travel to Earth to meet with the Others there.  They decide that renting a meeting place will attract too much attention; instead, they'll swoop down and occupy a large estate for a few days, and then disappear.

(This has always seemed to me like Monty Python logic:
We could rent a hotel ballroom.
No, that'll attract too much attention.  We need something stealthier.  How about a home invasion?
)

To some extent Dickson showed the same events from two points of view before in pairs of earlier stories:
  • Tam Olyn and Donal Graeme attending the same party in Solder, Ask Not and Dorsai! 
  • "Amanda Morgan" expanding on the siege of the Dorsai world first shown in Tactics of Mistake
  • "Brothers" showing Kensie's murder and its aftermath, seen from a distance in Soldier, Ask Not and Dorsai!
There's far more of this double vision between the Hal Mayne books (The Final Encyclopedia and Chantry Guild) and the Bleys Ahrens books (this one, Other, and the posthumous Antagonist.)   Here is the first example: Bleys, fascinated by the story of Hal Mayne, found alone in a spaceship and raised by his three Splinter Culture tutors, chooses to hold the meeting at his home, with tragic results.  For Hal, it's one of the major, if tragic, events in his life: his tutors give their lives to save his; as a result he owes them a debt he spends the rest of his life repaying.  For Bleys, with his usual lack of empathy, it's merely an unfortunate situation caused by incompetent henchmen.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The many names of Margaret Dumont


Film La Dumont
Coconuts Mrs. Potter
Animal Crackers Mrs. Rittenhouse
Duck Soup Mrs. Teasdale
A Night at the Opera Mrs. Claypool
A Day at the Races Mrs. Upjohn
At the Circus Mrs. Dukesbury
The Big Store Mrs. Phelps

Friday, August 28, 2009

Childe Cycle: The Chantry Guild

The title of The Chantry Guild (1988) fooled people. Sandra Miesel, in her afterward to The Final Encyclopedia, assumed it would be a sequel to Necromancer, and I, before purchasing it from the SFBC when it first came out, assumed the same. In fact, it's a direct sequel to The Final Encyclopedia (the first direct sequel in the Cycle, though not the last).

It begins with Amanda Morgan living on Kultis (one of the Exotic worlds), which is now occupied by the Others. Since the Exotics no longer had the Dorsai to do their fighting for them, they were easily defeated by the Others, and are now overseen by a garrison force of third-rate troops. Amanda acts as a sort of one-woman guerrilla force that rescues prisoners and in other ways make the occupation more bearable, to remind the Exotics that the Dorsai are still with them in spirit.

Hal Mayne is still at the Encyclopedia, searching for a way to access the Creative Universe, the place where all possible things live as Platonic ideals. Dickson implies that all human creation comes from there, and that creativity in humans comes from the ability of the unconscious mind to access it. It's what Donal used to become first Paul Formain and then Hal, and it's also where Walter Blunt found the powers he called the Alternate Laws. What Hal is searching for is a way to use it consciously as a weapon to defeat the Others. As the story begins, he's been searching for over a year with no success, and is close to giving up. The worst of this is that Tam Olyn, who's well over a hundred years old, is barely hanging on to life, and is desperate for Hal to make some breakthrough before he dies, much as Mark Torre was desperate to find a successor before he died.

Amanda comes to the Encyclopedia with news for Hal. A group of Exotics on Kultis has resurrected the old Chantry Guild. They live on a mountain, hidden from the occupation forces, and they spend their day marching in a circle, chanting the mantra The transient and the eternal are the same Amanda suggests that joining them could lead to new insights. Hal agrees, and they travel there. On his first turn in the circle, Hal has a vision of John Hawkwood, the 14th-century mercenary, spiritual ancestor of the Dorsai. (Had Dickson written the historical novels which were to begin the Childe Cycle, one would have been about Hawkwood.) On a later one, he has a vision of his great-great-grandfather Cletus, and realizes that Cletus (who had been a painter before turning to the military) used the Creative Universe to help him write his books on strategy and tactics

Next comes a long section in which Hal leads a group of Exotics to rescue a young girl, the niece of one of the Chantry Guild members. The murder of her parents has driven her mad, and she's become feral, living in the woods below their mountain. The Guild learns that she's been captured by the occupying army. Even though Exotics, having no military training, make fairly useless recruits, Hal is successful in the rescue. On the way back, he has an insight about the Creative Universe: not how to access it just yet, but that he's now ready to address the problem.

Once they're back, the Guild has an unexpected visitor: Bleys Ahrens. Bleys wants to discuss a truce with Hal. He begins with some vague threats about what the sacking of Earth would be like, and then makes his offer: drop Earth's shield and accept some immigrants from the Younger Worlds, and Bleys will call off the invasion. Hal sees through it quickly enough: these immigrants would be a fifth column, to divide Earth and weaken its resolve. Also, this would be a first step towards depopulating all of the Younger Worlds and leaving only an Earth no longer interested in space travel. Hal refuses the offer and returns to the Encyclopedia.

Once there, he orders a device built which will propel him into the Creative Universe, and it works: once there, he meets many people from his past: Hal's tutors, Donal's parents, his uncles James and Kensie, and his brother Mor, who forgives him. Hal sees his goal as a dark tower (in fact, the tower of the poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"). He realizes that the Others are his creation: without Paul Formain's encouragement for the different facets of humanity to split off and form their own societies, the piece of humanity that feared growth would never have manifested itself as the Others. Hal also realizes that reaching the tower by himself is useless; he needs at least one companion for the Creative Universe to be part of humanity's shared reality rather than his own private dream. He brings the dying Tam, who sees his own dead: Kensie, Jamethon, and his brother-in-law Dave, all of whom greet Tam happily. (The men whose death Tam was responsible for form another three.) Hal leaves then, and goes back to the real world, where Tam, reconciled at last, peacefully passes away.

This is another long book; not the size of The Final Encyclopedia, but still twice the length of the earlier novels, and as the above summary shows, not all that much happens. Fully a third of it is the rescue sequence, which, while containing most of the book's action, seems disconnected and somewhat irrelevant. The parts of the book that are thematically important, Hal's quest to reach the Creative Universe, are largely expressed through visions and symbols: in that sense, The Chantry Guild is similar to Necromancer

Walter Blunt's place in the Cycle is complex. On the one hand, his call to pure destruction is wrong; Paul Formain was right to amend it to a call for creation in different directions. And the worship of destruction is what warped Tam Olyn's uncle and almost ruined Tam himself. On the other hand, Blunt was right that the technological nightmare Earth had become needed to end; his Chantry Guild became the Exotics, who became the champions of human advancement; and the Chantry Guild of this book originated in the assumption that Blunt had insights that the Exotics had lost. Last, Blunt's Alternate Laws form the basis for Hal Mayne's idea of the Creative Universe. Blunt was in some ways a Moses who, for his sins, was never granted the Promised Land. Or to say it another way, he was Thomas Paine: the right man to help start the revolution, but not someone you'd want to help organize the result.

At this point, with Hal in possession of what he needs to defeat Bleys Ahrens, the conclusion of the Cycle is in sight. We even know what that book would have been called: Childe. For whatever reason, Dickson didn't write it. Instead, he decided to tell us the story of the rise of Others from the point of view of their leader, in the books Young Bleys, Other, and finally the posthumous Antagonist

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The many names of the Marx Brothers

Film Groucho Harpo ChicoZeppo
Coconuts Mr. HammerSilent SamWillie the WopJamison
Animal Crackers Captain Jeffrey T. SpauldingThe Professor Signor Emmanuel Ravelli Horatio Jamison
Monkey Business (Mustached Stowaway)(Silent Stowaway) (Italian Stowaway) (Juvenile Stowaway)
Horse Feathers Professor Quincy Adams WagstaffPinky the Dogcastcher Baravelli Frank Wagstaff
Duck Soup Rufus T. FireflyPinky Chicolini Bob Roland
A Night at the Opera Otis B. DriftwoodFiorello Tomasso
A Day at the Races Dr. Hugo Z HackenbushStuffy Tony
Room Service Gordon MillerFaker Englund Harry Binelli
At the Circus J. Cheever LoopholePunchy Antonio
Go West S. Quentin QualeRusty Panello Joe Panello
The Big Store Wolf J. FlywheelWacky Ravelli
A Night in Casablanca Ronald KornblowRusty  Corbaccio
Love Happy Sam GrunionHarpo Faustino the Geat

Childe Cycle: The Final Encyclopedia

The Final Encyclopedia (1984) is a departure in, if nothing else, sheer size, easily three times that of the previous novels. This will, for better or worse, remain a feature. None of the following books are quite this big, (in fact, when The Final Encyclopedia was reissued, it was split into two volumes) but none are the slim mass market paperbacks we saw previously.

The universe as a whole has changed significantly. A Mafia-like group called the Others, consisting of crossbreeds among the Splinter Cultures, has taken over all of the worlds except for the Earth, the Dorsai, and the two Exotic worlds. The Final Encyclopedia has been launched into Earth orbit, and seems to be the only force resisting the Others.

The story begins on Earth at the home of Hal Mayne. He's a teenaged boy with a mysterious history: at the age of two, Hal was found alone in a spaceship in Earth orbit, with instructions that the proceeds from selling the ship were to be used to hire three tutors to raise him: a Dorsai, an Exotic, and a Friendly. (It occurs to me that the anagram for the three major Splinter Cultures is the letters found on the telephone key "3".) You would think that the ship's owner could be traced, and that that would be a clue to Hal's origin, (it's actually the same ship in which Donal Graeme disappeared almost a hundred years before) but apparently that was never done.

A group of Others, including their leader Dahno and his second-in-command Bleys Ahrens, take over Hal's home by force, as a place to hold a secret conference of Others stationed on Earth. The tutors, recognizing a threat to Hal, resist them violently (even the Exotic), and as a result all are killed. Hal manages to escape and runs away to the Final Encyclopedia.

At the Encyclopedia, Hal becomes the first person since Tam Olyn to hear the voices of humanity, and Tam's visit there (at the beginning of Soldier, Ask Not) is replayed, with Tam taking Mark Torre's place as the aging Director needing to find a successor, Hal taking Tam's place as the young man with other things on his mind, and a beautiful young Exotic woman names Ajela taking Lisa's place. Ajela is devoted to Tam and clearly attracted to Hal, and tries to persuade Tam to stay, but a conversation with the ghosts of his tutors convinces him that they want him to go to Coby to hide by becoming a miner there. Hal does just that, and spends years there, growing up, learning to understand and appreciate people, and eventually becoming an authority figure among the miners. This section is unique in the Cycle: it's set among regular people, who have no special talents or abilities other than having (to a greater or lesser degree) mastered mining skills. And where the rest of the Cycle has largely consisted of the protagonist meeting the same people repeatedly during his life, Hal never sees any of the Cobyans again after he leaves. Apparently they're of no ontogenetic importance.

After a few years, Hal, now a grown man, learns that Bleys Ahrens has tracked him to Coby, and he escapes to Harmony before he can be arrested. Even though the Others control Harmony's government, the semi-anarchy of the Friendly worlds means that there are still groups that resist the Others (considering them tools of Satan), and Hal joins one of them. It's commanded by Rukh Tamani, an (of course) beautiful young woman. Her second in command is James Child-of-God, an almost stereotypical religious fanatic. Their Command is fighting a guerilla war against the local, Other-backed, government. Hal, even though he has no military experience, has been tutored by a Dorsai all his life, and turns out to be quite talented. Hal gains both practical knowledge of military life and an appreciation of the power of Faith, leading up to a battle where a wounded James sacrifices himself to save the rest of the Command, and gives Hal his blessing before they depart.

Not long after this, Hal is captured by government forces. Bleys Ahrens comes to interrogate his group of prisoners, but fortunately doesn't recognize Hal. In prison, Hal has two visions. The first is of the death of James Child-of-God. In the second one, he's a child. The setting is the funeral of his uncle, also named James, who had been betrayed to his death by William of Ceta. His other two uncles, the dark one and the light one, are also there.

Hal escapes from prison, goes to the Exotic consulate, and is given passage to Mara. There he convinces the Exotics that they need to make common cause with the Dorsai to resist the Others, and he travels to the Dorsai world as their emissary. While there, he is drawn to visit the Graeme's house. All the Graemes are away, so instead he visits with their neighbor, Amanda Morgan (the third.) There they have an odd conversation, in which Hal identifies so strongly with Donal that he tells Amanda things that Hal should have had no way of knowing: that Donal had been the odd boy, that he always felt alone, that his marriage with Anea had been a mistake. The next day Amanda takes Hal to Graemehouse, and Hal seeing the graves (including Donal's) has another vision: in this one he is again Donal, this time grown and ready to set out on his first mission. (It's the first scene of Dorsai!.)

Amanda takes Hal to speak to the Grey Captains, the closest thing the Dorsai have to a planetary government. Hal tries to convince them to accept the Exotics' offer of an alliance, While many of them are convinced, they need more time to make a decision. Meanwhile Hal needs to go back to the Encyclopedia. On the way to the spaceport, Hal and Amanda admit to their mutual attraction, but the third Amanda makes the same decision that the second one had: duty comes before love.

At the Encyclopedia, Hal meets Ajela and Tam again, and tells them he's ready to start using the Encyclopedia to find a way to defeat the Others. Tam gives Hal some news: Dahno has died (presumably killed by Bleys), and Bleys is now mobilizing to conquer, economically and if need be militarily, the planets the Others don't yet control. Hal sets to work to defeat Bleys. About a year later, Hal has two visitors. The first is Amid, an Exotic he met on Mara, who has come to tell Hal that the Others' power has become unstoppable. The second is Bleys himself. Bleys offers Hal a chance to surrender peacefully, which Hal of course refuses. This is the first of several conversations between Hal and Bleys, in this book and the next, which are all similar. Bleys has a much stronger position, as ruler of most of the universe, and offers Hal a way to end the fighting, but Bleys is melancholy and isolated, convinced that the human race is doomed unless it chooses the precise path he's discovered that can save it. Hal, who doesn't have a concrete plan either to defeat Bleys in the short term or for humanity to progress in the longer term, resists Bleys through his optimism about humanity.

Hal now realizes that he needs someone with Rukh Tamani's charisma to convince the people of Earth to resist the Others. He travels to Harmony, only to find that she's been taken prisoner. Hal organizes a rescue, saving her from the torture she'd endured there, and sends her safely to Earth. Next, Hal returns to the Dorsai, where, in a cold rage at Rukh's treatment (again, his fault, just as Mor's had been), he lets his guard down enough for Amanda to realize who he really is. They have a long conversation, in which:

Amanda tells Hal she's decided she has room for him in her life. As powerful as the second Amanda's renunciation of Ian was to her, she now realizes that they become lovers late in their lives, when they were free to do so. Hal tells Amanda about having been Donal and then Paul Formain. He was driven to change humanity to become responsible for its decisions, so that tragedies like his uncle James's death would stop, but his mistake as both Donal and Paul was to try to impose that change, rather than help people to change themselves. It's taken him three lifetimes to learn enough empathy to correct that.

Oh, and they become lovers. It would be in the spirit of the Cycle for Donal-Paul-Hal and Amanda I/II/III to have missed each other twice and finally connected the third time around, but it doesn't quite work. Paul and Amanda I lived at roughly the same time, but there's no reason to think they knew each other, and while Amanda II would have known Donal, she was a generation older. It is true that Amanda III is the first one who realized she could mix love and responsibility, and that Hal, unlike Donal and Paul, has learned enough empathy to love someone. Oddly, in all the regrets Hal has for his previous mistakes, abandoning his wife (Anea) to widowhood isn't one of them.

The Grey Captains of the Dorsai agree to support Hal, and now he returns to Mara to address the Exotics. Bleys is there as well, and they have a sort of debate. Bleys goes first, trying to persuade the Exotics not to take sides between Hal and himself. Hal tells them that Bleys means stasis and death for humanity, and asks them to contribute all their financial resources as the Dorsai are contributing all of their military ones. They agree.

Hal now reveals his plan. He has the Encyclopedia technicians design a force-field large enough to encompass the Earth, and with his Dorsai pilots, his Exotic experts and ships, and his Friendly communicators, he will make the Earth (and the Encyclopedia) into a fortress from which he can resist and eventually defeat the Others. This means abandoning the Dorsai and Exotic worlds to he oppression of the Others, but he has no choice.

And now Bleys comes to the Encyclopedia for one last conversation. (That makes three, just as Satan tempted Christ three times.) Hal tells Bleys all the things he's discovered about him with intuitive logic: that while Bleys claims to be a mixture of all three Splinter Cultures, his real power, and that of the Others, comes from their Friendly-derived ability to persuade others to share their beliefs. That Bleys has had to hide his real agenda, which is to destroy the Younger Worlds and return humanity to the safe womb of the Earth, from the rest of the Others and especially from Dahno (whom Hal has figured out is his half-brother.)

In the final chapter, Hal receives a letter from Amanda, saying that she feels obligated to stay behind on the Younger Worlds, to help fight the oppression of the Others. He reaches out to her telepathically and finds that they can still be together mind to mind.

This is a very long book, though it never really drags. (Unfortunately, it's the last book about which I can say that.) Its centerpiece is the long conversation between Hal and Amanda, which for the first time lays out the plan of the entire Cycle. Amanda is older than Hal (which is in his early twenties), though of course not as old as Donal/Paul/Hal. Though since Donal "died" quite young, and was only Paul for a short time, and both Amanda I and II lived to be quite old, she's older if you count them. The result is that sometimes Hal seems older, when Amanda teases him about taking himself too seriously, and sometimes Amanda seems older, when she understands more about the difficulties they'll face as a couple. The previous Amandas learned more about love than Donal and Paul ever did.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Perfect numbers

A perfect number is one for which the sum of its factors (including 1, but not including itself) equals itself. The smallest perfect number is 6, since its factors are 1, 2, and 3, and 1 + 2 + 3 = 6. The next is 28, whose factors are 1, 2, 4, 7, and 14.

6 and 28 are the start of a pattern; both are the product of a power of 2 and and less than the next power of two. In other words, they are 2n * (2n+1 - 1) for n equal to 1 and 2 respectively. However, the next number in the sequence, 8 * 15, or 120, is not perfect. Its factors, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 24, 30, 40, and 60, add up to far more than 120 (in fact, twice as much.). Why the difference?

Well, suppose (2n+1 - 1) is prime. We can now enumerate the factors of 2n * (2n+1 - 1) : They will be
1, 2, ..., 2n, (2n+1 - 1), 2*(2n+1 - 1), ... 2n-1 * (2n+1 - 1)
Since
1 + 2 + ...+ 2n = 2n+1 - 1
and
(2n+1 - 1) + 2*(2n+1 - 1) + ... 2n-1 * (2n+1 - 1) =
(2n - 1)(2n+1 - 1) =
22n+1 - 2n+1 - 2n + 1

if you add them together, you get
2n+1 - 1 + 22n+1 - 2n+1 - 2n + 1  =
22n+1 - 2n =
2n * (2n+1 - 1) 
or the original number.  But when (2n+1 - 1) isn't prime, there will be additional factors (as with 120, which, because 15 isn't prime, has the "extra" factors 3, 5, 6, 10, etc.), so the result isn't perfect.  Primes of the form (2n+1 - 1) are called Mersenne primes.  Only 47 of them are known, the largest being 243,112,609 − 1.  There are also 47 known perfect numbers, one corresponding to each Mersenne prime.  It can be proved that all even perfect number is of this form; it's an open question whether there are any odd perfect numbers.

Childe Cycle: Short Works

In addition to the novels, the Childe Cycle includes four short works (not including "Soldier, Ask Not". later expanded into a novel.)


  • Warrior
"Warrior" (1965) is told from the point of view of an Earth policeman named Tyburn. Ian Graeme has had to court-marshal and execute one of his officers, an Earthman named Brian Kennebuck, for ordering a reckless advance that gets almost all of his Force (platoon, more or less) killed. Ian blames Brian's older brother James, a rich gangster, for taunting Brian into taking foolish risks to prove his bravery; this is clear to both Tyburn and the older Kennebuck from the beginning. Both misunderstand Ian: Tyburn thinks that Ian, purely a soldier, will disregard civil law and murder James; James thinks that Ian will be helpless in a civilian setting. Ian visits James in his apartment, ostensibly to give him Brian's effects, and maneuvers James into attacking him with a gun; Ian is shot, but continues to come after James, who is so terrified by this implacable, unstoppable giant that he throws himself out a window rather than face him: a 90th-story window, as it happens. In explaining to a dubious Tyburn that he had planned the entire confrontation, Ian makes the point quite succinctly:



"I'm not just a man of the military. I am a man of war."
Brian and James Kennebuck form a strange counterpoint to Donal and Mor Graeme. Mor's jealousy of Donal placed Mor in a position where he would be killed; James's fear of Brian caused him to manipulate Brian into getting himself killed. Donal's guilt for Mor's death was part of what motivated him to try to change humanity to become more responsible; James killed himself rather than face his own guilt.

  • Brothers
"Brothers" (1973) is in many ways a more powerful and more sophisticated retelling of "Warrior". It describes Kensie's murder and what immediately follows. Again, it's told from the point-of-view of a policeman: in this case, Tomas Velt, chief of police in Blauvain. Tomas is giving Kensie a ride in his car when they're attacked and Kensie is killed. Events quickly spin out of control: Ian declares martial law, putting him in charge of the police as well as the military, and the Dorsai troops are ready to destroy the city, if necessary, to find the killers. (There's some precedent for that; the Dorsai have a song about a city named Rochmont which had betrayed and killed a Dorsai commander, and which his troops subsequently destroyed so that not one stone lay upon another.) Tomas, pleading with Ian to prevent this, is met with what seems like an inhuman coldness: Yes, Ian would prefer not to do anything that might reflect badly on Kensie's honor, but if his troops vote to march in the city, he has no choice but to lead them. Nothing in Ian's voice or manner suggests grief.

Once again, Ian's tactical abilities find a solution. He manipulates Tomas and Padma, the Exotic emissary to Ste. Marie, into helping him find the apartment where the assassins are holed up. He talks the killers into letting him enter, naked, while they're heavily armed, and proceeds to kill them, horribly, with his bare hands. The result is a catharsis which satisfied his troops' need for revenge and prevents any further bloodshed. Later, when Ian views Kensie in his casket, we see the extent of Ian's grief in two ways: one superhuman (where Ian grips the edge of the casket, the pressure of his fingers rends the steel) and one mystical (inside the casket, the places where Ian's fingers had been were marked with his blood.) This time, the perfect description of Ian is put in the mouth of another Dorsai, a Morgan: "Some people don't bleed on the outside where you can see it."

  • Amanda Morgan
The title character of "Amanda Morgan" (1979) is the first of her name (we'll meet the second and third later), one of the early settlers of the Dorsai. Her great-grandson David ap Morgan is a minor character in Tactics of Mistake, a major in Cletus's army. Although an old woman, she is chosen by her district to organize resistance to Dow DeCastries's invasion force. She finds a grisly solution: the young and healthy are sent away to live in the woods, and the old and ill remain behind. They pretend to be keeping up the normal district industry of metal work, but they're actually making nickel carbonyl, a volatile liquid whose vapor causes irreversible lung damage. What seems to be an epidemic that spreads from townspeople to the soldiers is actually the effect of this poison. It weakens the invading army enough that Cletus and his man can defeat it and capture DeCastries. The point of the story is clear enough. Cletus's advances in tactics and strategy are only part of what make the Dorsai what they are. Another essential ingredient is the warrior spirit that refuses to admit defeat. As the third Amanda puts it "It was a matter of their being able to make harder choices than people less willing." Dow DeCastries is the first, but hardly the last, full-spectrum man to underestimate what the Splinter Cultures are capable of.


  • Lost Dorsai
"Lost Dorsai" (1980) is a long story, almost a short novel. It's told by Corunna El Man, a Dorsai we've met before as one of the damaged men on Donal's staff. El Man had been the commander in a besieged town on Freiland; when the town was overrun, the inhabitants were massacred; El Man's face was savagely slashed and his wife murdered in front of him. The main story is that of another besieged town, where El Man has brought the second Amanda Morgan to try to resolve a tangled situation. Ian and Kensie Graeme have taken a contract to train and lead the troops of Nahar, a Hispanic-heritage backwater nation on Ceta, ruled in theory by a titular monarch, but in actuality by a group of wealthy landowners. To complicate things further, the nation's peasants are a constant threat to revolt against both. William of Ceta is manipulating the situation to try put the Graemes in a bind: if they keep to their contract, they'll be overrun and killed; if they break it to run, they, and the Dorsai in general, will be humiliated. Amanda, as an expert on contracts, tries to find an out. Michael de Sandoval is the eponymous lost Dorsai. After training for a military career, he found out too late the he is unwilling to use violence against others. He's taken refuge as a bandmaster in the Nahar army.

If that weren't enough, all the players have personal problems. Kensie has been in love with Amanda since they were young. Amanda is very fond of Kensie, but her true feelings are for Ian. Amanda also fears that her responsibilities to the Dorsai people as a whole don't leave enough of her to be a wife to anyone. Ian also loves Amanda, but, not wanting to compete with his twin for her affections, he's become engaged to an Earth-woman named Leah. Michael is afraid that his refusal to hurt others will be seen as cowardice, rather than principle.

No solution to the military problem is found, and the situation becomes desperate. The bulk of the Naharese troops are in rebellion against their king. The exception are Michael's bandsmen, whom he's been training as defenders, but as the rebel troops come closer, they all run off. The only defenders left with any military background are El Man, the Graemes, Amanda, and Michael; moreover, Amanda is wounded and Michael is a noncombatant.

Michael now takes matters into his own hands. He goes outside the walls in full regimental uniform, playing the pipes. The rebels, stunned, simply watch him play. Some start to fire upon him, but they're restrained by his own regiment. Michael is killed, but the result is a general melee between the soldiers who knew and loved Michael and the rest. The rebel advance degenerates into a brawl, and the threat to the town collapses. The next day, the rebellious landowners come to negotiate a settlement. Amanda, inspired by Michael's bravery, chooses to go her own way and let Kensie and Ian go theirs. (We learn in The Final Encyclopedia that much later, after Ian's children are grown and Leah has passed away, Ian and Amanda spend their last years together. Leah's name is an obvious Biblical reference; she was the wife Ian got in place of the one he really wanted. It's nice to know that he eventually earns his Rachel as well.)

For all that "Lost Dorsai" is set during a siege and the subsequent battle, it consists almost entirely of people talking to each other, mostly confiding in El Man. Much high-caliber brainpower is aimed at trying to resolve the siege (Kensie, Ian, Amanda, Padma the Exotic envoy), but none of them come up with anything, and it seems as though the only result of sending for Amanda will be to get her killed too. The real pleasures of the story are the glimpses of the characters as we don't usually see them: Ian, sharing gallows humor with El Man and, in an unguarded moment, admitting his love for Amanda; Kensie, keeping his humor and grace even as Amanda breaks his heart; Amanda (any Amanda), letting her doubts and insecurities show.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Childe Cycle: Soldier, Ask Not

Soldier, Ask Not (1967, exp. from "Soldier, Ask Not" (1964)) is the story of Tam Olyn, an Earthman, and is the only one of the Childe novels told in the first person (though three of the Cycle's short stories are told that way.) Tam is a bridge across the entire Cycle; he's raised by an uncle who's a follower of Walter Blunt's call to destruction, he's there for Kensie Graeme's last battle, and in his extreme old age he's a colleague of Hal Mayne's.

Tam's uncle Mathias believes that the Splinter cultures have surpassed the men of Earth, who now have nothing to look forward to but slowly dying out. As a brief escape from his pessimism and despair, Tam and his sister Eileen go to St. Louis to visit the Final Encyclopedia, a structure intended to store all of the knowledge of mankind, and eventually to allow man to study himself in a way that wasn't previously possible. Naturally, it's funded by the Exotics, but the project was founded by an Earthman named Mark Torre. An old man now, he's still the Encyclopedia's director. Torre can directly experience the Encyclopedia as the voices of all mankind. Every visitor to the Encyclopedia is tested for this ability, but only a few others have ever been found, and all are Earthmen. Tam turns out to be one. Because of this, Tam is taken to see Mark Torre, who, together with an Exotic envoy named Padma and a beautiful young Earth-born Exotic woman named Lisa, interview him. Torre and Lisa want Tam to join the Encyclopedia, but Padma, who can see deeper into Tam, realizes that his uncle has warped him, never allowing him to develop the empathy or understanding needed for the work he would do there. This suits Tam, who is about to become a reporter for the Interstellar News Service, a very prestigious position. On returning home, Tam learns that Eileen had another motive for the trip to St. Louis. There she met a young man she'd become engaged to: Jamethon Black, a Friendly officer stationed on Earth. The two of them have come back to get Mathias's blessing for their marriage. Mathias refuses to make a decision, referring it to Tam, mostly out of malice. Tam, with equal malice, tells Eileen that the marriage won't work. Eileen is weak to fight him, and Jamethon is forced to leave without her. A few weeks later, Eileen goes to work on Cassida (one of the technological worlds), where she marries a Cassidan named David Hall.

Over the next few years, Tam rises in the INS. He gets assigned to cover a brush war on New Earth, largely fought by mercenaries; Friendlies one side, Cassidans the other, one of whom is Dave Hall. Tam decides (in one of the few generous things we see him do) to get Dave out of combat by asking him to be lent as an assistant. This requires a pass signed by both sides. To get this, Tam goes to a party which the Friendly commanders will attend. In fact, it's a party in honor of Donal Graeme, which we've seen before in Dorsai!. Tam sees Donal, William of Ceta, and Anea there, though he doesn't speak to them. He also meets Padma and Lisa. Lisa tries to persuade him to return to the Encyclopedia, but Tam refuses.

Unable to get the passed signed at the party, Tam goes to Friendly headquarters, where the first officer he finds refuses to sign the pass. Next, Tam calls Jamethon Black, whom he had recognized, but not spoken to, at the party. Jamethon also refuses at first, but on being told that Dave is Eileen's husband, he starts to relent. But on learning that Tam had already been turned down, Jamethon is unwilling to override the first officer, notwithstanding Tam's accusations that he's acting out of jealousy.

The next day, Tam and Dave go to report on the battle, the pass still unsigned. They wind up in the thick of the fighting, Tam wounded badly in his knee, and are captured by the Friendlies. With no pass, Dave is considered a Cassidan prisoner, and is moved from Tam's side over to sit with the other Cassidans. In the midst of the battle, a fanatic Friendly officer decides that the men doing guard duty are needed to fight, so he frees them from that duty by setting his weapon to full automatic and killing all of the prisoners, Dave included. He spares Tam, as if daring him to report what had just happened. Somewhat later, Tam is found by Cassidan troops.

Tam is taken to the Exotic worlds to be healed, where he sees Lisa again. They start to fall in love, but her wish for him to join the Encyclopedia comes between them. Tam then travels to Cassida to see Eileen, but she rejects his attempts to help her, blaming him for Dave's death. Tam, alone now, begins to plot revenge against the Friendlies. He manipulates the Blue Front, the out-of-power party on the small, Catholic world of Ste. Marie, into planning to overthrow the current government, controlled by the Green Front. (The Blues and Greens were, of course, the rival political parties in the early Byzantine Empire.) He also plants the seed in the mind of the Friendly leader that supporting a popular revolt on another world would be good publicity for the Friendlies. The result is that the Blue Front does take over Ste. Marie, supported by Friendly troops. This revolt fails quickly, but the Friendly troops stay, seeking compensation for their help to the Blue Front. Their commander is, of course, Jamethon again.

Ste. Marie asks the Exotics to help evict them. The result is, as Tam had planned, an Exotic-Friendly war, with the Exotics represented, as usual, by Dorsai mercenaries, in this case Kensie and Ian Graeme. Tam, whose intent is to make the Friendlies anathema to the rest of humanity, takes a few steps. First he visits the now-outlawed Blue Front, and suggests that they could help their allies the Friendlies by assassinating the enemy commander, Kensie Graeme. Next, Tam visits Kensie, telling him that the Friendlies are conspiring to assassinate him, and that Tam will negotiate with the Blue Front to confess to this and broadcast that news. When Kensie refuses this, Tam goes to see Padma, who knows what Tam is up to, and tries to persuade him to understand that the Friendlies are not evil as a whole. Padma fails, and next Tam goes to see Jamethon, with evidence that no reinforcements will be sent, and his command has been left to be sacrificed. He urges Jamethon to surrender, but without authorization he will not. Once more Tam accuses Jamethon, this time of being willing to sacrifice his men rather than admit that they've been betrayed. The next day, when the battle is about to start, the Dorsai discover Jamethon and a small group of Friendlies at a truce table. Kensie goes to discuss surrender terms, but the Friendlies attack him. It's hopeless, of course, for a few ordinary men to attack a Dorsai as superbly trained as Kensie, and he kills all of them. The Friendly troops, now leaderless, have no choice but to surrender.

Tam now travels to Harmony to cover Jamethon's funeral as the last piece of his reporting on the Ste. Marie war. Padma meets him there, and gives Tam some awful news: Kensie has been assassinated. The Blue Front, with no path to power once the Friendlies leave, murdered Kensie, hoping that if the Dorsai troops overreacted, they would be recalled by the Exotics. (The circumstances that prevent that overreaction are told in "Brothers".) It's quite clear to both men that the real responsibility is Tam's. When Tam protests that it's Jamethon who had conspired to kill Kensie, Padma forces Tam to admit to himself that he knew all along that Jamethon's attack was a form of suicide, and that it was the only way for Jamethon to save the life of his men.

Tam now realize that he has made the Friendlies a scapegoat for his own resentment of the Splinter Cultures, or rather, his uncle's resentment and his own feelings of inferiority. Tam is now ready to go back to the Encyclopedia with Lisa and work towards creating a humanity that integrates the strengths of all the Splinter Cultures, rather than trying to destroy one of them.

Soldier, Ask Not forms a thematic pair with Necromancer. In both, destruction is represented by Walter Blunt and the desire to simply obliterate what one find intolerable: over-mechanization in Necromancer, and the Friendlies as a stand-in for the Splinter Cultures as a whole in Soldier, Ask Not. The two show opposite forms of creation: in the first, it's to allow humanity to separate into different cultures; in the other, it's to begin weaving them back together. What makes Soldier, Ask Not more satisfying is that it adds redemption; where Walter Blunt is defeated, Tam Olyn learns better. Also, Tam isn't a superman who gets the initially ambivalent girl because she finally realizes what he is. Lisa always loves Tam, even though he often disappoints her; her love is a large part of what finally heals him.

The short version, "Soldier, Ask Not", begins with Tam's arrival on Ste. Marie to cover the war and ends with his conversation with Padma and subsequent moment of self-understanding. Dave's death on New Earth is described and explains why Tam so hates the Friendlies, but there's no Lisa and no Final Encyclopedia. Nor does Tam break up his sister's first engagement; he's never met Jamethon before Ste. Marie. This version is difficult to find these days, but it's actually the first bit of the Cycle I ever read (in one of Asimov's Hugo anthologies), and I prefer it, since it concentrates on what for me is the best part of the story, Tam's redemption.

In particular, I dislike the engagement between Eileen and Jamethon. To begin with, her pleading for either Mathias or Tam to tell her what to do is childish and pathetic; all by itself, it proves that she's not mature enough to leave him and marry. And even though the logic of the story tries to tell us that Tam is being cruel by telling her not to go, he's exactly right. Nothing suggests that she's religious enough to be successfully married to someone as devout as Jamethon or to make her home on Harmony, a home where, as Tam points out, she'll be on her own whenever Jamethon has to serve elsewhere. Also, the repeated meetings with Jamethon stretch credulity without adding anything important to the story.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Childe Cycle: Tactics of Mistake

Tactics of Mistake (1970) is the story of Cletus Grahame, Donal's great-great grandfather. (At some point after settling on the Dorsai, Cletus returned his surname to its original Celtic spelling.) In a reprise (or prefiguring) of the beginning of Dorsai!, we first meet Cletus on board a ship where he meets two people who turn out to be quite important. Dow DeCastries is a Secretary of the Eastern Coalition of Earth. Melissa Khan is a beautiful young girl, the daughter of a Dorsai officer. She is, (of course) both attracted to Cletus and repulsed by him. Cletus, as an officer for the Western Alliance of Earth, is in principle DeCastries's enemy. The two blocs aren't at war officially, but they tend to fight proxy wars on less-developed planets. (The resemblance to the Cold War is clearly intended.) Cletus is on his way to fight in the current one, on the Exotic planet of Kultis, where a guerilla insurgency supported by the Coalition threatens the legal government, which is supported by the Alliance. (The resemblance to Vietnam is obvious.)

The plot of Tactics of Mistake is the same as that of Dorsai!. Cletus goes from success to success, pursuing his ultimate goal, which is the Dorsai as an world of professional soldiers whose skill defends the independence of the Younger Worlds from Earth. To this end, he continually antagonizes DeCastries, whom he recognizes from the first as a pivotal figure. At the climax, DeCastries brings a combined Alliance-Coalition army to the Dorsai to try to capture Cletus. When Cletus leads the Dorsai to defeat this army and instead captures DeCastries, his victory is complete.

Even though many of the Childe books could be called milSF, Tactics of Mistake is the one that most deserves that name. The battles that Cletus fights, particularly his first engagement on Kultis, are described in great detail. Cletus is a brilliant tactician, with a knack for guessing what the other side will be doing and inventing countermeasures. The Kultis battle is reminiscent of an Admiral Naismith victory, but more realistic and told with much less humor.

In many ways, Tactics of Mistake is a retelling of Dorsai! starring characters who are less extraordinary. Cletus is a genius, but not an otherworldly one. Rather than relying on a talent no one else can imagine, much less duplicate, he's writing a series of books to explain his ideas on strategy and tactics, and throughout the book he gathers and teaches disciples. Nor is Cletus odd the way Donal is; he's actually quite likeable and charming. (He's also very tall, like most of his descendents.) Dow DeCastries is an ambitious politician, not a driven monster. He sees defeating Cletus as his ticket to supreme power, but he doesn't seem to hate Cletus. We see his pet savant, Pater Ten, only briefly; he's nasty and waspish, but doesn't seem capable of creating the sort of havoc ArDell Montor caused. There's no parallel to William's torture-murder of Mor. Melissa is a strong, spirited woman, but there's no suggestion that she's more than that. (Though Dorsai! never shows us anything extraordinary about Anea, it tells us over and over that she's one of the great successes of the Exotic breeding program.)

Cletus stars the book with a limp; he has a partially prosthetic knee from a battle wound. His body rejects all attempts at a transplant. He's eventually cured by a miraculous form of regeneration aided by Exotic psychology. The parallel to Paul Formain's desire for the Chantry Guild to grow him a new arm is obvious. The oddest thing in the book, to me, is Cletus's treatment of Melissa Khan. She's obviously attracted to him, and her father, whom she worships, like and approves of Cletus too. Yet instead of wooing her the normal way, he forces her to marry him, and tells her that his only interest is keeping her father near as a valued subordinate; once the crisis with DeCastries is over, he'll consent to an annulment. At the end of the book, she tells him that she married him only because she knew all along that he loved her. Which is apparently true; we know that their marriage was successful and led to many generations of Graemes. This is a huge and entirely gratuitous bit of cruelty on Cletus's part. Again, it's a bit reminiscent of Miles's inability in A Civil Campaign to treat courtship as something different from warfare. But Miles is appropriately humbled for that before he gets his girl; Cletus isn't. The whole subplot is distasteful, and serves no obvious purpose.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser -- Publishing History

The publishing history of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories spans almost five decades, from "The Jewels in the Forest" (originally "Two Sought Adventure") first appearing in Unknown in 1939, to "The Mouser Goes Below", in 1988's The Knight and Knave of Swords. The stories, as originally written, fall into four periods:

  1. 1939-1953 stories, published in Unknown until it fell victim to WW II paper shortages.
  2. 1959-1965 The F&GM revival, published in Fantastic.
  3. 1968-1970 Stories written for the first five books.
  4. 1973-1988 The late stories, published in a variety of places, collected in the last two books.
More familiar is the division into seven books, organized "chronologically". (I'll be referring to these as "volumes I-VII" below, as their titles have, for me at least, almost no mnemonic value). Note that the publishing history of neither the stories nor the books is chronological. Volumes III-V were published in 1968, I and II in 1970, followed by VI and last VII.

I. Swords and Deviltry - 1970
This is a book of "origin" stories, with one story about each character before the two team up, followed by the story of that fateful encounter. This last, "Ill Met in Lankhmar", won both Hugo and Nebula and is simply breathtaking in its imaginative and emotional range. If you read only one F&GM story (actually, if you read only one Leiber story), this is the one. Of the three stories, one comes from period 2, which the others (including IMiL) are original.

II Swords Against Death - 1970
This is largely stories from period 1, plus the Lovecraftian "Bazaar of the Bizarre" from period 2, and two original stories. Most of these are set outside Lankhmar, whence F&GM have fled to escape some painful memories.

III Swords in the Mist - 1968
Three period 2 stories, plus two short original bridging pieces, leading up to the period 1 "Adept's Gambit", which sends F&GM back to ancient Earth. Almost all of the F&GM stories contain some humor, but "Lean Times in Lankhmar" is the funniest of the bunch, almost Wodehousian in its combination of verbal humor and clever plotting.

IV Swords Against Wizardry - 1968
Two long stories, "Stardock" and "The Lords of Quarmill", both from period 2, plus two more short original bridging pieces add up to a sort of episodic novel. TLoQ is actually the oldest F&GM story, as it was begun by Leiber's friend Harry Otto Fisher, and about 10,000 words of it are Fisher's. Stardock is a mountain-climbing story so vivid that if you don't like heights (I'm not crazy about them, myself), you'll find yourself uneasy and impatient for the top to be reached safely.

V The Swords of Lankhmar - 1968
A novel expanded from the period 2 "Scylla's Daughter". A twisty and exciting adventure, and the first story in which sex plays much of a part. It's handled fairly deftly here, though that will unfortunately not remain true.

This concludes the original five books, which I recommend unreservedly. They stories in them vary considerably in length, tone, setting, and mood, but all have one thing in common: their heroes are two adventurers who need only each other. They're quite happy to dally with the willing wenches they find along the way, but there's no thought of falling in love or (God forbid) settling down. This will change.

VI Swords and Ice Magic - 1977
Eight stories, all from period 4. The first six of these are made up of some combination of the following:
  • Some supernatural being is trying to harm F&GM.
  • They encounter a women or women from their past.
  • They encounter some supernatural temptress.
  • They have sex with whatever sort of female they encounter, often described quite misogynistically.
They're no longer the carefree adventurers of the past. At the start of the seventh story, "The Frost Monstreme", they're drinking gloomily and Fafhrd bemoans their never having grown up: never owned land, led men, or had homes or wives. And, in fact, the rest of the F&GM stories are about how they remedy that. They meet two lovely women, lead a group of warriors their to rescue the women's home of Rime Isle, and settle there with their men. The women become (though without benefit of clergy) their wives. In the eighth story they encounter Odin and Loki, who act much as they do in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Whether this story was an influence on AG I have no idea.

VII The Knight and Knave of Swords - 1988
More Rime Isle stories, which follow those from volume VI. F&GM become pillars of the community, saving it from various enemies. While they're not always strictly faithful to their wives, they always return to them. In the last and longest story "The Mouser Goes Below", each meets and acknowledges a child he's fathered with a past paramour, thus completing their "growing up". This story also contains some fairly graphic S&M, and should be skipped if that sort of thing disturbs you.

While it's admirable that Leiber tried to do something new with the characters, his execution was lacking and the last two books are really for completists.