Sunday, 11 May 2014

"A Wilderness Of Stars"

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 21 April 2012.

Even with faster than light spacecraft, science fiction (sf) characters rarely venture outside their home galaxy. While traveling within the galaxy, Poul Anderson's David Falkayn sees "...a wilderness of stars...", including the Milky Way, its satellite galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, and its sister galaxy in Andromeda. (1) These names evoke a few other sf works. Both Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven present an entire species fleeing from the Milky Way to a Magellanic Cloud. Asimov's non-human beings, few in number, need only a hyperspace ship or two whereas Niven's beings, an entire population, travel at sub-light speeds in a Fleet of Worlds.
In James Blish's Okies tetralogy:

New York flies to the Greater Magellanic Cloud;
Mayor Amalfi of New York becomes Mayor of the Cloud;
the dirigible planet He flies from the Milky Way to and through the Andromeda galaxy, then to the Greater Magellanic;
Hevians, accompanied by Amalfi and other New Earthmen, fly He to the Metagalactic Centre where they briefly survive a cosmic collision;
the concluding one and a quarter volumes are, unusually, set entirely outside this galaxy.

Although Falkayn, while viewing the Magellanic and Andromeda galaxies, makes only a comparatively short interstellar journey, he addresses cosmic issues, like the aftermath of a supernova, that match those presented by Blish. Falkayn does not expect to travel much further:

"...the Magellanic Cloud and the Andromeda galaxy made small and strange by distances he would never see overleaped." (1)

Centuries after Falkayn, human beings have travelled around two or three spiral arms but remain within the galaxy. 
Elsewhere, Anderson does present:

faster than light intergalactic travel by human beings in The Avatar;
an intergalactic civilization in World Without Stars;
slower than light (STL) travel as far as the Magellanics and the Andromeda by self-programming artificial intelligences in Genesis; 

relativistically accelerating STL flight between clusters of clusters of galaxies and into the next universe in Tau Zero.

In World Without Stars, human beings no longer die of old age or disease and spaceships can make instantaneous jumps across intergalactic distances albeit with time-consuming spatial journeys between jumps. There is therefore both time and capacity for intergalactic exploration and for trade with the "Yonderfolk" of other galaxies although most of the action of the novel occurs on a planet orbiting a lone star located between galaxies. Anderson's attention to details and to scientific precision ensure that his works match the sometimes more spectacular-sounding events of Niven's Known Space or Blish's Okies.

(1) Poul Anderson, Mirkheim, London, 1978, p. 59.

No comments:

Post a Comment