Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 24 May 2012.
is an atmosphere-bearing, Luna-sized moon of the giant planet Regin
which is in orbit five astronomical units from the newly condensed
metal-rich blue giant star Mimir. Martian Minerals, Inc. mined Wayland
from a robot base run by a consciousness-level computer. Five hundred
years later, the base remains. Dominic Flandry investigates.
I find Anderson's account of Wayland somewhat unsatisfactory. As Flandry and his companion approach:
was a mystery towards which they descended: where a complex of robots
ought to have been at work, or at least passively waiting out the
centuries, an inexplicable crisscross of lines drawn over a hundred
square kilometres in front of the old buildings, and a traffic of
objects like nothing ever seen except in bad dreams." (1)
for Anderson, he does not tell us what Flandry sees while Flandry is
seeing it. Instead, he tells us that Flandry has already seen something
disturbing but does not describe it. This could generate suspense, with
the reader wondering what is to come. However, Flandry does not
encounter anything very frightening. First, his spacecraft is attacked
by winged, beaked, clawed, metal fliers. I acknowledge that these sound
frightening but in the event they are too weak to damage even Flandry's
small vessel and its guns easily destroy them. By sheer weight of
numbers, they obscure his vision so that he crash lands in Wayland's
half terrestrial gravity but this is an inconvenience rather than a
he is attacked by about twenty metal "bugs", each thirty centimetres
long with ten claw-footed legs, a tail ending in twin spikes and a head
with half a dozen moving antennae but he destroys all of these with his
blaster. He learns that fliers, bugs and other, e.g., dog-like, robots
roam around fighting each other.
Crossing the immense squares near the
computer centrum, Flandry's companion, Djana, is attacked by a
lance-bearing equine robot which Flandry destroys. They pass near a
robot like a tower with merlons which stays in its square, then are
attacked by a diagonally moving cylinder with a partially split conical
head. Flandry realises what is happening. It was not immediately
apparent because the computer had not needed to colour the squares or
the pieces to identify them. However, there had been some hints for the
reader: Flandry had applied Looking Glass terms ("rockinghorsefly";
"bread-and-butterfly") to the forms they had encountered.
squares where they can be attacked, they reach the centrum where
Flandry addresses the conscious computer which had passed the centuries
by splitting its attention into at least one part playing combat games
and two playing chess-with-combat.
Rather a lot of time has been taken up
dodging or fighting robots before Flandry solves the puzzle. Anderson
does not, as he might have, incorporate an actual game of chess into the
plot. And, although the computer greets Flandry, there is no further
dialogue between them. Surely Flandry and thus the reader should have
been given the computer's account of its "...long and empty..." time
alone on Wayland? (2)
Flandry agrees with me. When in the centrum:
"What he learned fascinated him so much
that he regretted not daring to spend time exploring in depth the
history of these past five centuries on Wayland." (3)
Flandry's time is limited because his trip
to Wayland is illicit but we could have been told the history. We are
told that he learned about the chess game, e.g., that the kings were
unarmed because they captured by divine right, and that he held
technical discussions with the prime computer but we do not hear the
computer's voice in these discussions although it had spoken briefly
when first addressed. This is far too cursory.
Flandry soon has urgent business elsewhere
and the Wayland incident fits well into the novel but the incident
itself deserved further attention.
(1) Anderson, Poul, A Circus Of Hells, London, 1978, p. 33.
(2) ibid., p. 68.
(3) ibid., p. 69.