Friday, 11 July 2014


Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 3 Aug 2013.

In Poul Anderson's "Strange Bedfellows" (Conquests, London, 1981), both Venus and the Moon are being terraformed. These are two completely different issues.

(i) Venus is an Earth-sized planet with a cloudy atmosphere whereas the Moon is a much smaller planet with no atmosphere - although, according to the story, the Lunar surface is a quarter of Earth's land area.

(ii) Much more is known about Venus now than when Anderson wrote this story in the early 1960's. He thought that human beings would be able to live on Venus while terraforming it. Photosynthesizing algae were seeded in the upper atmosphere. When the temperature dropped to below one hundred, it rained for ten years and liquid water made rock consume carbon dioxide until there was breathable air. Then solar protons and ultraviolet radiation broke down hydrogen compounds. It will not be as easy as this to change the Venerian atmosphere or reduce its temperature.

On the Moon, the terraformers use deep wells and nuclear explosions to cause vulcanism, the process that gives terrestroid planets their atmospheres by releasing buried water and breaking minerals and organics into carbon, nitrogen and sulphur compounds. Gravity is low but air loss is slow. Already the Moon looks different from Earth - desecration according to some.

Anderson tells us the science, then the politics. The Lunar project is opposed as an expensive diversion of resources from Earth. Politics leads to the action-adventure fiction of sabotage, kidnapping, characters holding each other at gunpoint, escape, pursuit etc. Since I am still reading the story, I have yet to learn either the significance of its title or how it fits into the war-themed collection, Conquests.

Venus dwellers are called Cythereans and have developed a clan system which sounds familiar from the Psychotechnic History story earlier in this collection. Until now, I would have dipped into a collection like Conquests for individual stories and not necessarily have read them all. For posting purposes, I have for the first time read the collection from cover nearly to cover and appreciated seven stories that have been collected together because of their shared theme. Kind of a new reading experience, to be followed by other collections and by a posthumous novel in the post.

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