Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Center Of The Cloud Universe

Copied from Poul Appreciation Appreciation, 4 May 2014.

Poul Anderson, "Starfog" IN Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), pp. 709-794. 

The "Cloud Universe" in Poul Anderson's "Starfog" is simultaneously both a globular cluster and a gaseous nebula. I have tried to convey the richness of Anderson's imagination by summarizing his accounts of this spatial environment but there is always more. The accounts permeate the narrative rather than being confined to an introductory passage.

At the center:

nebular gas and dust are so dense that they present "...a nearly featureless glow..." (p. 772);
the glow is pearl-colored, with rainbows;
the stars are so close that thousands are visible despite the "starfog";
the plasma is actively energetic;
denser clouds conceal hazards - drifts of dust, rogue planets and dead stars;
the hazards, "...more than fog...," are compared to "...shoals, reefs, and riptides" (ibid.);
the two exploratory spacecraft are compared to "...frigates on unknown seas of ancient Earth..." (ibid.), but this sea is not flat and has no horizon;
gas and dust are so gravitationally concentrated that there is an unbelievable rate of star-production;
every time the cluster gathers material from the clouds of the galactic center, there are several supernovae per century for at least a million years;
radiation has sterilized every planet within a fifty light year radius;
atoms have been through a dozen supernova explosions, far more than elsewhere;
giant planets do not have shells of frozen water and smaller ones do not have silicate crusts;
iron, gold, mercury, tungsten, bismuth, uranium and transuranics abound;
some planets will have to be explored only by heavily armored robots;
the planets will be intensively mined for heavy elements rare elsewhere but abundant here;
the discoverers, drawing royalties on millions of the richest mines in the galaxy, will "'...command more resources than many civilizations...'" (p. 791).

Wealth beyond the dreams of Nicholas van Rijn: Satan and Mirkheim were each only one planet. An entire new phase of interstellar history, now spread across several spiral arms, is about to begin as the series ends.

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