I recently sold off most of my Poul Anderson collection. Some background: Poul Anderson was a Danish-American writer, mainly of science fiction and fantasy, although there were mysteries, historicals and even a psychological novel in his oeuvre. I enjoyed him in my teens and twenties because he was moody and Danish, well-read in the world's literatures and engaged with modern science: things I happened to be or aspired to become. He died recently, and I feel badly that I never got to meet him, or even correspond with him via e-mail. Unfortunately, his books kept on failing the re-read test. Instead of becoming comfort reading, as familiar books often do, his stylistic quirks, turns of phrase -- turns of mind -- became obtrusive, engrained enough to the point where I suspected I could write a Poul Anderson generative grammar from scratch. Yonder perforce must needs must. Look, listen, smell, touch, taste, list of verbs. Abstraction active-verbed. And at the end, a touchstone image. Judas priest. Last year, my co-blogger Doug mentioned to someone that I could write Anderson pastiche. (True enough. Pastiche is a good skill to learn.) My response snowballed, as such things do. I decided to analyze a thirty-two page Anderson short story, "Hunter's Moon", from the anthology Medea: Harlan's World, a festschrift for writer and media gadfly Harlan Ellison, using the above list of quirks. It's incomplete, but I think it's illustrative.
Flyers gathered in hordes to feed off yonder swarms (page 411)PERFORCE:
Thus everybody, herself perforce included (413)MUST NEEDS:
[none seen]MUST (PAST TENSE):
He must lock onto (417) he must feint (419) Jannika must search (419) She must will herself toward rapport. (426) She must be rougher still (427)LOOK, LISTEN, SMELL, TOUCH, TASTE:
wherever she looked -- or listened, smelled, touched, tasted, moved. (L-L-S-T-T, 404)The next section of prose immediately goes through each sense, but in exactly the reverse order, including the unhappy phrase, "though her mucous membranes had not yet stopped smarting."
The night muttered around her. She drank odors of soil, growth, decay, nectar, blood, striving. Warmth from Mardudek streamed through a chill breeze to laver her pelt. (L-S-T, 411)In the above case, the visual sense comes next, "Half-glimpsed flitting shapes," out of the canonical Anderson order, presumably because the scene takes place at night.
the water lay scummy, bubbling, and odorous (L-L-S, 415) none of what Hugh perceived was verbal; it was sight, sound, a complex of senses, including those interior like balance and hunger (L-L+, 417) At first, Argo, the stars, and a pair of moons were the only lights. Slowly heaven brightened, the ocean shimmered silver beneath blue, Phrixus and Helle wheeled by the great planet. Wild songs went trilling through air drenched with the odor of roanflower, which is like violets. (L-L-S, 432)LIST OF VERBS:
nature walled and roofed and weighed on (404) wherever she looked -- or listened, smelled, touched, tasted, moved. (404) "Niallah answers questions, tells legends, sings songs, demonstrates maneuvers, whatever we request." (410) Transmitted, amplified, transformed, relayed, reinduced (417) the starwings danced, dashed, dodged about (418) Thickly gathered around him, bobbing, spinning, rippling and flailing (418) Jannika broke off, swallowed hard, unclenched her fists, and became able to say (422) "And both kinds of Medeans think faster than humans, observe, learn" (423) "Dromids don't do anything but make tools and fires, hunt, care for their young, live in communities, create art and philosophy" (424) He tried to speak, failed, and drank. (424) Hugh would protest, delay her, perhaps actually restrain her (425)ABSTRACTION ACTIVE-VERBED:
a grimness had meanwhile congealed (402) nature walled and roofed and weighed on (404) darkness laired (411) Softness muffled (414) Love began. (418) His will blazed forth (419) Reason checked her hand. (420) Eagerness flung her on (420) Sleep drained out (425) Resolution crystallized. (425) Northward bulked a darkness (426) Wind wailed. (428) Pain twisted (429) strength ebbed and ebbed (429) Air harried and hooted (430) Speech burst and skirled. (431) Slowly heaven brightened (432)FINAL TOUCHSTONE:
A double sunrise was always lovely. [...] He seized her to him. "Damnation, though, let's try!" (432)JUDAS PRIEST:
"Judas priest, sweetheart, how could I not?" (428)Does anyone swear by Judas in English anymore? Criminy. And the infodumps under stress, the archaisms, the stammers, the stock Apollonian alien primitive, the stock Rousseau noble savage primitive, yet another attempt to write "the ethnic woman", yet another adultery-tainted-marriage-and-reconciliation to drive the characters... I could go on. It was amazing how many Anderson-specific tics this story crammed into 32 pages. At least Anderson didn't use the story as a platform for his libertarianism -- perhaps out of respect for Ellison, who is a passionate liberal -- although there is mention of a "reindoctrination hospice" used by a statist Danubian Federation. Continuing on with the experiment, I examined his novels' closing epiphanies. Anderson's tics are highlighted, my judgment call. I'll start off with Brain Wave, 1953, one of his first novels. It's early Anderson, yet it's generally regarded as one of his best works. Yet, two pages before the end, we find:
"We will not be gods, or even guides. But we will -- some of us -- be givers of opportunity. We will see that evil does not flourish too strongly, and that hope and chance happen when they are most needed, to all those millions of sentient creatures who live and love and fight and laugh and weep and die, just as man once did. No, we will not be embodied Fate; but perhaps we can be Luck. And even Love."And people act as if this stuff was only found in The Avatar, which is almost universally regarded as one of Anderson's worst books. No, it's right there from the beginning. It's simply not being mouthed by The Avatar's infamous stage-Irish folk-singing swingerette character. We move to 1965's The Corridors of Time. It's still one of my favorite Anderson novels (one I didn't sell), a response to both Robert Graves' Seven Days in New Crete / Watch the North Wind Rise and Fritz Leiber's The Big Time, both very good books in their own right. But even here:
In the end it would all go down, before the cruel age of iron. Yet a thousand fortunate years were no small achievement; and the spirit that brought them forth would endure. Through every century to come, the forgotten truth that men had once known generations of gladness must abide and subtly work. Those who built the ultimate tomorrow might well come back to the realm Lynx founded, and learn. "Auri," Lockridge whispered, "be with me. Help me." "Always," she said.I'm going to skip The Avatar and also The One With the Anti-Hippie Dictionary as being too easy. But here's Orion Shall Rise, from 1983:
"Whoa, now," Ronica protested. "Oh, not in hour-to-hour existence," Plik said. "That's as full as always of grubbiness, conflict, connivance, short-sightedness, greed, stupidity, laziness, waste, every charming usual human quality at play. But... you have mana, you two, and it will not let you go, no, not even after you are dead. I hope for your sakes you can resist the appeal, and the urge, to set the time a little more nearly right. My hopefulness, though, is very small." He pondered before he finished: "Unless -- by blazing the trails beyond Earth, you can beget and nourish an entire myth unfelt in the past, that will live on in the lives of your children's children's children... come back in a thousand years, part the weeds on my grave, give my bones a shake, and tell me." "Hm." Pain dwelt in Iern's grin. "How? We'll scarcely be in shape ourselves to do that." "Wrong," Plik answered. "For better or worse, your two spirits will walk crowned through the whole cycle to come -- and, it may well be, the ages to follow." "We're only us!" the woman cried as if struck.No comment.
"Is anyone only ever human?" "I don't know," Iern said awkwardly. "I just know that at journey's end Ronica and I will someday slip off to Terai's house, and tell them there about him, our trail-friend. Not to forget, not to forget." He held out his glass. "Pour, will you, Plik?" Raising it filled: "Here, while he can, here's to Terai... Wairoa... Vanna Uangovna... yes, Mikli, Jovain, everybody -- We remember. Do you hear? We remember." His free hand sought Ronica's. Rims clinked threefold. Wind quickened. A whale surfaced. The ship bore onward, in quest of the Southern Cross.I am surprised he didn't have the whale broach. Do you hear me, Spock? I remember! And now we move to late Anderson, 1989's The Boat of a Million Years:
The ships departed, Pytheas and friend. For a while, some months, until speeds grew too high, word went between them, imagery, love; rites celebrated the mysteries of community and communion; for everywhere around them thronged suns.(Here I snip a biblical quote, which surely doesn't count.)
Hanno and Svoboda stood in the darkened command center, looking out. Through clasped hands they felt each other's nearness and warmth. "Is this why we were born?" she whispered. "We'll make it be," he promised.Damn. Smoove B all the way. You can watch Anderson blow on the kindling, trying to get the spark to light. Sometimes it worked. But sometimes, and much more often in his later career, it just didn't take. Did it ever take? This is the classic Poul Anderson epiphany, in my opinion. From 1953's Three Hearts and Three Lions:
Holger felt the illusion that masked him dissolve. And his memory returned and he knew himself. They gathered around him, Alianora in the circle of his free arm, Carahue clasping his shoulder, Papillon's nose gentle against his cheek. "Whatever comes," he said, "whatever happens to me, know that you will return safe, and that you will always bear my love." "I sought you, comrade," said Carahue. "I sought you, Ogier." "I love ye, Holger," said Alianora. Holger Danske, whom the old French chronicles know as Ogier le Danois, mounted into his saddle. And this was the prince of Denmark who in his cradle was given the strength and luck and love by such of Faerie as wish men well. He it was who came to serve Carl the Great and rose to be among the finest of his knights, the defender of Christendie and mankind. He it was who smote Carahue of Mauretania in battle, and became his friend, and wandered far with him. He it was who Morgan le Fay held dear; and when he grew old, she bore him to Avalon and gave him back his youth. There he dwelt until the paynim again menaced France, a hundred years later, and thence he sallied forth to conquer them anew. Then in the hour of his triumph he was carried away from mortal men. And some say he lays in timeless Avalon until France the fair is in danger, and some say he sleeps beneath Kronborg Castle and wakens in the hour of Denmark's need, but none remember that he is and has always been a man, with the humble needs and loves of a man; to all, he is merely the Defender. He rode out onto the wold, and it was as if dawn rode with him.All the "fly-specked treacle", all the grammatical inversions, all the archaisms, all the lists, clasps, soughts, sallies and dawn riding onto the wold... well, it doesn't matter here. It's the difference between a lightning bug and lightning; it's the difference between formula and form. At least I think so, anyway. Postscript: I was once asked to write a Lord of the Rings pastiche in Poul Anderson's style. Here it is:
To move an inch further was a weariness to will, limb, senses, heart. Strength fled from Frodo. "I can't go on, Sam," he whispered. "I'm going to faint. I don't know what's come over me." "I do, zir. Hold up now! There be zome devilry afoot at yon gate." Sam drew out the elven-glass of Galadriel again. Light blazed forth from it suddenly, so that all the shadowy court must dazzle; but it remained steady and did not dim. Memory sprang unbidden in Sam, back to the Elves in the Shire and the song that drove away the Black Rider. "Gilthoniel, A Elbereth!" he cried. "Aiya elenion ancalima!" cried Frodo behind him. The will of the Watchers was broken with a suddenness. Perforce Frodo and Sam must needs stumble. Forward they ran, through the gate and past the great glitter-eyed seated figures. Air crackled behind them. The keystone of the arch crashed, and the wall above shook, crumbled, and fell into ruin...