Monday, 31 July 2017

Written Wisdom

During their long journey to the galactic Heart Stars, Jack Loftus, Sandbag Stevens and their mentor, Dr Langer, have a lot of time to think and talk. They discuss a Biblical passage which Sandbag renders as:

"'He who darkens counsel without knowledge isn't earning his keep.'"
-James Blish, Mission To The Heart Stars (London, 1980), Chapter Eight, p. 91.

When Jack asks what good is written wisdom when we cannot understand it until we have experienced it for ourselves, Langer replies:

"'Not very much good, in my opinion...Written wisdom, it has always seemed to me, is like an algebraic formula: it states the general case as elegantly as possible, but all the terms in the equation are parameters which you must fill specifically in terms of your own experience. You need to have led a rich and thoughtful life before the formula becomes applicable to you. If you are, in addition, especially thoughtful, you may in the long run be able to refine the formula itself. But that doesn't happen very often. It's a noble ambition, though, I think.'" (ibid.)

Interesting. But how many people can refine proverbs? Blish usually discusses and dramatizes the acquisition of new knowledge through science, not the formulation of timeless wisdom.

When I was at University, a fellow undergraduate made an interesting distinction between proverbs and slogans. Proverbs are relatively changeless and timeless whereas slogans focus the need for immediate action to change something:

"No taxation without representation!"
"Liberty, equality, fraternity - or death!"
"Land, peace and bread!"
"All power to the soviets!" (When those were still popular, democratic institutions, of course.)

I looked up Blish's discussion of experiential knowledge because I had read:

"'Training does only so much. Experience you have to get the hard way.'"
-SM Stirling. The Tears Of The Sun (New York, 2012), Chapter Fifteen, p. 465 -

- which in turn reminded me of some reflections on Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series. See More On Everard and The Quotable Time Patrol.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Magic And Entropy

In James Blish's Black Easter and The Day After Judgment, magic is control of demons, which are fallen angels, and is practised in the twentieth century although most people do not believe in it. It is theorized that stable negative entropy would be eternal life. See here.

In Poul Anderson's Operation Otherworld, set on a parallel Earth, magic, practised in earler centuries, was protogoetics whereas goetics is a new energy source. See here. Demons are inhabitants of Hell, a chaotic, entropic universe.

Thus, Blish and Anderson present alternative imaginative takes on magic, demons and entropy.

Friday, 27 January 2017

They Shall Have Stars

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
-copied from here.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Falling One By One

Copied from here.

"'What was it Mephistopheles said? "Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it." The totems are falling all around us as we sit here. One by one, Rosenbaum; one by one.'"
-James Blish, "A Dusk of Idols" IN Blish, Anywhen (New York, 1970) , pp. 105-135 AT p. 135.

"Ideas of self, ideas of world and family and nation, articles of scientific or religious faith, your creeds and currencies: one by one, the beloved structures falling.



-Alan Moore, "Clouds Unfold" IN Moore, Jerusalem (London, 2016), pp. 757-775 AT p. 775.

Blish ends a short story by telling us that our totems are falling. Moore ends a chapter by telling us what those totems are: ideas, faiths, creeds and currencies. Moore also provides sound effects.

An uncanny textual parallelism.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Haertel Scholium

A recent reference to Dirac made me think about and rethink James Blish's Haertel Scholium. An omnibus collection of the Scholium would comprise eleven works, a two part prequel/prologue/prelude, Welcome To Mars and "No Jokes On Mars," followed by three trilogies:

The Galactic Cluster Trilogy
"Common Time"
"Nor Iron Bars"
"This Earth Of Hours"

The Heart Stars Trilogy
The Star Dwellers
Mission To The Heart Stars
"A Dusk Of Idols"

The Quincunx Trilogy
The Quincunx Of Time
"A Style In Treason"
Midsummer Century

In "This Earth Of Hours," the Terrestrial Matriarchy must contend with the Central Empire of the galaxy;
in the Heart Stars trilogy, the UN and the star-dwelling Angels must contend with the Heart Stars federation;
in "A Style In Treason," High Earth must contend with the Green Exarchy;
in The Quincunx Of Time, Earth, armed with the Dirac transmitter, builds its own intergalactic civilization;
in a twelfth Haertel Scholium work, A Case Of Conscience, which is Volume III of the After Such Knowledge Trilogy, the UN must cope with the planet Lithia which, in accordance with this novel's place in the ASK Trilogy, is a third historical example of the question whether the quest for secular knowledge is evil.

Monday, 19 December 2016


"Armageddon Artaheer!"

At a Memorial Evening for James Blish, Bob Shaw said that, when he first met Blish, he expected him to be a very serious person on all levels. He had noticed that Armageddon came up quite frequently in Blish's works and, presuming to advise such a man, he said, "Jim, don't worry so much about Armageddon. It's not the end of the world!"

A demon tells a black magician:

-James Blish, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement (London, 1981), p. 110.

One human being tells another:

"'...what name will this battle be given?...
"'We will name it from the hill that overlooks the battlefield...Har-Megiddo. Armageddon, in our tongue.'"
-SM Stirling, On The Oceans Of Eternity (New York, 2000), Chapter Thirty-One, p. 616.

(An appropriate page number: "616" is an alternative to "666.")

In Black Easter, a supernatural conflict between angels and demons has occurred off-stage. However, Stirling puts forward that a human battle literally at Armageddon is also possible.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

James Blish And The Antichrist

Copied from Poul Anderson Appreciation:

Recently we mentioned a reference to Antichrist in Poul and Karen Anderson's historical tetralogy and compared that tetralogy to James Blish's theological trilogy. For completeness, we should also mention the Antichrist in the trilogy which is thematic, not linear, and need not be read in numerical order.

In Volume III, the main protagonist imminently expects the Antichrist.

In Volume I, Roger Bacon sees the Antichrist - in a drug-induced vision.

In Volume IIa, Armageddon happens without the Antichrist. When the black magician complains that this breaks the Law, a major demon retorts:

-ASK (London, 1991), p. 423.

In Volume IIb, the white magician thinks that a newly elected demon Pope is the Antichrist whereas instead he is the Vicar of the new God.

Some Christians have put the Antichrist into novels but have failed to make their good side remotely appealing.