Friday, 22 June 2012

ASK Haertel II

I posted ASK Haertel on Sunday but continued adding to it till Friday. It was not planned but grew in three stages. First, there was an attempt to find some order in the complexity of Blish's Haertel-related works. I have seen these works described as the "Haertel Scholium." This is appropriate because "scholium" is a term much used by Blish himself, for example, in one of the works under consideration:

"...the laws of the macrocosm didn't apply down here; this was the domain of quantum mechanics - though telepathy didn't obey that scholium either." (1)

The Haertel Scholium is divisible into several short comprehensible sub-series. For example, three short stories form a linear sequence in a single collection. This short trilogy starts with a first interstellar round trip and ends by defining a galactic conflict: planets of Population I stars in the galactic centre and the clusters are inhabited by hive organisms hostile to the individual brain-bearing inhabitants of Population II planetary systems like the Solar System. The intermediate story, from which I quoted, describes an exploratory trip to the microcosm and introduces the kind of telepathy that, in the third story, binds together the Central Empire but cannot be used by organisms with brains. Thus, here is a complete interstellar trilogy comparable in theme and content to longer and better known works like Foundation and Dune.

A second sub-series comprises the two novels about the juvenile character, Jack Loftus. This diptych begins with first contact between human beings and energy beings and ends with another galactic conflict when these two kinds of beings begin to plan an alliance against the stagnant tyranny of the Heart Stars Empire. Both the trilogy and the diptych also speculate about possible future directions for human society. In the trilogy, the question is what would result if parents became able to predetermine their children's sex. In the diptych, it is how to organise a high-energy civilzation.

Secondly, A Case Of Conscience is both a Haertel overdrive novel and Volume III of the After Such Knowledge Trilogy (ASK) so it was appropriate to include discussion of the Trilogy especially since Volume I, Doctor Mirabilis, is a historical novel about Roger Bacon whom Blish credits as the discoverer of scientific method and thus as the forerunner of scientists like Haertel and his successor, Arpe, who explores the microcosm. Since Bacon was mistaken for a magician, it is appropriate that Volume II, Black Easter/The Day After Judgement, a contemporary fantasy novel about practising magicians, shows what magic would have to be like if it existed.

Thirdly, the conflict between theology and science that is the theme of ASK is present to a lesser extent in Blish's hard sf Okie and pantropy tetralogies so these works had to be mentioned. The Okies study and try to intervene in the imminent end of the universe and, of course, are told by Fundamentalists that this is blasphemous. In "ASK Haertel," I mentioned that a "pantropist" wonders whether he and his colleagues seeding extrasolar planets throughout the galaxy with Adapted Men are guilty of hybris but this speculation is not taken seriously.

However, in another Haertel overdrive novel, The Quincunx Of Time, a group of characters gains a knowledge of future events that might enable them to choose between possible futures for mankind and they do reject the exercise of such power as hybris, adopting instead this message to the "...cosmic Dead Letter Office...": "To Whom it may concern: Thy will, not mine." (2)

The Aristotelean spheres, mentioned as real by a magician in ASK II, are dismissed as a "...bad dream..." but the danger of "...that madness: hybris, or overweening pride..." is taken seriously. (3) (2)

The Haertel Scholium, ASK and the Okie and pantropy series are remarkable both for their common themes and for the diversity of their imagined future scenarios.

(1) Blish, James, "Nor Iron Bars" IN Galactic Cluster, London, 1963,  pp. 61-92 AT p. 74.
(2) Blish, James, The Quincunx Of Time, New York, 1983, p. 104.
(3) ibid., p. 61.

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