Friday, 29 March 2013

The Star Dwellers

Chapters 1 and 2 of James Blish's The Star Dwellers (London, 1979) effortlessly and economically introduce nine characters:

Daniel Hart, Secretary for Space;
Dr Howard Langer, Hart's trouble shooter;
Jack Loftus, senior foreign service cadet in Hart's department;
Jack's father;
R Dover "Timkin" Bearing, Hart's underclerk for communications;
Paul X McCrary of McCrary Engineering;
McCrary's daughter, Sylvia, Trans-Solar Press reporter;
Jerry "Sandbag" Stevens, Langer's cadet understudy;
Lucifer, the fallen Angel (off-stage).

In Chapter 3, we learn that the novel is set in:

"...2050, nearly two decades after the discovery of the Haertel faster-than-light drive..." (p. 34).

Haertel connects The Star Dwellers to Blish's Hugo-winning novel, A Case Of Conscience, set in 2049-50, but the terrestrial and interstellar politics of the two novels differentiate them as occurring in alternative Haertelian futures. Apart from the fictitious Haertel, who appears in a juvenile novel and an adult short story, the two names associated here with faster-than-light (FTL) are British astronomer Milne and Mach of "...'Mach's axiom' or 'the cosmological assumption'" (pp. 42-43). I think that this Mach is real and therefore is different from the fictitious Mach associated with FTL in Poul Anderson's Fire Time?

Intelligent extraterrestrial races in The Star Dwellers are:

Martians (extinct);
inhabitants of planets of the stars Tau Ceti and 40 Eridani;
lesser races on one of three planets colonised by Earth in the past five years;
the Angels;

- and an interstellar confederation near the galactic centre is mentioned somewhere but I have not reread that far yet.

Langer says that finding intelligence:

" '...on five planets out of the first suitable seven we studied - including Earth, of course - proves...beyond a shadow of a doubt...' " that " 'Where intelligence can arise, it will arise.'" (p. 17)

I am not sure about that conclusion. Of course, Langer can quote evidence, his five out of seven planets, but he seems to imply that the proposition had already been made and was waiting to be proved. Maybe it is true that life arises wherever it can. It arose as soon as it could on Earth. All that it needs is energy, complex chemistry and time - all of these exist in space - but intelligence requires a lot more than just these three conditions and we have not yet seen any evidence for it anywhere else in the universe.

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