Friday, 5 April 2013

Space Secret Service Stories

The phrase "space secret service stories" would be equally applicable to two short works by James Blish, "Beep" (expanded as The Quincunx Of Time) and "A Hero's Life" (expanded as "A Style In Treason") and to Poul Anderson's eight volume Dominic Flandry series.

These works epitomize both the differences and the similarities between Blish and Anderson. The biggest single difference is Anderson's much larger output. There are several similarities but the ones epitomized here are:

hard (scientifically and technologically based) science fiction (sf);
colorful, exotic settings for science fiction - as well as for fantasy and historical fiction which both also wrote.

"Beep"/Quincunx is a one-off work about a utopian organization called simply "the Service." We expect this to be an abbreviation for something like "the Secret Service" but it isn't. Because the Service exploits a circular causality paradox, based in scientific speculation which Blish works out in some detail, this story cannot really be turned into a series although Blish did manage to expand it and link it to some other works, including "A Style in Treason."

"A Style In Treason," with its faster-than-light drive called "the Imaginary Drive" and its curious interstellar politics, is not really hard sf. It is exotic fiction with an interstellar setting. I did not know that it was intended to be a Jack Vance pastiche but I did think of sf writer Jack Vance as I read it. Its hero has come from High Earth to Boadacea beyond which is Fleurety just as its author had come from the United States to England beyond which is France. The Boadacean city is Druidsfall.

Blish had hoped to write both a High Earth novel and a time travel novel that might have developed a hint given in Quincunx so the sequence of his works that I call "the Quincunx tetralogy" could have lengthened but would never have become a long series. To anyone who would like to read more interstellar intrigue like that in "A Style In Treason," I say, "Read Flandry."

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