Saturday, 16 March 2013
Microcosm And Macrocosm
The probe, like the first sputnik, Object 1957-a, is named after the year in which it was launched. This date was revised from 4001 to 4101 in later editions of the novel but, through an oversight, the title of the relevant chapter was not revised accordingly. Thus, in Cities In Flight (London, 1981), Object 4101-Alephnull is launched in CHAPTER SIX: Object 4001-Alephnull.
A mere additional century was in no way sufficient to overcome the chronological discrepancy between Volume III, Earthman, Come Home, which implies thousands of years of interstellar flight, and Volume IV, The Triumph Of Time, in which Blish echoed Bishop Ussher's 4004 BC cosmic creation date with his 4004 AD cosmic collision date.
The probe, "...a stable, electrically neutral, massless plasmoid...," has to be constructed, by what would now be called nanotechnology, from zero-spin particles and massless, chargeless neutrino/anti-neutrino pairs that are held inside an invisible, rotation- and magnetic spin-controlling spindizzy field which, made visible by a jet of smoke, appears to observers as a six foot bubble containing concentrations of electron gas, stripped nuclei, thermal neutrons and free radicals, with, at its center, a minute crystal of anti-salt (pp. 554-555). Blish makes the point that the particles are unvisualizable because they do not correspond to any macroscopic experience.
Nevertheless, the characters in Blish's Story, "Nor Iron Bars," do see an electron, probably by de Broglie waves. Gordon Arpe's interstellar drive is meant to repel a spaceship from Earth faster than light by giving it negative mass. However, negative mass can exist only in the microcosm so the ship collapses down to inside a carbon atom of a nearby object. Arpe and a companion land on an electron whose position is uncertain so that its surface resembles a waist-deep swirling substance. Further, the ship with negative mass must be echoed by an electron elsewhere in the universe. Switching of the drive restores positive mass, thus returning the ship to the macrocosm in that other part of the universe. And that is how the Arpe drive works. Unfortunately, this idea was not explored any further. The next story in that series involves a different kind of interstellar drive. And Blish said in conversation that Arpe's experiences, bizarre though they were, did not correspond to the real microcosm.
Meanwhile, The Triumph Of Time takes us back from the microcosm to the macrocosm. Like Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, this novel addresses the question: if stars are grouped into galaxies, then what are galaxies grouped into? - although the answer given here is slightly different. The "inner metagalaxy," comprising about fifty galaxies, including the Milky Way and the Andromeda, revolves "...in spiral arms around a common center of density..." (p. 576) Such metagalaxies form spiral arms around the metagalactic center from which the Saturn-sized monobloc had exploded.
Flying their planet to the metagalactic center, the Hevians and their companions occasionally glimpse a distant galaxy but do not see any of the "...tenuous bridges of stars which connected the galaxies..." (p. 577). Poul Anderson in World Without Stars describes isolated red dwarfs in intergalactic space though not any "...bridges of stars..." Blish hoped to find a way to work the bridges into a story although there was the problem that traveling between galaxies by these bridges would not be any quicker than traveling direct.