Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A Style In Treason II

On internal evidence alone, James Blish's "A Style In Treason" (Anywhen, New York, 1970) does not connect with any of his other futuristic fiction. Instead, it stands alone, referring to a faster than light Imaginary Drive instead of to the "overdrive" or "Haertel overdrive" that is standard outside the Okie series.

Further, there is a particular feature of this story that rules out any attempt to place it in a single Blish timeline. As a drastic disguise, Simon de Kuyl, the Traitor-in-Chief of High Earth, takes the transduction serum which not only somehow changes his appearance, blood group and retina- and finger-prints but also fills his head with the memories and motivations "...of persons who had died a hundred years ago and at least that many parsecs away in space." (p. 28)

Either he takes the antiserum within fifteen days or he forgets his own identity completely and permanently.

This story had first appeared in shorter form as "A Hero's Life" but, when it was collected in Anywhen, Blish took the opportunity to expand it as "A Style In Treason," adding information about the means of interstellar travel and about a group called "the Baptized" who have their minds "...rechannelled with only a century's worth of memories..." and who consequently have identity problems (p. 14). Presumably, along the lines of the transduction serum, the memories with which they are "rechannelled" are donated by others although this is not explicitly stated.

The point that I am leading up to, however, is that, when we overhear some of Simon's induced thoughts, we recognize many of them as quotations from several other Blish works. Thus, we realize that they come from much further away than "...many parsecs..." There is even a reference to a spindizzy. Two of them are partially disguised by translation into German and French, respectively. They also include some incomprehensible syllables that were a coded Dirac message received in "Beep"/The Quincunx Of Time.

A sequel might present an ingenious explanation as to how such phrases from entirely different periods and timelines wound up among the memories crowding into Simon's brain but this is unnecessary. Blish was merely using impossible echoes from unrelated works to convey an induced mental confusion.

The Traitors refer to an authority called "Gro" and we read an extract from Lord Gro's Discourses. This Gro describes the Traitors' Guild system so he can hardly be the same Lord Gro mentioned in Quincunx by Weinbaum who, living much earlier than the High Earth/Traitors' Guild period, has just received a Dirac message from that period. But, here again, Blish is merely playing with his characters and Gro was a traitor in ER Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros.

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