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  • Stories of Solar Stress

    Posted by David Foster on October 16th, 2013 (All posts by )

    In my post A Perfect Enemy, I mentioned Poul Anderson’s 1972 story A Chapter of Revelation. God–intending to demonstrate His existence to the world and thereby encourage people to prevent the global nuclear war which is about to occur–stops the movement of the sun across the sky. (Technically, He does this by slowing earth’s rotation period to a value identical with Earth’s year.) The reaction to this event is confirmation bias on an immense scale: just about everyone draws the conclusion that the miracle proves that whatever beliefs they already held were the corrects ones…for example, a Russian scientist (remember, this was written in 1972) suggests that  “The requirement of minimum hypothesis practically forces us to assume that what happened resulted from the application of a technology centuries beyond ours. I find it easy to believe that an advanced civilization, capable of interstellar travel, sent a team to save mankind from the carnage threatened by an imperialism which that society outgrew long ago.”   Moralists, militarists, extreme right-wing evangelists, Black Power advocates…all find in the miracle only proof of their own rightness, and the world slides into further chaos, with riots, coups d’etat, and cross-border military attacks.

    Several weeks ago, I picked up Karen Thompson Walker’s novel The Age of Miracles, in which strange solar behavior also plays a leading part. Eleven-year-old Julia, focused in the usual challenges of growing up, is not too concerned when scientists announce that–for some unknown reason–the earth’s rotation has slowed very slightly and the days and nights are both getting a little longer. But the process, whatever it is, continues…the days and the nights get longer..and longer..and longer.

    A very well-written book, IMO; especially impressive since it is the author’s first novel. Not everyone agrees: the Amazon reviews indicate that a lot of people liked it very much, and quite a few found it disappointing. But I thought it was very worthwhile; hard to put down, in fact.

    Another coming-of-age story involving solar phenomena is Connie Willis’s Daisy, in the Sun. Like the protagonist of the previous book, Daisy is dealing with the problems of adolescence–oh, and by the way, the sun (which Daisy has always loved) is going to go nova and kill everyone on earth. It’s a strange story, difficult to summarize…I’ll just quote from the author’s introduction:

    During the London Blitz, Edward R. Murrow was startled to see a fire engine racing past. It was the middle of the day, the sirens had not gone, and he hadn’t heard any bombers. He could not imagine where a fire engine would be going.

    It came to him, after much thought, that it was going to an ordinary house fire, and that that seemed somehow impossible, as if all ordinary disasters should be suspended for the duration of this great Disaster that was facing London and commanding everybody’s attention. But of course houses caught fire and burned down for reasons that had nothing to do with the Blitz, and even in the face of Armageddon, there are still private armageddons to be faced.

    The Poul Anderson story can be found in his short-story collection Dialogue With Darkness, and Daisy, in the Sun is in Fire Watch.

     

    5 Responses to “Stories of Solar Stress”

    1. Sgt. Mom Says:

      It was in another book by an American reporter (Quentin Reynolds, if memory serves, in The Wounded Don’t Cry) – who was present during the Blitz on England. He reported a conversation between two elderly Englishmen upon seeing a funeral. The deceased had died of natural causes, which surprised them both, having nearly forgotten that as a possible option.

    2. Death 6 Says:

      Maybe the thoughts I had reading the account of the first novel are off point, but explain why I’m pretty sure I couldn’t suspend disbelief and enjoy reading it.

      “The reaction to this event is confirmation bias on an immense scale: just about everyone draws the conclusion that the miracle proves that whatever beliefs they already held were the corrects ones.”

      No doubt why He doesn’t do such things. I’m pretty sure He would rightly know our reactions and not perform such an act unless those reactions were His intension. If he wanted to stop such an event, He could without reinforcing false beliefs as a by-product. But alas, we are independent actors barring responsibility for our moral choices. The whole human condition of wrong choices, individually or collectively, resulting in third party effects I think is the crux of the “Why is there evil in the world?” question. I also think He understands moral hazard as well. Isn’t it curious that we seldom (never?) ask, “Why is there good in the world and why am I visited by it through the actions of others?”

      Mike

    3. Joe Wooten Says:

      I had never heard about that story by Anderson. I’ll have to get that book. Poul Anderson is one of my favorite Science Fiction writers, after RAH, Larry Niven, Niven/Pournelle, John Ringo, and Arthur Clarke.

    4. David Foster Says:

      D6…”I’m pretty sure He would rightly know our reactions and not perform such an act unless those reactions were His intension. If he wanted to stop such an event, He could without reinforcing false beliefs as a by-product.”

      I think the scenario requires only that God chooses to intervene miraculously in the physical world, but–out of respect to the free will of his human creatures–does not directly alter the mental processes of individuals. Not sure how orthodox this is, but I think it fits the with C S Lewis version of Christianity, at least.

      “Isn’t it curious that we seldom (never?) ask, “Why is there good in the world and why am I visited by it through the actions of others?””

      If one believes that there is a God and He intends good things for humans, then it seems very logical…there is good in the world, and it is contagious, because it was intended that way. The question of why there is evil is a little harder, but seems partly resolvable by the noninterference with free will argument…but only partly, since there are natural disasters and diseases, as well as human-caused bad things.

    5. PenGun Says:

      I have read pretty well all the old Sci Fi books. My present favorite is the Ian Banks Culture universe.

      The Culture likes goodness and nice and is willing to remodel entire species to remove nasty and cruel. The stories might offend a real right wing person as the Culture is almost a socialist utopia. Still a very good series.

      Oh yeah a Culture GSV (general systems vehicle) is 100Km long does 180,000 lights and sports a mind largely indistinguishable from a deity. They are great fun with Names like:

      Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints
      All Through With This Niceness And Negotiation Stuff

      Sense Amid Madness, Wit Amidst Folly
      Frank Exchange Of Views

      And of course … they do as they please. One can dominate an entire stellar arm.