from science fiction by
Poul Anderson

This page:
Genius
The Helping Hand
The Live Coward
The Longest Voyage
Three Hearts and Three Lions

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science fiction

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Genius

Copyright © 1948 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.

“Well”—Heym walked up and down the floor, hands clasped behind his back—“it’s evident from a study of history that all progress is due to gifted individuals. Always, in every field, the talented or otherwise fortunate few have led and the mass has dumbly followed. A republic is the only form of state which even pretends to offer self-government, and as soon as the population becomes any size at all the people are again led by the nose, their rulers struggling for power with money and such means of mass hypnotism as news services and other propaganda machines. And all republics become dictatorships, in fact if not in name, within a few centuries at most.”

Topics:

Progress

Democracy

“The power of social conditioning is unbelievable—combined with social pressure, it is almost insuperable.

“And—this is the important point—the rules and assumptions of a society are accepted and enforced by the mass—the overwhelming majority, shortsighted, conservative, hating and fearing all that is new and strange, wishing only to remain in whatever basic condition it has known from birth. The genius is forced into the strait-jacket of the mediocre man’s mentality.”

Topics:

The Majority

Genius

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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The Helping Hand

Copyright © 1950 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.

“Back before the human race even reached the other planets of its system, there were many cultures, often radically different. But ultimately one of them, the so-called Western society, became so overwhelmingly superior technologically that . . . well, no others could coexist with it. To compete, they had to adopt the very approach of the West. And when the West helped them from their backwardness, it necessarily helped them into a Western pattern. With the best intentions in the world, the West annihilated all other ways of life.”

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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The Live Coward

Copyright © 1956 by Street and Smith Publications, Inc.

“And you can sit like my wife on an egg thinking beautiful thoughts!”

“The only beautiful concept I have right now is that all of a sudden the Prime Directive was repealed.”

“No chance of that, I’m afraid . . . not till a less bloodthirsty race than yours gets the leadership of the League.”

“Less? You mean more, don’t you? ‘Under no circumstances whatsoever may the Patrol or any unit thereof kill any intelligent being.’ If you do—” Alak made a rather horrible gesture. “Is that bloodthirsty?”

“Quite. Only a race with as gory a past as the Terrans would go to such extremes of reaction. [...] Now a Galmathian will run down a farstak in his native woods and jump on its back and make a nice lunch while it’s still running . . . but he wouldn’t be able to imagine coldbloodedly sterilizing an entire world, so he doesn’t have to ban himself from honest killing even in self-defense.” Drogs’ caterpillar body hunched itself over the telescope.

“Get thee behind me, Satan . . . and don’t push!”

It was not the pale-blue skin or the violet hair or the short tails which made the difference: always, in a case like this, the effect was of a subtler wrongness. Noses a shade too long, faces a trifle too square, knees and elbows held at a peculiar angle—they looked like cartoon figures brought to life. And they had a scent of their own, a sharp mustardy odor. Alak didn’t mind, knowing full well that he looked and smelled as odd to them, but he had seen young recruits get weird neuroses after a few months on a planet of “humanoids to six points of classification.”

“ ‘The craven dies a thousand deaths, the hero dies but once.’ ”

“Yeh. But you see, I’m a craven from way back. I much prefer a thousand synthetic deaths to one genuine case.”

In the simple and logical belief that enmities should not be permitted to fester, the Thunsban law said that no duel was officially over till one party had been killed.

Alak found a congenial earl and spent his time swapping dirty jokes. It is always astonishing how many of the classics are to be found among all mammalian species. This is less an argument for a prehistoric Galactic Empire than for the parallelism of great minds.

Topic:

Humor

text checked (see note) Jul 2005

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The Longest Voyage

Copyright © 1960 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.

Hugo Award-winning novelette, 1961

“How ye’re changed from yere fathers! Ken ye nay the legend, that once all things did as man commanded, an’ ’twas an Andayman’s lazy fault that now men must work? For see ye, ’twas nay too much that he told his ax to cut down a tree for him, an’ told the faggots to walk home, but when he told ’em to carry him, then God was wroth an’ took the power away. Though to be sure, as recompense God gave all Andaymen sea-luck, dice-luck, and love-luck. What more d’ye ask for, lads?”

Topic:

Labor

But then, we came of a nation which has long encouraged natural philosophy and improvement of all mechanic arts. I myself, in my short lifetime, had witnessed the replacement of the waterwheel in regions where there are few streams, by the modern form of windmill. The pendulum clock was invented the year before I was born. I had read many romances about the flying machines which no few men have tried to devise. Living at such a dizzy pace of progress, we Montalirians were well prepared to entertain still vaster concepts.

“Ah,” he crooned, “today Truth stood unveiled before me. Did you hear what the starman said? The three laws of planetary motion about a sun, and the one great law of attraction which explains them? Dear saints, that law can be put in a single short sentence, and yet the development will keep mathematicians busy for three hundred years!”

He stared past the flames, and the other fires around which the heathen men slept, and the jungle gloom, and the angry volcanic glow in heaven. I started to query him. “Leave be, lad,” grunted Etien. “Can ye nay tell when a man’s in love?”

text checked (see note) Mar 2006

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Three Hearts and Three Lions

Copyright © 1953 by Fantasy House, Inc.
Copyright © 1961 by Poul Anderson

Note Assume, for argument’s sake, that what I heard was fact. Then there are implications for our own future, and we’ll have use for the knowledge. Assume, what is of course far more sensible, that I record only a dream, or a very tall story. Then I still think it’s worth preserving for its own sake.
Given better technique, by which I mean less worry about hurting their feelings, he could have cut a swathe through the local femininity.
 2

“What land is this? What kingdom?”

“In sooth, fair knight, ye ask a question over which many scholars have cracked their heads and many warriors have cracked each other’s heads.”

11

What had he been fighting when he fought the Nazis but a resurgence of archaic horrors that civilized men had once believed were safely dead?

In this universe the wild folk of the Middle World might be trying to break down a corresponding painfully established order: to restore some primeval state where anything could happen. Decent humanity would, on the other hand, always want to strengthen and extend Law, safety, predictability.

His heart hammered; a curious darkness passed over him, and the darkness was beautiful. She came forward, tinged by the gold light that filtered down through green leaves. Her dress was like snow, her lips a coral curve, her hair shining as a starlit deep lake. All he could see to begin with were the colors.

Topic:

Beauty

12

“With every such advance, the realms of Law will grow weaker: not alone in numbers, but in spirit, for the near presence o’ Chaos must affect the good folk, turning them skittish, lawless, and inclined to devilments o’ their own.” Alianora shook her head, troubled. “As evil waxes, the very men who stand for good will in their fear use ever worse means o’ fighting, and thereby give evil a free beachhead.”

Holger thought of his own world, where Coventry had been avenged upon Cologne, and nodded.

“I have the answer,” said the terrifying voice. “ ’Tis not unlike the one that Thiazi baffled Grotnir with, five hundred winters agone. See you, mortal, a chicken is the human soul, and the road is life which must be crossed, from the ditch of birth to the ditch of death. On that road are many perils, not alone the ruts of toil and the mire of sin, but wagons of war and pestilence, drawn by the oxen of destruction; while overhead wheels that hawk hight Satan, ever ready to stoop. The chicken knows not why it crosses the road, save that it sees greener fields on the far side. It crosses because it must, even as we all must.”

He beamed smugly. Holger shook his head. “No, wrong again.”

Note (Hal’s):
I trust it’s clear that the previous wrong answer was, “To get to the other side.”

— end note

Answer

Topics:

Riddles

Chickens

15 “You have no idea what student pranks can be till you’ve seen a magicians’ college. . . .”

Topic:

Magic

18 “Yon knichts be an eldritch breed. They’ll cross the world to rescue a maiden, and then dinna know aught to do wi’ her but take her home and mayhap beg a bit o’ hair ribbon to wear on their sleeve. ’Tis a wonder their sort ha’ no died oot erenoo.”

Topic:

Love

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Graphics copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen