Sep 1, 2014

Gersen, Glinnes and Glawen

"Beauty" Dasce's "poor taste in skin-toning"
In the December 1963 issue of Galaxy magazine there was a story by Jack Vance called "The Star King". On the cover was Ed Emshwiller's depiction of the vile "Beauty" Dasce, one of the evil henchmen who worked for Grendel the Monster. Kirth Gersen was Vance's protagonist, striving to vanquish Grendel, Dasce (a resident of Melnoy Heights, above Sailmaker Beach in the city Avante of the Planet Alphanor, part of the glorious Rigel Concourse) and their partners in crime, Tristano the Earthman, and Sivij Suthiro, a Sarkoy venefice. The story was later published as the novel Star King, which became the first of five Demon Princes novels featuring Gersen.

In the opening scene of Star King, Gersen is relaxing at Smade's Tavern when he meets a hard-drinking spaceman, a planet locator named Lugo Teehalt. Teehalt proceeds to "drink rashly and talk wildly". The story told to Gersen by Teehalt is perplexing and disturbing. Both men are troubled and cautious, so for a while they speak rather philosophically about luck, exploring for new planets and ignorance.....

Cover art by Gino D'Achille
Teehalt asks: "You can't believe that a man is the better for ignorance?"

Gersen replies: "...uncertainty breeds indecision, which is a dead halt. An ignorant man can act".

As fate has it, Teehalt goes on to burden Gersen with more than words. Teehalt is murdered and Gersen ends up in possession of the recorded location of an Earth-like planet that was recently discovered by Teehalt in the far Beyond. The remaining events of the story play themselves out and Gersen is able to use the new planet as bait to coax his adversaries into the open.

click map to enlarge (source)
In 1973, Vance published Trullion, which turned out to be the first of three related novels in the Alastor Cluster series. The protagonist is Glinnes Hulden, a young man returning home after ten years of off-planet military service. Glinnes soon discovers that the once peaceful Fens of Jolany Prefecture (see map to the right) are being pushed into turmoil by a new dissident movement, Fanscherade. Before Glinnes can arrive home after the sudden death of his father, the Fanschers take possession of Ambal Island and sell it to the mysterious Lute Casagave. Glinnes wants his land back, but he needs money in order to void the sale of Ambal Island.

by Jasper Holland
Baffled by events, Glinnes consults with the local Mentor, Janno Akadie who explains that the Fanschers are devoted to the idea of setting lofty goals for themselves and striving to achieve them. Fanscher philosophy does not mesh with the traditional Trill culture in which people such as Glinnes have long been happy with the pleasures of simple living.

Lacking any other means to quickly raise the money needed to buy back Ambal Island, Glinnes attempts to win the money by playing Alastor Clustor's major spectator sport, hussade. For a few short months, Glinnes pursues his goal with single-minded dedication, but everything around him seems to conspire to thwart his efforts to recover Ambal Island. Finally, after series of stinging setbacks, Glinnes finds himself with no money and in a state of "stupefied depression", the world as he knew it seemingly in fragments. Perhaps worst of all, he has fallen in love with with a beautiful hussade sheirl, Duissane, who will soon marry a local aristocrat.

However, just when Glinnes seems defeated, he discovers that bits of information accumulated during his seemingly futile activity of his past few months do miraculously provide him with exactly the knowledge that he needs to solve his many vexing problems. Finally, he regains Ambal Island, wins a fortune in money, and at the end of the novel, Glinnes walks off along a beach with Duissane, her rich fiancé having just been killed. Glinnes thus learns that not only can an ignorant man act, but even acts of seeming futility can, in the end, help a determined man.

In the late 1980s, Vance began publishing the Cadwal Chronicles, a series of three novels that feature Glawen Clattuc as the main character. Like Gersen and Glinnes before him, Glawen quickly finds himself knee deep in trials, travail and mysterious unseen forces threatening to disrupt his goals and plans. The first major setback of his career as a novice police officer comes when he finds himself betrayed by a co-worker. Glawen is held prisoner inside the Monomantic Seminary at Pogan's Point on the planet Tassadero. He is imprisoned by the perverse and demented Ordene Zaa, an ally of Simonetta Clattuc ("Smonny"). Smonny is an outcast from Araminta Station who has spent years seeking revenge against Glawan and the other residents of the Station.

Sessily Veder in her butterfly costume
At first, Galwen's time at Pogan's Point seems a dismal episode from which he may never escape. Zaa expects Glawen to impregnate Lilo and other residents of the Seminary, her goal being to produce a new population of adherents to the Monomantic Crede that will replace the existing Monomantics, the mostly infertile Zubenites, a people who have been created by means of an artificial breeding program and trained to despise "Duality", their term for normal human heterosexuality.

Only after months of imprisonment and finally escaping from the Seminary does Glawen realize that his co-worker, Kirdy, is the murderer of Glawen's former girl friend, Sessily Veder. Kirdy had secretly long despised Glawen and when given the chance, he immediately betrayed Glawen to Zaa and abandoned him on Tassadero. Kirdy then returned home to Cadwal and falsely reported to Station authorities that Glawen was dead.

Had Glawen known Kirdy's evil secrets, he never would have gone off on a police mission to Tassadero with Kirdy and Glawen might never have been imprisoned at Pogan's Point. However, like Gersen and Glinnes, Glawen was born under a lucky star. When Zaa thinks that Glawen is trapped and at her mercy, she tells him her secrets. Later, after his escape, what Glawen has learned at Pogan's Point helps him unravel Smonny's evil plans for taking revenge against the residents of Araminta Station.

by Jack Vance
Glawen proves again that sending a young and ignorant operative out into the field can be an effective strategy for drawing the fire of enemies. Glawen is lucky enough to survive and through his adversity he learns how to defeat the enemies of Cadwal's struggling conservationists. Can I be so lucky?

Cover for Trysta and Ekcolir
Trysta and Ekcolir
Since 2012 I have be receiving a trickle of information from Ivory Fersoni about the secret history of Humanity and the structure of the past few Realities that have existed. Ivory was honest with me: from the very start of our relationship she let me know that it was her intention to escape from Earth. I've recently lost contact with Ivory and I suspect that she has moved on to a new life on other worlds. I'm left struggling to process and understand the information that she pushed in my direction. (update on Ivory)

During the short time when we were active collaborators, Ivory insisted that I attribute the content of Trysta and Ekcolir to Thomas. I know much about the life of Thomas because I have in my brain a swarm of memory nanites that once resided in the brain of Thomas. However, I continue to have trouble fishing out useful information from that jumble of memories. Trysta and Ekcolir were the parents of Thomas, but they are long dead and Thomas was separated from them at a young age. As muddy as they are, sometimes the scrambled second hand memories from Thomas are our best source of information about Trysta and the other Realities.

Perhaps worse, from my perspective of trying to make sense of events in past Realities, at a young age Thomas suffered a damaging invasion of his mind by the remnants of an artificial life form. Memories that were transferred to Thomas during that invasion do provide me with some important insights into the motives of the Observers, but successfully digging through those memory jumbles that I inherited from Thomas is far from easy.

For many years, Thomas was technically insane. His mental health did improved during a period when he had removed the invading nanites from his body, but he later took back those nanites which then carried even more foreign memories that had been acquired from the mind of the interim host. The most challenging part of sorting through those memory stores is that I have no good way of distinguishing truth from fantasy. Thomas was a fiction writer, and his mind was always cluttered with worlds of his imagination. Can I trust anything that I learn from Thomas?

our Reality Chain
Gohrlay and Grean
But, enough of my troubles. If I have learned anything from Gersen, Glinnes and Glawen it is that I  must do something. I can't let uncertainty bring me to a "a dead halt". I intend to focus my efforts on one critical part of the challenging problem that now confronts me. I've mapped out the sequence of Realities that have led to the world as we know it (diagram to the left). Trysta and Ekcolir will be composed with about 47% of the story content being events in the Ekcolir Reality and about 47% concerned with what took place in the Grean Reality (or, as I often think of it, the Asimov Reality).

After devising the means to tap into the wealth of information in the Sedronic Domain, Ivory and her clone sister Angela made significant progress in their explorations of the Ekcolir and Grean Realities. However, I'm still baffled by how the transition from the Foundation Reality to the Grean Reality was accomplished. I know that Asimov was involved in that transition, but Asimov was acting as Grean's tool in the dirty low-level grunt work of clearing the last positronic robots from Earth. Angela was not able to discover the secret of how Grean finally defeated the positronic master mind, R. Gohrlay.

Change Your World
Sadly, information obtained from Thomas has infected me with doubt. My best interpretation of the memories I received from Thomas suggests that R. Gohrlay might not actually have been eliminated by Grean. If so, and if R. Gohrlay is still lurking about, then I can't avoid wondering if it might be possible for me (or Ivory or Angela) to contact "her" and we Earthlings might then receive help -or at least instruction- from her.

Wallowing in my ignorance, I feel like Glinnes upon his return home to Trullion. He was driven by pride and his sense of duty to recover Ambal Island. However, his efforts to do so were a source of great frustration. Still, Glinnes could not live his life in peace if every day, when glancing out from his front porch on Rabendary Island, he looked across Ambal Broad to where Lute Casagave resided on land that rightfully belonged to the Hulden family. Similarly, how can I, or any of us here on Earth, go on about our lives if we are not free to determine our own futures? I must discover if it is we humans, Grean or R. Gohrlay who is in control of the fate of Humanity.

Time traveling Grean
the Kac'hin (top, left)
in two places at once
I've become infected with the fear that Izhiun, Ivory and Angela have all learned that Thomas is correct, that R. Gohrlay and Grean conspired to hide the fact that we Earthlings are not in control of our fate. The tagline for Exode is "Change Your World". In a sense, the hero of the Exode Trilogy is Gohrlay.....according to that story, she won for we Earthlings a chance to reach the stars. However, that optimistic reading of events only holds true if she actually managed to win for Humanity our freedom from Grean and the Huaoshy. Did Gohrlay really change our world or are we still trapped and at the mercy of unseen alien forces?

Lately, I've been wondering if Ivory is on the Moon, possibly working to obtain the nanite tools that could help us resolve doubts about the fate of R. Gohrlay and whether we Earthlings have any free will. [update: the search for Gohrlay]

But what if R. Gohrlay (and possibly also Grean) is still at work and positioned to thwart such an effort? Am I able to summon the courage to risk my own mind and my own sanity in a desperate attempt to resolve these questions? How long can I wait, hoping to hear again from Ivory?

Ivory's "science fiction"
I've previously tried to poke fun at the mystery of Grean's actions (see the image to the right), but now I'm tackling this topic with renewed interest.

I see now that Ivory's past efforts in publishing her "science fiction" stories were her way of using the knowledge she had obtained from her cloned sister Angela as bait to attract the attention of the Overseers. I believe that there is now a new type of Overseer in control of the Earth Observation effort, but Ivory was able to learn little about the intentions of the new Overseers and the continuing activities at Observer Base on the Moon.

During the past two years, I've grown comfortable believing that Ivory is competent and in control, but what if she managed to upset Grean or R. Ghorlay, triggering action by an Overseer? If so, Ivory might now be a "guest" at Observer Base, unable to leave and having no means to communicate further with me.

If I continue to publicize Ivory's exploits, I might also attract Overseer attention and "win a ticket" off this planet. Alternatively, I like to believe that the days of hidden Overseers relentlessly keeping Earthlings in a state of ignorance about our past are truly over. However, I find it impossible to escape doubt and uncertainty that arises from how easy it is for aliens with advanced technology to hide among we Earthlings.

Why did Vance originally (in the Galaxy magazine version of the Star King story) name the first Demon Prince "Grendel the Monster" rather than "Malagate the Woe" (the name that was used later when the novel was published)?  Of course, I'm personally fascinated by the way that Vance wove various alien species into his novels, so an alien "Demon Prince" is extra special, particularly when the story includes the idea of aliens living secretly among humans. But why name an alien "Grendel"?

Vance populated Trullion with
both humans and the
aquatic Merlings.
The contrast between the story telling approaches used by Vance and Asimov is stark. Vance was much more open to including aliens in his stories. In his "future history" about how humans spread out from Earth to colonize the entire galaxy, Asimov stuck to the clean and narrow constraint that ours is a "humans only" galaxy with no alien civilizations. Vance was a master at finding ways to slip subtle influences of aliens into his stories about human adventures out among the stars. It is almost as if Vance felt compelled to create an entire corpus of imaginative cryptobiology topics for the galaxy.

Based on what I have learned from Ivory, Izhiun and Thomas, a galaxy full of many different life forms and the remnants of past civilizations is exactly what we should expect to find out there, not the sterile abiotic blank slate depicted in Asimov's imagined human diaspora among the stars. And yet, some version of Asimov's "human only" Galactic Empire did exist in the Foundation Reality. In Trullion, the planet where Vance's story is set must be shared by humans and the native Merlings. The Merlings claim as their domain the underwater parts of the Fens and the humans claim the land. The two competing species show no mercy to the other when individuals are found trespassing in the other's domain. Both the sister and father of Glinnes are killed and taken away to a "Merling dinner table".

A Feek (source)
Of course, in his rush to pull readers to a future with a unified and homogeneous galactic civilization, Asimov mostly hurried past the many details of how humans spread to the 25,000,000 inhabited planets of his Galactic Empire. Asimov's novel Nemesis provided an interesting exception: in that story an ancient telepathic species was found to be living quite close to Earth. Interestingly, by the time of the Galactic Empire, the existence of the planet Erythro had been erased from human memory. In contrast, Vance lovingly crafted dozens of specific and detailed stories depicting the clash and grinding conflict of man vs planet during the age of human expansion into the galaxy. For Asimov, the goal was a monolithic and homogeneous Galactic Empire. For Vance, the diverse and widely-separated planetary environments of the galaxy provided a glorious laboratory for experiments in life diversification. In Vance's imagined galaxy, the varied conditions of different planets were constantly altering the human settlers and shaping them into new life forms. One example that I've previously mentioned are the Feeks of New Concept (image to left).

cover art by Ed Emshwiller (1953)
I suspect that the true story of Galactic Biology lies someplace between the two different types of fictional universes that were devised by Vance and Asimov. Asimov imagined that there were hidden "sterilizing forces" such as the robot Daneel at work, ensuring development of a humans-only galactic empire that would lead to a unified Galaxia. Vance depicted a galaxy that went towards the other extreme, with evolutionary forces rapidly taking advantage of geographical isolation and diverse environments to craft vast biological diversity and a wide variety of human cultures -all spiced up with alien influences.

Galaxy magazine, 1963
Asimov was not a great traveler. He grew up in New York and was happy to stay at home, within his cave of steel, pounding away at his typewriter. In contrast, Vance was a California-born lad and a world explorer who wrote out his stories by hand. Vance had experienced the geographical and biological diversity of Earth first hand. Asimov was a denizen of the vast, gray, homogeneous city. We can't be surprised by the radically different galaxies that they chose to write about.

This epic poem was written in Old English. As an example, here (image to the right) is the word "fremedon" (in line 3) from the Nowell Codex (Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, ff 94r–209v).

This (image to the left) is the first occurrence of the name "Beowulf" in the poem (in line 18; ƿ was an Old English letter that is replaced by the modern w).

Here is the initial description of Grendel from the Beowulf poem:

134r (source); 3 lines are overlined in color

102 wæs se grimma gaést grendel háten

103 maére mearcstapa sé þe móras héold
104 fen ond fæsten· fífelcynnes eard

Besides the name "grendel", the one word I recognize here as essentially unchanged in modern English is "fen". In the poem, Grendel (and his kin) have, since the dawn of mankind, had dominion over wet places like marshes and fens. 

For some reason, Grendel left his watery domain and went on a rampage, killing people and destroying property and creating such a ruckus that it attracted the attention of the hero, Beowulf, who arrives on the scene from a nearby territory. The second line of poetry shown above has the word "móras"  = swamp or  moor. According to an Old English dictionary, there is also an Old English word  mósa = bog marsh.

Portland Moor

Here are some of the Old English words for water and wet places that are in the poem:
water = wæter (lines 93, 471, 509, 516, 1260, 1364, 1416, 1425, 1514, 1619, 1631, 1656, 1693, 1904, 1989, 2242, 2473, 2722, 2791)
marsh = fen (also fenn and mós)   (lines 104, 764, 820, 851, 1295, 1359)
swamp =  mór (lines 103, 162, 450, 710, 1348, 1405)
sea, surf = brim (lines 28, 222, 568, 569, 847, 1051, 1493, 1506, 1593, 1599, 1910, 2803, 2930)

After Beowulf confronts Grendel and rips off his arm, a trail of blood shows the way back to Gendel's fen-refuge (fenfreoðo), where the monster dies. The version of the story that was handed down to us does not end there because Grendel's mother is upset by the death of her son and so Beowulf has to fight her in round act 2.

Here is my attempt at a modern prose translation of how the ancient poet introduced Grendel (from lines 99 - 104, including the three color-coded lines shown above):
"Men lived happily until a horrible demon who was named Grendel, a creature of hell, began to commit atrocities. [Grendel's] kind had been impelled by the Creator to reside in their stronghold, the domain of marsh-creatures, an area of desolate moors and fens. [Grendel] was a well-known stalker of the marshes."

bog mummy
Much of human history is tightly linked to existence at the boundary between land and water. The Beowulf poem was composed and propagated through time by people who lived on the low, often swampy coastal land of northwestern Europe. One of the cultural practices of the people living in northwestern Europe was to inter human bodies and other sacrificial objects in bogs. Many of these bogs have chemical conditions that allow for the preservation of human remains ("bog bodies") and some cultures have the idea of "Bog Men", mysterious swamp men who are sort of like Big Foot.

"Boogie Man"  -  "...larger bogs can be very dangerous....they are the origin of our term boogie-man"

Boggart by Corbistiger
"The Immigrant Boogie Man"
   .....and he spoke of the Boogie Man over the sea  
   who lived in the Bog, with his spirit so free.
   When the men of the bog would twinkle at night  
   casting their shadows  - 'twas a spooky old sight.

Jack Vance described his "Grendel the Monster" character as an alien that was almost impossible to distinguish from humans. These aliens, the so called "Star Kings" of planet Ghnarumen, evolved as lizard-like creatures in swamps, but over time they adopted human form. While trying to escape capture on "Teehalt's Planet", the Star King crawls into a hole in a river bank. Gersen comments that Star Kings eat worms and insects and so the Star King should "do quite well on what he finds underground".

In  the Star King novel, Gersen describes the theory that ancient alien visitors to Earth long ago brought some Star Kings to our world. Was Vance suggesting that "Grendel the Monster" of the Beowulf poem is an alien? In the poem, the term "áglaéca" is applied to Grendel. Aglaeca is sometimes translated as "troll", but it can also simply mean warrior. It is more fun to translate "áglaéca" as "evil alien".

It is fun to imagine that alien creatures (Vance's Star Kings) living on Earth might have stimulated human poets to construct the Beowulf poem. In the pre-science fiction age, people could only think of Grendel as a monster. In the Exode Trilogy I face a similar problem: is there a way to convince the people of Earth that our world has long been visited by aliens?

Related reading: Ghyl and A Star King
more book and magazine covers

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