Seeds of Menelaus Montrose

I was asked about the origins of the character Menelaus Montrose, protagonist of my six-volume “Eschaton Sequence” starting with COUNT TO A TRILLION.

I make no great pretense of being an original thinker: my ambition is to follow in the traditions of classical literature, if the muse allows, or, if not, at least of filching ideas from classical science fiction yarns. I regard the pulp traditions of our genre to be sadly underexploited.

Nor do I mind revealing the sausage-makings of how my imagination works, or fails to work, as the case may be, albeit I cannot imagine why anyone would be curious. Most of the creative process is simply bravery in the face of blank paper.

Menelaus Montrose comes from ten ideas:

(1) Leftists hate country folk, and to them the term “Cowboy” means an undisciplined nonconformist, so I wanted a character that would tweak their nose

(2) the story is an homage to SKYLARK OF SPACE, where scientists go to another planet and learn world-conquering superscience. My conceit was to write a Skylarkian novel in a slower-than-light universe. In SKYLARK, Richard Seaton is described as a country boy. So I made my version of Seaton a country boy. I made Blackie Spanish because they are among the proudest races of man. The fact that Texas and Mexico have neighboring cultures was just a happy side effect.

(3) Menelaus is the husband of Helen of Troy, the most beautiful girl of all, and he wages a war for ten years and more to win her back. I wanted a name that reflected the Odyssey my hero would follow, but was not a name like Ulysses or Odysseus, who were tricksters and adulterers. This was the reverse Odyssey, where the wife goes away and the husband has to wait at home, using his wits to prevent other suitors for her hand (namely, Blackie) from taking over the kingdom.

(4) Montrose was the name of a English officer who, almost singlehandedly, conquered a large section of Ireland. Love the English or hate them, his was such a remarkable feat of acting on his own, that I felt I should honor the name by likening my protagonistic to him.

(5) His mother is based on the mother of Andrew Jackson, who taught her son not to go to a court of law when insulted, but to fight a duel. The idea of a professional pistol duelist springs out of that, since I wanted to have a pistol duel be the climax both of the first book and of the series.

(6) His being born during an ice age was because fears of global warming were fashionable at the time. Had you asked me, I would not have expected the fashion to continue as long as it has. The fraud was obvious enough even then, to those with eyes to see.

(7) Having many brothers and no father was needed for the character development of his roughneck nature. I wanted his Mom to be even tougher than he was, in part to explain why he was so attracted to Rania, who is gentle and angelic.

(8) Otherwise, Montrose is based on Evariste Galois, who was a famous mathematician (developer of the theory named after him) who died in a duel. I read of his fate in Eric Temple Bell’s MEN OF MATHEMATICS (1937), and the scene haunted me.

“All night long he had spent the fleeting hours feverishly dashing off his scientific last will and testament, writing against time to glean a few of the great things in his teeming mind before the death he saw could overtake him. Time after time he broke off to scribble in the margin “I have not time; I have not time,” and passed on to the next frantically scrawled outline. What he wrote in those last desperate hours before the dawn will keep generations of mathematicians busy for hundreds of years. He had found, once and for all, the true solution of a riddle which had tormented mathematicians for centuries: under what circumstances can an equation be solved?”

(9) Another background element comes from the short story ‘Omnilingual’ by H Beam Piper (February 1957 issue of Astounding Science Fiction) which proposes that the common scientific understanding of the universe could serve as a basis for communication between two species with no language in common.

My variation on this idea is that a message coded to be understood by any species sharing the unified field theory equations describing all science would of necessity reveal the unified field theory to any race not familiar with them; and if the unified theory explained also nexialism, psychohistory, general semantics, mass psychology, genetic neural psychology, and so on in mathematical terms, all these things could be open to technical manipulation. This is the cliometrics or predictive history which forms the backbone and through line of the plot.

(10) So yet another background element is from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (I do not regard the later books as canon) of Donald Kingsbury’s PSYCHOHISTORICAL CRISIS, of the psychohistorians attempting to establish a galactic empire, imagining what might happen if a rogue psychohistorian, preferring a republic to an empire, opposed their plans.

And, in the second and third volume, certain mockeries or variations on imaginary societies and proposed utopias as imagined by A.E. van Vogt, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Heinlein are given something of a cynical Jack Vance makeover, to show what they would more realistically be like, if attempted.