Monday, November 25, 2019

Birthday Review: Some Lesser Known Poul Anderson Stories

The great Poul Anderson would have been 93 today. I've reviewed several of his Ace Doubles in the past (as one does), so today, in his honor, I thought I'd go back and resurrect some stuff I wrote about some of his more obscure stories, either for Black Gate or in my blog. There are two (also fairly little-known) novels included too, both serialized in Cele Goldsmith's magazines, Amazing and Fantastic. One review is the only one I got to do of him for Locus, one of his last stories, published three years after his death.

Retro Review of Super Science Stories, November 1950

One of the better issues of Super Science Stories is probably the November 1950 issue. The lead novel is a rather well-known Poul Anderson story from this his most pulpy period: "Flight to Forever". For all its occasional silliness, the story impressed T. E. Dikty and Everett Bleiler enough that it was included in their first "Year's Best" collection of short novels: Year's Best Science Fiction Novels: 1952. (1952 is the year of publication of the book: the stories are mostly from 1951, with only "Flight to Forever" from 1950.) It's right about 20,000 words long.  It tells of Martin Saunders, who is part of a team that develops a time machine. He is sent forward in time, hoping to return and tell what he found. But the machine, he finds, cannot go back in time. He ends up going forward, farther and farther. He eventually falls in love with a lusty empress of a star federation far in the future, and helps her fight off her enemies. This despite that he still remembers his beloved Eve at home. Finally, in an ending that anticipates both James Blish's The Triumph of Time and Anderson's own Tau Zero, he goes so far into the future that he cycles back to the beginning of time, and he manages to "time" things so that he does indeed return to Eve. I read this as a teenager and perceived the preposterousness of most of it even then but I still liked it a great deal. It doesn't hold up fully to adult reading but it was still fairly fun to reread.

Retro Review of Worlds Beyond, February 1951

"The Acolytes" is one of a few stories Poul Anderson published set on Nerthus, a new colony planet. (Nerthus is mentioned in passing in Virgin Planet, so it presumably is set in that future.) ("The Green Thumb" is another, featuring the same character (Wilson Pete -- surnames come first in this world), and it was orphaned when Worlds Beyond ceased publication, only appearing a couple years later in Science Fiction Quarterly.). Wilson Pete is a boy staying with his Uncle, an old space hand, on his uncle's farm on Nerthus. Nerthus seems to be an idyllic world, but what are the little animals that seem to be trying to lure him into the woods? And what about those stories of other children who have disappeared? There is, of course, an ecological answer, and a heroic act by his uncle's alien former "batman". OK stuff, nothing special.

Review of Planet Stories, January and July 1951

Now, what were the stories like [in the first three issues of Planet Stories I ever bought]?  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  There aren't any enduring classics in the three issues I have, mind you.  The best known story is Poul Anderson's "Tiger by the Tail", the first Dominic Flandry stories.  In this piece Flandry subverts the aggressive leadership of a "barbarian" alien group of planets on the outskirts of the empire, by setting the leader's lieutenants against each other, fostering suspicion, etc.  In so doing he earns the love of a noble (and nubile!) alien woman, but of course he must leave her.  It's OK, but it's not Anderson at anything like his best: Flandry has things too easy, the time span is hard to believe, the aliens are profoundly unconvincing.

There are two other Anderson stories in the three issues I got.  Both are fairly pure sword and sorcery, though with nods to being on other planets, to make them "SF".  "The Virgin of Valkarion" is the weaker, in my opinion.  The demise of the "39th Dynasty" of Valkarion is at hand: the old King cannot get a child on his (nubile) young wife, the title character.  The corrupt priesthood is ready to take over as the King dies.  But a scarred barbarian mercenary shows up at the town. The "Virgin", who has disguised herself as a whore and let the barbarian have her services, pushes the Barbarian to hack his way to the throne, over the bodies of the priests, thus fulfilling an obscure prophecy.  Competent, in its way, but not original at all, and without any real twists. The other is "Witch of the Demon Seas".  Since it was printed in the same issue as "Tiger by the Tail", it appeared under a pseudonym, A. A. Craig.  It's about a pirate who is captured by the leader of a more civilized empire on another planet (which seems to be a typical Mediterranean-based Sword and Sorcery Ancient Earth setting).  In lieu of death, the pirate is freed by an old sorcerer and his granddaughter, the title witch, to lead them to the "Demon Seas", where the alien Xanthi fish-people terrorize humans.  The sorcerer claims to wish to gain their help in overthrowing the empire. Naturally, on the boat leading to the Xanthi area, the pirate falls in love with the nubile witch.  But when they get there, there is lots of fighting, and some double-crossing, and  decently twisty ending. (Though capped off by a pat, unconvincing, excuse to allow the leads to live happily ever after.)  Again, it's nothing of "enduring value", but it's a fun read.

While I was reading the Craig story I thought it was obviously by Anderson. I admit I knew that in advance, so I was looking for hints, but Anderson does have a pretty characteristic style, and I thought it was definitely in evidence in "Witch of the Demon Seas".  But for example A. J. Budrys, in his letter in a later issue, mentions the story and seems to think that Craig is somebody besides Anderson. (Though to be fair, maybe he did know the truth, but didn't feel proper mentioning it in the letter column, or Bixby might even have excised any such mention.)

Retro Review of Space Science Fiction, February 1953

On to the fiction. The February novelette, Poul Anderson's "Security", is set in a future America which has turned militaristic and oppressive after losing World War III. Allen Lancaster is a loyal scientist who gets recruited for a secret Project, so secret that "the left hand of Security doesn't know what the right hand is doing". After several heady months of successful engineering work, leading to success, he returns to his old job, but finds it unsatisfactory. And the fact that his secret Project involved collaboration with official undesirable types like Martians also begins to affect him. Then the Monitors come for him ... Well, the twist ending isn't much of a surprise. This is decent but not great early Anderson. It seems never to have been reprinted since. (I have a list of Anderson stories that as far as I know have not been reprinted. Would folks like to see it -- in particular, I'd be interested in anyone identifying reprints of some of the stories that I have missed.)

Retro Review of Science Fiction Adventures, July 1953

The novelette is "The Nest", by Poul Anderson (9800 words). To my knowledge, this story has only been reprinted once, in Anderson's Tor collection Past Times (1984). For all that, I think it's a pretty decent story. It's set in a citadel, the Nest, maintained by a Norman Duke who has stolen a time machine. The Nest is located back in time, and the privileged residents maintain a decent lifestyle by raiding other times -- for labor in the form of slaves, and for material, and for animals, such as the dinosaur that our hero, Trebuen, uses instead of a horse. Trebuen is a Cro-Magnon. He has not questioned the morals of the setup at all, but one day he rescues a girl slave from an abusive Nazi. Only it turns out it's not a real Nazi -- it's a wannabe, in the form of the Duke's son. And the rescue involved killing the man. So Trebuen is in trouble -- which raises his political consciousness right quick. He sets out to overthrow the Duke, with the help of a few friends, the slave, and a cute time travel trick. The story doesn't need a sequel, but one could have been written -- what to do with the Nest and the time machine after? As far as I know Anderson never returned to the setup though.

Retro Review of Cosmos, September 1953

"The Troublemakers" is a generation ship story. The hero is part of the aristocracy of the ship -- one of the hereditary Astrogators. But as the story opens, he is convicted of a crime he didn't commit, but might have -- rabble-rousing against the unfair treatment of the lower classes. His punishment is reduction in rank to the lower classes -- where he quickly establishes himself as a good worker, begins to advance, becomes involved to some extent with their revolutionary movement, becomes close friends with the guy who beat him up his first day there, etc. etc. But the corrupt Union boss drives him to a third group, the petty bourgeois -- and soon he is in the midst of a real riot perhaps leading to revolution. But what does all this have to do with getting to Alpha Centauri? The resolution is the sort of twist that would have just shocked and thrilled me at age 13, but which was a bit too easy to see coming at age 45. And indeed the story is a bit tendentious. One interesting recent story that seems to me to be commenting on it is Ursula Le Guin's "Paradises Lost". Not by any means Anderson at his best, but readable stuff.

Retro Review of Universe, December 1953

The other novelette is also light comedy: "The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound" (9200 words), one of Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories. I've never been as big a fan of the Hoka stories as many readers, though I think to some extent I burden the entire series with my dislike of the one late novel, Star Prince Charlie, which I think was quite poor. This story is decent enough, though not really great. The Hokas, of course, are teddy bear like aliens who love to imitate fictional models -- in this story, obviously, they are imitating Sherlock Holmes. Much to the distress of a human IBI agent who is tracking down a nasty alien drug runner who has chosen to hide near the Hoka equivalent of the Baskerville mansion.

Retro Review of Science Fiction Stories, 1953

The lead story is Poul Anderson's "Sentiment, Inc." (11200 words). This novelet has only been reprinted once, in the 1962 Ivan Howard anthology The Weird Ones. I'm not always entirely sure why those Anderson stories that he never collected remained such -- sometimes they are quite decent, though not likely absolute top-drawer. This is the case here. Perhaps he grew to object to the politics -- this story includes an offhand light-hearted jab at the Republican Party.

At any rate ... the story concerns a typical Anderson hero of the period -- a brilliant young man with Physics aptitude who sets up as an Engineer -- engineering being (it is implied) a more virtuous and manly pursuit than physics. He falls in love with an actress, stage name Judy Sanders (she "always wanted to live under the name of Sanders" -- a Winnie-the-Pooh reference that Anderson used himself in choosing his pseudonym Winston Sanders). All is bliss until she suddenly throws him over for a rich man who had also been pursuing her. She seems really, puzzlingly, in love with the other man. The hero gets suspicious and soon figures out that the rich man has found a psychologist with a machine that can more or less brainwash people. He does the "make the girl of my dreams fall for me" thing for rich patrons to get money, but it soon transpires that his real goal, apparently quite sincerely held, is to reform the world, to make everybody virtuous. Naturally, that will not do ... The resolution, actually, is rather too rapid and somewhat pro-forma, but the story does raise interesting ideas along the way.

Retro Review of Dynamic, January 1954

"The Chapter Ends" is Anderson in his melancholy mood. It's nominally one of his Psychotechnic League stories, though set very far in the future. Humanity has decided to abandon Earth, because it's politically convenient to cede the Solar System to some methane breathers. So they need to evacuate the few million remaining residents, who have regressed to a pleasant low tech life. But one stubborn man refuses to leave. I thought the motivations, and the characterizations, and especially the overwrought conclusion, were rather forced.

Retro Review of Cosmos, July 1954

The "Feature Story" this time is not the novella, unlike the other three Cosmos issues. Instead it is Poul Anderson's "Teucan", a short novelette at about 7500 words.

"Teucan" is a Coordination Service story. The Coordination Service pieces are sometimes listed with the Psychotechnic League stories. ("The Troublemakers", from the first issue of Cosmos, is a Psychotechnic League story, though not from the central group due to its setting on a generation ship -- however its emphasis on psychological elites molding society is very characteristic of Psychotechnic League stories.) It seems to me a bit controversial as to whether the Coordination Service stories should be considered part of the Psychotechnic League stories. However, it is true that the Winter 1955 issue of Startling Stories, containing the Pyschotechnic League story "The Snows of Ganymede", includes a timeline chart of Pyschotechnic League stories. Along with this there is an explanation, which lists several stories, "already written but not yet published", that also fit the same future history. One of these is "Star Ways" (retitled The Peregrine for the late 70s reissue), which if memory serves is a Coordination Service story. So if you include "Star Ways", you introduce other Coordination Service pieces, including Virgin Planet. (And as Virgin Planet mentions a world named "Nerthus", maybe you can also add "The Green Thumb" and "The Acolytes" -- Sandra Miesel does, at any rate.)

At any rate "Teucan" is really one of those stories that thinly disguises a version of a past Earth society as an alien society. In this case a Terran Trader finds himself marooned on a primitive planet. The very humanoid natives, it turns out, have a society very much like the ancient Aztecs. Complete with human -- well, in this case alien --  sacrifice. The Trader is soon recruited by be "Teucan" of this society -- the high king, basically. He swallows some revulsion at the prospect of officiating over the sacrifices, and enjoys a time of luxury. Unfortunately, he doesn't grasp another eventual responsibility of the Teucan ... I thought this a pretty minor story for Anderson.

Retro Review of Galaxy, February 1956

The Poul Anderson story, "The Corkscrew of Space", turns out to be a rare Anderson story that has not (as far as Contento and the ISFDB can tell me) been reprinted. It's a trifle, though entertaining enough.  A Martian colonist is in despair as Mars' economy seems to be in collapse, largely because of transportation costs.  His friend, a French (nationality significant!) physicist, has developed the concept of an instantaneous transportation system, but he thinks practical applications are 50 years in the future.  Is there anything that could motivate this Frenchman to somehow push those practical applications through much faster?  The answer is a fairly silly joke, but nicely executed.

Retro Review of Star Science Fiction, January 1958

Poul Anderson's "The Apprentice Wobbler" is a very minor story that reads like a Randall Garrett made-to-order-for-Campbell story, about psi. A corporation sends an engineer to investigate the sma company that has been producing machines that allow people to levitate a move objects and create energy, with the intention of discrediting them. In pure Campbell manner, the guy discovers that psi is a real power, but you can't use it if you have even a shred of disbelief, so the machine is just a placebo to make you think the power is coming from elsewhere blah blah blah. Competent, to be sure, it being Anderson, but not very good. I wonder why he didn't sell it to Campbell? Or maybe Campbell bounced it.

Retro Review of Fantastic, June and July, 1962

(Cover by Richard Powers)
Shield, obviously is a very short "novel" in this serialization. It was published in book form by Berkley in 1963. I have a copy of the 1970 reprint, also from Berkley. (Both editions have covers by Richard Powers, but different ones, and in fact the 1974 Berkley reissue has yet a third different Richard Powers cover.) That version is about 45,000 words long.

This is minor Anderson, but worthwhile reading. I remember liking it on first reading more than I did on this rereading -- that's either the result of several decades of additional experience on my part, or perhaps of the difference between the serial version and the book version. The hero is Peter Koskinen, who has just returned from Mars, with the secret of a personal body shield, learned with the wise old Martian natives. He soon realizes that his secret is coveted by several entities: the Chinese, the rather despotic rulers of the US, and the mob, more or less. None of these organizations seem all that interested in Koskinen's health, nor indeed in what's best for the world. Koskinen falls in with a femme fatale named Vivienne, whose motives are difficult to untangle. All leads to a conclusion where Koskinen, under siege from multiple sources, must make a decision consistent with his own values.

Retro Review of Analog, April 1963

"What'll You Give" is about 10,000 words long. It is one of Winston Sanders's Tales of the Flying Mountains, about an asteroid-based civilization. Sanders was of course a pseudonym for Poul Anderson. (Based on Winnie the Pooh: Winnie for Winston, P for Pooh, and Sanders because Winnie the Pooh lived "under the name of Sanders".) The stories were eventually collected as Tales of the Flying Mountains, under Anderson's name, in a paperback with one of the most Godawful '70s covers ever, from Collier.

In that collection this story is called "Que Donnerez Vous?", and I'm sure that was Anderson's original title. It's from a song one of the main characters sings, and of course it means "What'll You Give?". The story concerns miners of volatiles from Jupiter's atmosphere, volatiles intended for use in the asteroids. It's a very dangerous job, and when one miner's ship fails, three of his comrades plan to rescue him. But the man in charge cites economics as a reason the risky plan can't be tried. He is overruled, of course ... the conclusion, alas, slightly backs off from what had seemed a worthwhile conflict. It's decent middle-range Anderson.

Retro Review of If, May 1963

"Turning Point" is a neat little story. Kind of Cargo Cult in reverse. Humans come to an isolated alien planet, where the people apparently live primitive lives. But it turns out they are incredible geniuses, who simply never had the spur to develop technology. Once they see human tech, all bets are off.

Retro Review of Amazing, May and June 1965

(Cover by Gray Morrow)
The Corridors of Time is not one of Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories -- not that you thought so, necessarily, but I did, until I read it, years ago. It’s pretty decent stuff, though. It opens with American graduate student (in archaeology) Malcolm Lockridge in the company of the beautiful and mysterious Storm Darroway, in Jutland, Denmark. She guides him into a mysterious underground installation, and before he knows it they are battling people in anti-gravity sleds up and down the title "corridors". Soon she reveals that her people are in a battle with another group, led by the dangerous Brann, up and down the timelines. Storm is presented as an avatar of the Goddess of the Labrys, or of Diana -- in support of emotional reaction and against technology, while Brann’s people believe in rational organization of human life, and each tries to promote their side in various historical eras. But they all know that they have no sway in the far future, access to which they are forbidden.

(Cover by Tom Chibbari)
Lockridge is smitten with the incredibly beautiful Storm, but the reader soon realizes that she is dishonest and dangerous -- while her rivals are not as bad as she says, but much mistaken as well. Much of the story concerns Lockridge’s time in a peaceful Bronze Age culture in Denmark, where he meets a beautiful chieftan’s daughter, who falls for him – if only he could forget Storm. Lockridge finds his loyalties in this time war tested, as he is kidnapped by Brann’s people and made to see to what lengths Storm and her people will go. The resolution is interesting and effectively twists through time, as Lockridge and his Bronze Age princess eventually struggle to find a middle way, outside the timeline battles. Good solid middle-range Anderson.

The serial is accompanied by a note stating that an expanded version would be published later in the year by Doubleday. And indeed, the book version is significantly longer, about 70,000 words versus 50,000 or so for the serial, and the differences show up immediately, as the book opens with Lockridge meeting Storm Darroway in prison -- he’s been accused of murder because one of a group of local thugs who attacked him hit his head while falling and died. I noticed other spots in the serial where it seemed something had been skipped ... I would say this is a clear case where the book is to be preferred.

Locus, April 2004

The closing story in The First Heroes is also good, "The Bog Sword", by the late great Poul Anderson. The setup is taken from Anderson's 1957 story "The Long Remembering", about sending a man via his "ancestral memory" to experience some hours through the consciousness of a man of the past. Here the time experienced is the end of the Bronze Age in Northern Europe, as a Danish King reminisces about his youthful travels to the South, where he encountered the Celts and their new technology -- iron. He senses -- and the present-day character (as well as the reader) knows -- that this means the end of a culture.

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