|Pen name||A. A. Craig, Michael Karageorge, Winston P. Sanders, P. A. Kingsley|
|Occupation||Novelist, short story author|
|Genres||Science fiction, Fantasy, Time travel fiction, historical fiction|
Poul William Anderson (November 25, 1926 – July 31, 2001) was an American science fiction author who wrote during a Golden Age of the genre. Poul Anderson also authored several works of fantasy.
Anderson received a degree in physics from the University of Minnesota in 1948. He married the former Karen Kruse in 1953. They had one daughter, Astrid, who is married to the science fiction author Greg Bear.
He was the sixth President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, taking office in 1972.
He was also a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America, a loose-knit group of Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose works were anthologized in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords! anthologies.
He was also a founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
He died of cancer on July 31, 2001, after a month in the hospital.
Anderson is probably best known for adventure stories in which larger-than-life characters succeed gleefully or fail heroically. He also wrote some quieter works, generally of shorter length, which appeared more during the latter part of his career. However, Anderson was seldom interested in psychological analysis.
Much of his science fiction is thoroughly grounded in science (with the addition of unscientific but standard speculations such as faster-than-light travel). A specialty was imagining scientifically plausible non-Earthlike planets. Perhaps the best known was the planet of The Man Who Counts — Anderson adjusted its size and composition so that humans could live in the open air but flying intelligent aliens could evolve, and he explored consequences of these adjustments. His stories often depicted a shipwrecked or stranded hero's existential struggle to survive in the hostile environment of an alien world through ingenuity and sheer drive.
In many stories, Anderson commented on society and politics. Whatever other vicissitudes his views went through, he firmly retained his belief in the direct and inextricable connection between human liberty and expansion into space - for which reason he strongly cried out against any idea of space exploration being "a waste of money" or "unnecessary luxury".
The connection between space flight and freedom is clearly (as is stated explicitly in some of the stories) an extension of the nineteenth-century American concept of the Frontier, where malcontents can advance further and claim some new land, and pioneers either bring life to barren asteroids--as in "The Tales of the Flying Mountains"--or settle on earthlike planets teeming with life, but not intelligent forms (for example, "New Europe" in "Star Fox").
As he repeatedly expressed in his nonfiction essays, Anderson firmly held that going into space was not an unnecessary luxury but an existential need, and that abandoning space would doom humanity to "a society of brigands ruling over peasants".
This is graphically expressed in the chilling short story "Welcome". In it, humanity has abandoned space and is left with an overcrowded Earth where a small elite not only treats all the rest as chattel slaves, but also regularly practices cannibalism, its members getting their chefs to prepare "roast suckling coolie" for their banquets.
Conversely, in the bleak Orwellian world of "The High Ones" - where the Soviets won the Third World War and gained control of the whole world - the dissidents still have some hope, precisely because space flight has not been abandoned. By the end of the story, rebels have established themselves at another stellar system - where their descendants, the reader is told, would eventually build a liberating fleet and set out back to Earth.
While horrified by the prospect of the Soviets winning complete rule over the Earth, Anderson was not enthusiastic about having Americans in that role, either. In fact, several stories and books describing the aftermath of a total American victory in the Third World War - such as "Sam Hall" and its loose sequel "Three Worlds to Conquer" as well as "Shield" - are scarcely less bleak than the above-mentioned depictions of a Soviet victory. Like Heinlein in "Solution Unsatisfactory", Anderson assumed that the imposition of an American military rule over the rest of the world would necessarily entail the destruction of American democracy and the imposition of a harsh tyrannical rule over the United States' own citizens.
Interestingly, both Anderson's depiction of a Soviet-dominated world and that of an American-dominated one mention a rebellion breaking out in Brazil in the early 21st Century, which is in both cases brutally put down by the dominant world power - the Brazilian rebels being characterized as "Counter-Revolutionaries" in the one case and as "Communists" in the other.
In the early years of the Cold War - when he had been, as described by his later, more conservative self, a "flaming liberal" - Anderson pinned his hopes on the United Nations developing into a true world government. This is especially manifest in "Un-man", a future thriller where the Good Guys are agents of the UN Secretary General working to establish a world government while the Bad Guys are nationalists (especially American ones) who seek to preserve their respective nations' sovereignty at all costs. (The title has a double meaning — the hero is literally a UN man and has superhuman abilities which make his enemies fear him as an "un-man").
In later years Anderson completely repudiated this idea (a half-humorous remnant is the beginning of Tau Zero — a future where the nations of the world entrusted Sweden with overseeing disarmament and found themselves living under the rule of the Swedish Empire). In Star Fox, his unfavorable depiction of a future peace group called "World Militants for Peace" indicates clearly where he stood with regard to the Vietnam War, raging when the book was published. A more explicit expression of the same appears in the later The Shield of Time where a time-traveling young American woman from the 1990s pays a brief visit to a university campus of the 1960s and is not enthusiastic about what she sees there.
Instead of a world government, the above-mentioned "Shield" resolves the problem of an American-dominated world dictatorship in a truly libertarian manner: The protagonist, who is hunted by various power groups for the secret of a personal impregnable force field which he brought from Mars, finally decides to simply reveal it to the entire world, so that every individual could thumb his or her nose at each and every Authority.
Anderson often returned to libertarianism (which accounts for his Prometheus Awards) and to the business leader as hero, most notably his character Nicholas van Rijn. Van Rijn is, however, far from the modern type of business executive, being a kind of throwback to the merchant venturer of the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. If he spends any time in boardrooms or plotting corporate takeovers, the reader remains ignorant of it, since virtually all his appearances are in the wilds of a space frontier.
Beginning in the 1970s, Anderson's historically grounded works were influenced by the theories of the historian John K. Hord, who argued that all empires follow the same broad cyclical pattern — in which the Terran Empire of the Dominic Flandry spy stories fit neatly.
The writer Sandra Miesel (1978) has argued that Anderson's overarching theme is the struggle against entropy and the heat death of the universe, a condition of perfect uniformity where nothing can happen.
A nonfiction essay that is embedded in There Will Be Time and attributed to the book's fictional protagonist, but seems to reflect Anderson's own views, sharply criticizes the American Left of 1972 (when it was written) for two instances of a double standard: for neglecting to address human rights violations in the Soviet Union and for failing to notice Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
References to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict crop up quite frequently in Anderson's fiction, through various analogues and the conflict's past, future, and alternate permutations. Significantly, Anderson's position on the Middle East conflict was considerably more dovish than his stance towards the United States' own wars, such as his the aforementioned support for the military involvement in Vietnam. Consistently, he regarded the conflict as one in which both Israelis and Palestinians have some measure of justice on their side, and Israeli characters often express criticism of their country's policies.
Thus, in the story "Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks", the Time Patrol's resident agents in the Tyre of King Hiram are a Twentieth Century Israeli couple, who express their wish to help the ancient Tyrians "in order to compensate a bit for what our country is going to do here". (The story was written during the Lebanon War of 1982, when Israeli planes bombed the modern Tyre and caused heavy civilian casualties).
The aggressive mutants of Dromm in "Inside Straight", who totally subdued their own planet and embarked on interstellar conquest, had started as a persecuted minority. The Dromman character in the story - who is clearly the villain but is nevertheless depicted with considerable empathy - thinks of his people's history of having been the target of "whipped up xenophobia, pogroms and concentration camps", in one of which his own grandfather died. He also thinks of how angry his people were when an off-world philosopher told them: "Unjust treatment is apt to produce paranoia in the victim. Your race has outlived its oppressors, but not the reflexes they built into your society. Your canalised nervous system make you incapable of regarding anyone else as anything but a dangerous enemy".
"Fire Time" gives the detailed history of a prolonged escalating conflict on a planet colonized simultaneously by humans who call it Mundomar and the nonhuman Naqsans who call it Tseyakka: The historical film of the human leader Sigurdsson declaring the independent republic of Eleutheria in the midst of war is clearly reminiscent of Ben Gurion declaring Israel's independence in 1948; in a later war, the Eleutherians conquer the Naqsan continent of G'yaaru, rename it Sigurdssonia and establish settlements in it.
There is in this context a short reappearance of Gunnar Heim, the protagonist of "Star Fox". In the earlier book, Heim personally, as a privateer waging an undeclared war on the Aleriona, forced a reluctant Earth into an all-out war - which Heim felt was needed since the Aleriona were ideologically committed to the universal conquest of everybody else (apparently, in this context, the analogue of Communism - though the Aleriona do not resemble Communists in any particular detail). With regard to Mundomar/Tseyakka, however, the same Heim is the voice of moderation, calling for compromise and coexistence between the two warring parties and strongly condemning the uncritical support of Earth for the aggressive Eleutherians (which seems an analogue of US support of Israel).
In a related story, a group of isolated humans had been living for several generations on an alien planet, on extremely good terms with its non-human inhabitants and without the slightest conflict with them. Nevertheless, the captain of an arriving Earth ship forces them at gunpoint to leave the planet, stating: "Can you speak for your grandchildren and for their grandchildren, for generations which will grow more and more numerous and need more and more land? When my ancestors arrived in Palestine, they did not intend to despose the local Arabs and drive them into refugee camps - but in the end, that's what they did." (The captain's family name is "Ben Yehuda" - the name of the noted Zionist linguist Eliezer Ben Yehuda who had a major share in transforming Hebrew, a purely liturgical language for many centuries, into a spoken language again.)
This is a typical example of Anderson's frequent motif of a tragic conflict - a story with no villains at all, with all protagonists having the best of good intentions and still forced into bitter conflict.
In his numerous books and stories depicting conflict in science-fictional or fantasy settings, Anderson takes trouble to make both sides' points of view comprehensible. Even where there can be no doubt as to whose side the author is on, the antagonists are usually not depicted as villains but as honourable on their own terms. The reader is given access to their thoughts and feelings, and they have often a tragic dignity in defeat. Typical examples are The Winter of the World and The People of the Wind.
A common theme in Anderson's works, and one with obvious origins in the Northern European legends, is that doing the "right" (wisest) thing often involves performing actions that, at face value, seem dishonorable, illegal, destructive, or downright evil. The Man who Counts, Nicholas van Rijn is "The Man" because he is prepared to be tyrannical and callously manipulative so that he and his companions can survive. In "High Treason" the protagonist disobeys orders and betrays his subordinates to prevent a war crime that would bring severe retribution upon Humanity. In A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, Dominic Flandry first (effectively) lobotomizes his own son and then bombards the home planet of the Chereionite race in order to do his duty and prop up the Terran empire. These actions affect their characters in different ways, and dealing with the repercussions of having done the "right" (but unpleasant) thing is often the major focus of his short stories. The general lesson seems to be that guilt is the penalty for action.
In Star Fox, a relationship of grudging respect is built up between the hero, space privateer Gunnar Heim, and his enemy Cynbe — an exceptionally gifted member of the Alerione, trained from a young age to understand his species' human enemies to the point of being alienated from his own kind. In the final scene, Cynbe challenges Heim to a space battle which only one of them would survive. Heim accepts, whereupon Cynbe says, "I thank you, my brother."
Anderson set much of his work in the past, often with the addition of magic, or in alternate or future worlds that resemble past eras. A specialty was his ancestral Scandinavia, as in his novel versions of the legends of Hrólf Kraki (Hrolf Kraki's Saga) and Haddingus (The War of the Gods). Frequently he presented such worlds as superior to the dull, over-civilized present. Notable depictions of this superiority are the prehistoric world of "The Long Remembering", the quasi-medieval society of "No Truce with Kings", and the untamed Jupiter of "Call me Joe" and Three Worlds to Conquer. He handled the lure and power of atavism satirically in "Pact", critically in "The Queen of Air and Darkness" and The Night Face, and tragically in "Goat Song". His 1965 novel, The Corridors of Time, fluctuates between the European stone-age past and a repressive future.
In many stories, a representative of a technologically advanced society underestimates "primitives" and pays a high price for it. In The High Crusade, aliens who land in medieval England in the expectation of an easy conquest find that they are not immune to swords and arrows. In "The Only Game in Town", a Mongol warrior, while not knowing that the two "magicians" he meets are time travellers from the future, correctly guesses their intentions — and captures them with the help of the "magic" flashlight they had given him in an attempt to impress him. In another time-travel tale, The Shield of Time, a "time policeman" from the Twentieth Century, equipped with information and technologies from much further in the future, is outwitted by a medieval knight and barely escapes with his life. Yet another story, The Man Who Came Early, features a 20th-century United States Army soldier stationed in Iceland who is transported to the tenth century. Although he is full of ideas, his lack of practical knowledge of how to implement them and his total unfamiliarity with the technology of the period lead to his downfall.
Anderson wrote "Uncleftish Beholding" on the lore of our times with Germanic-rooted words only. Fitting his love for olden years, this kind of learned writing has been named after him as Ander-Saxon.
The story told in The Shield of Time is also an example of a tragic conflict, another common theme in Anderson's writing. The knight tries to do his best in terms of his own society and time, but his actions might bring about a horrible Twentieth Century (even more horrible than the one we know). Therefore, the Time Patrol protagonists, who like the young knight and wish him well (the female protagonist comes close to falling in love with him), have no choice but to fight and ultimately kill him.
In "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth" a time-travelling American anthropologist is assigned to study an ancient Gothic tribe and study its culture by regular visits every few decades. Gradually he is drawn into close involvement, feeling protective towards the Goths (many of them his own descendants, following a brief and poignant liaison with a Gothic girl who died in childbirth) - and they identify him as the god Odin/Wodan. Then he finds that he must cruelly betray his beloved Goths, since an ancient ballad says that Odin did so - and that failure to fulfill his prescribed role might change history and bring the whole of the Twentieth Century as we know it crashing down. In the final scene he cries out in anguish: "Not even the Gods can defy the Norns!" - giving a new twist to this central aspect of the Norse religion.
In "The Pirate", the hero is duty-bound to deny a band of people from societies blighted by poverty the chance for a new start on a new planet — because their settling the planet would eradicate the remnants of the artistic and articulate beings who lived there before. A similar theme but with much higher stakes appears in "Sister Planet": although terraforming Venus would provide new hope to starving people on the overcrowded Earth, it would exterminate Venus's just-discovered intelligent race — and the hero can avert genocide only by murdering his best friends.
In "Delenda Est" the stakes are the highest imaginable. Time-travelling outlaws have created a new 20th Century — "not better or worse, just completely different". The hero can fight the outlaws and restore his (and our) familiar history — but only at the price of totally destroying the world which has taken its place. "Risking your neck in order to negate a world full of people like yourself" is how the hero describes what he eventually undertakes.
Reissued by Baen as:
(by internal chronology):
(by internal chronology):
The shorter works in the series have been collected numerous times over the years, in Guardians of Time (1960, contains 1, 2, 4 and 5; expanded 1981 edition adds 3), Time Patrolman (1983, contains 6 and 7), Annals of the Time Patrol (1983, contains 1-7), The Time Patrol (1991, contains 1-9), and Time Patrol (2006, contains 1-9 and 11).
The Kith, a persecuted starfaring civilization, is featured in:
Philip K. Dick's story Waterspider features Poul Anderson as one of the main characters.