While I’ve never considered Poul Anderson one of my absolute favorite science fiction authors, I realized the other day that I’ve been reading his books off and on for more than forty years, starting with his Flandry series back in the mid-Sixties. I don’t recall ever reading a book of his that I didn’t like, either.
THREE WORLDS TO CONQUER is a non-series novel from 1964 that I’d never read before. It’s set in the Jovian system, on Jupiter itself and on the moon Ganymede, where there’s a mining colony from Earth. Humanity doesn’t have interstellar space travel yet, but there are colonies scattered throughout the solar system. Somewhat to the surprise of the colonists, they’ve made radio contact with a fairly primitive, centaur-like species native to Jupiter’s surface. One of these beings is smart enough to have mastered the radio on one of the scientific instruments sent down to the planet’s surface from Ganymede, and a friendship has sprung up between him and one of the scientists at the mining colony on the moon.
Then things go to hell for both of them. Civil war breaks out back on Earth, and a warship with a captain that’s still loyal to the losing side shows up on Ganymede, where most of the colonists backed the winners. The spaceship captain takes over the moon and plans to use it as a base to launch a counter-revolution. Down on Jupiter, a horde of barbarians have invaded the country of the native being who’s in contact with the mining colony. It’s no surprise that these two storylines intersect, and the two friends from different species wind up helping each other out.
Anderson makes it believable that sentient beings could live on Jupiter’s surface, and those chapters of the book are my favorites because they read almost like a sword-and-planet yarn, what with all the barbarians and fighting with swords and axes and such. Anderson handles all that very well. The political intrigue in the scenes set on Ganymede aren’t as compelling, but at least Anderson keeps the pace moving along swiftly and the reader can’t help but wonder how he’s going to tie everything together . . . which he does, quite neatly.
THREE WORLDS TO CONQUER is a prime example of the sort of adventure science fiction I grew up reading. If you haven’t tried Poul Anderson’s work before, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. If you’ve read and enjoyed Anderson’s novels but not this one, it’s worth seeking out. Plus it has a decent Jack Gaughan cover.