Monday, April 12, 2010

Two Worlds of Poul Anderson

TWO WORLDS OF POUL ANDERSON is a recent chapbook published by World Science Fiction Classics. It reprints a novella, “Industrial Revolution” from the September 1963 issue of ANALOG, and the short story “Duel on Syrtis” from the March 1951 issue of the great pulp PLANET STORIES. I hadn’t read either of these stories before.

“Industrial Revolution” is in many ways a typical ANALOG story from the Sixties. The heroes are engineers and entrepreneurs who have set up a mining operation in the Asteroid Belt, only to run afoul of political tensions back on Earth that affect them even as far out in space as they are. The situation on Earth is actually rather prescient, given events of the past few years, but it’s basically just a backdrop for a scientific problem story. Nothing wrong with that, of course. I like scientific problem yarns of the sort that ANALOG has been publishing for the past seventy or eighty years. (Of course, it was still a pulp called ASTOUNDING for some of those years.) “Industrial Revolution” maybe doesn’t rise to the level of a classic, but it’s pretty entertaining.

“Duel on Syrtis”, though, is a real gem. It’s a tough, hardboiled, and very suspenseful story about a rich guy from Earth hunting a Martian “owlie”, a member of the sentient Martian race that resembles a humanoid version of a Terran owl. That’s not a particularly ground-breaking plot, but in Anderson’s hands the story really draws the reader in. It didn’t take me long to realize that this is a Western transplanted to Mars, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. We have a Terran stalking a Martian instead of, say, a lone cavalry scout trying to track down an Apache renegade, but the tension and grittiness are very similar. Of course, since this is an SF story, science does play a part in the very effective final twist. Anderson paints both characters in shades of gray, rather than black and white, and there’s a lot of poignancy on both sides. This is really good stuff, and if the publisher wants to call it a classic story, well, I won’t argue.

Overall, TWO WORLDS OF POUL ANDERSON is well worth reading if you’re a science fiction fan, and it won’t set you back much. Highly recommended.


George said...

I'm a big Poul Anderson fan, James, so of course this is a must-buy. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

David Cranmer said...

This is something I will enjoy but may wait on picking it up for awhile.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oh, I'll have to get this one. I've always loved Anderson, especially his fantasy.

Richard R. said...

Randy Johnson review this on March 30. As I said there, Love Poul Anderson, love these.

“Industrial Revolution” (not illustrated) is also to be found in the excellent The Queen of Air and Darkness: Volume 2 of the Short Fiction of Poul Anderson, published by NESFA Press. I do not know if NESFA is planning a third volume, but if so it will presumably contain Duel on Syrtis.

Richard Prosch said...

This sounds terrific. I love Anderson's Time Patrol stories and his THERE WILL BE TIME is one of my all-time favorites. Thanks for the tip.

Todd Mason said...

I read "Duel" in one of the issues of later, greater PLANET STORIES of the early ' is indeed fine. Anderson in ASTOUNDING at that time not Vastly different. Ten years later, less beginner's charm...but certainly mastery.