Poul Anderson

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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Poul Anderson (1926 - 2001) was one of the Golden Age greats. He was a prolific writer, and based on the fact the few novels and stories I've read are from various stages of his career, he was probably pretty consistent too. He was equally adept at hard sf, fantasy and a blend of the two. Standout works include Brainwave, Tau Zero and the Ensign Flandry series.

Anderson was a writer who, well into the 90s, could write SF the 'way it used to be' - the broad canvas, the interstellar adventure, the romance of space, and most of all that 'sense of wonder' - but still make it relevant, up-to-date and original.

Here's a bibliography: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/authors/Poul_Anderson.htm

And an interview: http://www.locusmag.com/1997/Issues/04/Anderson.html
 

AE35Unit

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Wow can't believe there's been no replies to this thread,started 4 years ago! I've not read Mr Anderson yet,i don't think anyway,but i have Brainwave on my shelf. No other fans on here?
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Apparently there wasn't much interest four years ago, and older threads tend to disappear so that new members have to do a lot of digging to find them. Since then there's actually been some discussion of his work scattered around between different threads. The Broken Sword comes up a lot when people are talking about fantasy classics.

He wrote so many books, it is rather surprising there haven't been more threads devoted to his work.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Well, throw out some ideas on Anderson's work for people to discuss in this thread, and see where they lead.
 

j d worthington

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Poul was also rather versatile, having written historical novels, children's books, books of verse, translations from the Icelandic eddas, some straight science (iirc), books on how to write sf, and even, I believe, a few mysteries (though I'm going on a vague memory with this last).

As for possible starting points... why not one discussing Anderson's fantasy, and one looking at his harder sf. Or his place in the Campbellian SF spectrum. Or (especially since the novel has been mentioned here as well as elsewhere) taking up a novel such as Brainwave?
 

yngvi

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I loved Poul Anderson as a teenager. I read 'Shield' very early and thought it was great, also Tau Zero. I remember 'The Dancer from Atlantis' as very accomplished and involving and also enjoyed 'Ensign Flandry', 'Flandry of Terra' etc.

I read 'The Broken Sword' and have read a lot about it but I thought it a bit cold and much preferred 'Three Hearts and Three Lions' but this seems to be a bit overlooked. Does anyone agree? (or otherwise)
 

Omphalos

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I really don't like Poul Anderson. I think the best book he ever wrote, Tau Zero, had some serious flaws. Granted, most of them are personal judgments on my part and not critical reasons, but I dont like 90% of what I have read. Here are some reviews of mine of his work that I managed to put up. I did not review any of the other stuff because I thought it stunk so badly.

Omphalos' Book Reviews: Search Books
 

Teresa Edgerton

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To me, Three Hearts and Three Lions was just an entertaining book. The Broken Sword is a much more serious and passionate story, but the passions tend to be a bit ... inhuman ... which I suppose could come off as cold.
 

yngvi

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I'm not sure that I know what you mean by passionate in relation to The Broken Sword, but I guess that my taste just runs to stuff a bit lighter (I like fantasy like The Dragon and the George and A Spell for Chameleon with a bit of humour and romance in it. But 'Chacun a son gout' as they say.
 

Connavar

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I have a PA novella about some Knight in my collection of fantasy novellas by masters.

I read the first page of Tau Zero in the library before, it was funny that i knew of his Swedish heritage and the first line in the book was a place with a swedish name hehe.
 

j d worthington

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I'm not sure that I know what you mean by passionate in relation to The Broken Sword, but I guess that my taste just runs to stuff a bit lighter (I like fantasy like The Dragon and the George and A Spell for Chameleon with a bit of humour and romance in it. But 'Chacun a son gout' as they say.
I'd say that has a lot to do with it. A great deal of Poul's work tends to be rather grim, when you get down to it. Even that which is comparatively "lighter" generally has some rather stark passages. (There are exceptions, but that's just it: they are exceptions, rather than the rule.) The Broken Sword is, I'd argue, an extremely powerful and passionate novel (not surprisingly -- it was his first, and very much, from what I understand, a "labor of love", to use a trite phrase), but it deals with a very grim subject, and a very grim time, and there is little of joy or happiness in that book. It's about as stark as such a thing can get -- but, I would argue, all the stronger for being an honest book about such things, not pulling any punches, and delving deep into the heartmeat of human emotion.

Such said, obviously I disagree with your assessment, Omphalos. While Anderson as a whole is not among my favorite writers, several of his books I would argue are anything but poorly done; they are tightly written while often maintaining a certain poetic surge to the language (especially in some of his fantasies or his sf that shows the influence of his heritage), both deeply rational and deeply emotional; and provide a powerful example of what one can do with traditional tropes when used by an original imagination. I'd still say that Brainwave, for example, remains a very strong book more than half a century since its first publication....
 

Teresa Edgerton

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delving deep into the heartmeat of human emotion
I don't think I can agree with that. Few of the characters are human, most of those are minor players, and the one we are allowed to know best has not been schooled in human values and emotions.

To me, most of the characters sweep through the story like elemental forces -- their emotions too huge, too obsessive, a mere human couldn't contain them. When the changeling Valgard discovers his true nature, it's not enough for him to strike out against those who have wronged him. He needs to steep himself in villainy, he needs to go far beyond mere human wickedness, to do deeds that might make the world shudder -- if the world of the story were not so utterly pitiless.

Although we can never truly recreate a primitive world view, I think Anderson gives us glimpses into ancient terrors, the subjective reality of an existence where men feel always at the mercy of forces and intelligences beyond human comprehension. The terrible becomes beautiful and the beautiful becomes terrible.

When I read this book I feel immersed in dreams and nightmares -- the things that make you wake up with your heart pounding and your stomach tied up in a thousand knots, and you search your mind for an emotional context for these physical sensations, and it isn't there. Something has touched you on an instinctive level.
 
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j d worthington

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I don't think I can agree with that. Few of the characters are human, most of those are unimportant, and the one we are allowed to know best has not been schooled in human values and emotions.

To me, most of the characters sweep through the story like elemental forces -- their emotions too huge, too obsessive, a mere human couldn't contain them. When the changeling Valgard discovers his true nature, it's not enough for him to strike out against those who have wronged him. He needs to steep himself in villainy, he needs to go far beyond mere human wickedness, to do deeds that might make the world shudder -- if the world of the story were not so utterly pitiless.

Although we can never truly recreate a primitive world view, I think Anderson gives us glimpses into ancient terrors, the subjective reality of an existence where men feel always at the mercy of forces and intelligences beyond human comprehension. But it's more instinctual than emotional.
I don't wish to get off on too much of a sidetrack here, and perhaps we're talking at cross-purposes; but I'd argue that this is the heartmeat of emotion -- the more contemplative and complex states are more an overlay on those primal emotions which power us at our deepest level, and I'd say (in The Broken Sword, at least) that this is exactly what Anderson is displaying through his characters, pitting them against a background of an often brutal physical environment and alien characters (the elves, the trolls, etc.) which serve as both characters and symbols for the unhuman natural environment. Couple this with his capturing of several aspects of the northern faiths of the time (at least, as depicted in such things as the eddas, which certainly seem to have been informed by the emotional views of the people of that period), and I'd argue that he is dealing with the deepest-rooted emotions we have....
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Oops, sorry, I was editing my post while you were writing yours. I didn't mean to push you into the trap of appearing to quote what was never said.

But having explained that, I think emotions and instincts are two vastly different things.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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I really don't like Poul Anderson. I think the best book he ever wrote, Tau Zero, had some serious flaws. Granted, most of them are personal judgments on my part and not critical reasons, but I dont like 90% of what I have read. Here are some reviews of mine of his work that I managed to put up. I did not review any of the other stuff because I thought it stunk so badly.

Omphalos' Book Reviews: Search Books
Omphalos: Are you saying that you review every book you read just in case.

Wish I'd done that. Still, no time like the present although of course it may be a waste of time now given the short...
 

j d worthington

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Teresa... I would agree, I think, to a point. But I'd say, based on the evidence, that the two are closely related in many ways as well.

As for Valgard... He seems much like several characters I recall running into whilst reading the eddas and several of the Icelandic sagas. There were any number of those who might well have taken exactly the path he did; and one can understand it, I think, if one realizes that what he has lost is quite literally everything which ties him to being human. He no longer (in the terms of the time and, I would argue, for many even today) even has his identity -- his self, so to speak. It's one thing to react so violently when all you hold dear (in however perverted a sense, given Valgard's character overall) as a human being is threatened; but quite another when all of that is destroyed in front of you -- not physically destroyed (or at least, not necessarily so), but destroyed where it matters most: in one's own mind. To all intents and purposes, this is what has happened with him, and he reacts in both grief and rage, destroying the final vestiges of that himself: his own humanity.
 

easygoingman

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Well I can only comment on the single novel I have read by Poul Anderson so far (The Broken Sword) which I think is a 10/10 novel, brilliantly told, exciting, sad, epic and highly moving. I've ordered two more novels by him and am waiting for them. The Broken Sword was for me in the same category as Elric, Robert Howard's Conan stories and Lankhmar etc as a perfect literary fantasy story
 
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