Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness - Part 1

NOTE: The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

It seems that NESFA Press is trying to educate me my genre of preference. No, it isn’t true that I haven’t read the classics. From Mary Shelley to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to the pulp era of Hugo Gernsbeck to John W. Capmbell, Jr., Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, A. E. van Vogt, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Ursula K. Le Guin, on to more recent figures, such as Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg, etc. I’m obviously missing a host of authors in this bunch, but such is the fate of any list of names like this. Yet, somehow NESFA Press has put up three books in a row that fit right into gaps in my genre education. First James Blish, then Roger Zelazny, and now Poul Anderson. Prior to this, I had a very brief introduction to Poul Anderson, in the form of a single short story and mention of him in I. Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s third volume of his autobiography. So, with the excitement generated from the previous two volumes of NESFA Press collections, I dove into this hefty tome, which I am breaking apart into three reviews, both to focus on the stories a bit more, and to let me get in more reviews for you.

The first third I’m looking at begins after an editor’s note and an introduction by Mike Resnick. The stories are as follows:

“The Queen of Air and Darkness”: Likely the most famous story of the bunch in this section, it was also the one I liked least. Go figure. After a slow start, this story of a world seemingly populated by creatures from fairy tales picks up a bit, finally reaching a satisfying conclusion. Not bad, but not my favorite.

“Industrial Revolution”: A wonderful story of a moment in time that led to a war between Earth and the citizens of the asteroids. Exciting, intriguing, and fast-paced, this one was a lot of fun.

“Operation Afreet”: Absolutely wonderful. In a modern world with magic bound by the laws of physics and an army of mythical, mystical creatures, a werewolf and a witch set out on a secret mission to stop the linchpin of an Islamic terrorist army’s plans. A great combination of magic as rationalized by physics, this story was engaging, with very fun characters.

“The Longest Voyage”: Another of the more famous stories here, and another that I didn’t love. Fast paced, with an interesting premise, this story of sailors and island natives who discover a messiah from the sky had a conclusion that I found imminently predictable. It reminded me of a Ray Bradbury story, “The Flying Machine” I think is the title, where a man discovers a wondrous new technology to a rather odd reaction from his emperor. Perhaps this one suffers from being immolated too often in the genre, but regardless, it was good, but predictable.

“Brave to Be a King”: Part of Anderson’s Time Patrol series, this story of a man trapped in the Iran of 2500 years ago was very fun and fast paced. This is one to keep you entertained, with a thoroughly explored plot and entertaining characters.

The section also contains one essay:

“Science Fiction and Science: On Imaginary Science”: An interesting look at how stories have used science, stretched science, and warped science, in the name of science fiction.

Also included are a number of poems: “Jennifer’s Lament,” “Cradle Song,” “Upon the Occasion of Being Asked at a Court of Love to Declare That About His Lady Which Pleases Him the Most,” “Midsummer Song,” and “Christa McAuliffe.” Anderson’s work in verse is quite well done.

At the end of this segment of The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness, I’m having a lot of fun with this volume. The first story left me a little unsure, but the stories that came after were a lot of fun. I look forward to diving back into this one, and reading the second third, which has a number of stories that look appealing. So far, so good!

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