Book Review: Orbit Unlimited, Poul Anderson (1961)

3/5 (Average)

Poul Anderson’s Orbit Unlimited is comprised of four short stories linked together chronologically and occasionally by recurrent characters.  This structure is essentially a loose-form novel.

The first section describes the persecuted Constitutionalists (think Libertarians). There is actually an interesting twist to this section however it feels very abrupt and hasty and leaves the reader at a loss (why didn’t the father reconcile with the son?).

The next section is from the perspective of the fleet captain (leading the colonization fleet) nearing the point of no return (i.e. if they are to head back to earth they need to or else it would take equally as long getting back as if they arrived at the destination and turned around – or something like that). This is the most interesting section since Anderson explores some themes that crop up in his later novels relating the culture the spacemen.  Of course, he is not forward thinking enough to have women in the space crews and thus depicts the spacemen as sexist (the captain constantly worries that the women will be raped and even keeps them veiled).  Anderson also explores the concept of time dilation etc. The “Most Dangerous Voyage of All Time” blurb on he front cover is essentially wishful thinking.

The last two short stories describe the actually time on the planet. The planet is rather surprisingly quite interesting so I won’t give away its secrets since there isn’t much else of to hold your attention in terms of plot/tension/culture/characters.

My main gripe is that Poul Anderson’s characters are quite sexist. Women are veiled on the spaceships. On the planet the mothers are always too scared to do anything yet alone think coherently (even the most “developed” of the few female characters). Poul Anderson raises some interesting ideas. The colonists divide into small family units and when they settle the mayor of the colony seeks to rectify this situation since this fervent individualism would spell disaster for the colony in the future.

If you enjoy Poul Anderson then Orbit Unlimited is worth your time.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Orbit Unlimited, Poul Anderson (1961)

  1. Hello, Joachim!

    I was put off at first by the strange sexism, but I think there was a larger goal in the portrayal of women in the story.

    On giving the stories a second read (when they were compiled into book form), I found I appreciated them much more. You might enjoy my thoughts here.

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