Book Review: Three Worlds to Conquer, Poul Anderson (1964)


4/5 (Good)

Poul Anderson’s science fiction adventure tale, Three Worlds to Conquer, is a remarkably exciting and engaging quick read.  Three Worlds is a “loose” sequel to Anderson’s short story, ‘Sam Hall’ published in the August 1953 edition of Astounding Science fiction.  Both cover some aspect of post-WWIII Earth.

The Jovian moon, Ganymede is an Earth mining colony settled by many political dissidents.  The main character, Mark Fraser, contacts and communicates with an unusual looking alien named Theor who inhabits with his kin a solid layer of Jupiter (with plants, domesticated animals, cities, trees, volcanoes, barbarians, and oceans of various chemicals!).

Poul’s description of the Nyarrans is particularly hilarious (how to confuse the reader with too many adjectives!).  The closest visual approximation I could come with is a six-legged centaur with antennae and gills!  The Nyarrans are also particularly interesting because they have three sexes (males, females, and demi-males — all three are needed to have young) however, Poul Anderson does not explore this dynamic in much detail.

The novel concerns, on Ganymede, the arrival of the USS Vega spaceship and its commander, who seek to utilize the natural resources of the moon and its inhabitants to construct nuclear weapons to put down a pro-Democracy rebellion on Earth and reinstall a new dictator President.  Mark Fraser leads an insurrection against the invasion.

Theor and his fellow Nyarrans, wage war against another group of invaders whose lands on Jupiter have been flooded.  Here, Poul Anderson spins a simplistic survival tale in the best pulp tradition complete with vivid descriptions of battles with spears and axes.  Theor treks across the surface(s) of Jupiter meeting other strange natives, gigantic beasts of various sorts, and even parachutes with large leaves!  Until the very end of the story the only connection with the two concurrent parts of the novel is Fraser’s communications with Theor, the Nyarr.

Anderson manages, in the end, to connect both stories nicely.  As is the case with much early sci-fi, the female characters are short changed.  Fraser’s wife literally only speaks from the shadows!  While Fraser and various other colonists are hiding in the border settlements the women (as a collective group) huddle with their children completely separately from the men!  The main female character is a little more interesting — and surprisingly, a chaste relationship is maintained!  However, Poul Anderson has Lorraine perpetuate his own sexist beliefs: “But I’m a woman, and untrained for the work, and…I never will.”

All in all, Three Worlds to Conquer is a delightful romp.  I enjoyed the descriptions of life on Jupiter (however, scientifically incorrect they might be) and I genuinely cared for many of the characters.  Obviously, in this day and age, a 142 page book hardly seems sufficient — I definitely wanted the story to continue.  However, despite its short length, Anderson manages to construct a well plotted novel with some vivid action, relatively engaging politics, and interesting characters (kind of).  Definitely a worthwhile read!

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Three Worlds to Conquer, Poul Anderson (1964)

  1. Argh, beat me to it again, friend! Just have 20 pages left on this beauty. Excellent early Anderson work but doesn’t really have that Golden Age “science fiction is fantastic but I know nothing about science” sort of cheesy feel to it. Depending how it ends, it’s teetering between 4 or 5 right now!

  2. The only big no no I found in the novel, besides the downright lame science and hilarious looking aliens, was the fact that “Fraser’s wife literally only speaks from the shadows!” But, ranting against the portrayal of women in 60s science fiction is a rather, well, genre encompassing (besides a few enlightened luminaries…)

  3. Goodness, I am really trying to enjoy this one, and I am a big fan of Anderson — sometimes. But God, what a slog. Do I really need two pages in place of “I sent a neutrino message, the only kind that could penetrate Jupiter’s hellish radiation belts and dense atmospheric layers”?

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