Book Review: The People of the Wind, Poul Anderson (1973)

People of the Wind - Poul Anderson by Cadwalader Ringgold.

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Notable Awards: Hugo and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1974 Nebula Award nominee, 1973

Poul Anderson’s delightful space opera chronicles the struggle between the growing Terran Empire and the Ythrian Domain (inhabited by birdlike beings).  The main action occurs on the planet Avalon, a colony of Ythri but settled by BOTH humans and Ythrians who have managed to create a multicultural society.

However, unlike other sci-fi writers who portray societies of aliens and humans as perfectly cordial (David Brin’s completely hokey Utopian society on the planet Jijo in Brightness Reef comes to mind) Poul Anderson excels at illustrating the problems that each race has with the other (and even within each race — no monumentally homogeneous societies here).  The fact that problems exist yet the society can maintain itself and grow stronger is by far the most interesting theme of the work.

For example, both Ythrians and humans have segments of their society (mostly young adults) who decide to “join” the other race — for humans, they “go bird.”  They done antigrav belts so they can flit around with the Ythri.  Even more appealing to some humans, is the decentralized society Ythrians have to offer — they create small choths with separate customs.  This decentralized facet is also realized in the entire Ythrian domain — Avalon was settled by humans because it’s semi-independent from the greater state.

The Terran Empire wants to annex Avalon.  So, Poul Anderson presents us with a series of moral questions — what are the humans who have settled on the planet supposed to do?  How are the humans, when they decide to fight the Empire, supposed to adapt Ythrian society to face the threat?  And, vice versa, when human tactics and mentalities fail, how do the Ythrians respond?

It is this dialogue between races where our main characters emerge — Tabitha, a human gone bird; Christopher Holm, another human whose gone bird; Eyath, Christopher’s “galemate sister”, a Ythrian female in the same choth; David Holm, Christopher’s father and defacto leader of the human population.  Poul Anderson introduces a virtual host of other secondary character to give the Terran Domain a face.  There’s no black vs. white, good vs. evil here!

The Ythrians are quite an interesting species with some series flaws — they still maintain slavery, some practice rape of females during their “love periods”, look down various segments of society (for example female Ythrians who are constantly undergoing “love periods”), and are adversely afflicted by various human traditions.

Despite the simplistic plot — large Terran Empire wants to annex small colony — Poul Anderson creates enough interesting characters whom we care about and such a complex dialogue (cultural/social) between the two races to really lift this book above the standard space opera of the day.  However, a turgid middle section describing various love triangles and betrayals is rather silly and the battle sequences verge on dull.  However, the last act is top notch (if somewhat rushed).   All in all, The People of the Wind fully deserved its Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award nominations.

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9 Replies to “Book Review: The People of the Wind, Poul Anderson (1973)”

  1. Anderson is usually pretty good at presenting both sides of a conflict, I’ve noticed, and creating memorable characters with flaws and strengths.
    “Name That Cover Artist:” Hmmm, P. Craig Russell, maybe?

  2. Mine is a short story, whose name I’ve long forgotten. It’s about a society with legalized murder. I read it years ago in one of his collections and I till remember it fondly.

  3. Late to the party, eh? I was looking for a summary of PEOPLE OF THE WIND (which I read long ago with enjoyment, but had largely forgotten) … this is an excellent review.

    For Scotoma, I think the story you are thinking of may be “A Man to My Wounding” (aka “State of Assassination”).

    1. When I originally wrote the review — years ago — isfdb was a shadow of its current glory. But, I have not gone back and looked for the cover artists for some of my earliest reviews when I was unsure….

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