Poul Anderson’s third novel contains a few glimmers of his later slick storytelling but lacks developed ideas and convincing characters. This is not entirely Anderson’s fault, as he points out in the introduction to a later edition, because the original manuscript was heavily edited without his knowledge in order to achieve a specific page limit. The end product (tampering and all) is rather dull and forgettable.
Brief Plot Summary
The Nomads are a group of individualistic star traders who are loyal primarily to their ships instead of a planet or empire. The members of each ship are considered gigantic extended families — the social order reflects this, for example marriage is prohibited within the “family.” These tentative social postulations about a solely spacefaring people are fascinating but underdeveloped.
One of the main characters, Trevelyan is a Cordy — a Union law enforcement/investigative officer. The Union is a massive interstellar organization of planets at heads with the Nomads who refuse to settle on a planet.
Joachim, a captain of a Nomad ship, sets off on an expedition to an area of space where all indications indicate that powerful civilization exists that potentially could threaten the Nomads and the Union.
Trevelyan, an instrument of the Union, sets off for the same reason and meets up with Joachim and his Nomads. The third main character Sean is a young Nomad who against the taboos of his culture has fallen in love with Ilaloa, a native from the planet Rendezvous.
The actual encounter with the alien species is out of the ordinary. Instead of a militaristic all-powerful society they find something quite different, and alluring.
The final plot twist changes up the traditional pulp formula and makes the work a little less cheesy.
Poul Anderson’s Star Ways is a fun/lighthearted read that often feels like a juvenile — apparently the edits, done without Anderson’s knowledge, cut out some of the more adult sections. If only Anderson developed the social issues a little further this would rise above the simplistic, tensionless, weak adventure tale it devolves into. The dialogue (and contrasting viewpoints) between Trevelyan and the various Nomads could also have been explored further.
Despite the Nomad’s paternalistic society Anderson does have a strong female character in Nicki, who bucks the trends of Nomad society — thankfully, her actions are portrayed as positive In short, Anderson is willing integrate flaws into the societies he creates. The society we root for is rarely a “monolithic embodiment of goodness.” Likewise, the species the Nomads encounter is not the “monolithic embodiment of evil.”
Worthwhile for Poul Anderson completests and collectors of Ace Doubles. Other science fiction fans are likely to be disappointed.