Book Review: Time and Stars, Poul Anderson (1964)

TMNDSTRSQZ1965

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1965 edition)

3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)

Time and Stars (1964) is a wonderful collection of short works by one of the greats, Poul Anderson.  Anderson is best known for hard science fiction novels such as Tau Zero (1970) as well as fast paced pulp adventures exemplified by his Dominic Flandry (à la James Bond in space) sequence which he started in the 50s.

Only one of the six shorts in the collection was subpar — ‘Escape from Orbit’ (1962) — which did not rise above the traditional we need to rescue some stranded astronauts plot.  All the others — for example, Hugo winning novella and well-told tale of a balkanized American Pacific coast ‘No Truce of Kings’ (1963), the fantastic evolved mechanical life forms in ‘Epilogue’ (1962), and the wit of ‘The Critique of Impure Reason’ (1962) — make the collection worthwhile for fans of classic science fiction (and obviously, fans of Poul Anderson).  The novella ‘Epilogue’ is the best of Anderson’s works I’ve read so far.

Here’s a list of ones I’ve reviewed: The Enemy Stars (1958), The Horn of Time (1968), Orbit Unlimited (1961), The People of the Wind (1973), The Rebel Worlds (1969), Shield (1965), Star Ways (1956), Three Worlds to Conquer (1964), Vault of the Ages (1952).

‘No Truce with Kings’ (1963) 4/5 (Good) Winner of the 1964 Hugo Award for best novella.  In a future post-apocalyptical/balkanized American Pacific coast, rival factions vie for power with the decaying central government.  An alien presence seeks to “correct” Earth’s decay by introducing various centralizing forces — however, those with more Libertarian leanings gain sway.  The story is more complicated than simply a Libertarian dream of the future — it’s a future where technology is increasingly seen as magical.

‘Turning Point’ (1963) 3.5/5 (Good):  One of the lesser stories in the collection but intriguing nevertheless.  A group of explorer — including traders + researchers — encounter a seemingly primitive people.  However, Anderson inverts the normal paradigm.  Instead of the explorers having to decode the local language via computers or learning it themselves, the “primitives” learn English with remarkable alacrity.  Whenever the explorers venture into a new area the locals have already developed extensive  knowledge of their language a near instantaneous ability to learn….

‘Escape from Orbit’ (1962) 3/5 (Average):  Feels straight out of the most banal works of the fifties.  A group of astronauts are stranded in space.  An ingenious plan involving a satellite allows them to land on the surface of the moon near a human station.  It’s predictable, lacks any emotional involvement, provoking social ruminations, or fun plot twists.  Although readable, it’s best avoided.

‘Epilogue’ (1962) 4.75/5 (Very Good)  Easily the best work in the collection.  A group of humans return to Earth three million years after a total war has knocked out all of mankind.  I suspect the amount of time is due to the time dilation — it’s rather unclear how that much time has passed….  However, on the surface of the planet mankind has not re-evolved.  Rather, mankind’s automated machines — some of which were left behind harvesting minerals from the deep seas — have evolved into sentient life.  Told from both the explorers and the machine’s prospective.  Both, although so different eternally from each other, have remarkably similar concerns.  A fantastic read with some gorgeously powerful moments…

‘The Critique of Impure Reason’ (1962) 4.25/5 (Good): The funniest story in the collection.  A sentient robot designed to work harvesting minerals from Mercury has other ideas after the inventor’s girlfriend shows him her literary quarterly before his indoctrination period is over.  As a result the robot only wants to read and ruminate about human suffering. Because the robot is legally a human its creator cannot force it to perform drudge labor.  The story becomes a discussion of the values of pulp science fiction as the engineer inventer — in a future empty of most literary production — turns his pen to constructing a science fiction narrative that will convince the robot work in the mines on Mercury.  One of the earlier works I’ve discovered that levels a critique of the genre…  But, it’s somewhat difficult uncovering whether Anderson disagrees with the narrow-minded and naive values of pulp sci-fi.

‘Eve Times Four’ (1960) 3.75/5 (Good):  Despite the awful cover summary of the story (and the title) that suggests a much more juvenile endeavor, ‘Eve Times Four’ proves to be surprisingly unexpected read.  I would hazard a guess that Joanna Russ read and was inspired by ‘Eve Times Four’ before she wrote the very similar — if somewhat more “feminist” —  masterpiece We Who Are About To… (1976).  An astronaut conspires to strand himself and multiple attractive women on a habitable planet.  However, along with a French woman, and an attractive mathematics student (the main character), and another more dotty woman, two alien men “accidentally” come along as well.  The astronaut’s plan is sinister….  But the women fight back and discover the extent of the deception.

TMNDSTRSPT1970

(Uncredited cover for the 1970 edition)

TMNDSTRSQM1978

(Rich Sternbach’s (?) cover for the 1978 edition)

TMNDSTRSNV1975

(David A. Hardy’s cover for the 1975 edition)

TMNDSTRSNJ1966

(Uncredited cover for the 1966 edition)

TMNDSTRSMZ1970

(Jack Faragasso’s cover for the 197o edition)

TMNDSTRSLK1975(Uncredited cover for the 1975 edition)

TMNDSTRS1964(Thomas Chibbaro’s cover for the 1964 edition)

For more book reviews consult the INDEX

16 Replies to “Book Review: Time and Stars, Poul Anderson (1964)”

  1. Poul was one of those big-name writers who maintained a very high standard of work throughout his career, I’ve always enjoyed reading his books. His “Hard Fantasy” novel “Operation Chaos” is one of my all-time favorites.

  2. The High Crusade and Tau Zero are both great! His short fiction was really good, too. I read his short story “The Pugilist” in one of Joe Haldeman’s anthologies and it’s haunted me for years.

      1. It was set in a totalitarian, Soviet-controlled America where the protagonist is extorted into an assassination mission by the state. It’s an interesting (if depressing) view of what we’re willing to do morally under extreme pressure, and the costs of our choices.

  3. His 1957 novella “Call Me Joe” is interesting – about a man without the use of his legs who telepathically operates a blue-skinned alien body on a hostile planet, begins to appreciate the freedom his new body offers him, and begins to go native. Someone should make a movie from that idea!

  4. Great article Joachim, you’ve piqued my interest sufficiently to head over to eBay and pick up a copy of the ’66 Panther reprint complete with psychedelic cover art. Loving the rest of blog too by the way.

  5. Ah, so I’m not the only one who feels compelled to find copies of these books. The one I just received would be about the sixth or seventh book I’ve purchased after reading your review of it. (And of course I try to find first printings when I can — some of these vintage covers are excellent.)

    1. I’m glad I’m compelling…. haha. I have to admit I’m not a collector — if I’m presented with two editions I do pick the nicer cover…. But generally don’t go out of my way to find first editions unless they are similar in cost.

  6. I must have got off to a bad start with Poul, because I read three of his books and didn’t like any of them:

    Vault of the Ages (so-so YA post-apocalyptic coming of age)

    Twilight World (fix-up book of weakly characterized super-mutants)

    The Winter of the World (neo-barbarian fantasy where women breast-feed grown men).

    Have you read any of these? I suspect now that I made some unlucky choices, and will have to try again… Time and Stars sounds like a good place to start.

    1. I’ve read Vault of the Ages and thought it was an average juvenile — it’s also one of his first novels… I’ve not read the second two. Time and Stars had some nice stories…. But definitely on the pulp end…

      I’ve reviewed quite a few of his novels — People of the Wind is perhaps the best I’ve read. None have blown me away but none were egregious….

  7. “Epilogue…A group of humans return to Earth three million years after a total war has knocked out all of mankind. I suspect the amount of time is due to the time dilation — it’s rather unclear how that much time has passed….”

    Actually, the story is VERY clear. And its not a “mere” three million years but three BILLION years! (See Chapter 2, about a page in (p109 of the Panther Sci-fi paperback): “In three billion years such things became noticeable even on the cosmic scale.”)

    That said, I agree with your assessment. “Epilogue” and “No Truce with Kings” are both terrific.

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