Book Review: Homeward and Beyond, Poul Anderson (1975)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1976 edition)

2.5/5 (Collated rating: Bad)

Homeward and Beyond (1975) is comprised of four novelettes, four short stories, and one novella.   According to an article I read recently on the Wall Street Journal, Poul Anderson was one of only five authors in the 50s that made enough writing SF without needing a day job—and he was the only one who made a “good living” (he made more money than Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc).  This incredible production did not always yield quality.  Homeward and Beyond is by far one of the poorer Anderson collections I’ve encountered—on the level of  The Horn of Time (1968) and nowhere close to Time and Stars (1964)—despite the presence of his Hugo/Nebula-winning novelette “Goat Song” (1972).

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis (*some spoilers*)

“Wings of Victory” [Technic History] (1972) 2/5 (Bad) serves as the first contact story between human explorers and the winged Ythri.  Their society is explored at more length in the superior The People of the Wind (1973), published a year later in the same Technic History sequence.  The short story smacks of dull filler, a sort of introductory chapter to the later novel.  Simplistic “crew arrives on alien world with intriguing aliens” is a time-honored trope that yields more often than not intriguing SF.  In this case it’s all too uninspired and bland…

A tired and depleted survey team arrive on a planet with air perfectly breathable for humans.  Unlike the more complex Prime Directive of Star Trek, in this future the Galactic Survey has only “one law, which was its proud motto: ‘We come as friends.’ Otherwise each crew was free to work out its own procedures” (3).  The women members of the team are given the guns because “they were better than men at watching and waiting, less likely to open fire” (4).  The crew assume that the planet is inhabited by a primitive race as there seem to be few buildings.  They soon discover that the buildings are simply sheds for domesticated animals.  And the intelligent inhabitants take to the skies (against all current human understanding of who can become sentient).

“The Long Remembering” (1957) 1/5 (Bad): A poor graduate student in Chemistry agrees to be the guinea pig (in exchange for money) in a controversial experiment that tests the viability of “temporal pyscho-displacement” (25)—which is just as hokey as it sounds.  But it gets even worse when he is “displaced” into pre-historical era, as “Argnach-eskaladuan-torkluk” (26), of the showdown between the Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens.  Our hero Chemistry grad student cum Argnach-eskaladuan-torkluk of course is willing to risk all to get Evavy-unaroa, a Neanderthal woman.  Horrid.

“Peek! I see You!” (1968) 2/5 (Bad):  A comedic/lighthearted story about Sean F. X. Lindquist’s encounter with a UFO and the hilarity (not really) that ensues.  The story shifts perspective to a variety of weird aliens on board, caught up in some vast bureaucratic machine, who think of Earth as little more than dirt ball and have all the concerns that humans have about taxes, overtime, etc.  They resist making contact with the primitive planet Earth as all the technological assistance would cause the taxes of other inhabited less primitive worlds in the sector to go up.  The big reveal is humorous–the aliens have been in contact with a group of people for quite a long time who refrained from informing mainstream American society.

“Murphy’s Hall” with Karen Anderson (1975) 3/5 (Average): Poul Anderson’s (co-written with his wife) attempt at a literary story that tackles unsettling themes falls short.  There are some intriguing elements that tie together a series of fragmented paragraphs: an afterlife which seems to be for astronauts alone intermixed with short dystopic visions of Earth often with characters pinning for a new start on a new world that was not meant to be.  Each astronaut story ends with the mission going wrong: for example, the first black astronaut on the Moseley Expedition One get trapped in a crater with teeth.

It is tempting to read the story as a stab (or an engagement with), at least in parts, at the SF of Barry N. Malzberg who argues that space travel is simply a manifestation of man’s increasing delusions of grandeur in a technological driven world.  An omniscient narrator (the author) proclaims cryptically: “This is a lie, but I wish so much it were not” (74).  Although intriguing the final product is laborious.  Deserves a reread before I can reach a final opinion.

“The Pirate” [Psychotechnic League] (1968) 3.5/5 (Good):  One of the better stories in the collection that oozes a certain moody quality despite the rather, on the surface, simple theme and plot.  The narrator tells the story of Trevelyan Micah, Murdock Juan, Smokesmith, red Faustina and the rest… First, there is the Pact, a way of life, a way of engaging with new life that governs (or at least those on Earth attempt to maintain) mankind’s far flung inhabited planets.  Humans raised on these distant worlds resist Earth’s officials and their attempt to regulate behavior: the wise older generation trample on the exuberance (often dangerous) of the young.

Trevelyan is sent to investigate with Smokesmith, his alien shipmate and fellow agent, to investigate a world soon to be settled/exploited by Murdock Jian and Red Faustina.  Shadowing Murdoch’s vessel, Trevelyan learns that a supernova wiped out the civilization on the planet below.  The planet, now uninhabited, lies in ruins.  The Pact wants to study the world and the effects of the supernova while Murdoch and his crew want to exploit it.

“Goat Song” (1972) 4/5 (Good):  In 1973 “Goat Song” went up against Ellison, Wilhelm, and Tiptree, Jr. et al and somehow managed to nab the Hugo and Nebula award in the novelette category.  Although it is easily the best entry in the collection I doubt it measures up to the works of the three mentioned above (I shall endeavor to track their stories down!).  The mythical content is well done although the poetry, lifted from Rupert brooke’s “Lines Written in the Belief That the Ancient Roman Festival of the Dead Was Called Ambarvalia” (1915) is trite: “The state of man does change and vary / Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary / No dansand mirry, now like to die: — /Timor mortis conturbat me”  (137).

A myth heavy vision of a future Earth controlled by SUM—a vast computer that controls all things: “nothing but SUM could have controlled the firefly dance of a million aircars among the towers: or, for that matter, have maintained the entire city, from nuclear powerplants through automated factories, physical and economic distribution networks, sanitation, repair, services, education, culture, order, everything as one immune immortal organism” (128).  Not all participate in this regimented world–Thrakla and her followers go native and the narrator still sings songs…   He is motivated for his desire to see his love again, for SUM to reanimate her.  But first, he must convince the human emissary of SUM, Lady of Ours, to bring him to the machine.

“The Visitor” (1974) 2/5 (Bad): Another easily forgettable story in lines with “The Long Remembering” (1957) that attempts to tackle “psionics” which Anderson himself in the introduction claims has some validity.  Two men (the narrator and Ferrier) drive to the house of a recluse man with a mutilated face: “surgeons must have expanded a great deal of time and skill, but they could only tame the gashes and fill in the holes, not restore an absolute ruin” (167).  The narrator at the instigation of Carl Ferrier seems to have coherent “parapsychological phenomena” manifested in his dreams.  And, they seem to relate the sequences from the scarred man’s past!

“Wolfram” (1975) 3/5 (Average): The element Tungstan is also known as Wolfram…  Our narrator decides to look up the history of the element with its unusual name—apparently in the Webster dictionary wolf combined with “rahm” yields wolf soot(183)—and conjures an entire invented history of the man who really gave his name to the element (and who also met Goethe, corresponded with Voltaire, etc).  Interesting frame story on a dry and unappealing topic.

“The Peat Bog” (1975) 2/5 (Average): More historical fiction than science fiction, “The Peat Bog” tells the story of the onetime Greek slave Philon and his Roman master Memmius who journey across newly acquired Roman Gaul to meet with various barbarian tribes.  Anderson spends the majority of the story evoking the Roman countryside, and lengthy descriptions about Roman and Barbarian culture and the place of Greece in the Roman empire (with a special emphasis on slaves for sex etc)…. Most of the slaves in the story seem really willing to get in the nude.  As with some of the others the core of the story was not engaging enough to merit reading.  Avoid unless you are desperate for some half-baked historical fiction.

For more book reviews consult the INDEX

(Roger Zimmerman’s random cover for the 1975 edition)

16 Replies to “Book Review: Homeward and Beyond, Poul Anderson (1975)”

  1. I would definitely buy this and read it. And I like those Berkley editions with the Powers covers and the clean sans serif font.

    1. I often like Anderson’s short fiction — but this was very bland. Would like to hear your take on Murphy’s Hall. One of the more inventive (and obtuse) stories in the collection. Reminds me of a less articulate Malzberg.

  2. I’ve only read a handful of Anderson shorts, and those generally award-winning or nominated ones that are in other collections. I’ve read one of his Flandry novels, which I enjoyed a great deal, in large part because it is in the same vein as the Stainless Steel Rat novels I have enjoyed since childhood.

    I do so love the Powers cover on this, a pity it doesn’t house a better collection of shorts.

    1. I’ve read a good 15 or so of his novels and three short story collections. He’s a good, mostly light, plot smith. Never been blown away by any of his work — although There Will Be Time might be a second tier type quality read.

  3. Sounds like my experiences with Anderson so far. My next Anderson is Fire Time. I don’t expect to he blown away. Good on him for making a career of such dull fiction, though!

  4. Anderson’s always been a writer I feel like I ought to enjoy, but his stories just don’t generally do anything for me. This is curious and more than a bit unfair; when I do run across an Anderson story that works (e.g., “The Star Beast”) my mind decides to reassign it to another author (in this case, I think of it as a Varley).

  5. A crater with teeth?

    Moving swiftly on, never has a truer line been written of Anderson than this one: “This incredible production did not always yield quality. ”

    Did he later write an entire future history regarding the Ythri? I seem to recall that first story, but I’ve not read this collection and I thought it was the first of several regarding our interactions with them.

    At least this one doesn’t have any Scottish or Irish characters. His depictions of Celts were enthusiastic, but profoundly misguided.

  6. The Ythri were in the same timeline as the Polesotechnic League and Terran Empire books. They turn up in a couple of other books. The People of the Wind and The Day of Their Return, I think.

Comment! Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s