Power, empire, time travel and liberty: A review of The Collected Short Stories of Poul Anderson, Volume 1

By Anders Monsen

book cover

Between 2009 and 2014 NESFA press published seven volumes of short fiction and poetry by Poul Anderson in handsome hardcover editions for around $30 each.

These volumes were still available from the NESFA website, at least when I purchased them years ago, with volume seven released in 2017 as the final volume in the series. The stories do not appear chronologically.

Anderson, who has won several Prometheus Awards for best novel, four Hall of Fame awards, and a Lifetime Special Award, was a prolific writer who published his first science fiction story in 1947, some months before his twenty-first birthday.

He wrote fiction for more than half a century, so while these six volumes by no means collect all his short fiction, they contain a treasure trove for any fan of his fiction.

Edited by Rick Katze (all 6 volumes), Lis Carey (co-editor of volume 1), and Michael Kerpan (co-editor of volume 6), short introductions preface the actual stories.

The first volume, Call Me Joe, includes some of the Poul Anderson’s earliest stories, including ones set in the Time Patrol universe, as well other shared universes in which Anderson frequented through his career. Many stories seem rooted in post-WWII Cold War extrapolations, In addition several short poems are interspersed between the stories.

Hard SF is Anderson’s forte. The title story is a jarring read to anyone who’s watched the movie, Avatar, from James Cameron, as the central theme appears lifted directly from Anderson’s story. I remember no attribution ever made of this piece of artistic license, but then Avatar borrowed and stole from a large number of sources.

In short, scientists explore a planet hostile to human life by linking humans to beings that can exist on this planet. The subject of the story is a broken man who revels and excels in his new-found life. Much like in the movie, he begins to prefer life in his other skin.

There are few female characters in these early SF stories. Many of the space-faring cultures and alien races are war-like, and the focus is on the grand scale.

Grand issues on politics, empire, liberty, the human condition dominate these stories. The stories that stood out seem timeless, while others clearly seem influenced by the atomic age in which they were written, such as “Tomorrow’s Children” and “Logic.”

Even “Prophecy,” a tale of an alien encounter on Earth, ends with the visitors departing while telling the American president that humans are not ready for more knowledge until after their atomic wars.

I already mentioned the title story, “Call Me Joe.” Even without the image of Avatar in mind as I read it, the story is certainly a memorable one. There are two tales with Wing Alak, an agent for the Patrol, a gallatic force that imposes it’s own type of peace on the galaxy. “The Double_Dyed Villains” and “The Live Coward.” Another WIng Alak take, “Enough Rope,” didn’t seem as strong or interesting as the other two.

“Time Patrol” introduces the group of people who travel through time, with strict rules. There are other time travel stories as well. “Flight to Forever,” takes a scientist forward to the end of the universe, with many stops along the way, only to emerge into the rebirth of the same universe and a possible way home. “The Man Who Came Early,” a bittersweet tale of a modern America soldier sent back through time during a freak storm to the viking age in Iceland. Good intentions and moderns skills aren’t always a match for harsh realities and foreign cultures. “Barnacle Bull,” an almost forgettable story of interstellar travel, is notable only for its Norwegian space program.

A total of seven volumes, each at over 500 pages, means dozens and dozens of stories and poems spanning decades of writing.

Poul Anderson is a giant in the field, and these volumes display his staggering breadth of talent. Although there are a few of what could be termed clunkers in the lot, this is normal when including early tales as he was still finding his voice.

Also in the NESFA Anderson collection:

* The Queen of Air and Darkness: Volume 2 of the Short Fiction of Poul Anderson, published in 2009, with 19 works of fiction, verse and essays, including the Hugo- and Nebula-winning title story and “On Imaginary Science,” an essay on science fiction.

* The Saturn Game: The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson: Volume 3, 
published in 2010 witjh three of Anderson’s Hugo and Nebula-award-winning stories: “The Saturn Game,” “No Truce with Kings,” and “Hunter’s Moon.”

* Admiralty: The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson: Volume IV, published in 2010, including “Admiralty,” about conflict between human colonies on other planets and an alien empire; the Hugo- and Nebula-winning “Goat Song,” about a man’s determination to bring his lost love back to life; “Operation Changeling,” about a world where magic and demons co-exist; “Delenda Est,” a story of the time patrol; “The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound,” co-written with Gordon R. Dickson, where aliens on their planet have created a Victorian England area with Scotland Yard and Sherlock Holmes; “Marius,” a story about how we don’t learn from history; and “Inside Straight,” about how an understanding of poker helps defeat an invasion.

*Door to Anywhere: Volume 5 of the Collected Works of Poul Anderson, published in 2013, including stories about Dominic Flandry, Nicholas van Rijn, the Hokas, Virginia Graylock, Manse Everard and Wanda Tamberly.

The editors of these volumes have done Herculean work in selecting and organizing Anderson’s stories. Reading them has taken months and perhaps years of effort, but intent is to continue along the path of the other volumes.


Note: Poul Anderson (1926-2001) also wrote The Stars Are Also Fire, the 1995 Prometheus Best Novel winner; Trader to the Stars, inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame in 1985; “No Truce with Kings,” a story inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010; and “Sam Hall,” a story inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020.

Poul Anderson. Photo by Karen Anderson

Anderson received the first Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2001, an award accepted for the ailing author by his wife, Karen, at the first LFScon in 2001 at Marcon in Columbus, Ohio.

For reviews and appreciations of other Poul Anderson fiction that has won a Prometheus award, check out the Appreciation links on the Promethejus Awards page of the LFS website.

Here is the Appreciation for Anderson’s The Stars Are Also Fire, the 1995 Prometheus Best Novel winner.

* Other Prometheus winners:  For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page  on the LFS website. (This page contains convenient direct clickable links to each Appreciation for Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction, as they are published on the Prometheus blog.)

* Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history that launched the series in 2019 with review-essays about more than 40 Best Novel winners and that continues most weeks in 2020 with appreciations of the more than 40 Best Classic Fiction winners in the Prometheus Hall of Fame. If you’ve ever wondered why some fiction is recognized with a Prometheus, this series will help you better understand what LFS members see as the libertarian and anti-authoritarian themes in each winner.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,”an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the modern genre.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans, and help nominate, judge and vote for the annual Prometheus Award winners. Libertarian futurists believe upholding and advancing culture is even more important, in the long run, than politics in spreading positive visions of the future, achieving a flourishing society based on cooperation instead of coercion and a better, free-er world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.


Published by

Anders Monsen

Anders Monsen is a former editor of Prometheus, the newsletter of the Libertarian Futurist Society.

One thought on “Power, empire, time travel and liberty: A review of The Collected Short Stories of Poul Anderson, Volume 1”

  1. I never understood why they chose not to publish them in chronological order. It has been a major disincentive to my acquiring any of the collected volumes. Anderson has written some memorable stories, but I have many of them in earlier collections and anthologies; gaining a sense for where each story fits in the evolution of his writing would be the strongest reason to acquire them again, had NESFA gone that way, as they did with the complete Sturgeon volumes.

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