Volume 18, Number 1, March, 2000

Orion Shall Rise

By Poul Anderson

Reviewed by William H. Stoddard
March 2000

One of Poul Anderson's greater skills as a writer has long been the creation of interesting and plausible cultures, both human and alien. Orion shall Rise offers extended portraits of four such, coexisting in the post-apocalyptic future history of his Maurai series: a New Zealand-based civilization dominating the Pacific Ocean, an America-based nation in the Pacific Northwest, a Russia- and Mongolian-based nation in the American Plains, and a French-based nation in Western Europe. The Maurai are an incipient global superpower based on long-distance trade and naval strength, along the lines of the British Empire a century ago; the other three are respectively near-anarchic libertarians, quasi-Buddhists, and benign neofeudalists. Anderson shows their political and ideological conflicts through characters from all four civilizations.

The focus of these conflicts is the renewed use of nuclear technology in a world slowly recovering from a worldwide nuclear war. A new Gaian religion or philosophy, based on the ideas of Lovelock and Margulis, advocates a radical environmentalism that most powers embrace in varying degrees, one of whose tenets is that nuclear technology must be banned. The Northwest Union's radical capitalism and technophilia make it willing to defy this ban. Anderson appears to view both sides sympathetically, which may account for the strength of his writing in this book, a fine exemplar of the Andersonian literary principle of portraying both sides in a conflict sympathetically, without simple villains. To my mind, the best example of this is the characterization of Vanna Uangovna Kim, the Gaianist military chaplain and librarian, whom I fell in love with the first time I read this book and whose fate has never ceased to move me.

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