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Time and Stars (SF) - Poul Anderson ****

Poul Anderson was one of those second rank science fiction authors whose books were often around in the 60s and 70s, but when I sampled them, they rarely seemed to make the grade. However, the generally reliable and imposing Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction refers to Anderson as 'perhaps SF's most prolific writer of any particular quality', and I was pleasantly surprised to re-read his 1964 collection of five long stories, Time and Stars to find that there is some really good storytelling here.

In the first story, No Truce with Kings, a war between future US factions, reduced to nineteeth century technology, uncovers a surprising driving force for one side and is arguable a clever counter to Asimov's psychohistory concept. We then get Turning Point, where an interstellar expedition has to decide what to do when faced with a civilisation that is not yet technologically advanced, but where the aliens are significantly more intelligent than humans. Escape from Orbit is in some ways reminiscent of the Apollo 13 rescue, though written six years before. Epilogue sees humans accidentally propelled billions of years into the future, returning to an Earth where there is still intelligent life - but no biological species. And there's a nice, amusing little soufflé of a story in The Critique of Impure Reason, where an engineer has to work out a way of persuading a robot, which is more interested in reading literary criticism than doing its job, to apply itself to its mission.

These stories are really original, doing what SF does best in presenting 'what if?' scenarios to test the human condition - I was sufficiently impressed to want to revisit Anderson. The only proviso is the usual 'dated SF' warning. Almost all the characters are male, and in one story the main female character is very much a 1950s stereotype. But in most of the stories, the gender of those taking part is irrelevant, so Anderson gets off relatively lightly.

Sadly, I am unable to find any reprints, or even secondhand copies of this book to link to. The (fairly horrible and totally unconnected) cover image is from my 1976 White Lion edition.

Review by Brian Clegg


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