Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, October 13, 2017


Past Times by Poul Anderson (1984)

Poul Anderson (1926-2001) had a remarkable 55 year career:  a seven-time Hugo winner and a three-time Nebula winner, as well as a four-time Prometheus winner.  He was a SFWA Grand Master, A Gandolf Grand Master of Fantasy, and has been inducted in to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.    Although best known for his science fiction, Anderson also wrote fantasy, mysteries, historical fiction, and nonfiction.  I can't count the number of books and short stories he published over the years, almost all of them eminently readable.  His stories, always thoughtful and logically drawn, often reflected social and political concerns, often clothed with blazing adventure or sly humor. 

During the Eighties and Nineties, both Tor and Baen published a number of collections of Anderson's stories, mixing both previously collected and uncollected tales.  One of these, Past Times, collected a seven time travel stories and one essay.  Time travel, of course, was one of Anderson's favorite themes.

There's not a loser in the bunch.  One I particularly liked, dating from 1953, was "The Nest."  It opens with a Cro-Magnon who, while riding his iguandon during the Oligocene, rescues a naked girl from a Nazi.  Soon we are thrust in a tale of political intrigue in a land populated with warriors, criminals, and mercenaries from every era of the human race through to the 22nd century -- Huns, Goths, Mongols, Nazis, Roundheads, Confederate rebels, even a beautiful Martian Communist.  It's a wildly logical sword-and-machine gun tale of super-science that has to be read to be believed.

Another one I loved was "The Little Monster," about a twelve-year-old boy named Jerry (such a noble name, don't you think?  I wonder why I liked this one so much.) who is accidentally thrust 1,500,000 years into the past, where he becomes the first (and perhaps only) to come across a small tribe of pithecanthropuses. The sections of the story from the tribe's point of view are told in short, primitive bursts; interestingly, the more we get into the story, the sections from Jerry's point of view begin to be told in the same manner, creating an effect that becomes more obvious once Jerry is returned to his own time.  The plot and its ending are fairly common in science fiction, but Anderson makes it powerful and effective through his approach.

The contents:

  • "Wildcat" (originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1958)
  • "Welcome" (originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1960)
  • "The Nest" (originally published in Science Fiction Adventures, July 1953)
  • "Eutopia" (originally published in Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, 1967)
  • "The Little Monster" (originally published in Science Fiction Adventure from Way Out, edited by Roger Elwood, 1973)
  • "The Light" (originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1957)
  • "The Discovery of the Past" (essay original to this collection, although "a small part of this essay was published in Profanity magazine, [copyright] 1977 by Bruce Pelz")
  • "Flight to Forever" (originally published in Super Science Stories, November 1950)

If you are a fan of great science fiction or of Poul Anderson*, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book.  Reasonably priced copies are available through the usual internet sources.

* A redundancy.  Fans of great science fiction are fans of Poul Anderson.  I really didn't have to tell that, did I?

1 comment:

  1. Yes, pretty much, but one can be a fan of Poul Anderson without thinking one is a sf fan...given his work in historical fiction, crime fiction and fantasy...