Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Anderson, Poul

Entry updated 23 October 2023. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1926-2001) US author born in Pennsylvania of Scandinavian parents; he lived in Denmark briefly before the outbreak of World War Two. In 1948 he gained a degree in physics from the University of Minnesota. His knowledge of Scandinavian languages and literature and his scientific literacy fed each other fruitfully through a long and successful career, during which he gained for overall achievement the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1978; he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2000. He was Greg Bear's father-in-law. He is perhaps unique among the top rank of American sf writers of his generation in that his fantasy work – he wrote a large number of fantasy tales – is also of considerable significance.

Anderson's first years as a writer were spent in Minnesota, where after World War Two he joined the Minneapolis Fantasy Society (later the MFS) and associated with such contemporaries as Clifford D Simak and Gordon R Dickson, both of whom shared with him an attachment to semi-rural (often wooded) settings peopled by solid, canny stock (frequently, in Anderson's case, of Scandinavian descent) whose politics and social views often register as conservative, especially among readers from the urban East and other parts of the world. It might however be more fruitful to think of Anderson's cultural style as a form of romantic Libertarian individualism most comfortably adhered to far from the large Cities of the world, where it tends to register in terms of denial. That this bent of mind does not necessarily generate conservative opinions may be seen in the life and work of Jack Cady.

Although he became his generation's most prolific sf writer of any consistent quality, Anderson began quite slowly, his first sf story, the short-short "A Matter of Relativity" as P Anderson in the Probability Zero department of Astounding for September 1944, standing alone for some years. His career began in earnest only with "Tomorrow's Children" with F N Waldrop, in Astounding for March 1947; along with its sequel, "Logic" (July 1947 Astounding), it prefigures in concentrated form – though too early to convey any Cold War Paranoia – most of the concerns of 1950s sf about the fate of Post-Holocaust America after World War Three has trashed the planet. By 1950 Anderson began to release work – there were seven stories in that year alone – at a rate that never seriously slackened; a selection of eloquent early tales is assembled as Alight in the Void (coll 1991). In 1950 he also released his first novel, Vault of the Ages (1952), a Ruined Earth tale for the Young Adult market whose young protagonist defies the superstitious anti-science Taboos of his culture, which he saves from worse barbarians through his discovery of pre-Fall science.

By 1953 Anderson had become a significant figure in the field: in addition to nineteen stories, he published magazine versions of three novels, Brain Wave (first part September 1953 Space Science Fiction as "The Escape" before magazine ceased publication; full text 1954), Three Hearts and Three Lions (September-October 1953 F&SF; exp 1961) and War of Two Worlds (Winter 1953 Two Complete Science-Adventure Books as "Silent Victory"; 1959 dos). The trio neatly prefigures the shape of his work for half a century: the Hard SF, in which an unceasing interest in the implications of science and technology infuses plots of at times considerable emotional intensity; the succession of fantasies, most of them eventide and nostalgic; and the entertainments, most of them Space Opera, which he produced with a seemingly relaxed competence, and with love. The last of these examples is one of Anderson's many well told if occasionally not sufficiently demanding examples of the latter, in this case a tale sprucely displaying a betrayed Earth, Alien overlords and plucky humans; the other two are successful, mature novels, each in its separate genre. In Three Hearts and Three Lions, a Parallel World fantasy, an Earthman is translated from the middle of World War Two into Faerie, where he fights the forces of Chaos in a tale whose humour is laced with a conspicuous sexual dis-ease that (along with its religious politics) marks it as a Christian Fantasy; at the same time, it lacks the slightly gloomy "Nordic twilight" colours that became increasingly characteristic of Anderson's work (noticeably in A Midsummer Tempest [1974]) in his later career. Brain Wave, perhaps his most famous single novel, remains very nearly his finest. Its premise is simple: for millions of years the part of the galaxy containing our solar system has been moving through a vast forcefield or Zone whose effect has been to inhibit "certain electromagnetic and electrochemical processes", and thus certain neuronic functions (see Arrested Development); it is a concept Vernor Vinge would exploit and expand in his A Fire Upon the Deep (1992). When Earth escapes the inhibiting field, synapse-speed immediately increases, causing a rise in Intelligence; after the book has traced various absorbing consequences of this transformation, a transfigured humanity reaches for the stars, leaving behind (it is a conclusion evocative of Clifford D Simak at his best) former mental defectives and bright animals to inherit the planet.

After Brain Wave Anderson seemed content for several years to produce competent but unambitious stories – in such great numbers that it was not until many years had passed that they were adequately assembled in volumes like Explorations (coll 1981) and its numerous 1980s stablemates – and Space Operas with titles like No World of Their Own (April-July 1955 Astounding as "The Long Way Home"; cut 1955 dos; with restored text vt The Long Way Home 1975) and After Doomsday (December 1961-January 1962 Galaxy; 1962), whose portrait of a Spaceship crewed solely by hysterical women seemed in later years risibly anti-Feminist. He occasionally wrote under the pseudonyms A A Craig and Winston P Sanders, and in the mid-1960s as Michael Karageorge. It was during these years, however, that he began to formulate and write the many stories and novels making up the complex Technic History series, in reality two separate sequences. The first of these centres on Nicholas van Rijn, a dominant merchant prince of the Polesotechnic League, an interstellar club of traders which dominates a laissez-faire galaxy of scattered planets. Anderson has been widely criticized for the conservative implications it is possible (though with some effort) to draw from these stories, whose philosophical implications he modestly curtails, and whose clear recipes for the building of an interstellar corporatism he does not follow. The second sequence properly begins about 300 years later, after the first flowering of a post-League Terran Empire which, increasingly decadent and corrupt, is under constant threat from other empires. Most of the sequence features Dominic Flandry, a Terran agent who – sophisticated, pessimistic and tough – gradually becomes a figure of stature as Anderson fills in and expands his story, which he began to compose in 1951. The internal chronology of the double sequence is not secure, but the following list is close. Van Rijn: War of the Wing-Men (February-March 1958 Astounding as "The Man Who Counts"; cut 1958 dos; with restored text and new introduction vt The Man Who Counts 1978; vt The Earth Book of Stormgate 2 1980); Trader to the Stars (coll 1964; with 1 story cut 1964); The Trouble Twisters (coll 1966); Satan's World (May-August 1968 Analog; 1969); Mirkheim (1977); The Earth Book of Stormgate (coll 1978) [for vts see Checklist below]; The People of the Wind (February-April 1973 Analog; 1973). Flandry: Ensign Flandry (1966), A Circus of Hells (1970) and The Rebel Worlds (1969; vt Commander Flandry 1978), the latter two assembled as Flandry (omni 1993) and all three as The Imperial Stars (omni 2000; vt Young Flandry 2009); The Day of Their Return (1973) and The People of the Wind both assembled as The Day of Their Return/The People of the Wind (omni 1982); Mayday Orbit (1961 dos) and Earthman, Go Home! (1960 dos), both assembled with revisions as Flandry of Terra (omni 1965); We Claim These Stars! (1959 dos), which is included in Agent of the Terran Empire (1965); A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows (September/October-November/December 1974 If; 1974; vt Knight Flandry 1980) and The Rebel Worlds both assembled as The Rebel Worlds/A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows (omni 1982); A Stone in Heaven (1979); The Game of Empire (1985), featuring Flandry's daughter in a plot whose turns evoke Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901), and pointing the way to two post-Flandry tales: Let the Spacemen Beware (January 1960 Fantastic Universe as "A Twelvemonth and a Day"; 1963 chap dos; with new introduction vt The Night Face 1978; vt A Twelvemonth and a Day 2017 dos), also included in a separate collection, The Night Face and Other Stories (coll 1978); and The Long Night (coll 1983) (see Long Night). Stories written later tend to moodier, darker textures.

A somewhat smaller sequence, the Psychotechnic League stories, traces the gradual movement of Man into the solar system and eventually the galaxy itself. There is a good deal of action-debate about Automation, the maintenance of freedom in an expanded polity, and so forth. The sequence comprises, by rough internal chronology: The Psychotechnic League (coll 1981), Cold Victory (coll 1982), Starship (coll 1982), The Snows of Ganymede (Winter 1955 Startling 1958 dos), Virgin Planet (1959), told in explicit Western mode, and Star Ways (1956; vt with new introduction The Peregrine 1978). All the stories and short novels in this series were re-issued in the 3 volumes as The Complete Psychotechnic League starting in 2017, with new introductions and notes by Sandra Miesel.

The early Time Patrol stories (see Alternate History; Changewar; Time Police) are contained in Guardians of Time (coll of linked stories 1960; with 2 stories added vt The Guardians of Time 1981) and Time Patrolman (coll of linked novellas 1983), both assembled as Annals of the Time Patrol (omni 1984); subsequently, early and later material was rearranged as The Shield of Time (coll of linked stories 1990) and The Time Patrol (coll 1991), which re-sorted long stories from the first volumes along with a new novel, "Star of the Sea", plus The Year of the Ransom (1988) and other new material; Time Patrol (coll 2006) adds one further story. The History of Rustum sequence, mainly concerned with the establishing on laissez-faire lines of a human colony on a planet in the Epsilon Eridani system, includes Orbit Unlimited (coll of linked stories 1961) and New America (coll of linked stories 1982). With Gordon R Dickson, Anderson wrote the Hoka series about furry, teddybear-like aliens who cannot understand nonliteral language (i.e., metaphors, fictions) and so take everything as truth, with results intended as comic, beginning with Earthman's Burden (coll of linked stories 1957) [see Checklist below for further titles]; the most successful of these tales may be those set in Western venues. For the Last Viking sequence and the King of Ys sequence, both fantasy, the latter written with Anderson's wife Karen Anderson [see Checklist below].

Although many of the novels and stories listed as linked to series can be read as singletons, there seems little doubt that the interlinked complexity of reference and storyline in Anderson's fiction has somewhat muffled its effect in the marketplace. This situation has not been helped by a marked lack of focus in its publication, so that the interested reader will find considerable difficulty tracing both the items in a series and their intended relation to one another, a situation which may be rectified in part through the release of Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson in seven substantial volumes, beginning with Call Me Joe (coll 2009) and ending with Question and Answer (coll 2017); it must be said, however, that series editor Rick Katze's decision to construct each volume according to taste – rather than chronology or theme or series – does not markedly clarify the picture. It remains the case that with something like 85 novels and hundreds of stories to his credit – all written with a resolute professionalism and widening range, though also with a marked disparity between copious storytelling skills and a certain sameness in the creation of characters – Anderson is still not as well defined a figure in the pantheon of American sf as writers (like Isaac Asimov from the Golden Age of SF and Frank Herbert from a decade later) of about the same age and certainly no greater skill. Nonetheless he was repeatedly honoured by the sf community, over and above the career awards listed above, serving as Science Fiction Writers of America President for 1972-1973, and receiving seven Hugos for sf in shorter forms: in 1961 for "The Longest Voyage" (December 1960 Analog) (Best Short Story); in 1964 for No Truce with Kings (June 1963 F&SF; 1989 dos) (Best Short Story) – it is actually a novella; in 1969 for "The Sharing of Flesh" (December 1968 Galaxy) (Best Novelette); in 1972 for "The Queen of Air and Darkness" (April 1971 F&SF) (Best Novella), which also won a Nebula; in 1973 for "Goat Song" (February 1972 F&SF) (Best Novelette), which also won a Nebula; in 1979 for "Hunter's Moon" (November 1978 Analog) (Best Novelette); and in 1982 for "The Saturn Game" (February 1981 Analog) (Best Novella), which also won a Nebula. Remarkably, none of his novels won any sf award of any stature until the late, elegiac, concise Genesis (2000) was given a John W Campbell Memorial Award in 2001.

Though as noted Anderson was a very prolific story writer, this plentitude should not lead to the assumption that he was a hasty one, which he was not. Indeed, it might be argued that his short stories and novelettes constitute his very finest work. The award-honoured stories above are good examples; out of the hundreds remaining, many are superb, especially perhaps those from the 1960s, like "Kyrie" (in The Farthest Reaches, anth 1968, ed Joseph Elder), in which several unlikely ingredients – Lunar convents, a repressed protagonist, Telepathy, a Black Hole and an energy-based Alien – generate in a very few pages an ending which surprises but is inevitable, and of almost excruciating poignance. There are many more.

Out of the welter of remaining book titles, four singletons and Anderson's final ambitious series can be mentioned as outstanding. The High Crusade (July-September 1960 Astounding/Analog; 1960) is a delightful wish-fulfilment conception (see Medieval Futurism); an alien Spaceship lands in medieval Europe where it is taken over by quick-thinking Baron Roger and his feudal colleagues who, when the ship takes them to the stars, soon trick, cajole, outfight and outbreed all the spacefaring races they can find, and found their own empire on feudal lines. It is Anderson's most joyful iteration of Homo sapiens triumphalism (see also Imperialism). Tau Zero (June-August 1967 Galaxy as "To Outlive Eternity"; exp 1970) is less successful as fiction, though its speculations on Cosmology are fascinating, and the Thought Experiment it embodies is strikingly well conceived. A spaceship from Earth, intended to fly near the speed of light so that humans can reach the stars without dying of old age (as a consequence of the time-dilation of Special Relativity described by the Lorentz-Fitzgerald equations), uncontrolledly continues to accelerate at a constant one gravity after reaching its intended terminal velocity, so that the disparity between ship-time and external time becomes ever greater: aeons hurtle by outside, with the ship passing through entire galaxies in subjective seconds, until eventually the universe contracts to form a monobloc. After a new Big Bang the ship begins to slow gradually and the crew plans to settle a new planet in the universe that has succeeded our own. The felt scope of the narrative is convincingly sustained throughout, though the characters tend to the soap-operatic. In The Avatar (1978) a solitary figure typical of Anderson's later work searches the galaxy for an Alien race sufficiently sophisticated to provide him with the means to confound a dratted non-libertarian Earth government. The Boat of a Million Years (1989) ambitiously follows the long lives of a group of Immortals, whose growing disaffection with the recent course of Earth history again points up the sense of disenchantment noticeable in the later Anderson, along with a feeling that, in an inevitably decaying universe, the tough thing (and the worthy thing) is to endure.

Anderson's last major enterprise was the Guthrie Family sequence – comprising Harvest of Stars (1993), The Stars Are Also Fire (1994), Harvest the Fire (1995) and The Fleet of Stars (1997) – which puts on display both his continued grasp of current dreams of Technology fixes, and as well the oddly resentful sense of disenchantment not untypical of writers at the end of the last century. These drives govern a tale in which Earth after centuries of savage environmental exploitation (though Anderson surreally blames environmentalists for this) – is no longer capable of sustaining humanity's quest for new adventures, and for a new home. The escape from the dying planet is sustained and exhilarating. Through the four volumes, the scale and complexity expands inexorably; there is no quick way to represent the final effect, except perhaps to suggest that Anderson had decided here to tell every kind of story he was capable of – fantasy, Hard SF and entertainment routines intermix constantly – as a summary and summa of his long career. On the evidence of this sequence, it is clear that for half a century he knew what he was doing. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; Asteroids; Atlantis; Avatars; Chess; Clones; Colonization of Other Worlds; Crime and Punishment; Cyborgs; Destinies; Ecology; Economics; End of the World; Eschatology; Fantastic Voyages; Fantasy; Faster Than Light; Fermi Paradox; Force Field; Future War; Galactic Empires; Games and Sports; Gandalf Award; Genetic Engineering; Gods and Demons; Gravity; Heroes; History in SF; Humour; Jupiter; Magic; Matter Transmission; Mutants; Mythology; Nuclear Energy; Nuclear Winter; Planetary Romance; Politics; Prime Directive; Psi Powers; Psychology; Religion; Robert Hale Limited; Robots; Scientific Errors; Sense of Wonder; Shapeshifters; Seiun Award; Skylark Award; Social Darwinism; Sociology; Space Flight; Stars; Sun; Superman; Terraforming; Time Paradoxes; Transmutation; Under the Sea; Utopias; Venus; Weapons; Zoo.

Poul William Anderson

born Bristol, Pennsylvania: 25 November 1926

died Orinda, California: 31 July 2001



The Psychotechnic League

The Complete Psychotechnic League


Technic History

Because of the complexity of this interrelated set of series, novels and collections in each individual sequence are listed together.

Technic History

  • War of the Wing-Men (New York: Ace Books, 1958) [dos: full version appeared February-March 1958 Astounding as "The Man Who Counts": with The Snows of Ganymede above: Technic History: Nicholas van Rijn: pb/Ed Valigursky]
    • The Man Who Counts (New York: Ace Books, 1978) [rev vt of the above containing restored text: Technic History: Nicholas van Rijn: pb/Michael Whelan]
  • Trader to the Stars (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1964) [Technic History: Nicholas van Rijn: hb/Thomas Chibbaro]
  • The Trouble Twisters (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1966) [Technic History: David Falkayn: hb/Emanuel Schongut]
  • Satan's World (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1969) [first appeared May-August 1968 Analog: Technic History: Nicholas van Rijn: hb/Peter Bromely]
  • The People of the Wind (New York: New American Library/Signet Books, 1973) [first appeared February-April 1973 Analog: Technic History: pb/Fernando Fernandez]
  • Mirkheim (New York: Berkley, 1977) [Technic History: Nicholas van Rijn: hb/Richard Powers]
  • The Earth Book of Stormgate (New York: Berkley, 1978) [coll: not all stories feature van Rijn: Technic History: Nicholas van Rijn: hb/Tony Roberts]

Technic History: Dominic Flandry

Technic Civilization Saga

  • The Van Rijn Method (New York: Baen Books, 2008) [omni: exp vt of The Earth Book of Stormgate (see above) plus The Man Who Counts: Technic Civilization Saga: hb/David Seeley]
  • David Falkayn: Star Trader (New York: Baen Books, 2009) [coll: includes Satan's World above: Technic Civilization Saga: hb/Carol Russo]
  • Rise of the Terran Empire (New York: Baen Books, 2009) [omni: containing Mirkheim and People of the Wind (see above) plus other matter: Technic Civilization Saga: hb/Bob Eggleton]
  • Young Flandry (New York: Baen Books, 2010) [omni: containing Ensign Flandry, A Circus of Hells and The Rebel Worlds (see above): Technic Civilization Saga: hb/David Seeley]
  • Captain Flandry: Defender of the Terran Empire (New York: Baen Books, 2010) [omni/coll: containing The Day of their Return (see above) plus other matter: Technic Civilization Saga: hb/David Seeley]
  • Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight of Terra (New York: Baen Books, 2010) [omni/coll: containing versions of Earthman, Go Home, We Claim These Stars and A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows (see above) plus other matter: Technic Civilization Saga: hb/David Seeley]
  • Flandry's Legacy (New York: Baen Books, 2011) [omni/coll: containing A Stone in Heaven, The Game of Empire and The Night Face (see above) plus other matter: Technic Civilization Saga: hb/David Seeley]

Trygve Yamamura (nonfantastic)

Time Patrol

  • Guardians of Time (New York: Ballantine Books, 1960) [coll of linked stories: Time Patrol: pb/Richard Powers]
    • The Guardians of Time (New York: Pinnacle Books, 1981) [coll of linked stories: exp vt of the above with one story added plus essay by Sandra Miesel: Time Patrol: pb/Tom Kidd]
  • Time Patrolman (New York: Baen Books, 1983) [coll of linked novellas: Time Patrol: pb/Kevin Eugene Johnson]
  • The Year of the Ransom (New York: Byron Preiss: Walker Books, 1988) [Time Patrol: hb/Paul Rivoche]
    • The Time Patrol (New York: Tor, 1991) [omni of the above, The Guardians of Time (with Sandra Miesel essay cut), Time Patrolman and new novel Star of the Sea: Time Patrol: hb/Tony Roberts]
      • Time Patrol (New York: Baen Books, 2006) [omni: exp of the above with one added story: Time Patrol: pb/David Mattingly]
  • The Shield of Time (New York: Tor, 1990) [coll of linked stories: Time Patrol: hb/Vincent Di Fate]

History of Rustum

Operation Chaos

The Last Viking


The King of Ys

Guthrie Family

Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson

individual titles

collections and stories


works as editor

about the author


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies