Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, May 20, 2012

1973: The People of the Wind (Anderson, Poul)

Laden with misplaced details and reasoning (3/5)

Of the most prolific authors lining my shelves, just behind Greg Bear (21), John Brunner (19), Larry Niven (18), Frederik Pohl (16), and Iain Banks (16) is Poul Anderson. This 15th book of Anderson's is one of my dwindling supply of classic Anderson, whose paperbacks are increasing difficult to find in second-hand bookstores. Like Banks, Bear, and Brunner, Anderson's works are usually a hit, which can't be said for Pohl's works that tend to be misses more often than not. Unfortunately, Anderson doesn't pen one of his best with The People of the Wind. Much like Anderson's bibliography, there are some "hit" elements and some "miss" elements that compose The People of the Wind.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Terra + Ythri + Avalon = Universal War!
THE TERRAN EMPIRE: Behemoth, reaching ever further across the star systems, seeking to suck the entire universe into its gigantic maw. In its favor it must be said that the Empire offers peace and prosperity to its subjects.
THE YTHRIAN DOMAIN: Medium-sized empire with room to grow... except where it borders meet those of the Terran Empire! Peopled by the Ythri, birdlike beings with a culture and intellect that is easily a match for the Terran way of life.
AVALON: Colony planet of the Ythri but inhabited by human and Ythri alike, Avalon is the Domain's secret weapon--or is it? For Avalon has formed a culture all its own, which it will defend against all comers. And Avalon seems quite capable of defying the combined might of the most powerful empires in the universe!"

Chris Holm is well-adjusted to the unique culture of the planet Avalon. With human parents in the upper echelons of the planetary military infrastructure, Chris sits on the social cusp between the human culture and Ythrian culture, a culture he has embraced by befriending the avian aliens and assuming the Ythrian name Arinnain. His Ythrian "sister" Eyath is very close to him and he often regards her as his spiritual partner, but she has become betrothed with a space pilot, soon to put into active duty against the approaching Terran navy.

The Human/Ythrian loose government takes a seemingly pragmatic approach to the navy's war stance. When two Ythrian planets fall to the Terran navy, the last battle and the occasion of "death-pride" is left to the planet of Avalon, whose human contingent has seen the planet through its military preparedness. The aggressive Terran navy seems set on subsuming all three planets for the Terran Empire, with no compassion for cultural sanctity.

When a Terran ship crashes upon Avalon, Chris's possible female human interest, Tabitha, is quick to charm the captain in a nubile fashion. Chris realizes the ultimate gain when applying a guilt trip and hopes for a positive outcome for his clan, his family, his love life, and the bi-cultural planet of Avalon.

Anderson put some very careful detail in making the Ythrian race of bird-like creatures. Their physiology is well detailed along their tacit beliefs and cultural heritage. Most of this is viewed through the eyes of the young protagonist Chris or through dialogue between him and his avian kin. It pays to keep close attention to the cultural details because they spring up throughout the book, highlighting the difficulties the planet faces against the Terran navy and the personal problems Eyath experiences after the human crash land on Avalon.

I wish the same attention was kept when describing the planet of Avalon. The physical characteristics of its orbit, density, atmosphere, moon system, etc. is thrown in during the first 25% of the book. The number-heavy details shown a lot of thought, but the way it lacked integration was off-putting. The same goes for Anderson's laborious insertion of the names of planetary fauna, the name of function of each are all peripheral and adds little but words to the passages involved. The insertions are awkward and generally lack relevance.

I never found the logic behind the Terran attack on the Ythrian Domain to be sensible. It seemed as if they were attacking in order to subsume the Domain simply because they didn't want the Ythrians to expand any further into the Terran Empire. If each race has their own sphere of colonization, the border between the two should be very limited. If this one border is blocking each others colonization plans, there are many other directions to expand: up-galaxy, down galaxy, spinward, anti-spinward, up, down, left, right... however you want to describe the directions of galactic flight. This ONE conflict seems senseless to concentrate the entire Terran naval fleet at that one point against three planets. The planets aren't even part of any greater strategy.

Besides the Ythrian descriptions, the depth of the harmonious human/Ythrian relationship on Avalon is great to delve in to. The relationship on government level all the way down to personal level is full of nuances and subtleness. The Ythrians obviously have their cultural weaknesses, and considering that the planet of Avalon is part of their Domain, the humans accept their minority and fill the leadership niche which is left void by the Ythrian's disinterest in larger organization.

Many of the parts of this novel are noteworthy, but its Anderson's early inability to weave all of this into a dense but savory 176-page novel that ultimately let me down. When Anderson has a larger canvas to work with, like in The Boat of A Million Years (1989), he has the freedom to explore the intimate details of his bursting creativity and the ability to pen a fulfilling novel with as many ideas as he can shake a stick at. The People of the Wind was just to dense to feel like a smooth Anderson novel. Whether there were to many ideas bursting at the seams or just a limited number of pages restricting Anderson's creativity, a rewrite of this book into a fuller 300-page novel would have been epic to witness.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this Anderson :(

    But I couldn't agree more, this fleshed out into a 300 page epic would be stellar...