Science Fiction Though the Decades

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

1960: The High Crusade (Anderson, Poul)

"...God always favors the English." (4/5)
From September 10, 2010

I first started to read The High Crusade (book #63 of 83 that year) in October 2008 but I accidentally left the book on the train into Chicago and it stands that it's the only book I ever lost. But the novel left such a unique impression on my mind that I decided to track down another copy and finish it... without losing it, again.

Rear cover synopsis:
"In the year 1345 A.D. (by Earth reckoning)... the might Wersgorix, undisputed rulers of outer space, landed on Earth in their conquest for new worlds to conquer. Their ship guided missiles and thermonuclear devices, but they had long since forgotten how to use the weapons necessary for hand-to-hand fighting.

So they were easy prey for a band of knights armed with battleaxes and broadswords. But it was a victory won by surprise, and only temporary. The invaders were thousands of years ahead of Earth in technical knowledge--and knew countless ways of blowing up the whole planet."

This being my twelfth Anderson novel, I have a pretty good feel for his writing style, which sometimes strays from romantic into the realm of Poul's idiosyncratic prosaic prose. The general prose and vocab is similar to his other works of Mirkheim (1977), Horn of Time (1968) or Planet of No Return (1956). It's not quite gripping, but when Anderson introduces, rather abruptly, the item of the medieval humans overtaking the star-faring aliens and their colonial planets does one's interest become piqued. I've never read a silly Anderson novel before, but how the humans find themselves in situations are lip-bittingly bizarre, how the humans culturally chest thump is patently absurd, and how they defeat advanced aliens with broadswords, cavalry, and simple medieval military tactics is smirkingly ridiculous... but, most importantly, fun.

Amongst the silliness, Anderson throws in some paragraphs and sentences which read more like poetry than pulp sci-fi. One example: "...she... stood there denouncing him in the enemy night. The larger moon... touched them like cold fire." Then there is Anderson at his best when he stirs up some formal English: "His declensions are atrocious and what he does to irregular verbs may not be described in gentle company." I won't probe into what exactly Poul means, but I'm sure it's both cheeky and true.

From the gems I further uncovered after only reading the first half the novel in Chicago, I'm delighted to have finally finished the novel from cover to cover. The only other silly novel of Anderson's I can recall is Brain Wave (1954), but High Crusade is on a whole new plateau on par with the likes of Sheckley's Dimension of Miracles (1968). Not exactly a perfect novel, but a great 160 page romp.

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