Getting Technical

One science-fiction series that’s great fun is Poul Anderson’s Technic History, comprising multiple novels and short stories.

Flandry and friend The first half of the series covers the era of the Polesotechnic League (not to be confused with the same author’s Psychotechnic League), a free-wheeling, commerce-based, mostly-libertarian interstellar civilisation in its final days. These stories tend to be light-hearted and humorous adventures with a fair bit of libertarian content; they usually star either the rascally merchant prince Nicholas van Rijn (something of a cross between Falstaff, Shylock, and H. L. Mencken) or his operative David Falkayn, and the plots sometimes turn on economic principles (see, e.g., David Friedman’s discussion of “Margin of Profit”).

The second half of the series occurs several centuries later during the period of the Terran Empire; most of the stories center on the machinations of two rival secret agents, the charming, amoral human Dominic Flandry and his equally devious alien archnemesis Aycharaych. Events in the first half of the series often lay the groundwork for developments in the second; for instance, mistakes that the Polesotechnic League makes in dealing with the reptilian Merseian race contribute to the Merseians’ becoming humanity’s deadliest foes during Flandry’s era. These stories tend to be darker and more morally ambiguous than the Polesotechnic League stories; where van Rijn lived in a relatively free galaxy prior to the rise of the Empire, Flandry lives during the swollen Empire’s declining years and is desperately attempting to postpone its inevitable collapse for as long as possible – not because the Empire is so great per se but because Flandry foresees that the succeeding Dark Ages are likely to be still worse. While the continuation of the Empire is portrayed as a worthy goal under the circumstances, the choices that Flandry has to make in pursuit of that goal – the loved ones he has to use and betray, etc. – leave him morally compromised and increasingly hollow: James Bond as a tragic figure.

In any case, my point is that these terrific stories are mostly out of print (I think I’ve got all the ones listed here, collected from various used bookstores over the years), so I’m pleased to see that Baen Books is reprinting the van Rijn stories in three volumes. Hopefully these will include all the Polesotechnic League stories (not all of which feature van Rijn), and hopefully a collection of all the Terran Empire stories (not all of which feature Flandry) will follow.


3 Responses to Getting Technical

  1. Mark June 20, 2008 at 12:58 pm #

    I love how one of the fleet ships was noticable behind the Earth lander ships.

  2. John Markley June 20, 2008 at 2:04 pm #

    I love Poul Anderson and the Technic History. It’s worth noting that the last (and darkest) story of the Van Rijn era, the novel Mirkheim, to a great extent turns on the ideas of regulatory capture, bootlegger/Baptist coalitions, and the intertwining of business and government. Altruistic statists successfully push for the creation of new government regulatory agencies to improve the economy, which are in short order subverted and turned into the tools of a cartel of megacorporations.

  3. Kevin Carson June 21, 2008 at 1:21 am #

    My favorite Anderson stories are the Time Patrol series (because I’m an alternate history geek), and the Maurai stories (for the decentralist technology).

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