The High Crusade; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

I’m reading Pat Kelleher’s No Man’s World trilogy, a well-done tale of British Tommies from the Western Front of 1916 to an alien world. (And, when finished, it will go to the bottom of the long list of reviews to be written up.)

It put me in mind of this, the first version I know of a story putting human soldiers from human history into war on an alien world.

Raw Feed (1992): The High Crusade, Poul Anderson, 1960.High Crusade

A really fun book in which the plucky, bold Sir Roger de Tourneville not only repels the invading Wergorix from Earth but, through bluff, boldness, and intrigue builds a star empire.

This book reminded me of a couple of stories though with very different outcomes. 

The first is the story of King Arthur. The affair (never sexually consummated) between Sir Owain and Lady Catherine and the betrayal (unsuccessful) of Sir Roger reminded of the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere (Lancelot, like Sir Owain, is charming).

The ability of the low tech Englishmen to thwart the Wergorix (no metal to be radar visible, masters at hand to hand combat and sieges, crossbows in space) reminded me of the struggles of the fighter jet pilot to best WWI aircraft in Dean McLaughlin’s “Hawk Among the Sparrows”. Military tactics and technology evolve to fit a certain environment. The victory is not always won by the high tech forces. Sir Roger has a nice bit when he says

“ … while the engines of war may change through the centuries, rivalry and intrigue look no subtler out here than at home. Just because we use a different sort of weapons, we aren’t savages.”

It’s the guile of Sir Roger (though he modestly says he’s “no master of it … no Italian”) that wins the day.  ‘

I was reminded of historian William MacNeill’s thesis that Europe came to dominate the world because of the fierce, prolonged struggle between its different states, a struggle not duplicated elsewhere where one power soon came to be supreme. [This is put forth in his The Pursuit of Power.] This novel is sort of a forerunner to MacNeill’s thesis (which may not be original). (Did the Italians become Machiavellian master of intrigue because they were balkanized so long?)

I liked the humor when aliens interpret Christianity and other aspects of mediaeval culture as being signs of possibly advanced powers, and I liked the English complaining about the barbarous aliens with their lack of wood carving and ornamentation. Brother Parvus was unintentionally witty in his unsureness as to the righteousness of Sir Roger’s cause (and whether congress between man and alien is bestiality).

I also liked the comparison between the breakup of the Roman Empire and the Wersgorix Empire.

Parallax perspective on this is provided by Vintage Novels.


More fantastic fiction is indexed by title and author/editor.

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Seven: We Are for the Dark, 1987-90

I’ve never entertained the idea of reviewing all the works of Robert Silverberg. That would be a colossal undertaking given his volume of work even in science fiction.

But I do seem to have reviewed a lot of Silverberg’s short fiction.

And I read some more this past summer with more in the pipeline to review.

Low Res Scan: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Five: We Are for the Dark, 1987-1990, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2012.We Are for the Dark

It’s a low res scan because I’ve looked at many of the ten works here before and don’t have much to add on re-reading.

Three of the pieces are novellas.

This time around “In Another Country”, Silverberg’s variation on the themes of C. L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”, reminded me just how many stories of his play with the motif of rich time traveling tourists (and, here, definitely white) from the far future visiting the past: “Sailing to Byzantium”, Up the Line, “The Far Side of the Bell-Shaped Curve”, and “When We Went to See the End of the World”. Granted, “Sailing to Byzantium” has super sophisticated reconstructions of the past, but it feels like time travel. “When We Went to See the End of the World” inverts the theme with near future time travelers.

Silverberg’s introductory notes for the story reveal his admiration of Moore. As to the story itself, this time I noticed Thimiroi, alone of the time travelers, finding beauty in the flat, discordant, unplanned beauty of the unnamed city of the late 20th century. To him, it’s the energy of a people who have survived the brutal horrors of that time. Continue reading

Worldwar: In the Balance

Did you really think my alternate history series wouldn’t have any Harry Turtledove?

I’ve done regular reviews of some books in this series already.

Raw Feed (1994): Worldwar: In the Balance, Harry Turtledove, 1994.worldwar

Turtledove sets the novel in 1942 when the free nations of the world are struggling against the totalitarian systems of Nazism and Communism. At that time – in June 1942 to be precise – aliens show up. They are intent on conquering all of Earth.

The central theme of this book is the same question that Britain and America faced in allying with Russia against fascism: Is the devil you know better than the devil you don’t? For a peasant in the Ukraine, can aliens be worse than the German armies’ path of murder and destruction? Should Russia actually help Nazi Germany develop the A-Bomb? Should America work with the Japanese? And, most heart-wrenching of all (and the most powerful conflict in the book) should the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto actually help their Nazi oppressors against the “Lizards?”

This is a long, but never dull, novel that features a large cast of both real and fictional characters through whose eyes we see the various political and military theaters of the war. Oddly, most of the real characters appear on stage briefly and aren’t terribly interesting in themselves. The exceptions are Otto Skorzeny and George Patton. All the military action in this book is well-done, and Skorzeny leads a daring commando raid to retrieve spilled weapons grade uranium from a destroyed alien “Race” ship. This marks at least the second appearance in sf of Skorzeny. (He was in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno.) The ship was destroyed by the huge Nazi artillery piece Dora – Turtledove doesn’t give an adequate impression of exactly how many men were needed to operate and support Dora. Another bit of WWII esoterica from our own history involves the Russian ploy of using bomb carrying dogs to destroy tanks. Here it works. In our history, the project was a complete failure since the dogs were accidentally conditioned to home in on the shape of Russian tanks and the smell of Russian fuel and not Nazi tanks. The winter battle at novel’s end where Patton defeats a large alien army on the plains of Illinois was well done, and a sense of Patton the man is conveyed. Another real character is a man I’d never heard of before – Mordechai Anielewicz. He’s a chemical engineer who turns out to be a clever guerilla leader during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. Continue reading