Literature / Technic History
This is the tale as told, not by Rennhl and those on whom she drew for the 'Sky Book', but by Terrans who walk the earth. Hloch will seek to explain what is alien; though only by swinging your mind into that same alienness may you hope to seize the knowledge behind.
—The Van Rijn Method
The Technic History is a Space Opera
setting featured in many short stories and novels written by Poul Anderson
from the 1950s through to the 1980s.
It spans many centuries of future history, but most of the stories are set in one of two periods:
The Terran Empire period (31st century).
Most of the stories set in this period feature Imperial Intelligence agent Dominic Flandry, including the novels Ensign Flandry
, A Circus of Hells
, The Rebel Worlds
, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows
, and A Stone in Heaven
, as well as many short stories. Novels in this era that don't
feature Flandry include The Day of Their Return
, The Game of Empire
, and Let the Spaceman Beware
The Polesotechnic League period (25th century).
Most of the stories set in this period feature Intrepid Merchant
Nicholas van Rijn, and/or his protege David Falkayn. They include the novels The Man Who Counts
(aka War of the Wing-Men
), Satan's World
, and the Hugo-nominated The People of the Wind
, as well as many short stories.
Not to be confused with Anderson's Psychotechnic League series, an entirely separate future history deliberately named in a parallel fashion.
Most of the Technic History stories have been re-released in omnibus
The Technic History provides examples of:
- An Aesop: Anderson is seldom as sentimental as the trope implies, his Aesops don't have a "cuddly" feel and are usually muddled by realistic-feeling messiness. Nonetheless there is a prejudice toward libertarianism as well as the respect for other people's ways of life.
- Affably Evil: Meresians glorify conquest and are determined to win as great a share of the universe as they can at the expense of everyone else. But that doesn't stop them from being polite.
- Alien Arts Are Appreciated: Christopher Holm is an admirer of Ythrian poetry, historical work and culture in general and helps write the Earthbook of Stormgate which is a history of the founders of the colony of Avalon.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Many planets are anyway.
- Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Dominic Flandry is kidnapped by an alien race, who assert that they are far more civilized than the Terran Empire, as they would never betray an oath or otherwise be dishonest (except to other, lesser, races, like humans). He soon has the entire leadership of the planet backstabbing each other, noting that their refusal to admit that they, too, can betray each other if the price is right, is what enabled him to succeed in destroying them.
- The Atoner: A Terran POW on Avalon breaks parole and betrays an Avalonian woman he loved to get vital information to the Terran fleet. He asks to fly in the first assault essentially because he feels the Avalonians deserve a crack at him.
- Bird People: Ythrians, which are a carnivorous eaglelike race. The author considered them a puzzle in how to make a winged creature capable of carrying a sentient brain and came of with the solution of an organ which pumps oxygen into their wings. Ythrians are often Warrior Poets who talk much of Honor Before Reason(deathpride in their tongue). They live in a tribal society which governs it's affairs with a loose judicial system similar to Medieval Iceland, and they are obsessed with territory because of the needs of hunting. They divide up the planet Avalon with the human colonists; the Ythrians usually getting the heights and the humans the valleys.
- Bittersweet Ending: Lots. Especially the Dominic Flandry stories; Flandry succeeds, but loses any woman he truly loves, feels guilt at hurting the feelings of the others, and in one story is troubled by the contrast between several honest, decent rebels, who are at best going to be locked up for the rest of their lives, and the decadent, despicable Emperor. The prequel novel had a back-cover blurb which summed up:
Though through this and his succeeding adventures he will struggle gloriously and win (usually) mighty victories, Dominic Flandry is essentially a tragic figure: a man who knows too much, who knows that battle, scheme, and even betray as he will, in the end it will mean nothing. For with the relentlessness of physical law the Long Night approaches. The Terran Empire is dying...
- Blue Blood:
- David Falkayn in the Polesotechnic League stories is actually an aristocrat on his home world.
- There are a lot of titled characters in the Flandry stories. He's an aristocrat himself.
- Not really, as he is on the bar sinister side. "You see, my father walked into this sinister bar...."
- Bold Explorer: David Falkayn is an aristocrat who would rather be out exploring new worlds than sitting in comfort on his home planet.
- Born Under the Sail: The Man Who Counts features a race of flying aliens, of which one major tribe spends most of their life on giant rafts, sailing across their world's seas.
- The Cavalry: Saves Falkayn in Three-Cornered Wheel.
- The Clan: Notably the Ythrian clan of Stormgate Choth which adopts the human writer Christopher Holm.
- Canon Welding: The Nicholas van Rijn stories and Dominic Flandry stories weren't, originally, part of the same universe. But a bit of prodding by fans, and he wrote some bridging so that now they are.
- The Casanova: Flandry. Generally loses the girl when she realizes he's not going to be able of anything permanent.
- Chivalrous Pervert: Nicholas van Rijn. If you are an attractive woman, expect to have him make constant references to your looks as well as many passes. But should danger appear, you couldn't have anyone better at your side.
- City of Spies: Flandry meets Aycharaych at one of these and figures out a way to deceive a telepath.
- Combat Pragmatist: Nicholas van Rijn frequently uses sneaky methods. On one occasion, he taunts an alien prince into biting his behind; the alien prince realizes too late that human biochemistry is toxic to his people.
- Cool vs. Awesome: The Terran Empire vs Avalon in People of the Wind.
- Crowd Song: The Ythrian hunting song translated by Christopher Holm.
- Crush Blush: In "Lodestar." van Rijn mentions Falkayn to Coya, and then teased her with being red-shifted.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: In "The Problem of Pain", a Bold Explorer working with Ythrians tells how they worship "God the hunter" who they picture as a big-game hunter who delights in hunting them as they delight in hunting animals. They consider it their duty to give a good chase which means facing fate with honor and stoicism.
- The Cycle of Empires: A theme of the series as a whole.
- Did Not Get the Girl:
- "The Star Plunderer" features the founding of the empire — told by the narrator whose girlfriend left him to become empress.
- In "The Rebel Worlds" Dominic Flandry falls very deeply in love with Kathryn MacCormac, the wife of the rebel Admiral Hugh MacCormac, and for once in his relations with women does not want a passing affair but a lifetime together — but though far from indifferent to Flandry's charms, she remains loyal to her husband and finally goes off to share the failed rebel's exile far outside the Empire, leaving Flandry heartbroken. Accidentally or not, in both of these Anderson works the name of the forever lost girl is Kathryn.
- Encyclopedia Exposita: The Earthbook of Stormgate.
- Even Evil Has Standards: In People of the Wind the Terrans are willing to commit an war of aggression but not to engage in genocide.
- Evil Power Vacuum: The Long Night, and the "little night" between the League and the Empire.
- The Epic: Zig-Zagged. While the whole history could be considered an epic and some individual stories can, others have more of a pulp-literature feel.
- Even Mooks Have Loved Ones: One of the Dominic Flandry stories ended with Flandry successfully killing a Merseian agent - a giant aquatic monster able to smash a human with one blow, who was also a very intelligent and capable schemer - who'd been stirring up rebellion on a Terran world. Then Flandry wondered if the agent had some children who couldn't understand why their father hadn't come home.
- Expy: Nicholas van Rijin = Sir John Falstaff.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Several
- The 'Tinerents on Aeneas are recognizably similar to Roma, to the point of having totem pets, much like the way Roma once had hunting hounds as the symbol of a chief(although in the case of the 'Tinerents, the "pets" turn out to be less innocuous and are a devious and rather cruel trap for the 'Tinerents).
- The Polesotechnic League is similar to the Hanseatic League in some ways. It is also compared to Elizabethan seafarers in-verse.
- Avalon is like Medieval Iceland, being founded by human dissidents who wanted to get away from government and Ythrians who always had a low government level anyway. Ythrian laws are rather like Iceland; Humans have a more conventional Republic. Also Avalonians have a poetic culture though it has a different flavor then that of the saga writers.
- Fate Worse Than Death: For a Ythrian to be injured in it's wings is this. Ythrians only do this deliberately to slaves and criminals.
- Feudal Future: The Terran Empire is more recognisable as using this trope, but the late Polesotechnic league is more literally feudal.
- Many planets and races are feudalistic or tribalistic or some combination thereof.
- Floating Water: Justified in one of the Flandry novels, with an artificial zero-g environment.
- Founder of the Kingdom: David Falkayn retires from his life as an Intrepid Merchant to lead the Ythrian-Human colony of Avalon.
- Friendly Enemy: Sort of. The Terran Empire never had a grudge against Ythrians as such and many Terran officers admired them. Ythrians and Avalonian Humans resented Terran aggression but even so the war was civilized as wars go, and the memory didn't leave as much bad blood as might have been.
- Framing Device: The whole history is the common variation of this trope in Space Opera and High Fantasy whereby the history of a fictional civilization is used as the Framing Device. The Earthbook of Stormgate can also be thought of as the conventional "story about someone telling a story" version.
- Good Versus Good: More light grey(Terran Empire)versus lighter grey(Avalon). Ythrians from Avalon emphasize that the main reason for their stubborness was not an evil intention but a right of Terran citizens that would have hurt them. In principle, being Libertarians In Space they are indifferent to government that leaves them alone. However the Terrans demand that any citizen live where they want. And the Avalonians insist that this would mean they would be flooded with migrants they have no way to control and who would wreck their way of life. They continue to fight because both have an uncompromisable principle.
- Going Native: The Human writer and poet Christopher Holm in People of the Wind. A number of humans and Ythrians on Avalon have gone native with each other.
- Good Is Not Nice: Nicholas van Rijn from the Polesotechnic League novels is a greedy, sloppy, cynical, womanizing corporate executive. He also constantly saves his employees from death and disaster, often with an elaborate Batman Gambit that involves using evolutionary psychology to psychoanalyze whatever alien race is giving their interstellar trading company trouble. He is also merciful towards his enemies and tries to create win-win situations for them.
- Flandry is a charming Cultured Warrior, and in his own way an idealist. He is also an unscrupulous spy.
- Both the Terran Empire and the Polesotechnic League have large traits of this in general.
- Gray and Gray Morality: While most sympathy is on the Ythrians in the Terran-Ythrian war, the Ythrians and Terrans had engaged in violent territorial clashes before the war, some of which was the Ythrians fault. Mostly light grey versus light grey as both the Terrans and the Ythrians are presented as civilized and reasonably decent polities.
- In general most struggles have both virtues and flaws on both sides.
- Guile Hero: Nicolas van Rijn, very much. Large and fat—though strong and fast—he takes great joy in outthinking and outwitting his enemies.
- Had To Be Sharp: Several cultures are described as this, notably the ones that managed to survive between the downfall of the Polesotechnic League and the rise of the Terran Empire. It is also hinted once or twice that any race that has managed to get into space, has to be pretty sharp.
- Honor Before Reason: Ythrians call this "Deathpride". When they say something is a matter for this, you know they consider it Serious Business.
- Humans Are Warriors: "That race still bears the chromosomes of conquerors. There are still brave men in the Empire, devoted men, shrewd men ... with the experience of a history longer than ours to guide them. If they see doom before them, they'll fight like demons."
- The general Merseian attitude seems to be that while they may despise the Terran Empire as senile they regard humans as a species for as a fellow Proud Warrior Race.
- Humans Through Alien Eyes: The Earthbook of Stormgate which is supposedly a Ythrian record of the deeds of Van Rjn and Falkayn. Played with in that one of the chief writers is a human who has Gone Native.
- In Harmony with Nature: Ythrians are In Harmony With The Atmosphere for obvious reason. This has effects; they are able to make sailboats better then humans.
- Insufficiently Advanced Alien: The Dominic Flandry series has many examples of "barbarians" — primitive alien species given spaceships and high-tech weaponry by more a advanced civilization, generally for use as expendable mercenaries and deniable proxies.
- Intrepid Merchant: Nicholas van Rijn, and his protege David Falkayn.
- Irony : Several times used to connect one book in the series to another. For instance David Falkayn saves an alien race, the Meresians, from extinction. They turn out to be the Terrans greatest enemies in Flandry's time.
- It Is Beyond Saving: Dominic Flandry has noted that he's just doing his best to stave off the inevitable collapse of the Empire.
- The Jeeves: Dominic Flandry's valet, Chives.
- Klingons Love Shakespeare: The alien Adzel (who looks like a large centauroid dragon) is a Buddhist (which naturally he learned about from humans). He spent some time on Earth studying human culture.
- He also likes opera, and sings Fafnir on stage.
- In a diplomatic visit, a Meresian tells a Terran how much he loves Hindu Mythology. Especially the bloodier parts, naturally.
- Know Your Vines: The Avalonians let a prisoner escape with the knowledge that a large plateau is unguarded. That area is filled with plants that emit semi-toxic gas that incapacitate the Terran invasion force while they prepare an invasion. As the Terrans were never willing to blow up Avalon anyway, were even more unwilling with most of their army captive, and were out of troops, they had to accept Avalonian stubbornness.
- Last of His Kind: The character Aycharaych, recurring archvillain of the Dominic Flandry stories, is the last survivor of his long-lived, telepathic species. But he keeps it a secret for a long time.
- Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Both the Terrans and the Ythrians were civilized and when they fought they respected The Laws and Customs of War.
- Loophole Abuse: David Falkayn in The Three Cornered Wheel is stranded on an alien planet and needs a wagon to carry supplies. The problem is that circles are holy on that planet and therefore one cannot use a wheeled vehicle. The local chief is sympathetic and helps him arrange to build a wagon that has wheels that are technically three cornered rather then round.
- Long Dead Badass: Falkayn becomes this on Avalon and is Shrouded in Myth by the time of People of the Wind.
- On Aenaes Adzel has a monument to him.
- In The Plague of Masters, Van Rjn is a saga hero on a planet Flandry visits.
- Love Across Battle Lines: An Avalonian woman and an Imperial Naval officer in People of the Wind. Subverted in that both are trying to manipulate each other for the benefit of their respective causes. Doubly Subverted because they really have feelings for each other and have no resentment after the war.
- Meaningful Name: The founder of a planet settled partly by humans and partly by the winged, carnivorous, Ythrians is named David Falkayn.
- Meaningful Rename: Christopher Holm is named Arinnian when he is adopted by Stormgate Choth.
- Merchant Prince: Nicholas van Rijn is the head of the Solar Spice and Liquors Company, one of the several conglomerates that make up the Polesotechnic League, an interstellar trading group more powerful than any planetary government. Van Rijn is a classic self-made man, and he is more powerful and influential than many actual princes.
- The Migration: To Avalon by both humans and Ythrians.
- Mixed Metaphor: Nicholas van Rijn, along with malapropisms, often mixed metaphors. Particularly appealing was his reference to forcefully seeking something he wanted "like a bulldozer going after a cowdozer."
- Multicultural Alien Planet: Most of the planets they spend much time on whether human or alien are multicultural.
- Avalon is probably the most important of these being a profound study in the difficulties of bringing about friendship between cultures.
- It is a notable fact that the political geography does not correspond exactly to the racial geography. Thus there are some Meresians on Terran dominated worlds and vice-versa, and the same goes with Terrans and Ythrians. In their relations to more minor races the Terran Empire and the Polisotechnic League often have no more then an outpost on any given world which otherwise runs itself. And most races are themselves divided among their various cultural and political lines.
- National Weapon: The iconic Meresian weapon is their knuckleduster knives.
- Noble Savage: Played with with some of the aliens.
- Subverted with Ythrians. They have the Closer to Earth and the Honor Before Reason down. However they have a sophisticated intellectual culture, a philosophical sensibility and when first contact is made they are able to comprehend Terran technology well enough to get into the stars. They are called "uncivilized" in the original sense of not being urbanized, but are not uncivilized in any other sense.
- Not a Game: used on van Rijn in "Lodestar"
- Not So Different: When some Meresians visit a Terran outpost for a drinking party Flandry observes that they both have a history of war and predation.
- In Day of their Return a visiting Meresian emisary observes this to the Imperial representative. When he responds,"I am not a man of war", the Meresian says that that only means he is not fond of physical violence, but that his tough negotiations prove that he has quite laudable competitive instincts. He then goes into a discourse on warlike passages from Hindu Mythology.
- Our Elves Are Better: Averted. Ythrians are a vague analogue to Space Elves in some ways, but are not particularly better then humans. They are more honorable on the whole then humans(it is specifically said by an official of the Terran Empire that their intelligence could not get a Ythrian mole), and cannot understand random crime and hence the need for government beyond a judicial council. However they are also often more cruel; for instance they are likely to routinely attack trespassers, they become irrational and often violent during mating season, they make less provision for the disabled then humans, and the more old fashioned still maintain slavery and sophant sacrifice for a long time after First Contact.
- In The Sarragosso of Lost Starships, there are a mysterious band of Space Elves that act rather like Fair Folk. They are not particularly nice to say the least. Nor are they invincible and humans overcome them through sheer pugnaciousness.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Definitely not. Religion remains an important part of culture including the religions of the time when the book was written. Wodenites are fond of human religion, Ythrians have their own religions. The planet Aeneas which is inhabited by humans is quite religious.
- The Pardon: Extorted in "The Man Who Counts"
- Given to Ivar in Day of their Return.
- Patron Saint: Nicholas van Rijn swears by Saint Dismas (the Good Thief, appropriately), and has expressed the intention of burning candles in offering (to which another character responded "The Saint had best get it in writing").
- Planetville: Averted. Planets have highly developed cultures with their own local politics and factionalism.
- Planet Terra: The Dominic Flandry stories refer to Terra and the Terran Empire.
- Post-Victory Collapse: Falkayn in Three-Cornered Wheel.
- Precursors: Hinted at in several places.
- Proud Warrior Race: The Ythrians are a downplayed version. They are really no more violent then humans, probably less so though they do have their own history of warfare and feuding and are definitely honorable, poetic, and formidable in combat. And they are at least a proud hunter race.
- Meresians are a straighter example. They glory in conquest and take pride in their military prowess to the point of being Blood Knights.
- The Remnant: After an attempt at the Imperial throne(frustrated by Flandry), the remaining forces flee into the stars and disappear. Their descendants are found during the Long Night.
- Rising Empire: In the collection Rise of the Terran Empire. Also the early stages of the Polesotechnic League.
- Ripped from the Headlines: People of the Wind was based on a German speaking city in France enduring siege from the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian War much as the humans on Avalon preferred fighting beside their Ythrian friends against fellow humans in the Terran Empire.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Terran Empire is founded by a crew of desperate slaves captured by aliens raiding Terra. They first take over the ship in a mutiny. Then instead of fleeing home they visit the alien's planet to drop a nuke on them. Then they go back and organize an army of humans and found the Terran Empire to get even and make sure they will Never Be Hurt Again.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Despite their being millions of planets the same ones are visited over and over. Sometimes there is a justification; the Avalonian stories are not only a plot center but a place where the history of Rjn and Falkayn's adventures were written. But sometimes the same planet seems to be visited for no particular reason.
- Settling the Frontier
- Shout-Out: A Terran bureaucrat quotes the "old Terran saying" (from Starship Troopers of course) about two smart tough races (meaning Humans and Ythrians) wanting the same real estate.
- Shown Their Work: Anderson was both a scientist and a sociologist. It shows.
- The Siege: Avalon was besieged by the Terran fleet and protected by a wall of robotic war-satellites.
- Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Averted. Slavery is part of life. However in the Terran Empire it seems to be mostly a judicial punishment, and in the Ythrian Domain it slowly died out with the import of robotics.
- Soldier vs. Warrior: Terrans are a bureaucratic empire and fight in a more mechanistic way for reasons of realpolitic whereas Avalonians especially Ythrians fight for Deathpride.
- The hero of The Sarrogasso of Lost Starships is a downplayed version of warrior, being an aristocratic Officer and a Gentleman who was a veteran of a war with the more pragmatic Terrans, before teaming up with them on an exploration project.
- Space Battle: Several. Most notable is the Terran-Ythrian war in People of the Wind.
- In People of the Wind war there are scenes where people watch the fighting from the surface of Avalon through the flashes of laser and missile fire in the sky.
- Space Cold War: Meresians vs Terrans
- Space Cossacks: Avalon is settled because of the decay of the Polesotechnic League.
- Space Opera
- Space Western: in the sense that a lot is about frontier development.
- Spice of Life: Nicholas van Rijn, something of a throwback to the spice traders of the Dutch East India days, is president of the Solar Spice And Liquors Company.
- Spiritual Antithesis: Day of their Return is in some ways an antithesis of Dune. The hero lives on a provincial semi-arid planet, flees from political troubles and spends time among a series of people. He is told he is chosen to lead a holy war. But instead he discovers this to be a fraud because the Meresians had hoped to exploit his world's spiritual enthusiasm. In revulsion he surrenders to the Empire. And becomes a peacemaker.
- Standard Sci-Fi History: With an emphasis on Step 3, "Interstellar exploration and colonization", and Step 5.3, "Decline and Fall of the Empire".
- Stout Strength: Nicholas van Rijn.
- Talking Your Way Out: Dominic Flandry. Kidnapped by an alien race, who just assumes he is a decadent worthless low level agent, he soon has the entire leadership of the planet backstabbing each other.
- Truce Zone: In A Circus of Hells, Flandry and some Imperial officers meet a visiting Meresian ship, at a forlorn base and spend time getting drunk together.
- Walking the Earth: Ivar Mac Cormac, a Aenean noble related to the rebellious admiral, and the hero of Day of their Return spends his time doing this on the planet Aeneas while he is fleeing from the empire.
- This seems to be a general habit of Wodenites. We are shown two Wodenite hermits(one Buddhist, one Catholic), who are doing this.
- Warrior Poet: Avalonians in general, especially Ythrians.
- The War of Earthly Aggression: Several wars during the expansion of the Terran Empire could count.
- What the Romans Have Done for Us: Both Flandry and a visiting Ythrian agent in different stories note that if the different worlds of the Terran Empire were independent they would have to pay for their own defense and burdens would be a lot greater.
- Whole Plot Reference: The Game of Empire is, as acknowledged in the Author's Note, a Gender Flipped, space opera version of Kim.
- Worthy Opponent