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Creator / Poul Anderson

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"So much American science fiction is parochial — not as true now as it was years ago, but the assumption is one culture in the future, more or less like ours, and with the same ideals, the same notions of how to do things, just bigger and flashier technology. Well, you know darn well it doesn't work that way..."

Poul William Anderson (November 25, 1926 – July 31, 2001) was an American writer of Speculative Fiction, mainly science fiction, and occasional Historical Fiction and Fantasy, who was also involved in the founding of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Though much of his work was dramatic, he also wrote a fair amount of humor. He was known for combining the nuts-and-bolts of hard science fiction with interesting and unusual characters. His novel Tau Zero was one of the first to consider the extreme implications of relativity, and he was one of the first authors to create a biologically plausible Winged Humanoid alien species. On the more humorous side, he was the first to postulate a spaceship powered by beer. His penchant for doing the research also extended to his fantasy and historical works. He has been cited as a major source for Dungeons & Dragons. But he was best known for his sweeping Technic History space opera series, which was formed by Canon Welding his early Polysotechnic League stories with his later Dominic Flandry/Terran Empire stories.


The Other Wiki lists recurring themes in his work as (among others) "larger-than-life characters who succeed gleefully or fail heroically," the folly of underestimating "primitive" cultures, and "tragic conflict... with no villains at all." His famous essay, "On Thud and Blunder," where he takes potshots at those who fail to use basic research, or at least common sense when writing Heroic Fantasy, is the Trope Namer for Thud and Blunder, though the term has acquired a meaning he never intended.

Oh, and it really is Poul Anderson, not Paul Anderson. So let's not mistake him with Paul Thomas Anderson or Paul W.S. Anderson.


Works of Poul Anderson having their own pages:

His other works provides examples of:

  • The Beautiful Elite: The aliens in Sargasso of Lost Starships.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • Played up to eleven in Sargasso of Lost Starships, where Helena is attractive and military, and Valduma is inhuman, possessed of great powers, superhumanly beautiful, sadistic, and completely mad.
    • Auri and Storm in Corridors of Time, the first a simple and gentle Neolithic girl, the second a time-traveler with superhuman technology, ruthlessly working to prevent her culture from losing in a temporal war.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lots.
  • Blithe Spirit: Caitlín Mulryan, the eponymous character of The Avatar.
  • The Captain: Mostly in space.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: "The Sensitive Man" is revealed, in the end, to have learned how to invoke hysterical strength and other abilities normally found only in psychotics.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Poul Anderson is fond of these characters. In his Wing Alek series of short stories the main character is forbidden from ever using killing to win a conflict (luckily the villains don't know that) so he uses underhanded methods to get the villains to defeat themselves.
  • Constrained Writing: "Uncleftish Beholding" is a short essay Anderson wrote that provides a basic overview of atomic physics, but does so as much as possible with only words of Germanic, rather than Latin, origin.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: In "Holmgang", Johnny's murderer. Or so he poses as.
  • Crush Blush: In "Virgin Planet", the hero blushes when the heroines dice to decide who gets him.
  • Cultured Badass: In "A Little Knowledge".
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: "The Sensitive Man" concludes with the main character's observation that he's about to have a nervous breakdown.
  • "Dear John" Letter: In the Back Story of "The Corkscrew Of Space".
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Common. In "Star Fog" for instance, Laure learns that the ship's crew are no longer able to interbreed with standard humanity, and their compulsive need to have children means he can not marry the one of them he has fallen in love with. Ditto for Rachaela, where the titular she-demon and her human lover have to sadly part ways.
  • Dirty Business: The aliens' view, in "No Truce with Kings".
  • Disintegration Chamber: In the novelette "Genius", set in a far-future interstellar empire, one character considers killing another, thinking to himself that if he's caught "they might send him to the disintegration chamber for murder".
  • Divided States of America: In "No Truce With Kings".
  • Duel to the Death: In "Holmgang" the plot rises to this.
  • Dumb Dinos: The dinosaurs in "Wildcat" are so stupid that they are incredibly difficult to kill, staying active enough to fight even after one is literally gutted by gunfire. The carnivores also do not recognize carrion as food, only attacking live prey.
  • Extremophile Lifeforms: "Call Me Joe", a 1957 novellete, features a paraplegic who explores the frigid surface of Jupiter via a remote-controlled, centaur-like artificial body that's designed to drink methane and craft tools out of water ice. He encounters hostile wildlife which evolved there, hence is also adapted to such conditions.
  • The Fair Folk: They appear in many Anderson stories, often with some kind of twist. Examples include The Queen of Air and Darkness.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: In "Brake", a woman, the sole surviving passenger, helps by cooking the meals while the men of the crew frantically work at saving the ship.
  • Feudal Future: Many.
    • In Corridors of Time, the hero realizes that the futuristic society that recruited him to fight a dystopia is rather dystopian itself when he is dropped in it and learns that the queen has high tech medical treatment while the poor woman he meets looks ancient at forty because of her lack of it.
    • In Sargasso of Lost Starships, Donovan still has local authority despite the conquest because of their feudal loyalties.
  • First Contact: The novelette The Enemy Stars deals with an accidental First Contact between a human and the aliens that save his life, and the sequel The Ways of Love deals with how humans handle the first alien beings on Earth (not well, in some cases).
  • Flower Motifs: The aliens loved this in "The Pirate".
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Averted in the short story The Food of the Gods. A being or concept needs some initial worship to achieve Godhood, but after that are relatively self-sustaining. (If a bit hungry . . . )
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality
  • Historical Fantasy: Mother of Kings is based on the Norse sagas with a low-fantastic element.
  • Home Sweet Home: Why they stopped looking for Earth in "Gypsy".
  • Hot as Hell: The main character, an Alchoholic Writer, falls in love with the title demon in Rachaela, who insists she's only after his soul. Ultimately she falls for his charms, and they can't stay together because she refuses to allow him to sell his soul for her hand in marriage. The story was adapted as an audiodrama here.
  • Humanoid Aliens
  • Humanity Is Advanced
  • Human Popsicle: Used in "The Burning Bridge" for interstellar colonization.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: In "The Burning Bridge", the captain fakes a message to persuade them to go on.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Central to all of a planet's cultures in "Sharing of Flesh".
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: A Boat of Million Years has fertile immortals. Unfortunately, the children are mortal.
  • Improbably High I.Q.: In "Turning Point," invoked to be averted; it's meaningless to talk of how high an average IQ the planet of geniuses has, because the scale really doesn't work past 180.
    • Brain Wave, one of Anderson’s early novels, is a pulp-influenced look at a world where most humans become super-geniuses, and animals become as intelligent as humans used to be, after earth moves out of an energy-damping field it's been in since the Crustacean period.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: The Old Phoenix Tavern, which appears in several works.
  • It Was a Gift: Invoked as an excuse in "A Little Knowledge".
  • King in the Mountain: In Orion Shall Rise, the line "Orion shall rise" is used by many citizens of a subjugated land. This trope is invoked to explain their superstition.
  • Lady Land: An all-female Lost Colony is discovered in the novel Virgin Planet.
  • Lonely Together: In "Losers' Night", the Old Phoenix, the Inn Between the Worlds, has a night where all the guests are failures. Unusually for the inn, this night allows people to magically understand each other — so they can commiserate.
  • Master of Your Domain: A lot of his books, e.g. Boat of A Million Years.
  • Matter of Life and Death: In "Marque and Reprisal".
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Devil's Game.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In The Man Who Counts.
  • The Men First: In "Arsenal Port".
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: "Journey's End".
  • Mind over Matter: In Sargasso of Lost Starships.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker is parodied in passing in The Makeshift Rocket:
    "Oh, oh," said Herr Syrup, sympathetically, for not even the owners of the Black Sphere Line could be as ruthless as any and all Martian bankers. They positively enjoyed foreclosing. They made a ceremony of it, at which dancing clerks strewed cancelled checks while a chorus of vice presidents sang a litany. "And now business is not so good, vat?"
  • More Hero than Thou: "Sunjammer" — they argue about who will do the dangerous part, based on two of them being young but unmarried, and one being married but old.
  • The Mutiny: In "Brake".
  • My Grandson, Myself: In The Boat of a Million Years several characters do this.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Ganch is repulsed by this in "Inside Straight".
  • Non-Human Sidekick: "To Build A World".
  • Not a Game: Inverted in "The Un-Man" — a two-year-old needs to think it's a game to avoid being traumatized.
  • Old Retainer: Basil's slave in Sargasso of Lost Starships
  • Portal Network: In The Enemy Stars (1958), mankind has maintained a program to deploy a portal network for centuries — while civilizations rose and fell on Earth — using STL ships to deliver portals to other solar systems. Aliens have been doing the same thing.
    ... But still the ships fell upward through the night, and always there were men to stand watch upon them. Sometimes the men wore peaked caps and comets, sometimes steel helmets, sometimes decorous gray cowls, eventually blue berets with winged stars; but always they watched the ships, and more and more often as the decades passed they brought their craft to new harbors.
    After ten generations, the Southern Cross was not quite halfway to her own goal, though she was the farthest from Earth of any human work.
  • Privateer: The Star Fox.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Iason invokes it by name in "Eutopia."
  • Second Love: Proposed but not feasible in "Arsenal Port." In "Admirality" he appears to have recovered enough.
  • Sherlock Scan: In "Queen of Air and Darkness."
  • Shrouded in Myth: In Virgin Planet, a planet of women, isolated by accident, has legends of these marvelous beings, men. A real, flesh-and-blood man appears, and they initially conclude he's not marvelous enough and must be an alien.
  • Somewhere, an Equestrian Is Crying: While his essay "On Thud and Blunder" is extremely detailed on how to treat horses as living creatures, instead of the usual Automaton Horses in fiction, he does state the outdated pitfall of how stallions are dangerous around menstruating women.
  • Space Cossacks: In Star Ways, the Nomads roam the space in their starships and are divided into clans. The book's synopsis even states that they are kind of a merge between Vikings and Gypsies.
  • Space Opera
  • Settle for Sibling: Or for your dead husband's clone-brother.
  • Starfish Aliens: In Starfarers, one of the sentient species is an intelligent layer of star. Not the whole star, just part of its skin.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Wanda reminds herself of this in Year of the Ransom.
  • Taking the Veil: The end of "Kyrie", and a plot twist in "The Live Coward".
  • Talking in Your Sleep: A danger in "The Burning Bridge" — the man must become a Human Popsicle so he will not reveal all.
  • Talking to the Dead: Evalyn in "Sharing of the Flesh" — she fears it shows how disturbed she is.
  • Temporal Duplication: In "There Will Be Time", Jack Havig is a natural time traveler who defends himself against a bully by getting a bunch of temporal doubles to gang up on him.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: In "A Little Knowledge".
  • Thicker Than Water:
    • In "Say It With Flowers", the main character pleads for news on the grounds that he had a relative on a ship.
  • Telepathy: Sargasso of Lost Starships — used for psychic attacks.
  • Time Travel: Lots of uses, beside the "Time Patrol" series.
    • "My Object All Sublime" features far future people who use it for punishment.
    • "Flight to Forever" revolves about a time machine in a universe where you can only move forward.
    • "The Man Who Came Early": The titular man was sent back in time after a lightning strike.
  • Torn Apart by the Mob: In The Big Rain, Lucifer is a uranium mine on Venus which is used by the planet's dictatorial government as a political prison; all convicted "enemies of the state" are left in the pit to dig (without radiation gear) until the horrific working conditions kill them. When the nascent resistance movement storms the mine and liberates the prisoners, the leader attempts to have the captured Guardians running the place locked up in its holding cells, but is later awoken to learn that they were literally torn to pieces by the freed convicts guarding them. Having seen for himself the kind of treatment they had inflicted on the convicts, he can't bring himself to give them more than a dressing-down.
  • Trapped in the Past: "The Man Who Came Early": In this novelette, an American soldier stationed in Iceland is sent back to the Viking Era after being hit by lightning.
  • Twice-Told Tale: "Goat Song" is Orpheus.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: In "A Critique of Impure Reason", he rejects the notion of living off his wife's salary.
  • Ungovernable Galaxy: His SF stories frequently discuss how difficult it is to govern a planet, let alone more than one.
  • Venus Is Wet: In "Sister Planet", Venus is an ocean world with no landmasses. In a variation from the norm, it doesn't have a human-breathable atmosphere.
  • When Trees Attack: An alien forest in The Star Fox.
  • Write What You Know: Anderson was Danish-American and often made reference to Scandinavia in his work. His late novel War of the Gods was a modern rendition of one of the stories from the 12th century Danish work Gesta Danorum ("Deeds of the Danes").
  • Would Not Hit a Girl: "To Build A World".

Alternative Title(s): Winston P Sanders