CAN READ SFF: The High Crusade, by Poul Anderson

  • by Gitabushi

I picked this book up from the library at the same time I picked up “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian.

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Conan has been okay (that’s a post for another time), but at one point I just didn’t want to start the next story, so I started reading this book.

It instantly drew me in.  It wasn’t a “can’t set it down” book, but I actively wanted to finish it, actively wanted to know what was going to happen, and actively cared about the characters.  That hasn’t been the case very much, lately.

Let me pause a moment to say that I think the book is adequately reviewed both by PC Bushi on this site, and by Jo Walton. I have zero disagreements with anything either of them said.

That said, this still isn’t a must-read book. It is entertaining, and made some interesting points, but it was merely solid, not amazing.

What I liked about the book:

— I think the framing device was perfect. I remembered the opening, and kept it in mind as I read the story, wondering exactly how it was going to end up with the individual reading the book that told the story I was reading.  The revelation of how the individual was reading the book was satisfying as well, although not clever or unexpected.

— I liked how the medieval characters considered themselves the height of civilization and sophistication, and how that played against the trope of superstitious and backward Christians from the Middle Ages.  This, too, was done effectively.  It is interesting, however, to contrast with Robert A. Heinlein’s J. Darlington Smith, a man from earlier times revived from a stasis field in his book “Beyond This Horizon.”

Smith was intelligent, but unable to catch up with modern education because he was simply too far behind. This is plausible, since we learn best as children, and because we learn the state of the art math, science, culture, etc., as a sort of integral mass.  Even a genius from the past would have a difficult time catching up with modern technology because he would have to learn the basis to the basis to the basis to the basis to the basis for many of the things we take for granted.  Not to mention having his head crammed full of knowledge and information about technology and societal norms that would no longer be operative and would have to be unlearned or forgotten.

In the High Crusade, however, it is lampshaded by positing a technology so mature that knowledge is less important than merely memorizing which button to press and which dial to turn, and how far.  In fact, this lampshade works pretty well.

Edited to add:

However, I would have liked to see more of the younger adventurers catch on to the alien technology more quickly, and especially see the children grasp it intuitively, but it doesn’t hurt the story that Poul doesn’t make the choice to include this.

— I liked the characters.

— I liked the writing in general.  It was almost comforting to encounter a true writing master again, for the first time in a while.  Every character was described in just enough detail to meet the needs of the story. Technological issues were handwaved just enough to meet the needs of the story without seeming like too much of a dodge. The story progressed well, with excellent pacing. Dialogue was all believable, and perfectly done despite having to represent archaic thought processes and communication. The action was detailed when it needed to be, summarized when appropriate. In short, this book has no flaws I can think of.

— I liked the fact that I didn’t have to wade through the latest diversity fashion archetypes. It was nice to not have some politically-correct notion shoved in my face over and over.  That’s not always the case even in other professional fiction (I’m looking at you, later Cherryh and McMasters-Bujold works), so it was nice.

However, if you have a problem with Christianity, Faith, or traditional roles for men and women, this book is going to trigger you over, and over, and over, and over.  Which is why you should read it, probably: face your fears.

In the end, I can’t put this as a Must Read because I don’t think I’ll ever want to read it again, and I don’t feel the need to add it to my collection.  You should read it, but your life and grasp of Speculative Fiction will be fine even if you don’t.51ylLMuLTCL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

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6 thoughts on “CAN READ SFF: The High Crusade, by Poul Anderson

  1. Nice write-up, Nathan.

    A little but of a downer that you simultaneously describe it as entertaining, flawless, and a non-must-read, but once again there’s no accounting for taste!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s not a thing wrong with it. But it doesn’t get into the depth I’d need for it to be a MUST READ.
      If you want to see an example of *how* to write a story, then yes, this is a MUST READ. But I need books that challenge my thinking, that deepen my understanding of humanity.
      This book didn’t do that.
      Can I say this book is the Cheesecake Factory of SFF stories?

      Like

      1. It does hurt my enjoyment, in a way.

        But I also think part of it is I simply like a certain style, and certain content. That’s where personal taste comes in. It isn’t better, just my preference…with the obvious caveat that I’m awesome and my my taste is obviously the most correct.

        Liked by 1 person

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