fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsCaptain Flandry: Defender of the Terran Empire science fiction book reviewsCaptain Flandry by Poul Anderson

Captain Flandry: Defender of the Terran Empire is the fifth part in Baen’s project to collect all the stories in Anderson’s Technic Civilization and publish them by internal chronology. Three of the previous four books centred on the characters of Nicolas van Rijn and David Falkayn. In book four, aptly named Young Flandry, a new hero takes over. It is graced by one of the most horrific covers I’ve come across although Captain Flandry is giving it a run for its money. This cover even got the attention of the bad cover art blog Good Show Sir! I suppose it is the content that counts however, so let’s have a look at that.

Captain Flandry contains six stories — one full novel and five shorter works, including the first Flandry story ever published. The collection opens with Outpost of Empire (1967). This novella length work does not feature Flandry but is does incorporate many of the elements that return again and again in the Flandry stories. A world far from the centre of the empire is on the brink of rebellion. A rebellion partly incited by the Empire’s rivals: the Mersians. Incompetently governed, the local officials are quickly outgunned. Fortunately the empire can draw on more resources. Outpost of Empire is probably the best piece in the collection. It features a well thought out world and an unusual society. As with many of these border conflicts Anderson describes in this series, the ways of warfare are superbly adapted to the local environment. Flandry sometimes takes a rather arrogant view on what he calls barbarism. The voluntary barbarians in this story might have been more to his taste.

Next up is the only full novel in the collection. The Day of Their Return (1975) is the newest work in this book. From a technical point of view it is probably the best written. This novel marks the entry of a notable enemy of Flandry, although the Captain himself will not make an appearance in this book. The Mersian agent and telepath Ayrcharaych visits the world of Aeneas, also the setting of the novel The Rebel Worlds contained in the previous volume, to stir the rebellion on that planet to life. Carefully feeding the fires of religious fanaticism, it almost succeeds. I thought the previous novel set on this planet was mediocre but I must admit I quite liked the return to this world. Anderson develops the Aeneas a lot further than he did in the previous book. Part of the story is a bit predictable, one of the main characters is a quite naive young man, but the overarching conflict between de Empire and the Mersians is very well done. I’d rank this one just behind Outpost of Empire.

At this point Flandry himself shows up in the collection and the quality of the stories goes downhill quite a bit. The next story is the very first Flandry story ever published: “Tiger by the Tail” (1951). Although the version contained in this book has undergone some editing by Anderson in the 1970s, it is still quite pulpish. In “Tiger by the Tail” Flandry wakes up on an alien space ship after being drugged by an attractive woman. As it turns out Flandry is being abducted by a civilization outside the Empire. It has been fast-forwarded into the space age, not giving the culture the time it needs to catch up. A galactic empire is their dream but Flandry quickly shows them they are terribly naive about galactic politics. Anderson may have polished the original but the plot is still very cliché and quite predictable. I’m not impressed with this first Flandry story.

Nor with the second as it happens. “Honourable Enemies” (1951) is the first encounter between Flandry and Ayrcharaych. In this story the two empires once again battle for control of a (backward) border world. Flandry can’t figure out how Ayrcharaych guesses his every move until they discover he is an exceptionally talented telepath. How do you fool someone who can read your mind? Flandry’s (very beautiful) colleague Aline knows the answer. The story is too cheesy for words, especially the fact that Aline is secretly in love with Flandry. I know James Bond hadn’t yet been invented when Anderson wrote this but I am still surprised he actually managed to sell it to a magazine. Besides Flandry’s romantic entanglements, the plot itself is very straightforward and won’t fool the reader for a second about how Flandry is going to fool his enemy. This is by far the weakest story I have encountered in this series. Fortunately Anderson grew a lot as a writer in later decades.

The collection then moves on to “The Game of Glory” (1958). In this story Flandry chases a lead on a possible rebellious movement on the aquatic world of Nyanza. When he arrives at the planet the official Empire representative on the planet has been murdered and Flandry rolls right into a deadly situation. Slightly better than the two previous two stories, the setting in particular is quite interesting. And Flandry doesn’t even get the girl this time! “A Message in Secret” (1959) is the final story in the collection. Set on an interesting world where the dominant culture seems to have reverted to a kind of central Asian nomadic existence, Flandry is yet again faced with the task of rooting out a possible uprising. The way he goes about asking the Empire to send in the cavalry is quite interesting.

All in all I was not too impressed with this collection. Thankfully the two works really worth reading make up some two-thirds of the total collection so the four mediocre stories ending it don’t make it a disappointment. Captain Flandry does suffer from repetitions of various kinds. Flandry or another protagonist states the inevitability of the Long Night in each story at least once. A number of them also follow the same plot. The Mersians try to shake a border world loose from the empire, Flandry finds out about it and investigates, Flandry finds he is hopelessly ill-prepared, Flandry overcomes these challenges anyway (and gets the girl). This volume offers very little variation compared to the previous books (Rise of the Terran Empire in particular). It wasn’t a punishment to read but Poul Anderson has written better material. I hope the sixth volume, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight of Terra, contains better stories.


  • Rob Weber

    ROB WEBER, a regular guest at FanLit, developed a fantasy and science fiction addiction as well as a worrying Wheel of Time obsession during his college years. While the Wheel of Time has turned, the reading habit that continues to haunt him long after acquiring his BSc in environmental science. Rob keeps a blog at Val’s Random Comments.

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