Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight of Terra by Poul Anderson
Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight of Terra is the sixth part in Baen’s project to publish all of Poul Anderson’s works in the Technic Civilization universe in chronological order. This edition is again marred by some truly horrific cover art. I have a hard time deciding which of the volumes with Flandry in the title has the worst cover. I guess Baen is trying to emphasize the James Bond is space image of Flandry but it could have been done a bit more tastefully. Can you see yourself reading this on the train going home from work? I’m going to have to keep this cover carefully hidden from visitors. Let’s get back to the actual content. This volume contains three full length novels as well as well as a short story. The most interesting piece was the last novel in the collection, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows.
The collection opens with A Plague of Masters, which first appeared in Fantastic in 1960 and 1961. On the way back from a successfully completed assignment, Flandry notices the isolated planet of Unan Besar that, depending on how you interpret the border, may or may not be part of the Empire. This kind of isolation strikes Flandry as odd. He decides to investigate and uncovers a society in which a small group of people hold the entire population hostage. Flandry himself also seems to have made himself dependent on their hospitality.
The concept of this story is quite intriguing, a component of the planet’s ecology being toxic to humans and killing them in a matter of weeks if they do not take a medicine produced by the ruling class. Lest they forget, withholding the treatment is occasionally used as a way to publicly execute criminals. Anderson shows how the ruling class benefits from isolation and how a static society evolves on Unan Besar. Flandry’s actions still follow the same mold that Anderson uses in most of the other Flandry stories though. Flandry spots a problem, gets himself in a terrible mess, figures out a way to defeat impossible odds and rides off into the sunset with the girl. Still, I enjoyed this one more than some other Flandry stories.
The second full novel in Sir Dominic Flandry is Hunters of the Sky Cave (1959), in which our hero is once again pitted against his arch-nemesis Archaraych. On the fringes of the empire, out in the wild uncontrolled galaxy, countless planets harbouring war-like sophonts have gained access to faster than light technology and massively destructive weapons. One such people is laying siege to the Terran colony of Vixen, only this time, they seem to come from within the empire’s borders. Which raises the question who supplied them with the necessary technology? The gas giant dwelling Ymirites are the prime suspect but after a meeting with Mersiean spy Archaraych, Flandry suspects a deeper game.
It’s another well-plotted but not terribly surprising novel. It builds on one of the elements that shows up frequently in Anderson’s works, namely that conflict between sapient species only arises if they are after the same “real estate” — planets with conditions suitable for colonization. It is this string that Flandry yanks to unravel the whole tangle of misdirection, deceit and lies. Once again Flandry saves the Empire from a costly defeat.
“The Warriors from Nowhere” is the only short story in the collection. It was originally published in 1954 but the revised 1980 version was used for Sir Dominic Flandry. During a raid on one of the Terran colonies at the fringe of the empire, the favourite grand-daughter of the emperor is taken to be sold as a slave. Flandry is sent after the raiders to recover her. The 1980 version isn’t all that good, I suspect the original version was quite pulpish indeed. Flandry does live up to his reputation in this one.
The final novel of this volume is A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, which first appeared in serialized form in 1974. It was written much later than most of the Flandry novels and stories and it shows in the writing. Although Flandry doesn’t shake his James Bond aura entirely, he’s not quite the same in this novel either. The empire is in a dreadful state after the death of emperor Josip. After years of civil war it becomes apparent that Hans will take over. He still has much work to do before the empire is stable again, however. One such task lies on Dennitza, where the seeds of rebellion are about to sprout in a full-blown civil war. A semi-retired Flandry is coaxed back into active duty to meet the threat. He leaves in the company of a slave girl, condemned to slavery for treason on Dennitza.
We get to see a side of Flandry that Anderson didn’t expose until now. At this point in the overall story he is a middle-aged man and has lost his drive for more adventure on behalf of the empire a bit. This new mission he is sent on certainly revives some of that. I guess it is in part Flandry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He finally meets a woman he would want to spend the rest of his life with. This part of the plot ends in predictable tragedy of course. The novel also features the final showdown between Archaraych and Flandry, a part of the novel I was more interested in. One other interesting plot line is provided by Flandry’s illegitimate son. You’d think birth control would be a simple matter in the thirty-first century, but apparently Flandry has quite a few children. Using these elements Anderson provides us with a plot that is more multi-layered than other Flandry novels. It adds to his, up to this point, rather one dimensional character. Definitely the best part of this volume.
I must admit that reading Captain Flandry, I had begun to tire of this character. Anderson uses the same basic plot for many of these stories and indeed, this volume contains mostly more of the same. The last novel contained in Sir Dominic Flandry has given me hope that the last volume may contain some more interesting work, though. There are two more Flandry novels to go in the next volume, both of them written later in Anderson’s career. I seem to like the ones Anderson wrote later in life a lot more than the early stuff. Let see how Anderson takes us into the Long Night and beyond in Flandry’s Legacy.