Nostaligia Fail

When I saw Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions on an ebook sale recently, I knew I had a paper copy on my SF&F keeper shelf, a very old copy with tiny print and slightly yellowed pages. So I downloaded the digital copy and set out to find out why I’d held on to the book for so long, decades in fact. I read a lot of Poul Anderson’s novels back in the day, and enjoyed them, but only kept a few.


And having reread Three Hearts and Three Lions, I’m not entirely sure why I kept this one. All I remembered was the basic premise, a Danish engineer swept from a World War II battle to an alternate Faery/Carolingian world. His adventures there weren’t nearly as interesting now as I apparently found them forty years ago. Making allowances for the fact that the novel was published in the early 60s (and expanded from a novella written in the 50s), it’s no surprise that the writing seemed dated. The hero’s occasional bursts of humor were a welcome relief from the heavy lifting of working through the thick dialect of some of the characters, but the plot was rather episodic and confusing.


Another old paperback still on my shelf is Anderson’s Midsummer Night’s Tempest, and I downloaded a copy of that to my Kindle. I love the premise: a world in which Will Shakespeare is a respected historian, writing about true events. But I couldn’t get past the thick dialect on the third page.


Anderson was a giant in the science fiction and fantasy world, and undoubtedly a major influence on many authors who came after him, but the books I’ve reread haven’t held up for me. (I made a stab at the David Falkayn series a while back and wasn’t swept away by those novels, either, although I loved them long ago.)


Perhaps some literary memories are best left undisturbed.

The Influence of Books, Part 5

That little piece of notepad paper is still on my desk, and I’ve arrived at the line for science fiction.  There are three names there, plucked out of my head the night I made the list, but that’s not enough.  Not for science fiction.  I’m doubling up on this one.

I don’t read as much science fiction these days as I once did–I don’t have the leisure to read as much of anything as I used to–but I have belonged to the Science Fiction Book Club for decades, and my bookshelves are full of SFBC editions.  As I write this I am reading Ghost Planet by Sharon Lynn Fisher, a Golden Heart finalist in paranormal romance published as science fiction by TOR Books.

If I go back to my school days, I remember reading L. Sprague De Camps and Fletcher Pratt’s Enchanter books, James Blish’s Cities in Flight tetralogy, books by Hal Clement and many others, but the big three were Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Poul Anderson.

Asimov wrote (amongst his truly vast output) juveniles under the pseudonym Lucky French, and I’m sure I read some of those, but the books that I remember, and that I read over and over, were the Foundation trilogy.   Looking at Amazon, I am reminded that Asimov continued to write in the Foundation universe, and that younger authors carried on later, but the original trilogy consisted of Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation.  Like nearly all of Asmiov’s work, these were stories of humans.  They might colonize the Galaxy, but the only aliens they met were themselves.

Heinlein also wrote a stack of juveniles–no one called them Young Adult novels back then–and I read those along with his adult novels, works like Stranger in a Strange Land, which seemed very daring in their day.  A handful of his many stories stick in my mind:  “The Roads Must Roll,” from his pulp fiction days, The Door Into Summer, Revolt in 2100.  I’m sure I read most, if not all, of his Future History series.  The only Heinlein book on my shelf today is a totally independent novel called Glory Road.  I’m not really sure why–on rereading, it didn’t quite live up to memory.  An omnibus edition of some of the juveniles is no longer on my shelf; I don’t think I even read all three of the novels in it.  But when I first read them, they fed my thirst for books and my dreams of the future.

I still have a whole row of Poul Anderson’s books on my shelf, old favorites including Three Hearts and Three Lions, The High Crusade, and several of his Time Patrol stories, as well as three anthologies of the stories and short novels that made up Anderson’s future history, the Technic Civilization Saga.  Like Asimov and Heinlein, Anderson produced an enormous body of work; his universe was populated with exotic aliens, merchant traders, and galactic empires.  Some of them read a bit too much like pulp fiction today–one of the anthologies has a bookmark in it where I apparently stopped reading and put it back on the shelf–but I devoured them all back in the day.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that these authors from my science fiction past are all men.  The three names on my notepad, like my friend Sharon Fisher, are women, and they all have a prominent place on my keeper shelf (the picture at the top of these pages includes some of my science fiction keepers).  I’ll be back with those three names, but right now I’m going to fix dinner and turn on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.