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The High Crusade
Poul Anderson
Baen, 320 pages

The High Crusade
Poul Anderson
Poul Anderson was born in 1926 in Bristol, Pennsylvania. His first publication was "Tomorrow's Children" (with F.N. Waldrop) in the March 1947 issue of Astounding, and his first novel was Vault of the Ages (1952). Since then, he has won 7 Hugo Awards (2 for short stories, 3 for novelettes and 2 for novellas) and 3 Nebula Awards (2 for novelettes and the other for a novella). From 1972-3, he presided as SFWA President. He died in 2001.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Boat of a Million Years
SF Site Review: For Love and Glory
SF Site Review: The Broken Sword
SF Site Review: Starfarers

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'The bow of Red John sang. The foremost demon lurched off the ramp with a cloth-yard arrow through him. I saw him cough blood and die. As if the one shot had touched off a hundred, the air was suddenly gray with whistling shafts. The three other demons toppled, so thickly studded with arrows they might have been popinjays at a contest.

"They can be slain!" bawled Sir Roger. "Haro! St. George for merry England!" And he spurred his horse straight up the gangway.'

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Poul Anderson, now long departed from this world, still sells books and is still relevant. The simple reason being that he was not just a capable and inventive writer, he also innovated and trail-blazed. In the case of The High Crusade, creating what was among the earliest of cross-genre novels. The year is 1345, and Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville is mustering troops ready to join King Edward III in his struggle against France. The knight's day is interrupted by a two-thousand foot long flying machine, containing an advance force of Wersgorix. These are aliens intent on world conquest, who see the denizens of Earth as mere primitives. Unfortunately for them, Sir Roger and company are combat hardened, and don't take kindly to being shot at. They return fire with longbows, putting arrows through the invaders and bashing those who survive into oblivion. When the fighting is done, Sir Roger finds himself in command of a starship, with just one battered Wersgorix left to pilot the vessel. His first inclination is to take the flying ship to France in aid of his King, then on to the Holy Land to crush the infidels. But his plan is scuppered by the remaining alien, who flies the ship straight back to the nearest Wersgorix planet, believing that once there the primitives will simply surrender. It is at this point that the Wersgorix learn a fatal lesson about the indomitable spirit, cleverness and sheer bloody determination of medieval Englishmen.

The story is written tongue-in-cheek, placing entertainment over credibility. Yet, it is not so incredible as to become a farce. Humour aside, the story neatly shows how little human society changes, no matter how technologically advanced we become. Although written with a light touch, and tremendous fun throughout, the story avoids becoming a running joke. Instead it presents an insight as to the destruction that a well disciplined and determined inferior force can achieve against a technologically superior foe. An obvious parallel being the Vietnam War. Not that there are many overt political messages here. Overall, the story is weaker than Anderson's better known work, Three Hearts and Three Lions, and pales into insignificance when compared to his masterpiece, The Broken Sword. But, that said, The High Crusade presents well crafted characters, who remain interesting throughout, and an engaging story. Only at the end does the author slip in a deeper, more thought-provoking perspective, via the visit of an earthly ambassador. Who that is and what his position implies, is something that other authors took decades longer to address.

The High Crusade is, first and foremost, a rollicking good read, aimed at younger readers, yet containing more than enough style and subtlety to entice and hold the attention of older readers, too. It's not quite a classic, but it did show the way for an entire genre. As both a stand-alone work, and an example of Poul Anderson's creative wit, it's well worth adding to any collection.

Copyright © 2013 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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