Both Anderson's depiction of a Soviet-dominated world and that of an American-dominated one mention a rebellion breaking out in Brazil in the early 21st century, which is in both cases brutally put down by the dominant world power—the Brazilian rebels being characterized as "counter-revolutionaries" in the one case and as "communists" in the other.
In the early years of the Cold War—when he had been, as described by his later, more conservative self, a "flaming liberal"—Anderson pinned his hopes on the United Nations developing into a true world government. This is especially manifest in "Un-man", a future thriller where the Good Guys are agents of the UN Secretary General working to establish a world government while the Bad Guys are nationalists (especially American nationalists) who seek to preserve their respective nations' sovereignty at all costs. (The title has a double meaning: the hero is literally a UN man and has superhuman abilities which make his enemies fear him as an "un-man").
In later years Anderson completely repudiated this idea (a half-humorous remnant is the beginning of Tau Zero: a future where the nations of the world entrusted Sweden with overseeing disarmament and found themselves living under the rule of the Swedish Empire). In The Star Fox, his unfavorable depiction of a future peace group called "World Militants for Peace" indicates clearly where he stood with regard to the Vietnam War, raging when the book was published. A more explicit expression of the same appears in the later The Shield of Time where a time-traveling young American woman from the 1990s pays a brief visit to a university campus of the 1960s and is not enthusiastic about what she sees there.
Instead of a world government, the above-mentioned "Shield" resolves the problem of an American-dominated world dictatorship in a truly libertarian manner: The protagonist, who is hunted by various power groups for the secret of a personal impregnable force field which he brought from Mars, finally decides to simply reveal it to the entire world, so that every individual could thumb his or her nose at each and every Authority.
Anderson often returned to libertarianism and to the business leader as hero, most notably his character Nicholas van Rijn. Van Rijn is, however, far from the modern type of business executive, being a kind of throwback to the merchant venturer of the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. If he spends any time in boardrooms or plotting corporate takeovers, the reader remains ignorant of it, since virtually all his appearances are in the wilds of a space frontier.
Beginning in the 1970s, Anderson's historically grounded works were influenced by the theories of the historian John K. Hord, who argued that all empires follow the same broad cyclical pattern, in which the Terran Empire of the Dominic Flandry spy stories fit neatly.
The writer Sandra Miesel (1978) has argued that Anderson's overarching theme is the struggle against entropy and the heat death of the universe, a condition of perfect uniformity where nothing can happen.
Fairness to the adversaries
In his numerous books and stories depicting conflict in science-fictional or fantasy settings, Anderson takes trouble to make both sides' points of view comprehensible. Even where there can be no doubt as to whose side the author is on, the antagonists are usually not depicted as villains but as honourable on their own terms. The reader is given access to their thoughts and feelings, and they often have a tragic dignity in defeat. Typical examples are The Winter of the World and The People of the Wind.
A common theme in Anderson's works, and one with obvious origins in the Northern European legends, is that doing the "right" (wisest) thing often involves performing actions that, at face value, seem dishonorable, illegal, destructive, or downright evil. The Man who Counts, Nicholas van Rijn is "The Man" because he is prepared to be tyrannical and callously manipulative so that he and his companions can survive. In "High Treason" the protagonist disobeys orders and betrays his subordinates to prevent a war crime that would bring severe retribution upon Humanity. In A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, Dominic Flandry first (effectively) lobotomizes his own son and then bombards the home planet of the Chereionite race in order to do his duty and prop up the Terran Empire. These actions affect their characters in different ways, and dealing with the repercussions of having done the "right" (but unpleasant) thing is often the major focus of his short stories. The general lesson seems to be that guilt is the penalty for action.
In The Star Fox, a relationship of grudging respect is built up between the hero, space privateer Gunnar Heim, and his enemy Cynbe, an exceptionally gifted Alerione trained from a young age to understand his species' human enemies to the point of being alienated from his own kind. In the final scene, Cynbe challenges Heim to a space battle which only one of them would survive. Heim accepts, whereupon Cynbe says, "I thank you, my brother."
Underestimating "primitives" as a costly mistake
Anderson set much of his work in the past, often with the addition of magic, or in alternate or future worlds that resemble past eras. A specialty was his ancestral Scandinavia, as in his novel versions of the legends of Hrólf Kraki (Hrolf Kraki's Saga) and Haddingus (The War of the Gods). Frequently he presented such worlds as superior to the dull, over-civilized present. Notable depictions of this superiority are the prehistoric world of The Long Remembering, the quasi-medieval society of No Truce with Kings, and the untamed Jupiter of Call Me Joe and Three Worlds to Conquer. He handled the lure and power of atavism satirically in Pact, critically in The Queen of Air and Darkness and The Night Face, and tragically in Goat Song.
His 1965 novel, The Corridors of Time, alternates between the European Stone Age and a repressive future. In this vision of tomorrow, almost everyone is either an agricultural serf or an industrial slave, but the rulers genuinely believe they are creating a better world. Set largely in Denmark, it treats the Neolithic society with knowledge and respect while not hiding its own faults. It is there that the protagonist, having access to literally all periods of the past and future, finally decides to settle down and finds a happy and satisfying life.
In many stories, a representative of a technologically advanced society underestimates "primitives" and pays a high price for it. In The High Crusade, aliens who land in medieval England in the expectation of an easy conquest find that they are not immune to swords and arrows. In The Only Game in Town, a Mongol warrior, while not knowing that the two "magicians" he meets are time travelers from the future, correctly guesses their intentions—and captures them with the help of the "magic" flashlight they had given him in an attempt to impress him. In another time-travel tale, The Shield of Time, a "time policeman" from the Twentieth Century, equipped with information and technologies from much further in the future, is outwitted by a medieval knight and barely escapes with his life. Yet another story, The Man Who Came Early, features a 20th-century United States Army soldier stationed in Iceland who is transported to the tenth century. Although he is full of ideas, his lack of practical knowledge of how to implement them and his total unfamiliarity with the technology and customs of the period lead to his downfall.
Anderson wrote Uncleftish Beholding, an introduction to atomic theory, using only Germanic-rooted words. Fitting his love for olden years, this kind of learned writing has been named Ander-Saxon after him.
The story told in The Shield of Time is also an example of a tragic conflict, another common theme in Anderson's writing. The knight tries to do his best in terms of his own society and time, but his actions might bring about a horrible Twentieth Century (even more horrible than the one we know). Therefore, the Time Patrol protagonists, who like the young knight and wish him well (the female protagonist comes close to falling in love with him), have no choice but to fight and ultimately kill him.
In The Sorrow of Odin the Goth a time-travelling American anthropologist is assigned to study the culture of an ancient Gothic tribe by regular visits every few decades. Gradually he is drawn into close involvement, feeling protective towards the Goths (many of them his own descendants, following a brief and poignant liaison with a Gothic girl who died in childbirth), and they identify him as the god Odin/Wodan. Then he finds that he must cruelly betray his beloved Goths, since a ballad says that Odin did so; failure to fulfill his prescribed role might change history and bring the whole of the Twentieth Century as we know it crashing down. In the final scene he cries out in anguish: "Not even the gods can defy the Norns!"—giving a new twist to this central aspect of the Norse religion.
In The Pirate, the hero is duty-bound to deny a band of people from societies blighted by poverty the chance for a new start on a new planet, because their settling the planet would eradicate the remnants of the artistic and articulate beings who lived there before. A similar theme but with much higher stakes appears in Sister Planet: although terraforming Venus would provide new hope to starving people on the overcrowded Earth, it would exterminate Venus's just-discovered intelligent race, and the hero can avert that genocide only by murdering his best friends.
In Delenda Est the stakes are the highest imaginable. Time-travelling outlaws have created a new 20th Century—"not better or worse, just completely different". The hero can fight the outlaws and restore his (and our) familiar history, but only at the price of totally destroying the world which has taken its place. "Risking your neck in order to negate a world full of people like yourself" is how the hero describes what he eventually undertakes.
Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy (1978)
Hugo Award (seven times)
John W. Campbell Memorial Award (2000)
Locus Award (41 nominations; one win, 1972)
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award (one win (1975))
Nebula Award (three times)
Pegasus Award (best adaptation, with Anne Passovoy) (1998)
Prometheus Award (four times, including Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2001)
SFWA Grand Master (1997)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame (2000)
As promised here's the next chapter of Sherlock in my latest podcast.
So as we near the end of this series, who or what do you think the killer is?
Audio Book. The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt. Chapter 31: Larry and the Frog Men. Golden Master of Fantasy!
Audio Book. The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt. Chapter 30: The Building of the Moon Pool. Great science fiction and fantasy!
Audio Book. The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt. Chapter 29: The Shaping of the Shining One. Science fiction at its finest!
Audio Book. The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt. Chapter 28: In the Lair of the Dweller. Great Sci-fi and fantasy with touches of horror!
Audio Book. The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt. Chapter 27: The Coming of Yolara. A science fiction and fantasy classic.
Audio Book. The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt. Chapter 26: The Wooing of Lakla. Sci-fi and fantasy of the best kind!