Book Review 2010 #10-11: The Van Rijn Method and David Falkayn Star Trader

Next up, two volumes collecting Poul Anderson’s future history stories…

Poul Anderson was a treasure of the science fiction community.
Although his politics skewed strongly right, unlike many other authors of his ilk that I shall not name, his politics rarely got in the way of him telling a damned good story. Some of his best stories are in a loose future history that starts with the stories of “Merchants in Spaaace” and extend to Dominic Flandry, aka “James Bond in Spaaace.”
The Van Rijn Method and David Falkayn: Star Trader are the first two volumes in a sequence collecting all of these stories. In these two books, you will meet the Falstaffian (in all senses of the word) Nicholas Van Rijn. Larger than life, Van Rijn is a crafty capitalist not beyond allowing his malapropisms to allow a competitor, be it human or alien, to “misunderestimate him”, to his very good advantage. (being Indo-Dutch, English is his second language, and his mangling of English expressions is one of the delights of reading stories with him as a character). Also in these stories, Van Rijn’s company takes on other traders, including the titular character of the second volume, David Falkayn. From the aristocratic planet Hermes, Falkayn is a good and true capitalist, although perhaps not as rapacious and overbearing as Van Rijn. He also brings a “nobles who do something” frisson to the mix, showing that teeth to the flesh capitalism can be tempered by other concerns as well. And this leaves out Adzel, a buddhist dragon. And Chee Lan, temper-driven, high strung member of Van Rijn’s teams. And more.
Sure, the books are outdated in many respects. I winced every time a character lit a pipe, and while we have a sentient computer in a few of the stories, we don’t seem to have anything resembling the Internet. Female characters are, for the most part, not as strongly defined as later and more recent writers might do. That’s the prices you pay for reading stories written up to 40 years ago, after all. Those concerns aside, the virtues of Anderson’s stories are eternal. Interesting situations, excellent worldbuilding, and compelling and well drawn (mostly male, again) characters. Anderson gets the details right, and cares about getting them right. He wrote the famous essay “On Thud and Blunder”, which explains how much fantasy fiction then (and since, sadly) gets so very wrong. That sensibility is in much evidence here, as well.
The stories in these volumes are an excellent place for you to begin if you have never had the pleasure of sampling the works of one of Science Fiction’s greatest authors.