Poul Anderson’s 1964 fix-up The Star Fox has been on my to-review list ever since I started the Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn’t Suck series. And it took me less than a year to get to it!
The man in the title is me. Way back when I was a young, easily pleased SF fan, I encountered a book by a favourite author, a book that taught me a very valuable lesson: I don’t have to finish every book I begin . The year was 1980; the book was Robert A. Heinlein’s Number of the Beast .
I could have possibly have learned this lesson a few years earlier, in 1978, when I first read Poul Anderson’s The Avatar. This book is the “distilled essence of Bad Poul Anderson fiction of the 1970s” (to quote myself). But the book does have its strong points, which may be the reason why it was Number of the Beast and not The Avatar that taught me not to waste my time doggedly finishing tripe.
There will be spoilers.
1970’s Tau Zero (an expanded version of 1968’s “To Outlive Eternity”) comes almost exactly at the mid-point of Poul Anderson’s 54-year career. Someone familiar with Anderson’s oeuvre could make an educated guess about when this was written just from the female characters, something more than the trophies seen in earlier Anderson’s, combined with the absence of the libertarianism0 seen in later Anderson but such a reader could also make a pretty guess as to when this had to be written based on the device that literally drives the plot. 1970 was the apex of the heyday of the Bussard Ramjet and this novel is the Bussard Ramjet novel.
Poul Anderson was a prolific science fiction and fantasy author whose career ran from the 1940s to the opening years of the 21st century. Awards include the Hugo and the Nebula, and he was named a “A Grand Master” by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America shortly before his death. Unlike many prolific authors, his work was generally of a consistent quality, although I think it’s safe to say he never produced the masterpiece people might have expected from him. In science fiction, one of his fortes was world-building, about which I say more later. The combination of dependability, verisimilitude and prodigious output made him an almost ideal author for me and between the time I purchased this, my first Anderson, and when his various quirks and tics alienated me, I read the better part of a hundred of his works. I think it is safe to say that between 1977 and 1980, he was my favourite SF author.