Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Time Patrol by Poul Anderson
When I wrote about the short story collection Futures Past, I mentioned it was my first exposure to Poul Anderson. After I wrapped up that work I was quick to pick up a collection of his stories about the Time Patrol, a time-hopping police force established to keep the flow of history 'correct', be it good or bad.
What I enjoy about these stories is Anderson's refusal to conform to the predictable locales of the genre. You will not read of agents aboard the Titanic, or defending the Alamo or helping William conquer England. Instead Anderson picks a vital but less popular area of history - the life of Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, or the everyday exploits of Goths that inspired Wagner's operas - and explores them in detail.
Sometimes in too much detail, as in The Sorrow of Odin the Goth, where I needed flowchart to track lineages. Most of the time (no pun intended) history is very neatly detailed but kept in the background, as in the rollicking The Year of the Ransom, set in Pizzaro's Peru.
But this is fiction, not history, and so the important question is whether or not the stories keep your attention and leave you coming back for more.
Yes and yes.
He was a heck of a storyteller - a tad old fashioned in the stammering, emotional responses of women and the pipe smoking hero - but the stories are entertaining, well constructed, and (a minor miracle given the subject) believable.
3.4 out of 4