A small tribute to a literary master who left us recently.

Poul William Anderson, Danish-American science fiction and fantasy writer, b. Bristol, Pennsylvania 1926-11-25, d. Orinda, California 2001-07-31. Also published under the pseudonyms Winston P. Sanders and Michael Karageorge. Among other things, founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. His first name, as he would often have to pointedly remark, is pronounced similarly to "pole" and not "Paul."

Anderson grew up in Texas, with brief spells in Denmark and Washington, D.C. following the death of his engineer father in 1937, and Minnesota. He studied physics and mathematics at the University of Minnesota, aiming to become a scientist before he discovered his vocation as a writer and published his first work while still a student in 1947. This training would later serve him well in devising plausible scenaria regarding future technologies. He married fellow science fiction writer Karen Kruse in 1953, beginning a partnership in life and in writing that would last 48 years.

One of the most durable and prolific writers to emerge from the golden age of science fiction, Poul Anderson's writing career spanned over five decades and his remarkable diversity of interests and rich visions of future possibilities made him one of the all-time greats of the genre. He was one of the few authors who published both fantasy and science fiction work throughout his career, ignoring the distinction that arose between the two genres. His scientific training and expertise on Scandinavian culture, including his knowledge of Old Norse, as well as his fascination with mediaeval Europe resulted in a number of memorable works. He also maintained a keen interest in space exploration, being a guest at Apollo launches, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and never one to pass up an opportunity to visit a scientific institution.

Many of his books are grouped around themes, one of the best known ones being the Polesotechnic League with the totally memorable character of Nicholas van Rijn cast in the role of an indomitable interstellar entrepreneur--possibly the rudest and most delightfully obnoxious protagonist of any sci-fi series. His Scandinavian myth themes have influenced many other writers and some common ideas in modern fantasy based on Scandinavian mythology, such as the properties of trolls, can be traced back to him. Many details from these books later found their way into RPGs. Another theme was the Time Patrol which was made up mostly of shorter stories published between 1983 and 1990. His final story cycle was the Anson Guthrie theme which began with Harvest of Stars in 1993 and ended with The Fleet of Stars in 1997. His bibliography ends with a book ironically named Genesis a year before his death of prostate cancer at the age of 74.

His writing is generally strong, coherent and detailed, with the author sometimes diverging into mind-boggling theoretical physics and mathematics that can distract from the storyline. The weakest point of his work is the fact that his characters tend to be exaggerated and stereotyped. Let this not discourage you from reading this man's work. Of course, with the dozens of books in his name, some aren't up to the standard of others but most of them are a damn good read and some are downright brilliant. When he's not delving into unlikely events of the distant past, he's conjuring up sometimes plausible, sometimes romantic but always enjoyable and spirited visions of the future.

Among the numerous awards of many different kinds he received in his lifetime are an unusual seven Hugo awards (1961, 1964, 1969, 1972, 1973, 1979, 1982) and three Nebula awards (1971, 1972, 1981). He was named a Nebula Grandmaster in 1997 for his lifetime work.

Bibliography (this is not an exhaustive list)

Admittedly, I'm not a great fantasy fan so I'm more familiar with the classical sci-fi side of his work. Tau Zero, The Golden Horn and Orbit Unlimited are some of the books I'd recommend as both characteristic and well-written. The Boat of a Million Years is a more demanding epic which shows Anderson at his best.

Factual sources:
Cyberspace Spinner
The SF Site
Ursula K. Le Guin
Contact Japan
The Templeton Gate