Poul Anderson’s Flandry series is set some six hundred years after the same authors Polesotechnic League stories. Its background is that of a Terran interstellar Empire controlling thousands of suns but falling into what appears to be irreversible decline. The Empire is threatened continually by the ruthless and vigorous alien empire (known as the Roidhunate) of Merseia. Dominic Flandry’s career is followed from his initial adventures as a junior officer to a position as admiral of the Fleet and unofficial adviser to the Terran Emperor.
The major theme of this sequence is a double contest, on one hand against the plots of the Merseians and on the other against the weakness and corruption of the Terran Empire itself. The two contests are often set against each other, raising again and again the question of why Flandry, portrayed as a cynic and opportunist, nevertheless continues to support an Empire that he knows is weak and contemptible against both human rebel-reformers and the alien Merseians, whom he frequently admires. The answer, in brief, is that Flandry supports a principle of legitimacy, for the purely practical reason that it is likely to lead to less internal warfare within the Empire. As much as he admires the Merseian virtues, he is aware that these do not include mercy or tolerance. Flandry is a believer in the idea of minimum government and sees the inefficient Empire as more likely to produce this than is Merseian rule or the post-Imperial anarchy that he foresees and calls “the Long Night.”
Intertwined with the theme above is that of cultural diversity. Flandry’s travels lead him both to strange human civilizations, modeled on those of real history, and to stranger alien ones from Anderson’s imagination. Thus, in Ensign Flandry—the first of these works in terms of Flandry’s career—Flandry finds himself on Starkad, where a land-based species, the Tigeries, is at war with a sea-based...
(The entire section is 795 words.)