In Poul Anderson’s extensive “future history,” the stories of the Polesotechnic League cover some two to three centuries. The stories connect with his “Flandry” series, concerning the downfall of the Empire, which will succeed the League. Unlike the Empire, though, the Polesotechnic League “is not a state, not even a government. It’s nothing but a mutual benefit association of interstellar merchants.”
An underlying premise of the stories in the League sequence is that interstellar travel has become not only possible but also relatively cheap. This travel has resulted in a rapid spread of humanity to the stars and to contact with many intelligent alien races. The spread of civilization has happened on too large a scale for merely planetary governments to check.
The League is, then, almost an anarchy, in which the only powers are financial ones and the only restraints are those of good business. The first hero Anderson created to express this ethos is the appropriately anarchic Nicholas van Rijn, founder and owner of the Solar Spice and Liquor Company. He speaks English with continuous comic mistakes, is gross in figure and in appetites, and continually proclaims his devotion to nothing but profits, beer, akvavit, and his ever-changing stable of mistresses. Van Rijn was later supplemented by the more normal hero-figure of David Falkayn, brought on as van Rijn’s protégé, and by the three other members of Falkayn’s “trader team”: Adzel, an immense dragonlike being who is a Buddhist by conviction and reluctant to hurt any living creature; Chee Lan, a small, fierce, female alien of feline type; and their ship-computer Muddlehead. The interaction of these five characters provides a good deal of the comedy as well as the serious elements of the League sequence.
The first major story of the sequence, War of the Wing-Men, sets up a characteristic plot pattern. Van Rijn, with two companions, one male and one female, is stranded on the alien planet of Diomedes by sabotage. The surface of Diomedes is almost entirely water, and its dominant race is intelligent but winged. The creatures probably could transport van Rijn...
(The entire section is 890 words.)