The Flandry Series Critical Essays

Poul Anderson


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The major inspiration for Flandry appears to be the well-known fictional figure of James Bond. Like Bond, Flandry is amusing, seductive, cynical but dedicated, and operating on behalf of government while in defiance of legal or bureaucratic restraints. The major intellectual basis for the Flandry scenario is the belief, found in the work of other science-fiction writers including Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, in the structures of “cyclic history.” According to this theory, natural laws of human development will cause historical patterns to repeat themselves regardless of technological change or human wishes. The Terran Empire of the fourth millennium accordingly is presented as a close analogue of the late Roman Empire of the first, held together only by loyalty to an emperor and facing inevitable defeat from its own inner “decadence.” Flandry’s role is, first, to postpone the defeat until after his own lifetime and, second, to give successor states a chance to root themselves too strongly to be exterminated by Merseia.

The question Anderson addresses, writing during a period that included the start and end of the Vietnam War, is whether moral ends (the saving of life, the maintenance of civilization) justify immoral means (the preservation of corrupt rulers, the repression of political dissent). On the whole, the answer of the Flandry series is that they do. Nevertheless, Anderson shows awareness of the dangers of such a belief, with his...

(The entire section is 559 words.)