Operation Chaos Critical Essays

Poul Anderson


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Written in the middle of Anderson’s career, Operation Chaos reflects his interest in myth and legend. In its humorous use of ordinary characters in a fantasy setting, Operation Chaos resembles the second novella in Robert A. Heinlein’s Waldo and Magic, Inc. (1950), L. Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s The Incomplete Enchanter (1941), and Gordon R. Dickson’s The Dragon and the George (1976).

Although Operation Chaos treats magic “scientifically,” the novel is best classified as fantasy. Anderson emphasizes the magic as magic; the only “scientific” rationale he offers is the “degaussing” process, and that plays no real role in the plot. Other scientific aspects of the world of Operation Chaos are much the same as the science of the real world at the time Anderson wrote the stories. The social and cultural background of the novel, including mass demonstrations, also matches the United States during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Much of the effect of Operation Chaos comes from putting ordinary characters into a fantasy setting. Both Matuchek and Graylock would fit well into any number of stories about the ordinary world. They have the kind of relationship found in popular culture of the 1940’s and 1950’s: He pursues and she evades, finally allowing herself to be caught. Matuchek is the kind of self-effacing but masculine hero found in much popular...

(The entire section is 445 words.)