The Time Patrol Series Critical Essays

Poul Anderson


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

One of the more prolific science-fiction writers, Anderson ranks as an important figure, though not as central as Robert A. Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. Although Anderson’s work does not lack strong ideas, there is a clear split between conception and execution, and this weakness limits him as a writer. Anderson has a fondness for working with the series form, as can be seen in his Psychotechnic League and History of Rustum stories. Series work produces a tendency toward drift, repetition, and overlap. The Time Patrol series is lengthy, and its overall structure is confusing and difficult to follow.

Although ambitious, Anderson’s work is flawed by its insistence and reliance on the “space opera” formula. The central plots usually consist of overlapping narratives, and the stories themselves are predictable and rely on the Time Patrol finding and naming the offenders, ultimately rectifying history. The only real changes from story to story are the details, and this results in a leveling effect. If the Time Patrol must preserve history, then it must follow the same procedures again and again.

The ideas surrounding the structure of time nevertheless are quite interesting, and Anderson is effective in highlighting some of the tedium behind Patrol assignments. Many of the stories exude a tiredness, and Everard himself sometimes is bored with his assignments. The notion of agents taking a vacation in prehistoric Europe cleverly illustrates the...

(The entire section is 595 words.)