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Agent of the Terran Empire

Review by Mark L. Olson

Agent of the Terran Empire

by Poul Anderson

Chilton Books, 1965, 198 pp, $3.95.

Agent of the Terran Empire is a collection of four Dominic Flandry stories set in the waning days of the Terran Empire and written very early in Anderson’s writing career. In Anderson’s main future history, the renaissance of the Polesotechnic League is followed by collapse and the formation of a new interstellar government in the Terran Empire. Anderson is mature enough to realize that the Empire is no more than an expedient to stave off the final collapse of civilization; that it is not a desirable government in itself. (It’s interesting that Anderson sees both the decline from the fairly democratic Commonwealth/Polesotechnic League to the autocratic Empire and the fall of the Empire as inevitable.) That understanding is manifest in Dominic Flandry, an unlikely sybarite hero who likes all of the pleasures of the flesh while saving the Empire from enemies foreign and domestic.

The domestic enemies are the usual cardboard figures of a decadent empire. The foreign enemies are the Mersians with their young, vital, rival star empire and a host of barbarian species who got spaceships “too early” and are bopping around the spacelanes with their colorful barbarians cloaks and blasters. (Sorry for the sarcasm, but Anderson wrote these stories in the height of the Planet Stories days and nothing was too inconsistent or too silly.)

These early stories (written in the 50s and among the first things Anderson wrote) show Flandry as almost superhuman, defeating rival empires on his own whilst eating his caviar. They’re entertaining — Anderson could hardly write an uninteresting word — but they’re not in the slightest bit deep.

Interestingly, the character Aycharaych, an alien telepath working for the Merseians is introduced in these stories are Flandry’s nemesis. Aycharaych is rare or possibly unique: a telepath who can read any mind, human or alien. On top of that, he is learned, crafty. and deeply wise, knowing more of human culture and history than Flandry. Aycharaych is Anderson’s idea of a truly cultured individual — a Renaissance Alien, capable of both action and learning.

While lightweight, these stories show what Anderson was capable of and pointed where he would eventually go.