War of the Wing-Men
Ace, 1958, 160 pp, $0.50
I’ve been asked to do a panel at Boskone 39 on Poul Anderson’s future history, so I’ve started re-reading a few of his books.
War of the Wing-Men was the second van Rijn story (after “Margin of Profit”). Nicholas van Rijn is a somewhat Falstaffian character – fat, noisy, slobish – who is owner of Solar Spice and Liquors, one of the powerful firms in the Polesotechnic League, the commercial organization which dominates Technic civilization.
Van Rijn, an engineer who works for him, and a woman are crashed on a little-explored planet where humans can live, but not eat the food. They have food for eight weeks, but no means to contact the only human outpost half-way around the planet. There are natives, however, who can fly (the planet is a large, low-density planet with correspondingly dense air.)
Van Rijn and company have been deposited in the middle of a war between a band of native who live on shipboard and one which inhabits a string of islands. Neither has the time or the resources to aid the humans.
Van Rijn, ever the leader sets out to free up the native resources by winning the war for one side. He works the engineer mercilessly while himself lounging around, bossing everyone who gets within range including the natives, and eating twice his share of the human’s food.
Anderson’s preferred title for this story is The Man Who Counts and that tells it all. As the woman replies to the engineer late in the story as he complains once again about having to do all the work while van Rijn just talks, effective leadership is a far greater and far rarer skill than technical accomplishments. They could not possibly have escaped without van Rijn, but van Rijn might well have come up with some other way to escape for himself without them.
Besides having a serious point to make, the story is good adventure and is set on a very well-realized planet – the world and its biology are well thought out and have a direct bearing on the story itself.
This is great early Anderson.