Victor's Reviews > Trader to the Stars

Trader to the Stars by Poul Anderson
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Mar 30, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: speculative-fiction
Read in January, 2008

I've commented already on The Trouble Twisters, so much of this will follow that same critique. Basically this is a collection of stories by Poul Anderson about one of his iconic characters, Nicholas van Rijn, CEO of Solar Spice and Liquors. van Rijn is a heavy-set, charismatic adventurer who is a major factor in the Polesotechnic League - the "Gilded Age" of Anderson's future history - and van Rijn is very much a robber baron who sometimes has a heart of gold. Never without various comforts of home, van Rijn spends most of his time decrying the unfairness of the universe, chasing after beautiful young women, and driving a very hard bargain. When I was a teenager, I though Nicky van Rijn was cool (but Anderson's 007, Dominic Flandry was even more cool or so I thought).

But times have changed and my critical faculties have improved. Now, van Rijn seems like a lecher and a cut-throat capitalist, using free market economics as a thin justification for his practices. Given that these stories were written during the Cold War, they are clearly a response to the leaden, often uninteresting "victory of socialism" themes seen elsewhere in literature (but rarely in American SF). Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that socialism is somehow automatically better than capitalism, but it's rather convenient in Anderson's stories that everything turns out for the best in the end, after Nicky van Rijn gets his cut of the profits.

The one redeeming point of these stories is Anderson's attention to scientific detail and his use of that to drive the stories along and keep the reader's interest. Sure, some of what he describes has been corrected since the story was written, but he very rarely descends into "as we all know" info-dumping.

Again, if you can look past some of the social anachronisms as well as some of the deeper issues embedded in these stories, they can be fun bathtub reads.
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