Fire Time (Doubleday Science Fiction) Hardcover – Oct 1974
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There's a lack of internet discussion about "Fire Time," that I could find today, despite the fact that 1.) it did get nominated for a Hugo back when it was published (1974) and 2.) it was written during the ugly concluding years of the Vietnam War, a time unfortunately more and more relevant to our current situation. Books like "Star Fox" made Anderson a pretty popular SF writer, but one who drew criticism for his supposedly pro-war attitude. I read somewhere that "Fire Time" was a kind of response to this criticism, even mentioning the main character of "Star Fox" in its pages.
It would be a mistake to view "Fire Time" as an anti-war book. There are two wars going on here: one is between the nomadic barbarians desperate to avoid the devastating effects of climate change (the "Fire Time" of the title) and their semi-nomadic semi-civilized counterparts that interact with human colonists, and the other is an interstellar war between the huamns and another technologically advanced race. The human colonists on the planet in question contend with local sympathies and bureaucratic thumb-twiddling, and leave some time to explore their (ugh) feelings for each other. The larger human war receives the criticism in this story, while the Ishtarians' war is mostly described in heroic terms. Anderson shows that the technology and complexity take the honor and soul out of battle, and that war by proxy is poison to civilization.
The story is complex, multithemed but readable in a way that all Anderson novels are. Briefly, here are some of the typical Anderson themes at play.
- Tragic heroism. The Ishtarian leaders that oppose each other are depicted are given rich characterization, and they both have their noble aspects. This is an important feature of Anderson's work, where the honor is usually found in what would be the biggest villian of the tale.
- Distrust of remote government. The human colonists are constantly at odds with the Earth hands that feed them, especially when an overarching war bleeds their resources. A Libertarian theme that also runs though "Star Fox" and the van Rijn series.
- Aliens shaped by physics. Anderson paid a lot of attention to the environmental consequences of the astronomical setup of the planets, carrying on the tradition of writers like Hal Clement. Discovery of and interaction with the alien races make up some of the best parts of this and many other Anderson books.
- Characters with moral struggles. 1974 was the year the celebrated Robert Stone novel Dog Soldiers was published. That book featured Vietnam veterans returning home to deal heroin, and featured a collection of truly repulsive and amoral characters. Books like "Fire Time" and "Dog Soldiers" may represent the polar opposites of viewpoints regarding how much moral control people could be expected to have over their actions. I've read only one of Stone's books and over 20 of Anderson's.
There are multipile shortcomings (the 1950's era coyness when describing the human relationships, stretches of boring narration at the beginning, internal dialogue that's overused), that keep this from being a classic. He appears to handle the stoic characters better then the emotional ones. However, this novel is worth finding and reading, and it's nice to see that Baen reprinted it some time ago.
Several thought-provoking ideas come out in this book. For one thing, we are made to wonder whether the "barbarian" or the "civilized" Ishtarians are in the right. We sympathize with the "barbarian" desire to escape their unliveable homeland, but also with the "civilized" desire to keep civilization intact. This book isn't simply about one group (the good guys) fighting another group (the bad guys).
It takes a bit of time to get enough into the story that you can understand what's going on. However, once you do, it's worth it.
But, the seemingly all-powerful humans are now powerless to help their friends of the Gathering. Earth is locked in an interstellar war with another alien people, and they have forbidden the humans on Ishtar from doing anything to help their friends. Such a waste. It seems that everyone is powerless in this drama - but might the actors not abandon their script a make a difference?
Poul Anderson (1926-2001) is remembered as one of the giants of the sci-fi industry, and this book shows off why. This book "works" in so many ways. As a piece of scientific fiction it is a tour de force, with a fascinating world (Ishtar and its suns), and a fascinating set of aliens (the centauroid Ishtarians and the other creatures of their world). As an anti-war morality play, the story is also a triumph, showing the waste of war, its unintended consequences, and indeed its inevitability. And, as just plain a good story, it has an interesting storyline with action and romance.
I found this to be a totally gripping story. I first read it when I was young, and I never forgot the story. Now, reading it all of these years later, I still find it to be a spellbinding read. If you like great science-fiction, then get Poul Anderson's FireTime - you won't be disappointed!
Poul Anderson has his ups and downs, this is definitely to me an "up". Very engaging, you do get clues, and the science is interesting, This review is based on the Hardbound Edition. Not a long book, it is just right.
As a side issue, this was not a library book. I get pizzed often at sellers who list books as "good" or "very good" and turn out to be marked up labeled library books not even mentioned in the descriptions. I do return them and rate the seller accordingly unless the book is hard to get. Thats me I guess, and has nothing to do with this review. I am a avid reader, and most stuff I get is used since they are rarely carryed new online.. Buyer beware,
As I said, the book and story itself is excellent and worth purchasing.
The war close at hand is different. Some human researchers made friends with aliens of a civilization they study. This civilization is hard pressed by barbarian tribes of the same race. The technology of the human researchers could make all the difference but they are not allowed to interfere. Anderson supplies a lot of action, suspense and moral conflict.
A good novel but why did I call it impressive? The way in which several characters just vanish is really frustrating for the reader in a good way. In real war there are usually no heroic scenes, famous last words and other moving fine points of loss... Anderson rips characters from the plot in a way that the reader is often kept in the dark to their final fate. He skillfully conveys loss and fears and doubts which assault those left behind. The pain of the characters in the novel that are left behind is shared by the reader and that makes it impressive!