Friday, 1 March 2013


It is a convention of action-adventure fiction that our hero and his friends are often captured by their enemies but always escape. The classic example is James Bond held at gun-point by Donovan Grant, Chief Executioner of SMERSH. Grant, pointing his gun at Bond's heart, will fire as soon as the Orient Express enters a tunnel. Meanwhile, he talks...

Somewhere earlier on this blog, I listed perhaps three occasions when one of Poul Anderson's heroes escaped from enemy territory by surreptitiously holding one of those enemies at gun- or sword-point. After Doomsday (St Albans, Herts, 1975) presents a further example. Human prisoners of the Kandemirians have been constructing new equipment for their captors. The Kandemirian physicist arrives with armed guards to escort some of the Earthmen from their cell to a laboratory to test the equipment. Suddenly the human leader pulls a gun, that should not be in his possession, and orders the physicist to conduct all of them out of there. Of course, after some violence, the men escape. The novel would have been chopped off at its mid-point if they had failed.

Anderson excelled at such action heroics but fortunately his novels offer us a lot more than this. And there is some ingenuity in how the Earthmen faked the gun. They had persuaded their captors to allow them to practise together on a piece of experimental equipment in their cell. They then constructed parts of the chassis in such a way that they could later remove a hollow cyclinder, a scrap of metal and other parts and quickly reassemble these into a mock-up of a rifle. So, while enjoying the exciting escape sequence, we can also appreciate the intelligence with which the author had constructed it.

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