Sunday, 2 June 2013

Ensign Flandry

What better way to find out about the character of John Ridenour in Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry (London, 1976) than to reread the novel from page one? When the text is seen not just as a narrative to be followed to its conclusion but as a window into an alternative reality, then every detail of that reality is potentially of equal importance.

We are simultaneously transported into an interstellar future and reminded of ancient empires, particularly the Roman and British, when we read that on remote planets " turned dark and leathery, or thick and weary, by strange weathers lifted glasses in salute..." for the Emperor's birthday. (p. 7)

Almost immediately, we read some unexpected honesty on the part of the Terran aristocrat, Lord Hauksburg:

"Everybody knows the Empire was won and is maintained by naked power, the central government is corrupt and the frontier is brutal and the last organization with high morale, the [Space] Navy, lives for war and oppression and anti-intellectualism." (p. 8)

I did not know that it was quite that bad. Fortunately, our Naval hero, Dominic Flandry, is not anti-intellectual. We do see him waging war and, in a later volume, participating in the oppression of the planet Brae. In this, his first volume, he is mentioned in Chapter Two but first appears in Chapter Four where he has adventures with the native crew of a merchant ship on the planet Starkad. These adventures continue between chapters and we understand that he presents an exaggerated account of them to Lord Hauksberg's concubine so an interesting spin-off series might have been Flandry's Adventures On Starkad.

Ensign Flandry reads a bit like a juvenile novel since its hero is nineteen and tours the exotic planets of Starkad and Merseia before saving the Terran Fleet and thus Terra.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

For various reasons, I'm not wholly convinced of the truth of what Lord Hauksberg said of the Terran Empire. If the Empire was THAT bad or corrupt, would it have lasted for more than four centuries and be the mightiest opponent of the Merseian Roidhunate? As for the "brutal" frontier, Anderson shows more than once how many colonial planets often had much worthy of admiration or respect. I need only list Aeneas, Vixen, and Dennitza for examples.

As well as showing characters criticizing the Empire, Anderson was careful to include opposing or qualifying views. One good example of this being Flandry's remarks to Queen Gunli, near the end of "Tiger by the Tail" (revised version) beginning with " 'Barbarian conquests never last, he said. 'Barbarians have to become civlized first, before they are fit to rule a civilization.' " Then read the next two paragraphs.