Thursday, 27 March 2014


Anderson, Poul, "The Man Who Came Early" IN Knight, Damon, Ed., 100 Years of Science Fiction (London, 1972), pp. 185-212.

"'I was out in the storm, and somehow the lightning must have smitten me in just the right way, a way that happens only once in many thousands of times. It threw me back into the past.'" (p. 194)

A way that happens never, we believe! So this passage is ironic. Anderson is commenting in two ways on L Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall. De Camp's hero, thrown into the past by lightning, uses modern knowledge and expertise to succeed in the late Roman Empire and even averts the Dark Ages whereas Anderson's character, lacking the skills necessary to succeed in tenth century Iceland, comes to grief and is commemorated only by a burial mound.

The tenth century narrator of "The Man Who Came Early" had suggested:

"'Maybe Thor's hammer knocked you from your place to here.'" (p. 190)

- so he propounds essentially the same theory but in mythological language.

Being thrown into the past by lightning is so rare that it happens only in an occasional work of science fiction. However, Bob Shaw suggested in one of his "Serious Scientific Talks" at a Science Fiction Convention that it was quite common. His words, as far as I can remember them, were:

"Most people think that, if you are struck by lightning, it will kill you. But, if you read science fiction, you know that a much more likely result is that you will be flung into the past. Which period of the past you go to is a product of three factors:

"the voltage of electricity in the lightning;
"your body weight, measured in pounds;
"which period the author has been mugging up on!"

 Authors "mug up" on periods, no doubt. We appreciate Shaw's honesty and humor. But we may add that Poul Anderson displayed a detailed knowledge and sound understanding of many historical periods in several works of both historical fiction and time travel fiction.

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