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Saturday, August 22, 2015

An Old Book From My Shelves - Poul Anderson's Past Times

It's weird how one thing leads to another. I read an open submission thingie for an anthology themed about monsters of the Mediterranean.  (Deadline end of September) Well, I thought, there are plenty of monsters in Greek mythology, why not refresh my memory?

So I got out my copy of Robert Graves' The Greek Myths, a classic of its kind which I first read when I was in primary school. (How did I know it wasn't a kids' book? I do remember telling my friends all about the sacred king and the triple Goddess...) After a while I got the urge to reread Mary Renault's The King Must Die(currently reading in ebook), her wonderful novel about Theseus, which I first read when I was eleven, after hearing a radio play of the opening scenes. I admit a lot went over my head back then; I got more out of it as an adult. But I was madly into Greek mythology and children's retellings just didn't cut it for me after Robert Graves.

That made me feel a hankering for Poul Anderson's The Dancer From Atlantis, which was seen from the viewpoint of the Cretans, with Theseus as not such a nice man at all, and featured the Thera explosion. I went to look for it on my shelves, but it was somewhere on a higher shelf, being in alphabetical order, and instead I grabbed the same author's Past Times, a collection of short stories reprinted from other collections and magazines. It was sticking out from the shelf and I could reach it without grabbing a chair.

I had forgotten this one completely. Interestingly, one of the stories, "Eutopia",  had been in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions collection, which would have meant, at the time it was published, that it was controversial,  the sort of stuff that would make people gasp and feel just a bit naughty for reading it.  Well, that was in the 1960s, this is now. It was a perfectly good story and I enjoyed it, but it wouldn't raise an eyebrow today. Really. I can't say more because spoilers for anyone who wants to read it, but I think the gasp shock horror aspect was connected with the last line. And all it got from me was, "Huh? Is THIS the deadly secret?"

How our culture changes!

For the better in some ways, I think - in this aspect, anyway.

I have always loved Poul Anderson, though - there was a tale for any mood I was in, whether it was a hankering for hard SF, for space opera or fantasy or alternative universe. It's still the case. And his heroes - my favourites were Dominic Flandry, agent of the Terran Empire and Nicholas Van Rijn, the  canny merchant who acted dumb and wasn't.

What about you - any Anderson fans out there? (Or Robert Graves, who also wrote those wonderful Claudius novels).

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