As a general rule, I find Poul Anderson’s writing to be stilted and not very fluent, so that I can’t really enjoy the story as I should. But that is not so with Orion Shall Rise, which is a lively and complex story that shows how good he could be at his very best.
Orion Shall Rise is a part of Anderson’s Maurai series, which is centered on that Pacific oceanic society. Epic in scale, encompassing all of a future Earth and humans with truly believable detail, it is a saga of humanity struggling back from almost complete societal collapse after a planetary nuclear war some centuries before. The survivors face a life-threatening limitation of resources and radically competing ideologies to boot as they to attempt to impose their ideological and technological beliefs upon an entire planet. Whether anyone likes it or not.
The Maurai Federation (obviously dominated by the Maurai peoples of N’Zealann as he calls it here), a radical green society dominating much of the Pacific Rim, further complicates the collapse of machine-based civilization.
The Federation is in constant conflict with The Domain of Skyholm, a feudal class-based European society located in France, the Alps, and the Low Countries. The Domain is dominated by an ancient pre-war dirigible which has become a sky-city where the elites of the society rule with the use of ancient aircraft and what appears to be an energy weapon of some sort. The third major political player in Orion Shall Rise is the Northwest Union, a clan-based, technologically advanced society in the Pacific Northwest. It has lost several wars with the Maurai Federation and is therefore little better than the Federation’s vassal — though probably not a wise assumption by the Maurai Federation!
Oh, but let’s forget the geopolitics, no matter how fascinating they are — it’s the descriptions of the societies that are the most fascinating part of this novel. Orion Shall Rise has the finest prose Anderson ever wrote as regards a future worldscape and the individuals existing in that worldscape.
This novel even spawned an academic paper on it — “Dominant Sociological Themes in Poul Anderson’s Orion Shall Rise” (written by Harold Lee Prosser and printed in Phoenix from the Ashes — The Literature of the Remade World). Indeed Orion Shall Rise contains some of the most complex and memorable characters that Anderson created in his long career. Just consider the names alone for the richness herein — Jovain Aurillac, Ronica Birken, Iern Ferlay, Faylis Ferlay Mikli Karst, Terai Lohannaso, Peyt (Plik) Rensoon, and Chon Till to name but a few of the well-crafted names created by linguistic drift down the long centuries in this novel. And the character descriptions are just as good.
Anderson considered himself a small “l” libertarian and the politics here reflect that. More importantly, he was steeped deep in the Nordic tales of his ancestors, and he was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America, a loose-knit group of Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the ’60s, and a founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Like Simon Green’s Deathstalker space opera series, his heroes are larger than life, reflecting the Nordic motifs which he knew ever-so-well.
Pour your self your favorite, settle into a chair by a roaring fire, and read this novel on a bitter midwinter’s night when no one’s likely to knock at your door, as you’ll not want to be disturbed while deep in this story.