Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade: An Appreciation by Eric Flint

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade in the pages of Astounding magazine (later to be known as Analog that very year). In celebration, Baen Books is releasing an anniversary paperback edition on Tuesday, September 7th, with appreciations from some of science fiction’s greatest names.

Tor.com will be posting these appreciations throughout Monday and Tuesday of this week, courtesy of Baen Books. These appreciations originally appeared at WebScription, where you can also sample the first few chapters of The High Crusade.

Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade may have had a greater impact on my development as a writer than any other book I ever read. I first ran across the novel as a teenager. By then, I’d already developed an interest in history and had become a science fiction fan—but I hadn’t seen any connection between the two. It was The High Crusade that first showed me how mixing history and speculative fiction could produce a fascinating result. Not long thereafter, I read L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, and my education was complete. (I’m sure my high school teachers would have disputed that conclusion, but what did they know?)

Within a year or two, I was starting to write my own science fiction stories. The results were about what you’d expect from a newbie writer who was all of sixteen years old—in a word, bad; in a phrase, truly wretched—but the process had begun.

By the time I was twenty-three, I’d given up any thought of becoming a fiction writer, and I didn’t return to the craft for over two decades. But, at the age of forty-five, return I did.

At which point…

Well, let’s put it this way. My first published novel was Mother of Demons, which is simply The High Crusade standing on its head. Poul Anderson placed his medieval human heroes in a futuristic alien setting; I placed my futuristic human heroes in a bronze age alien setting. The resulting story is quite different, but the underlying method is the same.

And so it continued. My most popular series is the 1632 series, which uses the same technique of jumbling history and science fiction. The Boundary series mixes science fiction and paleontology. The Jao series is essentially a science fiction retelling of the Roman conquest of the Greeks and the subsequent subversion of the Roman empire by those same Greeks—with the one difference of adding a truly maniacal alien enemy in place of the quite civilized and generally reasonable Persians. The Heirs of Alexandria series mixes the Renaissance with magic and demons, based on a changed theological history.

I could go on, but I figure that’s enough to make the point. I owe a lot to The High Crusade, I really do.


Eric Flint is a science fiction and fantasy author and editor of the Baen Free Library. His latest book, the alternate history story 1635: The Dreeson Incident, co-authored with Virginia DeMarce, was just released in paperback.

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