After re-reading the first couple of chapters of Poul Anderson’s The Man Who Counts, I grinned at the outrageous adventure story and said, “Man, they don’t write ’em like that anymore.”
Published in 1958, The Man Who Counts is now available as part of The Van Rijn Method: The Technic Civilization Saga #1. It features one of Anderson’s recurring heroes, the interstellar business tycoon Nicholas Van Rijn. Van Rijn is a throwback to the European Age of Exploration. He’s a fat, profane Dutch merchant, whose fine silk clothing is stained with snuff, who wears is his hair in oiled black ringlets, and who pledges in broken English to build a cathedral to his patron St. Dismas if only he can be relieved of having to suffer fools around him.
The novel opens as Van Rijn and his small party of human travelers have crash-landed on the planet Diomedes. Van Rijn and his helpless band find themselves in the midst of war between two stone-age nations, pitting the Drak’ho, a nation of Diomedes that live out their lives on vast, ocean-going rafts, against the Lannachska, who live on the land. Both nations can fly, they are winged aliens, and much of the charm of the novel comes from Anderson working out the details of life and war among people who can take to the air.
The Drak’ho seem destined to win this war, they’ve outgunned and outmatched the Lannachska in every way. And so of course Van Rijn takes the side of the underdog Lannachska, remaking their society and military to allow them to fight more effectively against the more powerful foe.