Thursday, October 21, 2010

Roger de Tourneville is the COOLEST KNIGHT EVER!!!

Sir Roger is my hero. I want to be just like him when I grow up.

In 1960, the brilliant science-fiction/fantasy writer Poul Anderson obviously had a ball writing The High Crusade, serialized that year in Analog magazine and soon after published as a novel. It was just reprinting in a 50th anniversary addition (along with a short story set in the same continuity), so snatch up a copy and read it. You'll want to be just like Sir Roger when you grow up as well.

Heck, when an alien spaceship lands in medieval England, expecting the primitive savages who live there to panic at the first laser blast, Sir Roger rallies his men and charges the space ship. Longbow shafts pincushion the guy with the laser pistol and the armored knights turn the battle into a hand-to-hand affair. Advanced aliens with lasers and atomic weapons haven't the faintest idea how to do hand-to-hand combat. All but one of them die and Sir Roger has himself a space ship.

He doesn't know how to fly the darn thing, but his prisoner does. Sir Roger's plan? Use the huge ship to transport not just his military force, but his entire town (men, women, children and livestock) to the Continent to kick some French butt, then maybe liberate the Holy Land afterwards. When the alien tricks him by locking in the auto-pilot to take them all to another planet, Sir Roger still doesn't lose his cool. Instead, he rams the ship into an alien base and turns yet another battle into a hand-to-hand affair. But the displaced humans are now stuck on another world, with the navigational records that would allow them to find Earth again destroyed.

From there, the doughty knight improvises wildly, convincing several sets of aliens that his small army is stronger and better equipped than it really is. Through guile, diplomacy, outright lies and force of will, he wins another battle, gains some allies and begins to overthrow a huge empire, setting up an intergalactic feudal system in its place.

Sir Roger's story is fun from start to finish. Anderson's science fiction is usually realistic, but here he eschews pure realism to have fun with the concept of medieval knights in space. All the same, he presents a rationale for Sir Roger's success logically enough to make the reader more than willing to suspend disbelief. Anderson's sense of humor is in high gear throughout most of the tale. I especially like Sir Roger's reply to the question of whether he would force the aliens to swear fealty to Edward III: "The Irish are bad enough." There's also some great moments when these medieval Catholics try to wrestle with the theological implications of their situation--poking fun at religious superstitions without ever poking fun at the legitimacy of spiritual beliefs.

And Roger's innate coolness isn't just from his quick thinking and physical courage. He gets a true Crowning Moment of Awesome in the moral courage he shows when one of his men betrays him--and his wife seems to be in on the plot. But his love for his wife never falters and, well, if anyone can save his family, his honor and his people all at the same time, Sir Roger de Tourneville can.

I really do want to be just like Sir Roger when I grow up.

1 comment:

  1. Love this book and Anderson's writing in general. Sir Roger is like a medieval Captain Kirk.


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