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The Structure Of A Series: Poul Anderson

 Dr. Paul Shackley

The Polesotechnic League (futuristic sf)

The Polesotechnic League series is elaborately constructed and “more than the sum of its parts” (I did once read a series that was less than some of its parts.)


“The Saturn Game” describes interplanetary exploration.
“Wings of Victory” and “The Problem of Pain” introduce Ythrians.  
“Margin of Profit” and The Man Who Counts introduce Nicholas van Rijn.
“How To Be Ethnic In One Easy Lesson” introduces Adzel.
“The Three-Cornered Wheel” and “A Sun Invisible” introduce David Falkayn.

Thus, seven short stories and one novel introduce the series.

The Main Period:

Van Rijn features in “Hiding Place” and “Territory” and receives employees’ reports in “Esau” and “The Master Key”.
Falkayn, Adzel and Chee Lan work for van Rijn in “The Trouble Twisters”, “Day of Burning”, Satan’s World, “Lodestar” and Mirkheim.
“The Season of Forgiveness” and “A Little Knowledge” are two further League stories.

Thus, nine short stories and two novels continue and complete the series.


Ythrians and Falkayn-led human beings share the planet Avalon in “Wingless” and “Rescue on Avalon”.
The Terran Empire is founded in “The Star Plunderer”, is described further in “Sargasso of Lost Starships”, fails to annex Avalon in The People of the Wind and is defended by Dominic Flandry in several works.
The post-Imperial Long Night is described in two short stories and one novel.
The later Commonalty is described in one short story.

Thus, after all that time, there is a new beginning. That is quite some mega-series. This summary emphasizes the Polesotechnic, rather than the Imperial, period because my appreciation of the former has increased since re-reading its opening stories in the new Baen edition.

I think that there could be an easier way to collect the complete Technic History:

five stories and one novel about van Rijn could be collected in one volume;
three stories and two novels about Falkayn working for van Rijn could be collected in one volume;
eight other stories set before Avalonian colonization could be collected in one volume to be read before or alongside van Rijn and Falkayn;
one volume of four stories and one novel would cover the Avalon and early Empire period;
three volumes for the later Empire (four novels and one story in the first volume; seven stories of different lengths in the second; three novels in the third);
one volume of three stories and one novel would cover the post-Imperial period.

Total: eight volumes with easily demarcated contents.

Of this suggested sequence:

the first volume introduces Ythrians, League, Adzel and Falkayn;
the second introduces van Rijn;
the third introduces Falkayn and Adzel working for van Rijn;
the fourth starts with Falkayn’s grandson and Ythrians on Avalon and ends with the Imperial war on Avalon;
the remaining volumes cover the Empire and after.

The King of Ys (historical fantasy)

(with Karen Anderson)

This series is four novels with the legendary city of Ys flooded at the end of the third novel. The tetralogy shows the simultaneous decline and conversion of the Roman Empire. In the first volume, the future King of Ys hopes that, if he serves Mithras, and another serves Christ, this will not matter if both serve Roma Mater: a sensible attitude unacceptable to the Christian regime.

Because the series is a fantasy, Christian saints work miracles but the gods of Ys, regarded by Christians not as non-existent but as demonic, also show their power until they abandon their city. In the fourth volume, the Dark Ages begin and the seeds of the Middle Ages are sown. Paganism becomes witchcraft. The former King of Ys, feeling abandoned by Mithras, accepts Christianity instead of philosophical paganism.

The series evokes its historical period, the beauty of the towered city of Ys and the diversity of its inhabitants.

The Last Viking (historical fiction)

This is a trilogy about King Harald Hardrada (1046-1066). Because, unlike other Norse-inspired works by Anderson, the trilogy is not a fantasy, Harald’s Arctic expedition finds ice bergs and a whale, not Jotunheim or the World Serpent.

The Time Patrol (historical sf)

The First Volume:

The original Time Patrol series was four short stories collected in one volume which was first published in Britain in 1961.

“Time Patrol” (May 55): Manson Everard’s recruitment, training, first case and promotion to Unattached status which he retains for the rest of the series.
“Brave To Be A King” (Aug 59) and “The Only Game In Town” (Jan 60): two further cases for Everard.
“Delenda Est” (Dec 55): a culmination, in which history has been changed but Everard and the Patrol change it back.

The order of stories was changed to make “Delenda Est” the culmination. References to “earlier” stories were added to “later” stories to unify the series. Thus, the slightly revised “Delenda Est” refers to the central characters of the previous three stories and “The Only Game In Town” refers to the central character of “Brave To Be A King”.

The Fifth Story:

“Gibraltar Falls” (1975) was added to later editions of The Guardians of Time but as Part III, not Part V, in order to preserve the status of “Delenda Est” as a culmination. “Gibraltar Falls” centrally features another Time Patrolman, Tom Nomura, who was recruited at a younger age and a later date than Everard, in 1972. This story gives Everard a sort of “elder statesman” role and reflects on the upheavals separating the 70’s from the 50’s while placing both in a longer historical perspective. Thus, I think that the story would have fitted better as an epilogue or a coda rather than as an arbitrary insertion into the middle of the collection.

The Second Volume:

From now on, all new Time Patrol stories appear first in books, not in magazines. The Guardians of Time remains the complete collection of all Time Patrol stories that were originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The second collection, but of original and longer stories, was Time Patrolman (1983).

“Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks”: another case for Everard who has traveled to 950 BC, apparently from the 1980’s.
“The Sorrow of Odin the Goth”: a second story featuring a different Time Patrolman and again giving Everard “elder statesman” status. Everard, from 1980, occasionally oversees Carl Farness, who, from his base in the 1930’s, visits 300-372.

(“Gibraltar Falls” could have been collected here rather than in later editions of the first volume.)

Observations So Far:

Carl Farness’ story contains the single visit in the entire series to our future: 2319, too far ahead for us to disprove Anderson’s account simply by living long enough. Anderson while writing the series kept Everard’s present simultaneous with that of the author and the readers. Thus, to anticipate a later volume, The Shield of Time, published in 1990, refers to Gorbachev whom Time Patrolmen would have known of but did not happen to mention back in the 50’s.

Rooms in the Time Patrol Academy in the Oligocene period contain the sort of gadgets “…you would have expected by, say, AD 2000…” including “…screens which could draw on a huge library of recorded sight and sound for entertainment.” (1)

Everard, part of a group recruited from between 1850 and 1975, or from between 1850 and 2000 depending on which edition you read, wonders when a fellow recruit is from:

“…the girl with the iridescent, close-fitting culottes and the green lipstick and the fantastically waved yellow hair…” (2)

Shortly afterwards, there is a reference to “…the girl from 1972…” (3) So is that her?

In The Guardians of Time (1961), Everard’s class was recruited from and studied the period 1850-1975. In The Guardians of Time (1981), they were recruited from 1850-2000 but studied 1850-1975. In Time Patrol (2006), they are recruited from and study 1850-2000. Thus, the text of the first story, “Time Patrol” (1955), is edited before our eyes. I thought that I remembered a discrepancy but did not find it until I had compared different editions.

The Third Volume:

The next Time Patrol episode was a juvenile novella, “The Year of the Ransom”, originally published as a single volume in 1988. Everard is present but as only one of the characters. The heroine, Wanda Tamberly, caught up in a time travel conflict in the 1980’s, helps to thwart one of the villains and is recruited to the Patrol. This story continues the convention, begun in “The Sorrow of Odin the Goth”, of a date heading for each new section of narrative. Because the main villain, Merau Varagan, had been apprehended by Everard at the end of “Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks”, this new story fits between the two previous volumes.

The Fourth Volume:

The fourth volume was The Shield of Time (1990), a long novel written as a unit but comprising three long, consecutive stories. Wanda is a main view point character and starts a relationship with Everard at the end of the novel. For Everard, The Shield of Time begins immediately after the end of “Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks” and we are now told that the events of “The Year of the Ransom” had occurred immediately before that. Two early Chapters of Shield… are flashbacks linking this novel to those stories.

Varagan belonged to a group of time criminals called “Exaltationists”. “Ivory…” includes a flashback to Everard’s first encounter with Varagan and Shield…starts with Everard’s pursuit of the remaining Exaltationists. Thus, Everard encounters Exaltationists four times but in three stories and eventually, when the series is complete, in two volumes.

Omnibus Volumes:

A volume called The Annals of Time had collected the five stories from The Guardians of Time and the two from Time Patrolman. Now, a volume called The Time Patrol collected the seven stories from The Annals of Time and the one from The Year of the Ransom with an original short novel, “Star of the Sea”. Regular readers who had missed the juvenile story when it was a separate volume had two new stories to read in this new collection.

In “Star of the Sea”, Everard returns as a leading character while retaining his “elder statesman” role towards the female colleague with whom he has an affair but this ends at the end of the story, thus clearing the way for Everard to meet Wanda for the first time later that same year, 1986. During “Star of the Sea”, Everard refers back to the events of “The Sorrow of Odin the Goth”. Thus, “Star of the Sea” has been carefully written to fit between two earlier stories and not to advance the increasingly consecutive narrative beyond the end of The Shield of Time.

The two stories in Time Patrolman should now be read in reverse order with two later written stories between them. These four stories form two pairs. “The Sorrow of Odin the Goth” and “Star of the Sea” both deal with Northern European mythology and could be collected under the title, The Gods of Time. “Year of the Ransom” and “Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks” both deal with Exaltationists and could be collected as The Thieves of Time.

The Last Story:

One further Time Patrol story, “Death and the Knight” (1995), was written for an original anthology on the Knights Templar and included in a later edition of The Time Patrol, now entitled simply Time Patrol. Until then, “Time Patrol” had been a short story, The Time Patrol had been an omnibus collection and the Time Patrol series had been that collection plus one long novel. Now, Time Patrol is the omnibus collection.

“Death and the Knight” interrupts the holiday that Everard and Wanda had started in early January 1990 at the end of The Shield of Time. Thus, despite its 1995 publication date, this last story does not advance Everard’s career beyond March 1990. He was born in 1924, entered the Patrol at age thirty and has had an apartment in New York since at least 1954 but, in 1990, is a lot older than sixty six because he has time traveled a lot. Patrol medical treatment prevents aging but Everard would soon have had to move to a different time and place in order not to appear unnaturally young to his New York contemporaries, from whom the fact of time travel must be concealed. Everard’s relocation would have been a major turning point in the series.

General Observations:

Time Patrolmen live for centuries unless they die by accident or violence. For the period 1850-1975 (or 2000), the Patrol has head offices in London, Moscow and Peiping in 1890-1910, with smaller offices in other decades. Thus, service in all three head offices for the entirety of their existences could be just one part of a Patroller’s career. At the Academy, Everard’s class numbers about fifty. His training is completed in three months by hypnotic conditioning. The Academy exists for half a million years before being carefully demolished so that no trace of it will remain. Does this mean that the Academy can have had one hundred million graduates with indefinite life spans? They guard a million years of history and claim to be chronically understaffed.

Living past 2000 would automatically take Everard out of the Patrol “milieu” administered from 1890-1910. Perhaps, to maintain his base in this milieu, he would, like Farness, have moved to an earlier decade of the twentieth century? With some Patrol disguise and a change of name, he might even have been the previous occupant of his own apartment.

As an Unattached agent, Everard is confined neither to his birth milieu nor to a Specialist period but it is obviously convenient for him to be based in familiar surroundings. From his base in 1954-1990, he operates in the past three millennia. The background of the series implies that other Unattacheds work in periods of similar lengths throughout a million years and that there are future periods when time travel is not a secret so that the existence of the Patrol need not be concealed. Citizens of such periods might apply for membership instead of being recruited by tests which are not explained until they pass them. However, Anderson used the Time Patrol premise to realize historical periods, not to speculate further about the future, which he does in other works.

The Correct Reading Order:

Since “Death and the Knight” occurs immediately after The Shield of Time, it should be collected as an epilogue to Shield…, not at the end of Time Patrol. If “Death and the Knight” were removed, then the last story in Time Patrol as it stands would be “The Year of the Ransom”. This story was placed at the end of The Time Patrol in the mistaken belief that, since it introduces Wanda, who features in Shield..., it was a direct prequel to Shield...

In fact, as we have seen, “Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks” occurs between “The Year of the Ransom” and Shield... Time Patrol simply reproduces the order of the stories in Guardians…and Time Patrolman instead of revising that order in accordance with the contents of the stories. “Ivory, and Apes, and Peacocks” should be moved from before “The Sorrow of Odin the Goth” to the end of volume. Also, I think, as argued earlier, that “Gibraltar Falls” should be placed after “Delenda Est”, in which Everard’s home base date is 1960.

It would then finally be possible for a new reader to read the entire series in the right order, as experienced by Everard. That is the order in which the stories were written unless the stories themselves indicate otherwise. There are two factors here. First, the original quartet was revised and its order changed for book publication. Secondly, after Time Patrolman, Anderson consciously fitted new stories into a sequence relating them to earlier stories but not necessarily in a growing linear order. Thus, The Year Of The Ransom, published after Time Patrolman, is set before the first story in Time Patrolman but after the second and “Star of the Sea”, published later again, is set between the second story in Time Patrolman and The Year Of The Ransom.

For Everard, from the beginning of “Star of the Sea” to the end of “Death and the Knight” is almost an uninterrupted sequence of events. Between earlier stories, the gaps were longer and Everard dealt with cases some of which are referred to though not described.

The complete collection of Time Patrol stories has grown from four to five to seven to nine to ten stories and has changed its title from The Guardians of Time to The Annals of Time to The Time Patrol to Time Patrol. The entire series is now complete in two long volumes. I suggest that these volumes should be read after five others:

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
by Mark Twain;
The Time Machine by HG Wells;
Lest Darkness Fall by L Sprague de Camp;
Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore;
Past Times by Poul Anderson.

Past Times should be revised to exclude non-time travel items and to include “The Man Who Came Early”, a short story that follows from and indirectly comments on Twain and de Camp.

These five volumes present a conceptual sequence of speculations on travel to historical periods and, to a lesser extent, on technological time travel. An initial discussion of the problems of travelling to historical periods does occur, briefly, in The Time Machine. Anderson’s future humanity evolves into Danellians instead of devolving into Morlocks and Eloi. Anderson’s high tech mass-produced timecycles are conceptual successors to the Time Traveller’s elaborate nineteenth century contraption.

I exclude from this list Anderson’s three other time travel novels because, although these works are also historical, they are contributions to the ornamental garden of the circular causality paradox. As such, they belong to a secondary time travel tradition from “The Chronic Argonauts” by HG Wells to The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. In such works, causality violation is impossible whereas Time Patrollers do close causal circles but precisely in order to prevent causality violations which otherwise would and sometimes do occur. Thus, the Time Patrol series synthesizes fictional treatment of both causality paradoxes.

Development of Ideas:

“Delenda Est” was a culmination because it dramatized, instead of merely discussing, causality violation and because, to do this, it introduced a collective villain, the Neldorians, who, like Moriarty, had almost the status of a continuing villain despite appearing in only one story. The Patrol had had trouble with them “before”. The concluding section of Shield…is a similar culmination because it also presents a, much more elaborate, causality violation together with deeper reflection on the earlier case. However, the second temporal change is effected not by a time traveling villain but by a space-time-energy fluctuation: a new concept in time travel fiction. The fluctuation is embodied in a medieval knight who becomes a personal causal nexus, thus as dangerous an opponent as a Neldorian or an Exaltationist, though without realizing it. He thinks that a Patroller trying to dissuade him from a particular course of action by appearing as an angel is a demon or magician and fights to the death.

The idea of a continuing collective villain was developed further but separately and with Exaltationists instead of Neldorians. The campaign against the Exaltationists is a series within the series beginning with the flashback in “Ivory…”, then “The Year of the Ransom”, then the main story in “Ivory…” and, finally, the first part of Shield…When “Ivory…” concluded with the observation that the escaped Exaltationists would be hunted, I suspect that Anderson meant to convey only that the task of the Patrol would continue, not that this observation would lead straight into a sequel, but then he did come to write a sequel and the Exaltationists provided perfect material for it. When imagining a female clone mate for Varagan, Anderson gave her the name of a spear carrying character in “The Year of the Ransom”, thus giving an earlier detail greater significance.

When the Patrol lays a trap for the Exaltationists, it does so by publishing, in a period that it was known some Exaltationists had visited, fake evidence for the pivotal significance of an ancient battle. If the Exaltationists took the bait, then they would try to affect the outcome of that battle and thus would enter a period when waiting Patrollers might be able to apprehend them. Thus, the Time Patrol, knowing what had occurred in earlier episodes, can use that knowledge to mislead its opponents at an earlier time. Anderson’s presentation of time travel becomes more elaborate. Although Everard and Wanda begin a relationship and a holiday in early January 1990, they had, earlier on their world lines, met and conversed in February 1990 and possibly in later months of that year. But, whatever the month, 1990 remains the last year in which we know anything about Everard. Unfortunately, this is simply because Anderson did not live long enough to write a concluding volume for the series.

Everard’s apartment becomes a familiar setting during the series. It acquires Bronze Age spears and helmet on the wall, then a tenth century polar bear rug on the floor, then loses the rug. (Twentieth century visitors reproached him for it and it became scruffy.) The apartment is visited by other characters, including Guion who guards the history of the Patrol as the Patrol guards the history of mankind.

Other settings that recur as the series continues are the Academy and the Pleistocene lodge. Shield…belatedly informs us in its final section that the Patrol emblem, an hourglass in a shield, is cast in brass on a lodge wall. The emblem is mentioned here because it will be used as a signal later in the story. Any visual adaptation of the series should display the emblem from the earliest scenes in the Academy. A faithful TV or graphic adaptation of the series could be extended almost indefinitely: “The Sorrow of Odin the Goth” alone follows four generations of one Gothic family. One setting that is not revisited is the office of Gordon, the agent who recruits Everard, because, when Everard becomes Unattached, he ceases to be accountable to the local office.

When the last Academy graduate retires, then the history of the Patrol is complete but that last graduate must not relate the organization’s history to his earlier colleagues. They must perform their tasks without knowing the outcomes in order to avoid the paradox of circular causality. (Causal circles may be completed in order to prevent causality violations but, otherwise, both paradoxes must be avoided.) The Danellians, living later, must know the full history but there is a perennial quantum uncertainty. Whenever a time traveller returns from visiting his past, it is always possible that he will arrive in an altered version of his present, will have to travel past-wards again to try to re-adjust the timeline and might fail. This can happen even when the timeline in which he initially set out to travel into the past had contained a record of his successful return to his unaltered present.

It seems to me that the Danellians can avoid this danger simply by ceasing to time travel. It makes sense to say that someone who visits his past may return to the wrong present but it makes no sense to say that the Danellian Era may exist until a particular moment but may then, at that moment, cease having existed until that moment. Of course, maybe the Danellians have good reason to continue time travelling. Another possible hazard for time travellers is unintended self-duplication. When Everard persuades Carl that he must return to the Gothic period in order to play the role of Odin betraying his followers, this is because, in their timeline, that betrayal has already occurred.

Thus, if Carl refuses to return, the first problem will be the arrival in the twentieth century of that Carl who did appear in the Gothic period and enact the betrayal. Carl’s current intransigence would have prevented his departure from the present but not his arrival in the past because that had happened earlier. I quote the rules of time travel taught in the Academy.

Everard tells Carl that an incipient causal loop can set up a resonance which can produce catastrophically multiplying historical changes. He does not tell us what a resonance is but could it mean this? - Carl’s refusal to conduct the mission of betrayal duplicates Carl; then, if either Carl travels further into the past than the Gothic period, there is the danger that, when he returns to the twentieth century, it will be to the twentieth century of a timeline in which Odin’s descendants were not betrayed, did defeat their enemy and did bring it about that an entirely different story was recorded in the Volsungasaga, thus preventing the history in which a Carl Farness sets out to track down the origin of the story of Odin’s betrayal.

Earlier, Carl had decided against jumping back through time to change a minor incident. It was just as well that he decided this because to make the change would have been to duplicate himself. The careful reader can find other cases where time traveller duplication could or even should have occurred. 

Everard rescues the missing Keith Denison from ancient Iran and brings him home even though Records in 1890-1910, when asked, had said that he had never come home. Did Records lie, knowing that this would make Everard look for Keith and bring him home?

Guion, mentioned earlier, must seek for evidence that a causality violation may be imminent even when there is no evidence for it…There is some evidence of minor fluctuations not caused by time travellers. Even Temporal, the Patrol language with tenses for time travel, cannot express this attempt to anticipate causality violations. Guion seeks clues to “…the hypermatrix of the continuum…” but acknowledges that this is a misleading term. (3) He speaks of the coherence of chaos and interviews Patrollers whose world lines interact with many others. He uses their languages because they would not be able to express their experience fully in Temporal.

The personal causal nexus mentioned earlier seems to be the sort of thing that Guion was looking for but what else might happen? A renegade Danellian freeing the Nine, the Neldorians, the Exaltationists and other time criminals from the exile planet and dispatching them on multiple missions to disrupt evolution or even the formation of the universe? (Anderson’s imagination was more restrained and subtle than this. When asked to write about the Knights Templar, he did not make them anything dramatic like agents of the Patrol but did write a causal circle into their known history.)

Guion is introduced only as a unifying element in the long novel, The Shield of Time. He appears between the main sections speaking to Everard, to Wanda and again to Everard but is not present when Everard battles Exaltationists, when Wanda intervenes in prehistory or when Everard and Wanda together tackle the personal causal nexus. Thus, Anderson need not have revived Guion in any subsequent novel but, hopefully, would have revealed more about the Danellians. Guion refers to the Middle Command of the Patrol. He does not explain this phrase but obviously means that the Middle Command is human.

Like good historical fiction, each Time Patrol story evokes the spirit and atmosphere of the period in which it is set. The series contains many quotable passages that could be collected and published in an appropriately illustrated volume, e.g., from Guion:

“…think of the countless world lines intermeshed throughout the continuum as a spiderweb…There are occasions when we know only that the web is troubled, not where or when the source of the disturbance lies; for that source perhaps does not exist in our yet, in our reality. We can only try to trace it back up the threads-“ (4)

The Four Series

To list the series in a slightly different order, they comprise:

historical fantasy;
historical fiction;
historical science fiction;
futuristic science fiction, specifically a “future history”.

The future history describes fictitious historical events. The remaining three series set fictitious events in historical periods. “Historical science fiction” is a less familiar category but the Time Patrol does fit this category since it is equally historical fiction and science fiction.

  1. Anderson, Poul. Time Patrol, 2006, Riverdale, NY, p. 8.
  2. ibid, p. 6.
  3. Anderson, Poul. The Shield of Time, 1991, New York, p. 8.
  4. ibid, p. 135.

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