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Flandry of Terra by Poul AndersonAlternate editionstory collection

Three novellas detailing the sweeping adventures of SF’s own Horatio Hornblower. Yes, they are the products of a bygone era, in which certain attitudes — say, more equitable representation of women — were not as progressive as they are today. As examples of space opera adventure from a particular period in the genre’s history, not to be taken too seriously, these hold up about as well as any could.

THE GAME OF GLORY  ★★★½
Charming late ’50s tale is the kind of space opera that — as the cliché goes — they just don’t make anymore. Captain Flandry follows a dying man’s clue to the watery provincial world of Nyanza, where a rebellion against the Empire may be brewing. Lighter on story than most Flandrys, lacking the wealth of impressively labyrinthine perils out of which our dashing hero must usually extricate himself. But it’s no less entertaining, and it creates a wonderful mood, with Anderson’s breathtaking and evocative descriptions of Nyanza practically making you feel the tropical breeze.

A MESSAGE IN SECRET ★★★½
Flandry ventures to the remote colonial world of Altai, whose human inhabitants haven’t been in contact with the Terran Empire for centuries, and discovers that they are cutting a Faustian deal with the Merseians. Running for his life with a gang of rebels and aboriginal natives, he must find an ingenious way of getting word back to Terra without discovery. More fun retro space opera with truly clever plotting, though the enemy doesn’t have as strong a presence here as it should. By the time this story was first published (1959) Anderson was warming up nicely to the series.

THE PLAGUE OF MASTERS ★★★★
This novel-length (approx. 150 pages or so) story may seem a bit formulaic after you’ve read enough Flandry stories to know what to expect, but there’s no denying that, like the best entries in the series, it embodies to a tee what great old-fashioned space opera is all about: picaresque adventure, derring-do, all set against a backdrop of exotic alien wonder. Here, Flandry, of his own volition, decides to investigate the remote and isolated world of Unan Besar, to see exactly why it is they have had no contact with the Empire in over 300 years. He discovers an oppressive society run by a sort of special police who alone control the production and distribution of an antidote to dangerous and deadly microorganisms that live in the very atmosphere. Without a monthly hit of this medication, death is certain. Flandry elects to help Unan Besar’s have-nots by having the drug synthesized off-world and breaking up the governmental monopoly — but first he has to get off-world. This story bears a strong resemblance to Ian Fleming’s original James Bond stories, in the way it plays out the “lone agent who must defeat the evil organization and save the world” trope, right down to Flandry’s devil-may-care dash and the inclusion of a smart and savvy babe. Tons of fun; escapism with a capital “E”.

These stories were later reprinted by Baen Books in their collections Captain Flandry: Defender of the Terran Empire (“Game” and “Message”) and Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight of Terra (“Plague”). While I commend keeping these tales in print, Baen’s widely-derided sexist cover art is very much not in keeping with the spirit of these stories (as well as being embarrassingly bad art), so I recommend finding a secondhand copy of this Ace Books collection on sites such as abebooks.com, where they are plentiful and cheap.