Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kicking it Old School: Ensign Flandry

I've decided to go ahead and give this series of old timey Sci-Fi and Fantasy reviews an official name: Kicking it Old School

What books will fit into that category?  Well, this is up for debate, but for now I'll say: any book written before I  knew how to read, (1986), will be considered fair game for Kicking it Old School. However, I may push that publication date up as far as 1990 if necessary...that may rouse debates among Old School historians out there, and if so, feel free to debate what can and should be considered "Old School" in the comments section. 

My second excursion into the old school annals of science fiction and fantasy didn't pan out as well as my first go 'round.  Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry seemed like it might be a fun read as it appeared to promise a sort of James Bond-style adventure --- in space, and not in a shitty Moonraker sort of way.

Well, truth be told, Ensign Flandry does have a very James Bondian feel to it.  The novel stars young Dominic Flandry, an Ensign in the Terran Empire's navy.

When things kick off, Flandry finds himself waylaid after a crash landing on a backwater neutral planet when he (quite accidentally) becomes the hero of a battle between the planet's two primary sentient species.  Aside from helping him gain the respect of the locals, it helps him get noticed by the local Imperial brass, and Flandry soon finds himself caught up in the greater struggle between his own Terran Empire and their rivals the Mersian Empire.

Before this one is over, Flandry's adventures will take him across the length of a galaxy, under a sea inhabited by sentient sea-folk, into the heart of enemy territory, and into the arms of a lover or three.

Along the way, Flandry relies heavily on luck to defeat his enemies, and uses his wits to help him bed a few intergalactic babes.  Sound familiar?  Though Ensign Flandry wasn't published until 1966, a solid 13 years after Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, it appears Flandry made his debut way back in 1951 in a Poul Anderson short story (if we are to trust Wikipedia).  Either way, the familiarity of the two characters is similar, but there's a lot of characters who are just like other characters out there in the world of fantasy, SF, comics, and what have you, so whatever.

Similarities to pop culture icons aside, the problem I had with this one was that this wasn't all that exciting of a book. Overall, this is a pretty slow read, with the plot unfolding pretty slowly. There's a lot of exposition and discussion of what is going on in the galaxy, but not a lot of showing those things going on.  With the galaxy teetering on the edge of war, and dashing young dude as the main character you'd expect there to be lots of clandestine action, but sadly the bits when people stop talking and start acting are few and far between. When Anderson did deliver an action scene or two, he tended to gloss them over, and describe what happened in retrospect.

Worst of all, the final climactic scene, which is a fairly large space battle, has Flandry more or less on the sidelines as things unfold. Who ever heard of a main character sitting out the climax of a book which has his name on the cover?  I was flummoxed.

As a whole, this book had too many shortcomings to really win me over.  Truth be told, there wasn't really anything all that special about this one at all. Sad but true.  I don't see myself carrying on and reading any more of the Flandry books, but I'm determined to not let this deter me from reading and enjoying some more old school sf/f.

Grade: 6.5 Slap Bracelets


Bryce L. said...

Hahaha, slap bracelets are awesome and what everything should be graded against.

I just picked up Call Me Joe by Pohl Anderson. I have yet to read anything by him, but it's one of those you just gotta. I'm liking "Kicking it Old School" already (i.e., I may have to steal it).

Ryan said...

I've never read any of Anderson's other stuff, so I'll be interested to hear what you think.

Feel free to steal the idea! I think old genre books deserve the attention.

Redhead said...

Yay for some attention paid to older stuff! New books are great at all, but our childhoods were built on the stuff that was written when we were kids, and earlier. Even if some of those oldies suck.

Ryan said...

Thanks Redhead! It's not easy to sift through the old SF/F that is decades old and figure out what stuff I want to read. I think there could be a lot of trial and error with this series of reviews...