Reading: an old favorite by Poul Anderson

my copy

The War of the Wing-Men by Poul Anderson, Ace Books G-634 paperback, 1958.

I first read this terrific story in Astounding Science Fiction in February, March and April, 1958. The cover title was The Man Who Counts. The novel was then published by Ace in this paperback format later that year. It was then revised and lengthened into the longer novel with it’s original title of The Man Who Counts, which I’ve reread several times.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The following is from the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) website:

I first read it here

War of the Wing-Men

Ace, 1958, 160 pp, $0.50

Review by Mark L. Olson

“I’ve been asked to do a panel at Boskone 39 on Poul Anderson’s future history, so I’ve started re-reading a few of his books.

War of the Wing-Men was the second van Rijn story (after “Margin of Profit”). Nicholas van Rijn is a somewhat Falstaffian character – fat, noisy, slobish – who is owner of Solar Spice and Liquors, one of the powerful firms in the Polesotechnic League, the commercial organization which dominates Technic civilization.

Van Rijn, an engineer who works for him, and a woman are crashed on a little-explored planet where humans can live, but not eat the food. They have food for eight weeks, but no means to contact the only human outpost half-way around the planet. There are natives, however, who can fly (the planet is a large, low-density planet with correspondingly dense air.)

1977 edition – weird cover

Van Rijn and company have been deposited in the middle of a war between a band of native who live on shipboard and one which inhabits a string of islands. Neither has the time or the resources to aid the humans.

Van Rijn, ever the leader sets out to free up the native resources by winning the war for one side. He works the engineer mercilessly while himself lounging around, bossing everyone who gets within range including the natives, and eating twice his share of the human’s food.

Anderson’s preferred title for this story is The Man Who Counts and that tells it all. As the woman replies to the engineer late in the story as he complains once again about having to do all the work while van Rijn just talks, effective leadership is a far greater and far rarer skill than technical accomplishments. They could not possibly have escaped without van Rijn, but van Rijn might well have come up with some other way to escape for himself without them.

Besides having a serious point to make, the story is good adventure and is set on a very well-realized planet – the world and its biology are well thought out and have a direct bearing on the story itself.

This is great early Anderson.”

I couldn’t agree more.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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18 Responses to Reading: an old favorite by Poul Anderson

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    The wing men pictured on all three jackets are hard to completely make out. The wing span when they are flying seem much larger than the wings of their backs in the one jacket. If I had a super power, it would be flying. And this despite my fear of heights.

    • I hope you clicked on the images to make them larger, Patti. They have hollow bones, like birds, which allows them to fly. This really is a good tale, you should try it.

  2. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I’ve always thought having X-ray vision would be pretty cool.

    I must admit that I have never read Anderson, other than a short story or two.

    • Someone once asked me what super-power I’d want if I could have one. I think I answered flight (like Superman). Then another person had what is now my answer: super healing like Wolverine has. He quickly heals from anything. Wouldn’t that be nice?

  3. The first Poul Anderson novel I ever read was VAULT OF THE AGES. Loved it! And, not long after that, I read WAR OF THE WINGMEN. After that, I was hookd on Poul Anderson’s novels and short stories. Wonderful writer!

    • Yes, he’s one of my favorites. It was pleasure to reread this one. I highly recommend The Earthbook of Stormgate, which has Margin of Profit, The Man Who Counts and other good stuff.

  4. Jerry House says:

    Van Rijn is one of Anderson’s best characters. I much preferred him to Dominic Flandry. WAR OF THE WINGMEN is a great tale.

  5. JohnnyMac says:

    “War of the Wingmen”/”The Man Who Counts” is one of Poul Anderson’s best. Somewhere (I don’t have time to track down the source at the moment) Anderson told an amusing story about one detail in his world building for this story. The island culture that Van Rijn and his comrades ally themselves with has a seasonal migration pattern. At the coming of winter, the islanders fly south to a tropic archipelago where they meeting other migrating peoples and enjoy a bacchanalian mating season. Then they fly home and their children are born in their home island. When Anderson finished his first draft he gave it to his wife, Karen, for her to read and critique. She handed it back to him and told him “You have these females flying hundreds of miles while they are the equivalent of 7 or 8 months pregnant. As a woman who has been pregnant, trust me, that would not work.” (from memory, not exact quote). Anderson listened to the voice of experience and rewrote.

    • I don’t doubt that story at all, JohnnyMac, Karen apparently had a significant hand in Pohl’s writing, editing and publishing. Thanks for stopping by, and commenting.

  6. tracybham says:

    Well, you have convinced me. I will have to try some books by Poul Anderson, and this book is a good place to start if I can find a copy.

    • Tracy, there are copies out there, try eBay. Anderson’s Polesotechnic League stories, part of his Future History, is a rich weaving of stories and novels. This a a good way to see if you like the characters enough to go on. If you do, find a copy of The Earthbook of Stormgate.

  7. stevelewis62 says:

    I tried posting earlier, but dealing with WordPress and the passwords it wanted was to much for me I’m trying again. If no one sees this, I’ve given up for good! But I’ve switched computers, and I think that may help. George beat me to it, but VAULT OF AGES was also one of the earliest SF novels I remember reading. I don’t imagine it holds up now, but I’m fuzzy on the details — I was only 10 or 12 at the time — and yet, at the time, it opened a great new world to me.

  8. Steve Oerkfitz says:

    I read a lot of Poul Anderson as a teenager. Mostly his short fiction. I remember reading Brian Waves, Three Hearts for Three Lions, The High Crusade and The Broken Sword. My favorite is The Broken Sword. I reread The High Crusade a couple of years back and was disappointed. I thought it too short and not fleshed out enough. I probably read War of the Wingmen since I read most Ace doubles. Just don’t recall it.

  9. JohnnyMac says:

    By the way, that last cover art, the one you labelled “weird cover” is, I believe, the work of Chris Achilleos. He has done a lot of good fantasy artwork, mostly book covers and album covers, and had several collections of his work published.

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