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Ensign Flandry Mass Market Paperback – 1967
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Lancer Books, 1967. Mass market paperback. Novel in the "Dominic Flandry" sequence of space opera stories. Flandry is a dashing field agent of the Imperial Intelligence Corps who travels the stars to fight off imminent threats to the empire from both external enemies and internal treachery.
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On the other hand, field agent Flandry is capable of evaluating a new planet, its' condition, then when ready, becomes a man of action. References to the decaying Empire are backdrop for his effort to delay the coming chaos. For your amusement, here are are three short stories:
Game of Glory is a re-match with an old nemesis.
Message in Secret lands Sir Dominic in the middle of a backward planet preparing for revolt.
Plague of Masters involves a repressive government controlling access to medicine. (my favorite)
See: The Van Rijn Method (The Technic Civilization Saga Book 1). The book is especially valuable for a Chronology of the Technic civilization.
Although this particular set of "Flandry" stories are not my favorite ("Agent of the Terran Empire" is far and away the best of the "Flandry" series) this collection is perfect for an afternoon at the beach with beer and chips, which is exactly how and where I enjoyed it. This is good space opera and a "don't miss" for fans (like me) of that genre.
Before all is said and done, Flandry has uncovered the deadly secret of the Starkad War, which poses a lethal threat to Humanity. Both sides are after him, and in the end his brilliance is established. Flandry is the James Bond of the 31st Century and the whole "Flandry" series is great space opera. Those readers who appreciate this genre won't want to pass this one up. The whole Flandry series by Poul Anderson is well worth reading.
Not quite the case though. The first couple of chapters threw me off entirely. Not only is no one named Dominic Flandry anywhere in sight, but we have some noblemen discussing political maneuvering with the alien Mersians as the two of them jockey for supremacy on another world. Even though the setting is the future it feels oddly realistic and not at all like high adventure.
Then at the end of one chapter the cyborg alien tries to break into the guy's office and from there things get awesome.
Flandry does make an appearance, finally, as a man barely out of being a cadet and still learning the ropes, caught on a world where events can flare up at any second and no one is really sure what the stakes are. Along the way there are spaceships and aliens for those who need that kind of comfort but the heart of the story does line elsewhere, in a kind of gritty political reality that I didn't expect from the SF of this era. There's a cold and somber realism at work here, which is the part that gets me. while there's some optimism that comes with American SF, there's not as much pie-in-the-sky hope and starry-eyed wonder, but something far more downbeat and grounded. The goals are scaled down to feasible measures and the emphasis here isn't on saving the day but doing the least amount of damage in the process. Shooting people is okay but there are wider repercussions to it that may have to be explained. It makes for a strange kind of complexity in so short a work, as the Terrans and the Mersians fight for advantages from a military and political standpoint, while the other aliens are caught in the middle and not quite understanding what's happening.
In the midst of it Flandry attempts to navigate the spaces between what people say and what they mean, and what can be done versus what needs to be done. He's the kind of hero with ideals that comes to the realization that those ideals aren't always attainable in a universe where reality means doing what you can to save face and sweeping the rest under the carpet so that other goals can be attained later. But he tries anyway, pushing past the cynicism and disbelief of everyone else (the moment that he understands that everyone around him is jaded for a good reason is one of more striking ones), always forging ahead and dealing with situations as they arise, clever and desperate and harried. There's few villains here, just people doing what they feel needs to be done for the good of their side and to further their own plans, and the conflict comes from the friction when the people who want it badly collide with the people who make them realize it may not be the best way.
Along the way we have some interesting alien species (none of them will make CJ Cherryh run for cover, but there's concerted thought being put into the differences . . . one of the best moments has one of the aliens coming to grips with the fact they world is just a dustmote in the cosmos and maybe even just a pawn in grander schemes), a beautiful lady, some quite intense scenes of action and a very zippy sense when the story gets moving. Even when people are talking about manipulation and trying to get one over on each other for even the smallest of advantages, the story never quite stops. An oddly complex work masquerading as something with a lot less depth, it proves that with a little focus and surety of purpose, you don't need to write an epic to to bring forth a world that says just as much.
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Introducing Dominic Flandry...Read more