Reviews of Trader to the Stars (1964)
Review by clong (2007-07-04)
A bit of a mixed bag in this collection from Poul Anderson.
What I liked about these stories was the setting and clever underlying concepts. This is a universe where instinct trumps logic, where idealists get eaten for breakfast, where id drives actions much more than ego. Anderson has populated it with planets and aliens which are varied and, well, alien. The stories shine when our protagonist Nicholas van Rijn has epiphany moments of understanding about how things work and why (and, importantly, "how things work" feels like an organic outcome of the setting Anderson has created).
What I didn't like about these stories was the shallow and unsympathetic characters. Van Rijn is not your typical space opera protagonist. He's aging and obese and whiny, for a start. He starts off as insufferable and never really gets much better (the obvious comparison for me is Martin's Haviland Tuf, a character whom I found much more likeable).
And don't even get me started about the female characters.
Review by johnafair (2007-03-03)
The three novellas making up this collection are all very much of their time, though van Rijn is not your average square jawed and muscle bound hero that filled the magazines of the era (or so I hear :-)).
Van Rijn is a Merchant Prince of the first water, founder and head of Solar Spice and Liquor, one of the richest men in a galaxy that had spawned many such. Van Rijn is always presented as a bon viveur but in other stories, he's generally part of the background but in these three, he's the driving force of the action, using his vast practical knowledge of the beings to be found in this part of the galaxy to further not just his own survival but the continual enrichment of SS&L.
Now, if you like equality between the sexes, the first two stories won't be to your taste at all, for van Rijn's view of females is that they make a nicely decorative background.
The final story where van Rijn strikes out at the sheep-like tendencies of the vast majority of humanity is a more positive view of the old reprobate though all three are plenty exciting enough, proving that Poul Anderson's galaxy is a far more exciting and realistic place than Isaac Asimov's despite an apparently smaller scale.