The illustrious Poul Anderson is another one of those scifi/fantasy grandmasters who you’ve probably never heard of if you were born after 1980. Although he was writing until his death in 2001, he seems to have fallen into obscurity in the later decades of his career, which is a damn shame.
Throughout the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, it seems liked Anderson’s worked appeared all over the place, in magazines like Planet Stories, Fantastic, Galaxy, and Amazing Stories. He wrote both scifi and fantasy in a time when the lines were less rigid and authors often endeavored in a more general SFF arena. A quick glance at his list of works will show how prolific a writer he was.
Anderson was an official SFWA Grandmaster, a seven time Hugo award winner, three time Nebula award winner, an inspiration for famous writers like Robert Heinlein, and a buddy of Jack Vance and Frank Herbert.
I’ve only scratched the surface of his stuff, having read all three of his entries in D&D’s Appendix N and one or two of his short stories. I’ve Ensign Flandry queued up, which I don’t know much about but perceive to be a more traditional scifi entry than what I’ve read of his so far.
So if you’re interested in checking him out, where should you start? I’d say it depends on what you’re looking for.
If you’re interested in an epic, old school fantasy tale, full of gods and treacherous magic, not-so-good elves and an alternate to the Tolkien track of the genre, The Broken Sword may be for you. Honestly there were some elements of the story that really put me off, but the writing is top notch and there are a lot of very cool elements that you likely haven’t yet come across in your reading.
If what you want is a well-written but more paint-by-the-numbers fantasy story, I’d go with Three Hearts and Three Lions. This one didn’t wow me, but it’s a fascinating look at a work that contributed to a lot of D&D mechanics and contemporary fantasy tropes (regenerating trolls, anyone? this is where it came from!).
My personal favorite is The High Crusade, a bold and extremely creative approach to what I guess we’d have to consider a scifi story under today’s system of categorization. In it, an alien scouting party lands in medieval England and decides to conquer the primitive Earthling civilization. But the aliens didn’t bet on the audaciousness of the English, who storm the alien vessel, kill most of the invaders, and capture the craft, which they then decide to use to attack France. Only things don’t go to plan. This one really impressed me.
No matter where you start, it’s probably hard to go wrong with Anderson. Highly recommended.