The High Crusade (Appendix N Review)

The High Crusade

The High Crusade
by Poul Anderson
Originally published by Doubleday (1960)
Republished by Baen Books (2010)
$6.99 (Kindle)
$12.00 (Paperback)

Among medieval Englishmen, aliens land, their towering spacecraft dwarfing primitive works. Men watch transfixed as a blue creature steps out, bearing weapons that incinerate men with casual ease. They have come to conquer, and England — no, all Earth — would lay prostrate before them, their lands surrendered and their people devastated.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, brave English knights stormed the ship with sword, bow, and axe, and they slew all but one of the blue-skinned fiends. Led by Sir Roger de Tourneville, the knights forced the alien to operate the ship for them. They loaded up the entire population of the town of Ansby and thought they would fly to France and then to the Holy Land, but the alien deceives them, and the people of Ansby are taken to a planet in the alien empire. But the Englishmen remain undeterred, and they steel themselves for a battle unlike any they had ever faced.

At first, I was skeptical of the premise. Medieval knights vs. super-advanced aliens? It sounded like nonsense on stilts since there was no way to make such a fight even remotely interesting. Then I read the book, and I fast realized why I thought it wouldn’t be any good: The typical alien invasion tale centers on a victimized humanity struggling to survive against the superior foe, culminating in a last-ditch effort to reclaim their freedom. Human science is shown to be nothing compared to what the aliens could bring, and even in victory, humanity is humbled by the experience.

The High Crusade does the EXACT OPPOSITE.

Instead of cowering before the aliens, the knights fight and win. Instead of being humbled by superior alien technology, the knights fight on, confident in the rightness of their cause as they learn more and more of the alien mechanical arts. Instead of a tale of modernist victimization, it is a tale of Christian strength and bravery — not a fight for mere survival, but a fight to seek ultimate victory. These qualities made this old book seem fresh and new.

That being said, there are a few flaws, but they are very minor. One is that there is a page where the narrator attacks the alien empire as a tyranny pretending to be free; here, the author fully intended to draw parallels with the modern West at the time of writing. While it is mercifully short and does not ever come up again, it may throw the reader out of the story. The other is that the book is rather brief, but a breezy space adventure like this need not be a doorstopper; on its own, it can satisfy mostly any reader.

For a space adventure with a medieval rather than a modern sensibility, The High Crusade will deliver a fun and gallant tale of heroic deeds amid the stars. I recommend this book.

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7 Responses to The High Crusade (Appendix N Review)

  1. Pingback: Throwback SF Thursday: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

  2. Stephen St. Onge says:

            One of my favorite novels.  Screamingly funny (the scene with the torturer getting ready to deal with the alien, e.g.).  I can see this being written on a bet, with the premise being that the alien invaders must look inevitable invincible, and still lose fairly.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      One of my favorite novels. Screamingly funny (the scene with the torturer getting ready to deal with the alien, e.g.).

      While I didn’t find the novel as a whole to be comedic, I did find that scene funny.

      I can see this being written on a bet, with the premise being that the alien invaders must look inevitable invincible, and still lose fairly.

      It is pretty cool how Anderson reasons it all out. If it was written on a bet, it would be even cooler.

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