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Sometime in 1959 my father walked downstairs from his attic office at our house on Grove Street in Berkeley with the completed manuscript for The High Crusade. It’s not called Grove Street anymore and he and the house are both gone now, but the book remains. This rollicking romp of medieval mayhem first appeared in Analog magazine as a serial, as many SF novels did in those days. The issue with the first installment (July, 1960) had a cover by Richard Van Dongen, showing knights in chain mail standing in front of a space ship, the blurring of SF/history boundaries mimicking the blurring of the magazine’s logo as the blue letters saying Astounding receded and the bold red letters saying Analog moved forward.

It came out later that year as a Doubleday hardback and was nominated for a Hugo in 1961, losing to A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M., Miller, Jr., certainly no shame there.

A few years later, in May of 1966, Diana Paxson hosted friends and acquaintances at a small medieval-style tourney in her backyard, about a mile from the Grove Street house. That small gathering became known as the First Tourney, from which sprang the Society for Creative Anachronism, now a world-wide organization with tourneys and events happening most weeks, year-round.

Did a spirit of swirling cloaks and clashing steel float over Berkeley for six years, conjured by The High Crusade, with its imaginative juxtaposition of well-grounded history and high-flying imagination?  Although not a direct inspiration (that was the “Last Tournament,” an event which took place in Scotland in 1839) surely the novel’s idea of having a sense of fun with history while remaining true to basic facts influenced the shape of the SCA. And my father was an early and enthusiastic member, earning a knighthood for his fighting and additional awards for his poetry, and spent many happy hours in what is called the Current Middle Ages. 

And a possible further influence of the book – might the image of horses galloping out of a spaceship’s hold have stuck in the mind of a young Joss Whedon, to emerge in the TV series Firefly? 

I must have first read The High Crusade in my early teens, and in memory, the book is fun, with the English villagers and nobles conquering the galaxy after they’ve taken over an alien space ship that landed in their village. The Baron, Sir Roger, merely intended to catch a quick ride to the wars in France, then go on to the Crusades in Jerusalem, but one thing led to another. Rereading it now, I am struck by the attention to details in in all regards: of character and place, attitudes and ways of thinking, military tactics and political strategies. And there is more than adventure to this story: sly wit, love, betrayal, and tragedy have their place.

If you are coming to The High Crusade for the first time, you are in for a treat. If you are revisiting it, you’ll find that it lives up to your fondest memories and more. And that is the best testament to the quality of a book: that it stands up to rereading later in life, revealing more with time. 

To quote Sir Roger, surely the most doughty of knights, “Wâes hâeil !”

—Astrid Anderson Bear, April 2010




My love for Poul Anderson’s work goes back to the mid-fifties, when I found a copy of a grimly evocative Viking story, The Broken Sword, in the Santa Monica Public Library and read it cover to cover standing by the New Acquisitions bin, then ran home without writing down the title or author. Thus, when I picked up The High Crusade a few years later, I had no idea that this delightful book, with its accurate albeit intentionally skewed view of the Middle Ages, was by the same author. 

It was only when a fellow grad-student at Cal Berkeley invited me to a party at Poul’s house in Orinda in 1965 that I realized Poul Anderson was one of those rare authors who could write brilliantly in any style. 

By the next year I had been absorbed into the local science fiction/fantasy community, in which he and his wife Karen were leading lights. It was a revelation to encounter people who not only read and analyzed literature, but through fandom, lived it. It was from this community that I drew the inspiration and people to take the next step and put together the first Tournament, which led to the formation of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The High Crusade with its combination of authenticity, humor, and adaptability, has always seemed very close to the spirit in which we founded the SCA. 

—Diana Paxson, March 2010




Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade may have had a greater impact on my development as a writer than any other book I ever read. I first ran across the novel as a teenager. By then, I’d already developed an interest in history and had become a science fiction fan—but I hadn’t seen any connection between the two. It was The High Crusade that first showed me how mixing history and speculative fiction could produce a fascinating result. Not long thereafter, I read L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, and my education was complete. (I’m sure my high school teachers would have disputed that conclusion, but what did they know?) 

Within a year or two, I was starting to write my own science fiction stories. The results were about what you’d expect from a newbie writer who was all of sixteen years old—in a word, bad; in a phrase, truly wretched—but the process had begun. 

By the time I was twenty-three, I’d given up any thought of becoming a fiction writer, and I didn’t return to the craft for over two decades. But, at the age of forty-five, return I did. 

At which point…

Well, let’s put it this way. My first published novel was Mother of Demons, which is simply The High Crusade standing on its head. Poul Anderson placed his medieval human heroes in a futuristic alien setting; I placed my futuristic human heroes in a bronze age alien setting. The resulting story is quite different, but the underlying method is the same.

And so it continued. My most popular series is the 1632 series, which uses the same technique of jumbling history and science fiction. The Boundary series mixes science fiction and paleontology. The Jao series is essentially a science fiction retelling of the Roman conquest of the Greeks and the subsequent subversion of the Roman empire by those same Greeks—with the one difference of adding a truly maniacal alien enemy in place of the quite civilized and generally reasonable Persians. The Heirs of Alexandria series mixes the Renaissance with magic and demons, based on a changed theological history.

I could go on, but I figure that’s enough to make the point. I owe a lot to The High Crusade, I really do.

—Eric Flint, April 2010 




At the age of eleven or twelve, I picked up a book by Poul Anderson called The High Crusade. I was already a fan, having worked my way through a shelf-full of science fiction anthologies, best-of-the-year compilations from the 1950s at my local Navy base library in Kodiak, Alaska. Nearly all the anthologies contained stories by Poul. 

But “The High Crusade” was something else again—a lively, sharp-witted reversal of science fiction stereotypes, as well as a magnificent adventure, full of larger-than-life characters.

This novel remains one of my favorites, not just of Poul’s work, but of science fiction in general. It demonstrates all of Poul’s great strengths as a writer. His sympathy with period personalities and historical events is manifest on every page. His full-bore mastery of science fiction elements meshes perfectly with the historical details. His prose style is elegant, simple, clear—and punchy. As in wickedly funny.

In short, The High Crusade practically defines the word “rollicking.”

One of Poul’s great strengths is that despite his superior skill and knowledge, one never gets the impression he looks down upon his readers. We are all partners, friends, invited to an interstellar jousting match, just to while away a few good hours and enjoy the fun. 

In celebration of this new edition, and of fifty years of grand adventure, I suggest we all pick up the book, turn to the first page, read until we laugh, then stick in a bookmark and go to the refrigerator for a beer. Preferably a Carlsberg, one of Poul’s favorite brews.

Don’t drink a beer for every laugh. That would be excessive. But a swig per chuckle, and you’re on your way to a fine evening spent in the company of a great writer, a man whose highest calling was to thoughtfully entertain.

He was, as he often said, keenly aware that his books were contending for your beer money. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no contest.

This Crusade is its very own high.

—Greg Bear, April 2010




I bought the Astounding (it was in the process of changing its name to Analog, so both names are on the cover) with the first installment of The High Crusade on the newsstand. I didn’t have a subscription to the magazine; I’d read a couple issues, but nothing in them had really blown me away.

I was a working-class fourteen-year-old. I loved SF, but cost was a real factor in my decisions.

The cover of a knight standing in front of a forest of spaceships got my initial fifty cents. I read the installment and immediately subscribed to the magazine. I didn’t care whether it was called Astounding or Analog: if it occasionally ran stories like The High Crusade, it was worth my money.

Even in John W. Campbell’s last decade as editor, Analog ran very good stories more than occasionally. Many of them were written by Poul Anderson.

The High Crusade was a typical Poul Anderson story in that it combined action and characterization into something both readable and memorable—note that it’s fifty years later and I remember this novel. It’s also typical that these exceptional story values overlaid a very thoughtful core. In this particular case, that core is: technology is not intelligence.

I referred to this as the core, not the theme, because “theme” would make The High Crusade sound as though it were a candy-coated lesson plan; which would be utter nonsense. Not everything Poul wrote was funny (I don’t recall cracking a smile when I read The Pugilist), but humor is generally there, and this novel is one of his absolutely deadpan funniest. The scene of the old executioner/torturer’s delight at finally getting a chance to put his skills to work makes me giggle every time I think of it.

And that leads me to a final point, something that I didn’t notice until I reread the novel before writing this essay. Besides the third installment of The High Crusade, the September, 1960 issue of Astounding/Analog has a Poul Anderson novelette, Barnacle Bull. It was rare for a magazine to run two stories under the same author’s name in an issue: the novelette was credited to Winston P. Sanders, a pseudonym that Poul used a number of times.

The name is a joke. If you’ve read Winnie-the-Pooh, you may recall that Winnie is living “under the name of Sanders.” (The Ernest Shepherd illustration shows him sitting on a log porch; the sign over the door behind him reads Mr. Sanders.) Poul was crediting Barnacle Bull to Winnie-the-Pooh.

How is this important to The High Crusade? Notice the name of the monk telling the story: Brother Parvus, a church name which he tells us he took from his nickname as a layman. So: his nickname was Little. He also tells us that he was a younger son of Wat Brown.

Very coyly Poul has told us that the novel is by Little Brown, a very upmarket Boston publisher who most certainly did not publish The High Crusade or anything else by Poul Anderson until quite late in his life. I wish I’d noticed this a long time ago, when I could have asked Poul about it. Now it’s just one more piece of whimsy and invention and sheer delight to savor in The High Crusade.

—Dave Drake, April 2010




My God, has it really been fifty years? I’m looking right now at the July 1960 issue of the magazine we all had known and loved as Astounding Science Fiction, which just a few months before had renamed itself, bewilderingly, Analog Science Fact & Fiction, and there is a sly-looking guy on the cover wearing medieval armor, and a bunch of axe-wielding Viking types stand behind him, and, vaguely visible in the background, are the silvery snouts of what surely had to be spaceships, standing upright, balancing on their vanes as spaceships were meant to do. And in bold white-on-black letters at the bottom are the words, THE HIGH CRUSADE By Poul Anderson.

  And the July 1960 issue — no matter how many times I do the math, it comes out to be fifty years old. I have trouble believing that. It seems like just yesterday, or, let us say, the day before yesterday, that I picked up that issue in John W. Campbell’s editorial office.

  “You’ll love it,” John said, as I grinned at that cover. “It’s Poul at his best.”

  We were all very young then. I was twenty-five and had already been a precocious contributor to John Campbell’s Astounding for five years. Poul, another early starter as a writer, was thirty-four and already quite famous.  And John Campbell himself, that veritable Zeus of science-fiction editors, the dominant figure in the field since the time when I was cutting my first baby teeth, was all of fifty years old.

  There we have that phrase again. Fifty years old. On that spring day in 1960 when I stood in that office with the newly minted July issue of Analog in my hands, John Campbell himself, the monarch of science fiction, was fifty years old. William Howard Taft had been president when John was born in 1910.  Edward VII was the king of England. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, under whiskery old Kaiser Franz Joseph, was still a going concern. Nicholas II was Czar of All the Russias. The airplane had been invented just seven years before and was not much more than a novelty for daredevils. The automobile and the photograph and the motion picture were hardly much older. Radio, television, computers, the Internet? Don’t be silly. They were still just science fiction then, except the term “science fiction” itself didn’t yet exist. And now that issue of Astounding that gave Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade to a world of eager readers stands exactly midway in time between the practically prehistoric world into which John W. Campbell had been born and the all too modern one I inhabit this spring morning in 2010.

  The interesting thing is that Poul’s novel seems just as fresh and brisk and lively today as it did to those of us, grizzled gray-beards now, who pounced on it when it made its first appearance in Analog.

  Poul Anderson, though he still had a long and glorious career ahead of him, was already one of the big figures of science fiction in 1960. His very first published story, the 1947 atomic-doom tale “Tomorrow’s Children,” had gone straight into the pioneering anthology A Treasury of Science Fiction, where I encountered it a couple of years later. All through the Fifties had come a flood of superb short stories — “Sam Hall” in 1953, the Time Patrol tales a few years later, the unforgettable novella “Call Me Joe” in 1957, and dozens of others. At the same time he was producing a string of brilliant novels at a relentless pace, among them Three Hearts and Three Lions of 1953 (a precursor in theme of The High Crusade), the dazzling Brain Wave of 1954, The Long Way Home in 1955, and, in 1958, a trio of novels — The Man Who Counts, We Have Fed Our Seas, and A Bicycle Built for Brew with which Poul performed the astonishing stunt of having three novels serialized in succession in the field’s leading magazine, Campbell’s Astounding. And in 1959 he received what was then the field’s highest accolade, in those remote days before Nebula and Grand Master awards, when he was chosen Guest of Honor at that year’s World Science Fiction Convention, one of the youngest writers ever to be so designated.

So the manifold delights and pleasures of that rollicking novel The High Crusade came as no surprise, back there in 1960, and those of us who were on the scene then raced through the three installments of the magazine serialization as fast as we could pry them out of John Campbell. Then came the first book publication, a Doubleday hardcover a few months later, and many another edition in the years that followed. Poul is gone, now, more’s the pity — he was a neighbor of mine out here in California, and a friend for more than forty years — but his books live on, and I’m happy to see his lovely High Crusade coming into a new incarnation now.

  —Robert Silverberg, April 2010 

The High Crusade

To Jens Christian and Nancy Hostrup—

as well as Per and Janne—

gratefully and hopefully

As the captain looked up, the hooded desk lamp threw his face into ridges of darkness and craggy highlights. A port stood open to alien summer night.

“Well?” he said.

“I’ve got it translated, sir,” answered the sociotechnician. “Had to extrapolate backward from modern languages, which is what took me so long. In the course of the work, though, I’ve learned enough so I can talk to these . . . creatures.”

“Good,” grunted the captain. “Now maybe we can discover what this is all about. Thunder and blowup! I expected to come across almost anything out here, but this—!”

“I know how you feel, sir. Even with all the physical evidence right before my eyes, I found it hard to believe the original account.”

“Very well, I’ll read it at once. No rest for the wicked.” The captain nodded dismissal, and the socio-tech departed the cabin.

For a moment the captain sat motionless, looking at the document but not really seeing it. The book itself had been impressively ancient, uncials on vellum between massive covers. This translation was a prosaic typescript. Yet he was nearly afraid to turn the pages, afraid of what he might find out. There had been some stupendous catastrophe, more than a thousand years ago; its consequences were still echoing. The captain felt very small and alone. Home was a long ways off.

However . . .

He began to read.

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