“The Complete Psychotechnic League, Volume 2,” by Poul Anderson, Baen Books, 2018, 320 pages, $16
Poul Anderson was one of the major science fiction authors of the last half of the 20th century. He began writing published stories after World War II continuing writing until his death in 2001.
“The Complete Psychotechnic League, Volume 2,” is the second of three volumes collecting Anderson’s Psychotechnic League tales in an omnibus set.
These stories represent Anderson’s first attempt to stitch together a future history. The series’ first story was written in 1947; the last in 1968. The stories are set in a “future” in which the world was convulsed by global thermonuclear war in 1958. The Psychotechnic Institute arises to put things to right (by endless secret manipulation of people for their own good using psychodynamics).
The premise sounded good to Anderson, right out of college in his early 20s. As he grew older and more experienced the creepier aspects became more obvious to him. He eventually abandoned the series for more libertarian futures.
Stories ranged from short story to novel and included space adventures, spy stories, political intrigue, and tales of planetary and interstellar adventure. They covered the spectrum of 1940s through 1960s science fiction.
Over time the stories were neglected. They were early efforts, part of a dead series. They represented a philosophy the author abandoned. Yet if psychodynamics stripped people of free will, the series of stories he wrote were first rate entertainment.
In 2017, Baen began rereleasing the stories, publishing them in the order in which they were supposed to have occurred in Anderson’s future, rather than the original order of publication, transforms it into a coherent and evolving tale. “The Complete Psychotechnic League, Volume 2, is the second set of stories. (The first appeared October 2017; the third appears in July.)
As the bridge volume, this set contains stories set in a period when humans are exploring and settling the solar system and taking their first steps to the stars. Although Anderson’s future vision machine proved unreliable, the stories are still entertaining. Oddly, they seem more relevant today than when written. Science fiction is more about message than predictive ability.