The High Crusade by Poul Anderson
Publisher: Baen Books
Format: Kindle Edition
Publication Date: 1960
Length: 192 pages (3 hours and 27 minutes)
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Synopsis via Goodreads: In the year of grace 1345, as Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville is gathering an army to join King Edward III in the war against France, a most astonishing event occurs: a huge silver ship descends through the sky and lands in a pasture beside the little village of Ansby in northeastern Lincolnshire. The Wersgorix, whose scouting ship it is, are quite expert at taking over planets, and having determined from orbit that this one was suitable, they initiate standard world-conquering procedure. Ah, but this time it’s no mere primitives the Wersgorix seek to enslave; they’ve launched their invasion against free Englishmen! In the end, only one alien is left alive; and Sir Roger’s grand vision is born. He intends for the creature to fly the ship first to France to aid his King, then on to the Holy Land to vanquish the infidel. Unfortunately, he has not allowed for the treachery of the alien pilot, who instead takes the craft to his home planet, where, he thinks, these upstart barbarians will have no choice but to surrender. But that knavish alien little understands the indomitable will and clever resourcefulness of Englishmen, no matter how great the odds against them. . .
My Review: What would have happened if aliens visited medieval England? According to The High Crusade, the answer is insanity with an epic dash of hilarity. Poul Anderson’s originally serialised 1960s novel is a great afternoon read for anyone looking for a quirky old-school sci-fi adventure. Narrated by a monk named Brother Parvus, the novel follows the exploits of Sir Roger de Tourneville and his army as they hijack an alien spacecraft with the goal of attacking the French (what else would a group of medieval Englishman do with a UFO?). After a kidnapped alien regains control of the ship, the English are blasted off towards a distant planet where they face an intergalactic enemy and gain new alliances with bizarre alien species.
It’s difficult to summarise the shenanigans that happen throughout The High Crusade, but I certainly was not prepared for how funny this book would be. Going in I was under the impression that it would be a hokey 1960s science fiction story, but it was actually more ‘Monty Python in space’ than I was anticipating. Every character was an over-exaggerated caricature, especially Sir Roger who very gallantly declared everything done in the name of the King and England. All of the Englishmen, other than Brother Parvus, were portrayed as dimwitted despite being lead into continuous victory. An ongoing conflict throughout the book was the Englishmen’s lack of technological advancement and their continued effort to trick the aliens into thinking they were just as advanced as they were. Every time Sir Roger had a new ‘brilliant’ (re: stupid) idea, it always seems to work out in the end. It’s all very comical and I ended up disliking most of the characters for their stupid rash decisions, but this made it all the more entertaining.
This was my first Poul Anderson book and it was definitely a wild ride. I’ve fallen in love with Anderson’s prose, sense of humour, witty dialogue, and magnificent imagination which I look forward to exploring through more of his work.