The Star Fox (1964) is a favorite novel of mine from the late, great Poul Anderson. Like a lot of Poul’s novels, there is a political undertone to it. Poul wrote a lot of Libertarian themed fiction, like several of his contemporaries (such as Heinlein.) This novel is both political and a precursor to today’s modern military science fiction. After re-reading it again, however, I also realized that it was a kind of precursor to 2008’s Iron Man movie.
Basic setup is as follows:
It’s a far future space opera setting. Earth has expanded its domain outward and put out colonies. During this expansion they’ve come upon a militaristic and expansionist alien empire called the Aleriona. After an ‘accidental’ attack on the human colony of New Europe, the Aleriona make peace overtones. Everyone on New Europe is supposedly dead, so the war-wary human government doesn’t push the Aleriona claim to New Europe.
Enter the protagonist Gunnar Heim. He’s a wealthy industrialist and navy veteran who thinks the peace talks with the Aleriona are a smoke screen for them to consolidate their position. Then along comes a survivor of New Europe who swears there are still millions of survivors on New Europe. When he goes to the Earth government, he isn’t believed. Turns out the government doesn’t want to know of survivors, as it would derail the peace process.
Through clever maneuvering, Gunnar manages to get a Letter of Marque from the French government, who despise the peace talks. (Yes. The French want war. It’s fiction.) Through his massive fortune, Gunnar gets a battleship outfitted and crewed to wage a guerilla war against the Aleriona blockading New Europe. Most of the book (originally three stories) details Gunnar’s escape from Earth authorities and his journey to acquire, equip and arm his ship, the Fox II to become a raider. Most of his opposition from the Earth government and the ironically named “World Militants for Peace”.
I’ve read the book several times, but only recently did I get the parallel between it and Iron Man. In both cases, a wealthy industrialist sees injustice done and takes it upon himself to take up arms against the guilty when his government fails. The difference being that guilt motivates Tony Stark by the use of his weapons to harm the innocent. In The Star Fox, Gunnar is motivated because he can see that the Earth government’s pacifism will allow the Aleriona to push Earth until resistance is untenable. The temporary peace is bought at the cost of millions of innocent colonists.
Both have strong Libertarian undertones and a spirit of individualism which endear them to me. Might be why I enjoy hearing of the Flying Tigers in pre-WW2 China. The only sour note is that Poul meant this as his statement on America’s involvement in Vietnam. Namely, his fear that the communists wouldn’t stop at Vietnam. In hindsight, maybe not the neatest allegory. The story in Iron Man is bit tighter and more ideologically ‘pure’. Plus, it has Robert Downey Jr. playing my favorite comic character of all time.
Still, it’s a solid, enjoyable novel. Check it out.