Monday, September 12, 2016

The Man Who Came Early, Poul William Anderson

"The Man Who Came Early" (1956) is a short story by Poul William Anderson.

"The Man Who Came Early" is one of those stories within a story. The narrator tells the story to a priest about a strange young man who came to Iceland before 1,000 AD. Somehow, he was struck by lightning which sent him from the then modern world to the very old world where Vikings were one of the great European powers.

This story is extremely well told. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend taking the time to read it. I read it from start to finish without putting it down. The style has a real charm and rhythm to it which shows how skilled Anderson can be.

Many people might suppose that by having many skills and knowledge from a modern time that they might flourish in an age a thousand years gone. However, this story does a good job at repudiating such a belief.

The young man, "Sergeant Gerald Roberts of the United States Army base on Iceland" is an engineer working for the US army. Therefore, he feels he can be an important contributor to his host (who is also the narrator of the story). However, the tools are very primitive: a hammer, a forge, and little else. He is unable to do much with these tools. He then tries to reinvent the sailboat, but it does not fit the requirements.

As time goes on, he and his host increasingly feel his worthlessness to the house and community. But it does not stop Helgi, the narrator's daughter, from falling in love with him. Another was in love with her, which sets up the fight. With an axe, and little such battle experience, he cannot win the battle. He resorts to using his firearm, which causes more problems. The family of the slain wants revenge, and he loses his host's graciousness as a result.

The family of the slain man go after him until he runs out of bullets. He then puts on a fight with the sword that they respect, but he ultimately cannot withstand their attacks and dies.

I think the premise of a modern man in an old world is a good one. Though, it is not the first effort to do so, it is well done. I definitely recommend reading it.

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