The High Crusade
by Poul Anderson
"They can be slain!" bawled Sir Roger. "Haro! St. George for merry England!" And he spurred his horse straight up the gangway."
The year is 1345, and Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville has gathered his troops ready to join King Edward III in his battle against France. The knight's day is interrupted by a two-thousand foot long flying machine, containing an advance force of Wersgorix. These are aliens from a distant world who are on a voyage of conquest; their view of Earth is as a backward and primitive place. Unfortunately for them, Sir Roger and company are combat hardened, and not only do not like being shot at but they return fire with longbows, putting arrows through the invaders and bashing those who survive into kingdom come. When the battle is over, Sir Roger finds himself in command of a star ship, with just one Wersgorix, somewhat worse for wear, left to pilot the vessel. His first reaction is to take the flying ship to France in support of his King, then on to the Holy Land to deal with the infidels. But his plan is foiled by the remaining alien, who flies the ship straight back to the nearest Wersgorix planet, believing that once there the primitives will simply surrender. It is at this point that the Wersgorix learn a fatal lesson about the indomitable spirit, cleverness and sheer bloody determination of medieval Englishmen.
Poul Anderson is one of the science fiction authors I first encountered in my youth as he began writing novels in the fifties and sixties of the previous century. He became an award-winning author and demonstrated an imagination that produced both great science fiction and fantasy. With The High Crusade we have a vision of an alternative past where the medieval knights are faced with aliens and their success leads to further adventures in space. It sounds like a precursor to a recent film, "Cowboys & Aliens", set in the American west circa 1873. The High Crusade, while written somewhat tongue-in-cheek is nonetheless entertaining with reasonably developed themes. It shows what a well-disciplined and determined inferior group can achieve against a technologically superior foe. The characters are believable and maintain the reader's interest throughout.
The High Crusade is overall an entertaining story that can be enjoyed by both young and old. It reminded me of my enjoyment of tales like Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and another classic SF novel, L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall. Poul Anderson is always worth reading and this minor classic is one reason.
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