by Poul Anderson




Operation Chaos
Cover by Larry Elmore

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

According to Clarke's Law, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Although Clarke has never written a major fantasy to prove his point, several other authors have risen to the challenge. Robert A. Heinlein wrote Magic, Inc. and Harry Turtledove entry was The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump. In between, Poul Anderson turned his hand to the subgenre with the World War II novel Operation Chaos.

Operation Chaos began life as a series of related short stories which chronicled the efforts of Steven Matuchek and Ginny Graylock, originally thrown together to defeat the threat of a Caliphate Afreet during World War II. Ginny served in the army as a witch which Steven was a werewolf and scouted terrain. Naturally, the two fell in love. The remaining three stories recount their adventures after the war ended. Anderson successfully uses short interludes, told from Steve's point of view, to link the stories and let the reader know what events have transpired in the principals lives between chapters.

Operation Chaos is a novel of world-building. THe important aspect is the manner in which magic has recreated the same technological world we know through science. Whereas Turtledove used this interplay, mixed with puns, to create a comedy, Anderson's humor is more understated and he takes the existance of magic at face value. Although populated by Jews and Muslims, Anderson's world has a very definite Christian leaning. Spells are linked to the Supreme Being and the Adversary who are identified with the Christian God and Satan, although Anderson does allow that worship of these beings by other religions is permissable and will get results.

While Anderson's world is well drawn and logical, within the boundaries Anderson has permitted, his characters are very two-dimensional. Steve and Ginny are not shown falling in love or developing a relationship. Instead, they seem to have fallen in love by the simple expedient of being the main characters. While this lack of characterization does have an effect on the realism of the novel, it does not harm Operation Chaos as much as it could since Anderson's ideas are strong enough to carry the book.

The stories range from the very short "Operation Incubus," which is set on Steve & Ginny's honeymoon in Mexico, to the lengthy and complex "Operation Changeling." The latter, which deals in part with the kidnapping of their daughter Valeria, was originally published in 1969. Opening with a demonstration reminiscent of the Grant Park riots, "Operation Changeling" is more closely tied to the time at which it was written than any of the other stories in the book. Fortunately, Anderson's analogy does not follow the political situation of the late 1960s too closely, so the scenario is not as dated as it could have been.

On the whole, Operation Chaos is a fun novel. The writing is typical of the 1950s and 60s when Anderson wrote the book, and both science fiction and Anderson have come a long way, stylistically since then. Anderson is currently working on a sequel to Operation Chaos which should move the setting and style into the 1990s. As it is, Operation Chaos is well worth reading twenty-seven years after publication.

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