Space Ramblings

Poul Anderson, The Dancer from Atlantis, book review

Poul Anderson, The Dancer from AtlantisThe Dancer from Atlantis isn’t one of Poul Anderson’s better known books and there’s a good reason for that. For one thing its premise is the same old, “People go back in time and want to change history by averting a tragedy, only to discover that their attempts to change history are what cause history to happen the way it did in the first place”. Anderson tops off this premise with a good deal of historical speculation, which I suspect was the meat of the story for him, placing Atlantis as a volcanic island next to Crete, and coming up with some interesting historical speculation about ancient Greek history, the nature of the Minotaur and the Greek alphabet. But the Science Fiction tends to take a back seat to the historical speculation.

The premise of The Dancer from Atlantis is that a time traveler’s vehicle goes awry sucking away in its wake four different people from different eras, Reid, a disenchanted American architect, Oleg, a Russian ship’s trader, Ulin, a Hun patriarch, and Erissa, the dancer from Atlantis of the title. Anderson spends the better part of a page on exposition that tries to make some kind of sense of the idea that a time traveling vehicle would for some reason suck up four random people and deposit them safely in another era without taking anything else along, and doesn’t come close to succeeding. But that isn’t The Dancer from Atlantis’ problem.

The real problem is that we know where the story is going, and it’s nowhere good. Reid’s passivity makes the narrative additionally frustrating. Even when the Acheans have repeatedly told him that they’re on friendly terms with Lydia, the high priestess of Minos, and after Erissa has told him that in the wake of Atlantis sinking, Lydia affirmed Prince Theseus’s rule over Minos, Reid can’t seem to put two and two together, or do anything useful until the spear point is actually at his throat. And what he does, is to act out the same series of events that got Erissa raped and enslaved in the first place. When at the end everyone is sent home, having learned to be better people, it’s a weak and unconvincing climax to a story that had little reason for existing except in order to play some creative revisionism with Greek myth.

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