A good work of science fiction, a space opera does not need to be a monolithic (and maybe even multi-volume) tome. In fact, the collection of short stories and novella(s) that I have just begun proves to be much more enjoyable than some of the tomes that I have read recently.
Poul Anderson’s Technic Civilization Saga really makes me wonder why today’s authors choose to write these huge tomes with a story that drags on and on and needs to be constantly interrupted with a second and third (sub)plot to create the illusion of breath taking action and a plot with substance.
A short story allows to play with a single idea, to focus on one single message. As soon as the point is made the author can stop. It’s like a good speech that does neither exhaust the topic nor the audience. The reader hungers for more.
The novella, then, allows to develop the characters, and the social and economic context in the necessary detail. There is no need for interrupting (sub)plots. A story is told that fits into a larger whole.
As a result every part of the collection brings something new. Reading it does never feel like a chore. It is fast paced. Yet, despite the many different characters that provide the context the reader is never lost. Hence, there is no need for a list of characters or a glossary that you find so often in more modern science fiction and fantasy.
More specifically, reading The Van Rijn Methods evokes the feeling of being a historian working with primary sources. The short stories and novella are pieces of a big puzzle. Maybe some pieces are missing so some parts of the puzzle will show fewer and some parts more details. The gaps are good. Every piece is different. Every piece entertains. Every piece has its own message. I am looking forward to the next six volumes of the collection. And this time, there is no fear that Anderson may not be able to keep up with the standard his first volume has set.