Operation Chaos

by Poul Anderson

Cover image

Series: Matucheck #1
Publisher: Orb
Copyright: 1971
Printing: November 1999
ISBN: 0-312-87242-9
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 256

Buy at Powell's Books

What if the scientific age came accompanied with the rediscovery of magic, and that power was exploited in the same systematic and scientific way that such things as electricity were in our world? That's the well-executed premise of Operation Chaos, a novel built with some loose bridging text out of four short stories published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1950s and 1960s. The resulting world is full of fascinating glimmers of modern technological concepts applied matter-of-factly to things that are normally the province of fantasy novels, and Anderson does a good job of simply presenting the world on its own terms and letting the reader enjoy puzzling out the parallels rather than giving too many crib notes.

This is basically a one-idea book, but it's a great idea with a lot of legs. Everyone has a personal broomstick with comfortable seats and a windshield, or a flying carpet if they need to haul cargo or want a limousine equivalent. The armor division of the military uses armored dragons. Were transformations turned out to be a matter of light with the proper polarization, so there are hand-lamps on the market to let weres change themselves whenever they want. The implications, both serious and comical, are tossed out fast and furiously, liberally sprinkled on every page.

Outside of the basic concept, the story holds together adequately but isn't anything spectacular. Its composition as four separate stories shows clearly through, and the bridging concept doesn't add much to the story. There's only a bare modicum of text to cover the transitions, and not much in common between them other than the main characters. The characters are passable, but this is definitely not a character-driven story and there's nothing particularly notable about them. (Although I did like the cranky feline familiar.)

Recommended as a fun adventure romp, with a bit of suspense, a tiny bit of romance, and a rather interesting world. It's nothing spectacular, but I bet you'll remember the background.

Followed (many years later) by Operation Luna.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-04-12

Last modified and spun 2015-01-03