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Operation Chaos (novel)

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Cover of the novel Operation Choas by Poul Anderson.

Operation Chaos is a 1971 science fiction/fantasy fixup novel by Poul Anderson. A sequel, Operation Luna, was published in 2000.

Plot Summary

In an alternate world, where the existence of God has been scientifically proven and magic has been harnessed for the practical needs of the adept by the degaussing of cold iron, the United States is part of an alternate Second World War in which the enemy is not Germany but a resurgent Islamic Caliphate, which has invaded the United States. Werewolf Steven Matuchek and witch Virginia meet on a military mission to stop the invading Islamic army from unleashing a secret superweapon, a genie released from a bottle in which it had been sealed by King Solomon. Together, they fight against the demon and incidentally fall in love with each other.

After the end of the war (an American victory as in our WWII, but U. S. forces remain in occupation of former enemy lands for much longer) the two of them continue and deepen their liaison and have various additional adventures (which were originally published as a series of independent stories). Among other things they stop an elemental summoned as a college prank which had gone amok, confront a succubus/incubus on their honeymoon, and enter the Hell dimension to save their daughter (who has been kidnapped and taken there, with a changeling left in her crib in her place).

Some parts of the book can be seen as a kind of social satire. For example, the widespread use of flying brooms and flying carpets (actually, both have cabins mounted on top of the basic flying instrument) provides in this world a non-polluting flying substitute for cars, which encounters no traffic jams as it can use the whole of the sky. Later, in Hell the protagonists encounter an especially nasty form of torture reserved for heavy sinners: to be enclosed in horrible, clumsy ground vehicles which emit noxious fumes and move with agonising slowness along crowded strips of asphalt.

While in Hell the protagonists are at a loss to understand the identity of a moustached man with a strange armband who speaks with a strong German accent, and why the most powerful demons tremble at sight of him, or why he uses the "ancient and honorable symbol of the fylfot". Their alternate history never had a Nazi Germany.

Another part of the book features a magical analogue to the Counterculture of the 1960s, presented rather facetiously - reflecting Anderson's attitude to the real-life original. Given the supernatural metaphysics of this world, however, it takes the form of gnosticism, within a "Johannine Church" that is based on either an esoteric reading of the Gospel of John, or an alternate gnostic gospel version of that canonical New Testament book.

In his werewolf form, Matuchek does not suffer many of the liabilities of a werewolf of folklore -- or, indeed, the werewolf of Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. He remains himself while turning into a wolf, and is able to fully use his four-leg incarnation to fight various enemies; and in this magical world (unlike, for example, in the later created Harry Potter universe), there is no social stigma attached to lycanthropy. Dependence on the moon is lightly tossed aside with a comment that the necessary components of moonlight (specific frequencies of polarized light) have been isolated, and his "Were-flash" lets him turn into a wolf or back to his human form at any time, its controls having been designed to be operable even with paws and no opposable thumbs. However, his invulnerability to silver is limited. Conservation of mass makes him a rather large wolf, although other weres in the book, taking far more drastic forms, have more serious problems. (A 600-pound weretiger has to be a 600-pound man in human form, again in order to not violate the Law of Conservation of Mass.)

Other Editions

Operation Chaos and Operation Luna were published together in 1999 by the Science Fiction Book Club as Operation Otherworld.

Magazine Publication

  • Operation Afreet [he Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1956
  • Operation Salamander The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1957
  • Operation Incubus The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1959
  • Operation Changeling (serial) The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May-June 1969


  • Title: Operation Chaos
  • Author: Poul Anderson
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher:Orb Books
  • Pages: 256
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312872429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312872427
  • Release Date: 1st edition November 8, 1999

Book Review

The following review is from the link in the External Links below:

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Science fantasy at its peak. Clever and exciting.
  • Reviewed On: January 17, 2004
  • Reviewed B: Ryan Harvey

If you've never read anything in the unusual genre of science fantasy that blends science fiction and magic, this is the place to start. It`s one of the classics of the unique genre.

This book consists of four connected novellas published between 1956 and 1969 in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction: "Operation Afreet," "Operation Salamander," "Operation Incubus," and the three-part "Operation Changeling." Anderson added linking material for book publication in the 70s.

Heroes Steve (a werewolf) and Virginia (his witch wife) fight against a demon being used as a superweapon in World War II, stop an elemental college prank gone amok, confront a succubus/incubus on their romantic getaway, and enter the hell dimension to save their daughter. The tone changes between the different segments: the college story is riotously funny and played almost strictly for laughs, while the lengthy final novella emphasizes heavy science, a deadly-serious quest, and thought-provoking satire on religious zeal gone wrong. But ultimately, I'm not complaining: this is top-notch science-fantasy and an example of what an incredible talen the late Poul Anderson was. His logical approach to fantasy makes magic and the supernatural into scientific forces that operate in his fictional universe the same way that modern technology operates in ours. The world of _Operation Chaos_ is recognizable as 20th-century America, except that magic is this world's science, and is treated in the same way that scientific theories and inventions are in our own. Anderson handles this difficult conceit to near perfection, writing fantasy with the techniques of science fiction.

Come on, take the ride into chaos!

External Links