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I read a novella (or novelette—I don't believe it could have been a short story) that I am almost certain was by Poul Anderson.

It opened in an airport, flights cancelled by bad weather, with two men talking in the bar, one of whom is drunk enough to begin telling his story: how the goddess of another world — very much a sword-and-sorcery world — had needed a man from our world to bring down an evil sorcerer. (I completely forget what talents were required: logistics? staff-work? I don't think it was conventionally heroic)

To maintain 'balance', one of her own people had to be placed in our society for the duration. The subsequent story of the defeat of the magician I have forgotten almost completely.

What made the story special was the ending: the man telling the story reveals that he was not the hero of the story, but rather, the man sent here to maintain balance. He goes on to say that, once victory was achieved and the goddess was ready to return each man to his proper place, both men begged her to leave them where they were.

The narrator explains that he can't understand why anyone would give up indoor plumbing and civilized women, and says that 'romance' can go hang!

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    I too am effectively certain that it's by Poul Anderson, for what little that's worth. But I remember it as a short story. Sep 27, 2022 at 1:40
  • @AntonSherwood According to the ISFDB it's a novelette.
    – user14111
    Sep 27, 2022 at 3:15
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    This could be a half-decent description of Heinlein's Glory Road -- tho' I recommend Anderson over Heinlein any day. Sep 28, 2022 at 11:52

1 Answer 1

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"A World to Choose" (so titled in the original magazine and a reprint magazine) a.k.a. "A Logical Conclusion" (in paperbacks), a novelette by Poul Anderson, first published in Fantastic Stories of Imagination, November 1960, available at the Internet Archive. You may have read it in one of these compilations.

The frame story is set in a bar, but it does not seem to be an airport bar:

"I'd better not. My wife'll be meeting me here. I told you that, didn't I? She's shopping today. That's why I didn't go straight home when it turned out I could quit early. Came in here to wait, and—I really shouldn't. I don't have the capacity I once did."

"Oh, another won't hurt you, Mr. Greenough," I urged. Of course I didn't believe his fantasy, but I wanted to hear it out. In a long succession of garrulous tavern acquaintances, encountered once and never again, he was unique. He gave in without a struggle.

"You were saying," I reminded him, "you don't know where this other world lies."

Aside from that, the story matches your description pretty well:

"Look, for two years I'd been here, among towers as high as mountains, served by machines more powerful than magic, the most fabulous parts of the world no further away than a few days' flying. Flying!" His eyes glittered behind their lenses. "No famines, no pestilences, no smoky chimneys, no plodding sailships and springless wagons, no surly slaves, no ignorant barbarians, no unwashed hussies or damned would-be queens, half cat—the sweetest, loyallest women ever created, all to myself! And I could relax, didn't have to take a spear along everytime I went out for a breath of air. And my IQ must have been thirty points higher, with all that that means in the way of awareness. And I'd applied some notions of my own world to the publishing business and had just really got them going good. In another five years I'd be running rings around my competitors. Judas priest!" he burst out. "Did you think I wanted to return?"

I sat still for a while. The bar clattered around us, filling up with the cocktail hour crowd. "So you didn't?" I asked gently.

He smiled. "No. The Goddess laughed and put us both where we desired. I'll always remember Her laughter."

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    Thank you! Funny how memory can hiccup — I'd have laid money on that airport bar. I still think that that last page is wonderful!
    – Barnaby
    Sep 27, 2022 at 20:12
  • Thank you! You're probably remembering the airport bar scene from another story.
    – user14111
    Sep 27, 2022 at 21:03
  • @Barnaby How about "I'm in Marsport Without Hilda" ? :-) Sep 28, 2022 at 17:10

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