[A note that I will probably remove if these reviews are ever collected into book form: yes, I screwed up the order of the last few reviews.]
1962’s The Defiant Agents is the third in the Time Traders series. It’s a sequel to The Time Traders and Galactic Derelict.
Thanks to the events of the previous two books, the US now has in its possession the location of various potential colony worlds as well as the means to reach them. Unfortunately, thanks to a spy, so do the Reds.
Once the info theft is revealed, the US decides to override the objections of researcher Dr. Ashe, ignore the fact that certain vital technologies are still in the experimental stage, and set in motion Operation Cochise: the settlement of the planet Topaz by Amerindians like Travis Fox.
Unsure that modern people can survive on alien worlds, the people in charge of Operation Cochise have opted to subject their Amerindian volunteers to an experimental process called Redax. This is supposed to awake suppressed racial memories and allow Fox and his companions to use the lost skills of their ancestors. This proves all too successful. Other aspects of the trip to Topaz are much less so. When Fox and the other survivors claw their way out of the wreckage of their starship, they have no idea who they are or why they are in a strange land, one which is not the American West of three centuries past.
Exploring this strange new world, Fox and his companions discover that they are not alone on Topaz. There are other people, representatives of a nomad culture even older than the Apaches of the 1700s: members of the Golden Horde have somehow made their way to Topaz!
The full effects of Redax prove temporary. Once modern memories return, it is clear how the Golden Horde got to Topaz; the Red used Redax to create their own unit of scouts armed with recovered racial memories. But the Reds have taken into account something the Americans appear to have overlooked—that nomads of centuries before would have very little reason to be loyal to some modern government. The Reds have incorporated behavior controls into their version of Redax … and also a short range kill-switch.
Then it gets worse: the Apache colonists discover that the aliens whose relics gave the US and the Russians access to the stars left some dangerous, still-functional technology on Topaz. If the Reds were to get their hands on those old machines, Earth itself might fall under their dreadful domination or be destroyed altogether.
The only people between the Reds and the treasures of the vanished aliens are the Reds’ own resentful Mongol-Tatar slaves and a small group of poorly armed Apaches.
My apologies to the mutant coyotes; I had to leave out many details.
Kaydessa of the Golden Horde provides the book with its sole significant female character. She even gets to play a major role in the plot, yay! As bait, less yay. And her presence inspires a remarkably sanitized discussion of bride-theft AKA socially sanctioned kidnapping and rape, even less yay.
So, racial memory. Remember when that was a thing? I’d love to know by which biological process an ancestor’s acquired knowledge might be conveyed to a descendent. Also, I look forward to the post-Operation-Topaz congressional hearings, wherein the (surviving) researchers explain why they felt their best hope for successful colonization centered on brainwashing a group of volunteers so that they would think they were people who had every reason to hate and distrust the US (once the volunteers found out when they really were and what happened to the Apache in the three centuries since their memories were formed ).
I suspect the real reason for this odd plot was that Norton wanted to write about Apaches interacting with Mongols . It’s not necessarily a coincidence that both the US and Russia decided to use brainwashed ethnic minorities to settle a new planet. The Russians could well have stolen the idea along with all the other information they lifted from the US.
Speaking of Mongols, our protagonist, Travis Fox, has some odd views about why the Mongols were so successful:
Travis knew the tales of Genghis Khan and his formidable generals who swept over Asia into Europe, unbeaten and seemingly undefeatable. But they had been a wild wave, fed by a reservoir of manpower from the steppes of their homeland, utilizing driven walls of captives to protect their own men in city assaults and attacks.
This seems to undervalue Mongol skill and discipline, not to mention technological advantages like the knowledge of gunpowder they picked up from their Chinese subjects.
I fear Fox is being optimistic here:
He doubted if even that endless sea of men could have won the Arizona desert defended by Apaches under Cochise, Victorio, or Magnus Colorado. The white man had done it—by superior arms and attrition; but bow against bow, knife against sword, craft and cunning against craft and cunning—he did not think so….
My money would be on the Mongols.
Normally I think of Norton’s fiction as cynically apolitical, leaning towards the view that all societies are hierarchical and exploitative, and look much the same from the gutter. However, passages like the following suggest that she made exceptions for Commies. Her book is in no way apolitical when it comes to Reds:
“There is this—” Travis chose his words carefully, thinking of what might move a warrior still conditioned to riding with the raiders of a hundred years earlier, “the Pinda-lick-o-yi (whom we call ‘Reds,’) are never willing to live side by side with any who are not of their mind.
The Reds must not find this. Such a discovery on their part would not only mean the end of his own people on Topaz, but the end of Terra as well. This could be a new and alien Black Death spread to destroy whole nations at a time!
This was an odd little book, which depends even more than is usual for Norton on odd coincidences. It further develops themes seen in previous works, such as the tension between traditional Apache ways and the modern world … or over-written memories and personalities. I am curious what Norton will do with this setting in the next book.
This would be one of the Nortons that fell into the public domain. It is available from Project Gutenberg.
1: Just kidding! There’s no such thing as civilian oversight in these books.
2: My editor suggested that imagined wars between militaries of two different times and cultures was a trope that seemed to pop up in a fair number of SF novels; Flint’s 1632 would be one such book, althought I would point at G.C. Edmonson’s The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream as a precursor to all that Islands in the Sea of Time/What These Germans Need is American Union Members stuff. Annoyingly, despite having been popular enough in its day to stay in print more or less continiously from 1965 to 1981, The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream seems to have been out of print for the last 34 years.
Vikings versus samurai would be an even better example, except that was a TV show.