Andre Norton’s 19661 Victory on Janus returns to the bleak world of 1963’s Judgment on Janus . Victory isn’t as grim a book as Judgment, but it is still nothing like upbeat.
The Ift, reborn in commandeered and transformed human bodies after millennia of extinction, are still a mere handful. Lacking numbers, their survival is due only to the fact the human colonists on Janus are largely unaware of and consequently indifferent to the alien revenants.
Or rather, were. Now the colonists are burning the vast forests around their settlements. If the Ift cannot find out why the humans are doing this, and convince them to stop, then it is only a matter of time before the Ift are cast back into unending darkness.
What the colonists are doing is easy enough to determine. Why takes longer to work out. The answer is not encouraging. Beings who look a lot like Ift have been ostentatiously massacring the colonists in a way calculated to provoke a response—a response whose effects will fall most heavily on the real Ift.
The false Ift can only be the creations of their ancient enemy, THAT WHICH ABIDES. Little is known about THAT save that it has always been opposed to the Ift, that it is vastly powerful, and that it was the agency behind the man-beasts who exterminated the Ift. Just as the Ift returned from the grave, so now has THAT.
As THAT extends its control over the world, Ayyar of Iftcan—once Niall Renfro before the Green Sick transformed him—proposes a bold stratagem: he will pose as one of the false Ift and infiltrate their forces. Once, long ago, an Ift hero managed to defeat THAT, winning a respite that lasted for centuries. If Ayyar can only rediscover how that hero managed his victory, he may be the salvation of his people.
But Ayyar and the Ift have fundamentally misunderstood the very nature of their enemy….
THAT WHICH ABIDES occupies much the same position in the Ift worldview as Satan does in the Christian: powerful, ambitious, endlessly malevolent. When Norton reveals what THAT really is and why it has invested so much effort in trying to reshape Janus to its own ends, I could not help but feel a bit sorry for THAT. THAT may be powerful but it doesn’t have much choice in its goals. The conflict between THAT and the Ift is so intractable only because the Ift couldn’t possibly understand what it was that they were facing and vice versa
While Ayyar does have some access to Niall’s memories, there is very little in this book to convince me that the aliens haven’t just hijacked someone else’s biomass for their own purposes. In fact, such hijacking would fit what I admit may be an unintended theme in the books: every group that appears on Janus tries to use the world’s resources to their own ends; those resources include whatever intelligent beings are present. Niall himself provides an example: the Sky Lover theocrats made Niall a slave, the Ift hijacked his body and rewrote his memories, and THAT would, if it could, turn him into an extension of THAT’s will.
This book also fits into the other grand (sad) theme of Norton’s science fiction, which is that whatever the heights any particular race may reach, they reach them for only a brief moment as the stars measure time. Nobody, not even the long lived Zacathans2, can name every race that has risen and fallen over the long history of the Milky Way. Nobody, especially not the humans who provide the majority of Norton’s protagonists, will last forever. The Ift may have clawed their way out of the grave, but their victory will still be temporary.
1: Yes, I am reviewing this weeks later than I should have; interlibrary loan took longer than I expected. For some reason, our local ILL has been overwhelmed with requests. Thee librarians are handling requests weeks after they are submitted. But I am grateful that they are handling them.
2: I am almost tempted to use Zacathan as a general name for the sequence of Norton’s SF novels in which this species of wise lizards appears: the Dipple books, the Solar Queen books, and so on.