1960’s The Sioux Spaceman is another one of Norton’s standalone novels, although fans will recognize elements common to other Norton series. As I contemplated the book before reading, the cover didn’t fill me with enthusiasm, particularly given how badly I was served by Voodoo Planet, but … it turned out that, while this isn’t one of Norton’s more memorable books, it has points of interest.
Humans emerged onto the galactic stage to discover two-thirds of the habitable worlds of the Milky Way were already ruled by the despotic Styor. After some initial skirmishes, Styor and human have settled down into a detente of mutual loathing and mutual dependence based on trade.
Kade Whitehawk has every reason to think that his career in the Space Service is over, thanks to his inability to contain his outrage at how poorly the Styor treat their subject races. The resulting outburst left him with a scar and a black mark on his service record. The black mark would ordinarily mean that he was permanently barred from space. He is rescued by apparent happenstance; a Service man on the planet Klor has been “lost by an act of violence” and Kade happens to have just the right qualifications to replace the dead man.
Klor is a typical Styor client world; its primitive natives have been enslaved to serve a handful of Styor aristocrats. It is a minor world in a vast empire; those Styor who travel there willingly are either hopefuls at the beginning of their climb up the greasy pole, or those who have given up and simply want an unchallenging post.
The human team on Klor is of a less common kind, a Mixed Team composed of men drawn from the various races and cultures of man, with no two team members from the same background. The dead team member, Jon Steel, was an Amerindian from the Federation of Tribes, in itself not so terribly unlikely given that the Atomic War allowed the Indians of the Americas to retake their old homelands from their now vanished conquerors. Kade realizes to his surprise that Steel wasn’t just an Indian but a Lakota like Kade. Given that there are dozens of Amerindian cultures, one might begin to wonder whether someone higher up in the Service has some reason to want a team member from that specific background serving on Klor.
Kade is confronted by the same pattern of brutal, pointlessly cruel exploitation he saw at his previous post. The Ikkinni, the natives of Klor, were mostly nomadic hunters when the Styor came; their primitive weapons were no match for those of the invaders. Those who could not flee to the safety of the mountains were captured and equipped with slave collars that can be remotely triggered to hurt or kill. The Styor argue that the odd-looking Ikkinni are not truly people, but when Kade looks at them, he sees not just people but people in a situation much like the one his own people faced centuries before.
In fact, just as Jon Steel had realized before he was murdered, Kade slowly comes to realize that there is a way for the Ikkinni to transform themselves from vulnerable wanders to a formidable and highly mobile force. IF someone can convince the Styor to stock the vast plains of Klor with horses, these animals might play the same transformative role for the Ikkinni that they did for the Plains Indians.
Someone like Kade …
I have to admit I am not as up on the history of the Southwest as I could be. Norton asserts that
The Comanche, the Apache, the Navajo, mounted, had pushed their Spanish would-be rulers out of the Southwest, spoiled, removed from the earth the haciendas spreading northward, the mission-held lands, liberating by death or by adoption into their own savage ranks. The Spanish, secure in their superior weapons, had crept up into the deserts and plains. The Indians had seen, had taken mounts from the Spanish corrals, had come raiding so that in less time than a century, perhaps a half-century, the Spanish wave had been broken, washed back, had been put on the defensive even in the strong-holds of Mexico.
After which, of course, the Americans came rolling in, at least for as long as it took the great powers of the Northern Hemisphere to reduce themselves to radioactive ash.
The flaw … well, a flaw in Kade’s plan is that the Styor can scour worlds from orbit; horses won’t help the Ikkinni fight space ships. There happen to be other things happening out there in the big galaxy, events that may distract the Styor from bombarding Klor, but Kade has no inkling of said events. I am not sure what he expected would happen if the Ikkinni did manage to drive the Styor off Klor. Perhaps it is remotely possible that a pre-gunpowder cavalry can defeat nuclear weapons, but it sure doesn’t seem likely that the outcome of a conflict would favour the guys on horses.
Having each member of the trading team come from a different race/ethnicity (none of which were Anglo-Saxon or even Scots), not to mention putting Africo-Venusian Abu in charge of the base, was probably a pretty bold move in 1960. It’s a shame that her Chinese character, Che’in Lan, doesn’t really get the chance to break out of stereotype; Norton hints there is more going on with Che’in than meets the eye but the limited page count keeps her from exploring that in much detail. Norton also fails to have any women of note; women are mentioned mainly in the context of battle spoils.
Although the details differ, the situation in this book is reminiscent of the one in Star Guard: humans have to accommodate an older, more powerful civilization. Just as in Star Guard, humans have a secret plan to free themselves, a plan of which the protagonist is unaware and which he furthers by mere accident. A lot of authors would have written a book in which Kade would end up as central to the Big Plan; in this book, he’s just a guy who, if he is lucky, might get to be a cog in someone else’s shiny machine.
The edition of The Sioux Spaceman that I have is the one where Lin Carter’s essay, “Andre Norton: a Profile” was first published. I’ve discussed that essay elsewhere.