Andre Norton’s 1971 Dragon Magic is apparently the fourth book in Norton’s Magic series. Until now I had never even known the series existed, and certainly had not read any of the books in it.
The only things that Sig Dortmund, Artie Jones, Kim Stevens, and George Brown (or as he prefers to be called, Ras) all have in common are that they are all American boys and they all take the same school bus. Even that is not by itself enough to bring them together. While Artie and Sig are friends of a sort (Artie would far rather be friends with football hero Greg Ross, but he’s stuck with Sig), disinterest in bridging racial differences keeps them from reaching out to African-American Ras or Chinese-American Kim Stevens.
And then comes the treasure….
1971’s Exiles of the Stars is the first sequel to Andre Norton’s Moon of Three Rings. It was followed by 1986’s Flight of Yiktor and 1990’s Dare to Go A-Hunting, neither of which I will review (because they fall outside the boundaries of this review series1). Exiles picks up where Moon left off, with star-trader Krip Vorlund and alien witch Maelen the Moon Singer ensconced in brand-new bodies—Krip in the body of a Thassa and Maelen in the body of a small animal called a glassia—and on their way to the stars on the Free Trader Lydis.
But they’re not out of trouble yet. From the start, Lydis’ contract on Thoth had a whiff of danger. Nervous theocrats, threatened by religious strife and civil disorder, have hired the Lydis to transport precious artefacts, relics of a lost Forerunner race, to safety. The destination: Ptah, one of the other worlds in the Amen-Re system.
A temple insider leaks the news that the priests are sending holy artefacts off-world. Even as the precious cargo is loaded aboard Lydis, angry mobs converge on the starship. Only the customary prohibition against attacking Free Traders can defend the Lydis.
They manage to escape from the riot-torn world, but worse is yet to come. Getting to Ptah will prove more challenging than expected.
Yes, this book should have been featured in my final Norton review. It’s not, because someone (and I am not naming names here) didn’t read the Waterloo Public Library entries for Dragon Magic and Exiles of the Stars carefully enough. That person overlooked the little McC notation indicating that the books were to be found at the McCormick branch (which is effectively inaccessible to me). It will take long enough to transfer the books to the central branch that waiting means missing the deadline for today’s review. And I prefer not to miss deadlines.
1973’s Forerunner Foray is third in the Forerunner series. It’s also the first one in which the Forerunners play a significant role, three books and thirteen years into the series.
Ziantha’s promising psychic powers have caught the attention of Yasa and Ogan, two ambitious members of the Thieves Guild, and earned her a ticket out of the Dipple. It’s true that she is more of a valued possession than a valued employee, but even that is better than a life spent in the Dipple. It’s not like Yasa and Ogan don’t take care of her; not only have they honed Ziantha’s psychic powers, but they have trained her as a thief and a master of disguise.
All she has to do is follow orders to the letter, never screw up, and never step out of line and she will be secure until the moment she has outlived her usefulness.
In the opening chapter, Ziantha screws up by exceeding her instructions. She has been told to break into the home of a certain Jucundus. While there, she is strangely attracted to seemingly valueless curio. She cannot forget the curio and while brooding over it, discovers a new psychic power. She teleports the curio to her location. While she gains the curio, she also alerts the Patrol’s mentalists to the fact that there is a powerful unregistered psychic somewhere on Korwar. Oh yes, and she succeeds in alerting her master and mistress that she has stepped out of line.
The People who take center stage in Norton’s 1972 Breed to Come have only a vague idea of who they are or where they came from. Centuries earlier, Demons ruled the world. Then their hubris both doomed the Demons and raised their victims—the feline People, the porcine Tuskers, the ratlike Rattons, and the canine Barkers—from mere animals to people. Or so Furtig of the People has been taught since he was a cub.
As far as Furtig knows, the most serious problem facing him is the need to prove himself to those who choose, the females of breeding age of the tribe. I regret to report that this effort will not go all that well for Furtig, who is brave and smart—but not especially adept at the sort of hand-to-hand contest that is one of the customs of his people.
The good news is, having his head handed to him by a much larger Person isn’t close to worst thing that will happen to Furtig by the end of the book. Not only will his forlorn journey of exploration leave him a prisoner of the foul Rattons, but the Demons are at last returning home….
1971’s Android at Arms brings us ever closer to the end of this review series. It’s not a Norton I encountered as a teen. To my surprise, even without the nostalgia factor, I kinda liked it. It succeeds in being creepy; indeed, it’s one of the creepiest Nortons I’ve read.
Andas, Prince of Inyanga and likely heir to the emperor, went to sleep in a lavishly appointed bed chamber. He wakes in a stark prison cell, which comes as something of a surprise.
Andas isn’t alone in the prison. His fellow prisoners come from many worlds, but all have one thing in common: they all are important people, at least on their own planets. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to kidnap powerful (or potentially powerful) people. That someone might be … the Psychocrats. Or the heirs of the Psychocrats. It’s impossible to tell, as the villains rule through their machines.
On the basis of surprisingly little evidence, the prisoners convince themselves the mass kidnapping is only half of the scheme. The villains must have built android doubles for the prisoners, then swapped those doubles for the originals. Using the strategically placed androids, androids conditioned to obey their creators, the villains can control the galaxy. Bwahahaha!
The prisoners have been suspended in stasis. They wake up when the prison’s stasis machines break down; they escape the prison because the locks have failed as well. They manage to get off-planet, thanks to the automated spaceport nearby (a spaceport like the one in Galactic Derelict ). Home again? Not so simple.
1970’s Ice Crown is one of Norton’s standalones, though it shares one background element with many other novels: the forerunners, the long vanished alien civilization whose fall foreshadows humanity’s fate. Oddly enough, what came to mind when I read this novel wasn’t other Norton books (like Forerunner Foray or the Warlock books), but a very well known television series of the 1960s.
Clio is a closed world, protected from all contact with the surrounding galactic civilization (a civilization of which it is utterly unaware). Or almost all contact; Offlas, his son Sandor, and Offlas’ niece Roane are allowed to visit Clio for research purposes, to search for rumoured Forerunner relics. Not that either Offlas or Sandor see much value in Roane’s potential contributions to the mission.
Access to Clio is a rare privilege, but one with a price: there is to be absolutely no contact between the scientists and the locals. An offending off-worlder pays a steep price for violation of the rule: essentially an end to their career. For the unfortunate local who encounters an off-worlder, the cost is much higher: they are to be memory wiped. This is intended to preserve the great secret: Clio is just one world among many.
Any guesses as to how long it takes for Roane to break that cardinal rule?
I was surprised when I first encountered a short work by Norton; I had never thought of her as someone who worked in short lengths. In fact, she wrote dozens of short pieces. If ISFDB’s list of her short works looks comparatively small next to a list of her novels, that only reflects how many novels Norton wrote. Her output may not have been quite Asimovian but it was certainly Andersonian.
Which brings us to Norton’s 1970 collection, High Sorcery.
In Andre Norton’s 1970 standalone novel Dread Companion, Kilda c’Rhyn’s great tragedy is
Unfortunately, I inherited my mother’s sex but my father’s spirit and interests. I would have been supremely happy as a scout, a seeker-out of far places and strange sights. My favored reading among the tapes were the accounts of exploration, trading on primitive planets, and the like. Perhaps I might have fitted in with the free traders. But among them women are so few and those so guarded and cherished that I might have been even more straitly prisoned on one of their spaceports, seeing my mate only at long intervals, bound by their law to remarry again if his ship was reported missing for more than a stated time.
It may be so far in the future the location of Earth is but a rumour but sexism is alive and well.
Abandoned by her spacer father, crèche-educated and unsuited to life in her mother’s clan, Kilda is desperate to escape Chalox, the world of her birth, before she is consigned to those roles deemed appropriate for women. When Gentlefem Guska Zobak offers to hire Kilda as her house aide on the distant world Dylan, Kilda doesn’t look too closely at the details.
She should have.
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.
Although a decade passed for Norton’s fans between the third Solar Queen novel (1959’s Voodoo Planet) and the fourth (1969’s Postmarked the Stars), for protagonist Dane Thorson, the events of this book Postmarked the Stars, follow right on the heels of the earlier three.
Dane’s appointment as temporary cargo chief on the Solar Queen, replacing a superior on holiday, seems like it should be a good thing. All it does is paint a great big target on poor Dane. Ne’er do wells are plotting to use the ship for nefarious purposes. This becomes obvious when Dane, having set out to pick up a parcel for transport, wakes up from a drugged stupor in an unfamiliar room. When he staggers back to the Solar Queen, he finds that he has been replaced by a look-alike.
Temporarily. The look-alike in fact was in such terrible health he had no business trying to travel; he dies of an unexpected heart condition even before Dane gets back to the Solar Queen. There’s no way to ask him what he was up to. But that’s OK; the results of the doppleganger’s shenanigans are revealed in short order.
The good news for the poor doomed bastards on the planet Beltane in 1968’s Dark Piper is that the great interstellar war is finally over. Even better, while the world lost many of its young men to the draft, Beltane itself is such a backwater that neither side saw fit to scorch the place.
The bad news is that the war didn’t so much stop as grind to a halt after all the combatant polities suddenly collapsed. A long dark age looms, perhaps even the end of mankind’s long domination of the stars. Since Beltane was a research station that was never intended to be completely self-sufficient, the inhabitants might be able to slow the looming technological and economic decline … but they cannot hope to prevent it.
As it turns out, that won’t matter
1968’s Sorceress of the Witch World picks up where Warlock of the Witch World left off. Kaththea is still recovering from being stripped of her magic by her brother (done to save her from a mistaken alliance with the extremely hunky forces of darkness). When she is separated from her friends by an avalanche, her magic cannot save her.
However, her magical potential can get her into more trouble….
1967’s Warlock of the Witch World is the sequel to Norton’s 1965 Three Against the Witch World. Having journeyed east to Escore, a long forgotten part of their world, siblings Kyllan (the warrior), Kemoc (the scholar), and Kaththea (the witch) are now caught up in the war between light and darkness that divides that ancient land.
Rather inconveniently for the siblings, they will find themselves divided in their choice of allies: light or darkness? Are they sure which side is which?
1967’s Operation Time Search is a stand-alone. Spoiler warning.
By the far off year of 1980, the people of Earth—or at least an Earth—have done a pretty good job of using up all the resources of their world. Other worlds beckon, but rather than reaching across space, the researchers Hargreaves and Fordham have cast their eyes across time, with some success. Their time probes have reached something, somewhere, somewhen—the past, or perhaps some alternate world—but it’s definitely not modern Ohio.
Thus far, Hargreaves and Fordham have settled for peering through time; physical transportation is for later. Or at least that was the plan until photographer Ray Osborne snuck onto the Indian mound the researchers had commandeered. Hargreaves and Fordham’s device may not have been intended to catapult physical objects through time, but as Ray discovers, it is nevertheless quite capable of punting the young man all the way from modern Ohio to … somewhere.
Somewhere wild. Somewhere with old growth forests of a kind not seen in North America for centuries or more. Somewhere where Ray is almost immediately captured by soldiers from a place called Atlantis, soldiers who suspect that Ray is an agent of Mu….
1966’s The Moon of Three Rings is the first volume in Norton’s Moon Singer series.
Yiktor appears to be just another world among millions, a world once home to an advanced civilization now long vanished, just as so many civilizations have flourished, then vanished, across the galaxy. Now Yiktor is a world whose current population is (seemingly) trapped in barbarism. To Free Traders, it is a possible source of valuable trade goods. To a greedy Combine seeking worlds to conquer, Yiktor looks like easy pickings. As they will learn, the great civilization that called Yiktor home is not extinct, but merely evolved beyond recognition.
1965’s The Year of the Unicorn takes us back to the Witch World, across the ocean to High Hallack. Gillan has lived among the people of that land for almost as long as she can remember, but her skin and hair brand her an outsider. She can be thankful that she is not one of the hated Alizon, High Hallack’s great enemy, but she can never hope to be truly accepted by those among whom she lives. A quiet life in a rustic abbey may be Gillan’s best option.
But that is not her destiny.
Andre Norton was never known for bright shiny futures but 1965’s The X Factor is a gloomier novel than most of her books. Protagonist Diskan Fentress is a large, clumsy man who feels like a subhuman; he sees himself as suitable for nothing save brute labour. He has recently been reunited with the Scout father who left before he was born. Diskan believes that he falls far short of his father, Renfrey Fentress, in every conceivable way (a belief that Renfrey does nothing to correct). To rub more salt in the wound, the aliens with whom Renfrey has made his home are to Diskan’s eye without fault. Their perfection only highlights Diskan’s flaws.
Better to turn criminal than suffer under the lash of charity. Diskan steals a starship and a navigation tape (to a world his father had marked as anomalous) and heads up and out. He is lucky enough to reach his destination and survive a bad landing whole and largely unharmed. His luck would seem to have ended there. He is alone, poorly equipped, and trapped on a planet whose mysteries even his talented father was unable to unravel. What hope is there for poor, dim Diskan?
(This will get somewhat spoilery.)
1965’s Three Against the Witch World returns to Andre Norton’s Witch World, a generation after the events of Witch World and Web of the Witch World. This sequel sees Simon Tregarth and his witchy wife Lady Jaelithe relegated to off-stage status. The novel focuses on their triplets: Kyllan the fighty one, Kemoc the smart one, and Kaththea the witchy one.
All three children were born to do great things, as predicted by a fell portent, but only Kaththea is of interest to the Women of Power of Estcarp. Only Kaththea is female and therefore a potential witch. When Kaththea reaches a certain age, the witches bear her off to be educated according to their ways. Dread supernatural protections prevent her brothers from rescuing her. Kaththea is lost.
For the moment.
Andre Norton’s 1965 novel Quest Crosstime returns to Blake Walker, last seen being adopted by the people of Vroom, a timeline-spanning civilization. Although Vroom’s central timeline depends on contact and trade with alternate Earths, recently a faction calling itself the Limiters, led by demagogue To’Kekrops, have been calling for more stringent restrictions on cross-time travel. To’Kekrops and his followers may claim they are motivated by safety concerns … but of course the truth is darker than that.
What Walker doesn’t know is how far the Limiters will go to get their way.
1964’s Ordeal in Otherwhere starts off at a sprint. When we first encounter young Charis Nordholm, a cult leader and his idiot followers1 have staged a coup and murdered her father in the process. Charis is on the run and faces an unpleasant choice: surrender to the cultists and accept whatever horrible fate they deem suitable for a heretic OR try to hide in the local jungle, where she will almost certainly be eaten.
It turns out there is a third option, which is to be captured by the rebels and then sold to an off-world trader2.
1964’s Web of the Witch World is a direct sequel to Witch World, in which Simon Tregarth transformed himself from fugitive to hero when he fled from the world of post-war Europe to the strange realm of the Witch World. Simon, Jaelithe (now Simon’s wife), and their allies stymie an invasion by the otherworldly, malevolent Kolder and save Estcarp, the witch stronghold … for the moment.
Simon and his allies are painfully aware that even though the initial Kolder invasion failed, the Kolder still lurk in their island stronghold. There is no reason to believe that the bad guys have abandoned their designs on Estcarp and the other polities of the mainland. It is likely that they are even now plotting to strike again.
Our protagonists will find that the Kolder have already begun their next campaign, this time with the aid of willing quislings.
Galactic Derelict and 1964’s Night of Masks were my two iconic Norton novels, the ones that shaped how I saw her fiction, the books to which I returned over and over. I owned the mass market paperback with this cover
and I literally read it to bits .
The Dipple on Korwar has become no nicer since we last saw it in Judgment on Janus. This novel’s protagonist, Nik Kolherne, has a harder row to hoe than Janus’s Naill or Catseye’s Horan. Not only is young Nik an orphan with no prospects, not only is he trapped in an urban hellhole—he is disfigured. A war-time injury transformed half his face into a horrific mask, a jumble of scars and keloids.
1963’s Witch World marks Norton’s shift towards fantasy. After this novel, fantasy was an increasingly large fraction of her output. It is also the first novel in her long-running (later collaborative)Witch World series. Oddly enough, while I have read the other books in the series (Ellen Asher or Andrew Wheeler, then my shadowy masters at SFBC, must have liked them—or perhaps the books just sold well), I’ve never read this particular book. Having read it now, I can see how this could have been a formative experience for a young reader, especially in the context of the early 1960s.
And readers did like it: not only did this novel become the seed of a long-running popular series, it was nominated for a Hugo, sharing the ballot with such classics as Way Station, Glory Road, Dune World and Cat’s Cradle.
1963’s Key Out of Time is the fourth in the Time Traders series. Until 1993’s Firehand, it was the final novel in the series (and it was definitely the last Time Traders book Norton authored solo ) so for thirty years this book established how the series ended for its fans. It paints a rather gloomy picture.
As far as the Americans know, the attempt to colonize Topaz with a crew of brainwashed Native Americans (a crew that included series regular Travis Fox) ended in catastrophe. In fact the Topaz mission did not go well … but it was not the calamity it appears to be from Earth’s perspective. Travis’ co-workers and friends Ross Murdoch and Gordon Ashe have no way to know that their friend and his fellow Native Americans are alive and well . It is with some trepidation that Ross and Gordon join a new team of colonists that is heading out to another terrestrial world, the sea world called Hawaika.
At first glance, Hawaika seems to be a paradise world: vast seas dotted with idyllic little islands. However, the apparent tranquility conceals a mystery. The colonists found Hawaika by following an old star map, a relic left by the Baldies, an alien culture that vanished long ago. The Baldies also left maps of Hawaika, maps that look nothing like the current planet. Something dramatic must have happened to transform the world the world so thoroughly.
And thanks to a mishap with a time gate, Ross, Gordon, and their friend Karara (and some photogenic dolphins) are going to be given the chance to find out just what happened—in person!
There will be spoilers.
I learned a couple of useful lessons reading 1962’s Eye of the Monster. One was that, contrary to my belief that the Number 24 bus loops back to Westmount and Highland in ten minutes, it actually takes long enough for me to read a considerable fraction of a short—135 pages in the 1984 Ace MMPK—novel like Eye of the Monster . The other lesson was that Norton could write books that reminded me of Jack Vance’s novels, but not in a good way.
The planet Ishkur! Once part of the South Sector Empire but now, thanks to the whim of the Imperial Council, on the verge of independence. The native Crocs have promised toleration to such of their former colonial masters as remain on Ishkur, but this is merely a ruse. Inexplicably, the rank-smelling natives have no love for their former colonial overlords, even though Imperial ways “were better than the rule the natives had for themselves.” The only peace the off-worlders will be granted is the peace of the grave!