the Little Red Reviewer

The Zero Stone, by Andre Norton

Posted on: January 25, 2013

zero_stone_1969_95960The Zero Stone, by Andre Norton

published in 1968

where I got it: borrowed

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Can someone please tell me why it took me so long to read this book?  Nearly every Andre Norton I’ve picked up has been excellent, and The Zero Stone is no different. Skillfully written and wonderfully imaginative, I think this is my favorite Norton so far!

The story gets rolling right away when Murdoc Jern’s patron is assassinated.  Raised by a gem dealer with shady connections and then apprenticed out to the legitimate gem merchant Vondar Ustle, Murdoc knows everything there is to know about gems and stones, but he’s woefully naive about everything else. When Ustle is murdered Murdoc finds sanctuary and then takes the first available ship off planet.

All this time, Murdoc has been in possession of a singularly strange ring. Too large for any human finger, the ring holds a weird lusterless stone. It was found on a corpse in space, and it seems to offer guidance to specific people. What does the ring point to? Is this why Ustle was killed? Is Murdoc in danger?

Befriended by the ship’s cat, Murdoc accidentally allows the cat to eat a strange pebble. The pebble impregnates the cat (don’t worry, this isn’t my favorite horror scifi movie), and a weird little mutant cat is born.  The mutant cat, who calls itself Eet, is telepathic, intelligent, and refuses to tell Murdoc anything about it’s origin. Eet helps Murdoc escape from those who would do him harm, and a partnership is formed between the two. Not quite trusting friends, they do need each other.  Eet is stuck in a tiny feline body and needs a strong person to help, and Murdoc could certainly use some help avoiding certain death and learning more about the powers and origin of the ring.

Murdoc isn’t your typical space adventurer (he doesn’t even want to have an adventure!), and Eet most certainly isn’t your typical telepathic cat.   The ring guides them to a planet, and at first it is believed this is the home planet of the ring and other powerful stones. At first all Murdoc and Eet find are cannibalistic natives.  Eet doesn’t so much offer suggestions of how to survive as made demands of what Murdoc should do to do and when.   If Murdoc wants to survive, he better listen to the mysterious little mutant.

Like Murdoc, at first I was a little creeped out by Eet, but I quickly came to care about that bossy little alien freak. The Zero Stone is pure adventure, and fun on every page.  If you’re new to Norton, this is an excellent place to start. The story continues in Uncharted Stars, and both can be found in the Omnibus Search for the Star Stones from Baen Books.

The only thing I can complain about with The Zero Stone is that even though the entire thing is perfectly paced, for the first half of the book or so you have no idea where the plot is going. This really isn’t a big deal, as that first half of the book is filled with Murdoc’s fascinating and funny thoughts about what’s going on around him, background information about his family, and of course, the oh-so-alien Eet. So even though I had no idea where the story was headed, I was having so much fun I barely noticed.

Something that surprised me was the complete nonchalance of a lot of the minor characters.  When the cat is pregnant with an alien kitten, no one seems to care much. They lock her in sickbay, and don’t seem to mind when she escapes to give birth elsewhere.  Things like that, that these days (thanks to decades of scifi horror movies) are big deals, back then it was fine to gloss right over them. I found things like that very funny.

I’ve already mentioned it, but if you are new to Andre Norton, The Zero Stone is a perfect place to start. The story will pull you in right away (even if you’re not sure where it’s going) and as soon as you meet Eet, you’ll be asking yourself the same question I opened this review with.

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14 Responses to "The Zero Stone, by Andre Norton"

Hey girlie! When I click on this post, I get a 404 error. I can see it from the home page, but actually clicking on it gives me the error! arrrghhh!! Definitely wanted to let you know:)   Kristin @ My Bookish Ways Twitter Facebook Goodreads

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Ha! silly wordpress! i think it’s fixed now?

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Yay! I loved The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars when I was in high school, and I’ve actually been meaning to re-read them. (Which would include purchasing the e-omnibus from Baen, as my original paperbacks are across the country at my parents’ house.) I’m glad to hear that it holds up to my memory!

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I’d randomly picked up Uncharted Stars a while ago because I liked the cover art, but never got around to it. Now that I’ve read the first book in the series, I totally want to dig out Uncharted Stars!

the Baen should still be in print, but if you can’t find it, have your folks mail you the paperbacks.

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Well, obviously, I haven’t read any Norton – as you probably know as I’ve read virtually nothing by anyone! (Is that even English?)
Anyway, i really like the sound of this so I’m going to look it up – even though I did misread the cat’s name as Eek – which actually, I quite like!
Thanks
Lynn :D

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you’ve read more than you think. :) If I ever get a cat again, i’m totally naming it Eet. What kind of alien chooses “eet” as a name? srsly?

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The next author I will be reading is Norton. DO you have any recommendations? Or should just pick one:)

Just a FYI Puppet Masters is an excellent book. Has Robert H even written an average book?

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Yay! so happy you are liking Puppetmasters! and yes, Heinlein wrote a couple of stinkers, we just don’t talk about those. ;)

I haven’t read a ton of Norton, but if you can find Zero Stone, Star Born, or The Stars are Ours, I greatly enjoyed all of those. Sargasso of Space also looks really good. Really, if you find anything by her, the chances that it’s going to be a great read is pretty high. :)

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Glad to hear you liked Puppet Masters, Geeky Daddy. It may be my favorite Heinlein book.

Sounds like another one I need to add to the list of rapidly growing Norton paperbacks crying “read me” from my basement shelves. :) Glad you enjoyed it so much.

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Thank you for the recommendations.I have Star born on hold through the library :) SCORE!!

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You should submit this to Ian Sales’ review collating blog: SF Mistressworks…

http://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com/

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The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars are right up there in my favorite Andre Norton books. Been meaning to re-read them, but the TBR pile is too high at the moment.

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[...] This review originally appeared on The Little Red Reviewer. [...]

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