the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Andre Norton’ Category

Vintage Science Fiction months owes part of it’s existence to my friend Andy. We met a few years ago through the local bookstore, and became fast friends. Over lunch discussions and a few beers, we traded books back and forth, me trying to get Andy on the “new weird” band wagon, and him getting me into Andre Norton and making sure our local scifi book club read the classics (See Andy? This is what happens when you don’t send me a bio. I write one for you!).

Andy is also a typewriter collector, and although we live in the same city, we write letters to each other, him on his typewriter(s), and me by hand. Hand writing and typewriting a letter is a completely different experience than firing off a quick e-mail.  He even typed me this guest post. See? To keep the pages loading fast, I’ve only scanned in a few typewritten paragraphs.

AR first paragraph

Fortunately the trauma was short-lived and soon after I discovered the films of George Pal and Ray Harryhausen. Pal’s The Time Machine and Harryhausen’s First Men in the Moon are still great favorites in the DVD collection, much to my family’s despair. TV beckoned too and no science fictional kid growing up in the Sixties could miss Lost in Space or Star Trek as well as the proto-steampunkiness of The Wild, Wild West. Sad to say, all but the last haven’t aged well for me. The camp value of pasteboard sets, pedestrian scripts, a now-hilarious lack of actual science, and acting that is adequate at best only takes nostalgia so far. Many SF movies of the time suffer from the same defects yet command greater affection for reasons I can’t explain.

My introduction to written science fiction came more gradually. First there was the discovery of the paperback cache in the upper drawer of my parent’s bedroom dresser. My paternal grandfather, a diehard fan from SF’s “Golden Age” of the Thirties and Forties, sent them to his son but my father wanted nothing to do with the genre. Fortunately for me, the unwanted collection included such treasures as Mark S. Geston’s now-classic Lords of the Starship. The book isn’t really about a starship and its ideas were way beyond anything I would have understood then. No matter, I was arrested by the cover image of a golden armored vehicle with a skeleton hanging out of the turret swimming through a sandy desert toward the huge, bluish, winged vehicle of the title. Not long after, a friend turned me on to the author who really turned  me into a fan.

The Stars Are Ours-Star Born Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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The Stars are Ours! by Andre Norton

Published in 1954

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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Using her own Encycl0pedia Galactica device, Norton gives the reader a very quick introduction to the future: a series of cold wars led to government and military funded science, which lead to creation and use of weapons of mass destruction, which lead to loss of life and sudden fear and hatred of anything science related. Knowledge was spurned as evil, and anyone with a drop of “scientist blood” in them were rounded up and imprisoned.  (this futuristic fear of science is showing up a lot. . . a reaction to everyone’s sudden fear of Atomic weaponry, the Cold War, and what humanity truly is capable of destroying?)

But the scientists and their families have survived.  Lars Nordis is one such scientist, and he and his young daughter Dessie and brother Dard live in a ramshackle farm where they in turns starve and freeze. Lars holds scientific secrets, and he makes Dard memorize a series of numbers, although he won’t tell Dard what the numbers mean.   I believe Dard and Dessie are synethsetes of some sort, and do wish that had been explored more.

After a raid by the Peacemen that destroys their home and kills Lars, Dard and Dessie have no choice but to find the rumored underground scientists who Lars has been doing work for.  Dard finds them, and after helping them defend their hideouts from the Peacemen, they happily accept Dard and Dessie into their group.  But what of the formula Dard memorized? What does it mean and who is he supposed to give it to?

This is where the story got really good for me.

The scientists are so desperate, they are willing to take incredible changes to leave planet Earth.  They have built a spaceship and plan to escape Earth and find a new home. But the risks loom large. The long sleep formula might not work.  The formulas stolen from an enemy “Voice” (computer) might not be correct. The ship might get hit by an asteroid. They might run out of fuel before finding a suitable planet. But still, they go.  With high hopes, they risk everything they have, including their families, for a slim chance of finding a new place to live. If Earth doesn’t want them, they will take to the stars!

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Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing Andre Norton’s The Stars Are Ours,  but in the meantime, I wanted to talk about her writing career and explore her vast list of works.  I’m more than a little embarrassed to say that although I’ve heard the name Andre Norton for most of my life, it’s been less than a year since I read my first Norton. Thanks to my buddy A.R. for lending me a handful of Norton titles and getting me hooked!

Born in Ohio in 1912, Alice Mary Norton started writing short stories in High School. Her first novel was completed before she graduated (although it wouldn’t be published until the late 1930’s), and her first published novel, The Prince Commands, hit shelves 1934, when she was just 22 years old.  This was the same year she legally changed her name to Andre Alice Norton, as she was advised by publishers that a more masculine sounding name would help sell the science fiction and fantasy that she was writing.

Norton was a woman of firsts:  the first woman to win the World Science Fiction Society’s Grand Master Award, the first woman to win the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Grand Master Award.  In honor of Andre Norton, the SFWA now awards the Andre Norton Award for outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction, which has been awarded to talented authors of Young Adult fiction such as Catherynne Valente and J.K. Rowling, Holly Black and most recently Terry Pratchett. One of Norton’s favorite plot motifs was that of the loner or outsider who never gave up in the face of adversity.  It sure worked for her.

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Witch World, by Andre Norton

Published in 1963

Where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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Andre Norton, the woman who has not one, but two literary genre awards named after her.  She broke glass ceilings left and right, has a near endless list of books to her name, and is rightfully so a legend in the science fiction community.  Her Witch World series started with a few stories, and grew exponentially to cover over 20 novels and novellas known as the Estcarp Cycle and the High Hallack Cycle.

What I’m getting at here is that if you style yourself a science fiction fan, read yourself some Norton. She may not use the flashiest guns or the shiniest spaceships, but these are the stories your favorite authors grew up reading. These are the stories that influenced many of the authors who are influencing you.

If there is such a thing as traditional sci-fantasy, Witch World is it.  Simon Tregarth, soldier turned bootlegger is running from the law. Approached by a gentleman who promises he can hide Simon forever, Simon doesn’t have much of a choice. Offered a doorway to the “world his heart desires”, Simon finds himself someplace. . . strange.  After saving a woman who is being hunted, Simon slowly learns about this new world. Escarp is a country ruled by women who have the Power (witches), and the surrounding countries are primarily male dominated cultures who wish to take over Estcarp.  Estcarp’s highly trained guardsmen (assisted by Simon) can take care of most of her enemies. But the soldiers of the Kolder, that’s a different story all together. Once they are on the march, no amount of guns or arrows will stop the creatures of Kolder.

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Star Born, by Andre Norton

published in 1957

Where I got it: Borrowed from a friend

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As with a lot of classic science fiction, I often worry that the story will feel dated. And then I remember why I love science fiction and fantasy: the best of it could be written at anytime, for anyone. Star Born is the first Norton I’ve read, and trust me, it won’t be the last. There is a reason this woman is so famous.

An unknown number of generations in the future, “outlaw” groups fled Earth looking for a new home.  One of these groups landed on a planet called Astra, befriended the local seal-ish/ amphibian natives, and began a small colony. As generations went by in the Terran colony, each subsequent generation was born more in tune with Astra.  Through training and genetic mutation, the Terrans slowly learned from their native friends known as The People how to telepathically communicate with the lower life forms on the planet, such as birds and small mammals.

Dalgard, a Terran colony member, and his knife-brother Sssuri are journeying away from civilization. Dalgard is on his journey of manhood and hopes to expand the borders of the maps of the elders, and Sssuri accompanies him as friend and guide.  To Sssuri’s dismay, they are headed towards the ruins of a city that was once populated by a race that had enslaved Sssuri’s people and then nearly destroyed Astra through what is implied to be nuclear holocaust.

Suffice to say, this book doesn’t feel dated.   Although in one sense it does, as they just don’t write ‘em like this anymore.

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As usual, it’s been a wonderfully book-y couple of weeks. Thanks to Quercus books and PYR I got some much anticipated ARCs:

I feel privileged to have  gotten an ARC of Mazarkis Williams’ The Emperor’s Knife, it looks incredible.  Epic fantasy, but not as we know it (or at least, not exactly).  Tattoos that take over your mind as they take over your body, intricate games, battles of the mind. . .   this baby just got jumped to the top of the TBR list. 2011 has been a year of incredible epic fantasy for me, and so much of what I’ve read has been the first or second book in a series, with the next book expected sometime in 2012/2013.   I love that every year it just gets better and better!!

Mike Resnick’s The Doctor and the Kid is the sequel to last year’s The Buntline Special. A wild wild west full of steampunk inventions and Native American magic, it’s not the deepest thing you’ll ever read, but it was a helluva lot of fun.  Westerns typically haven’t been my thing, but Resnick’s Doc Holliday rocked my world.

My fave local family owned bookstore wooed me with “we got in a whole ton of classic SF, come on by and take a look”. Good thing I left my debit card at home, otherwise I would have bought a car payment’s worth of classic SF. I managed to walk outta there with just these two: Read the rest of this entry »


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.