I’m talking about Andre Norton over at USA Today Happily Ever After blog today, in my SciFi Encounters column. There’s a “new” anthology out, containing quite a few short stories of hers I’d never read, so that was a rare pleasure. I’ve mentioned the tremendous influence her books had on me before, because they did…I still have two shelves full of falling-apart vintage Andre Norton ACE paperbacks. No matter if I switch my entire library onto my kindle, I’ll always keep these books. They started out as my Dad’s and became mine…
I thought I’d talk about a few of my top Norton favorites, in no particular order, and stick mostly to the science fiction, rather than the fantasy or the romances (which were never my favorites, because I think I wanted her to give me more of the Witch World magic vibe in those and as I recall they were pretty much Gothic romances. I didn’t think they were her strongest books.)
I always mention Catseye, because it was the first SF book I ever read, so I’ll skip it here. The Beast Master was one of my all time favorites (along with the sequel Lord of the Thunder). I totally fell in love with the hero, Hosteen Storm, and I loved his telepathic animals. Looking back now, we’d probably say he had PTSD, after Terra was destroyed in an intergalactic war, but he was coping on his new home planet. And there were some really cool touches of the Forerunner presence in the Sealed Caves of Arzor. I just pretty much loved everything about this book.
Sargasso of Space and the crew of the ship “Solar Queen” – I enjoyed all three of their adventures….I’m not AS fond of this set of stories nowadays as I was when I was a kid. I think Star Trek and Firefly and Farscape have taken over that niche in my heart that’s reserved for a ship and her crew cruising the star lanes, but in their day, the Solar Queen was it for me.
The Last Planet – Hard to say if Sgt. Kartr of this book is more my favorite than Hosteen Storm. I think it’s a tie. Besides, this book featured Zacathans, always a plus for me! (Yes, this cover is dorky IMHO.) I loved that the plot was based on the old legend about the Roman Legion ordered to march to the end of the world, who died in the attempt. Ms. Norton’s view on the way the galactic civilization was falling apart and how even the most loyal Patrol members had to adjust or die was fascinating. It was 192 pages of great stuff and yet far too short for me. I always wanted the sequel to this story but alas, there never was one…she did leave hope that humans and their allies would rise to journey to the stars again someday. I’ve never forgotten how Kartr’s first view of the green of this “last planet” felt like coming home to him.
Ordeal in Otherwhere was the first science fiction book I’d ever read where a woman was the heroine and main character. I enjoyed how Chris kept her head and worked with what she found on the planet Warlock, dealing with the Wyverns. She was a problem solver and didn’t need anyone to rescue her, thank you very much. There was also a hint of romance with Shann Lantee, the hero of the first book in this storyline. Plus, more telepathic animals!
Eye of the Monster was one of the inspirations for my own Escape From Zulaire, in that the main character in Eye suddenly finds himself plunged into deadly peril one morning, with very little warning. All the beings he’d (more or less) trusted have turned against him AND the people who might have helped are dead or left the area without him. Not only that, he becomes responsible for saving two children and is assisted by an indomitable Salariki female. It’s a quick read but always left me asking myself what I would do, if I was ever plunged into such dire straits.
I have to mention two more books of hers that were extremely influential to me and among my all time favorites (although not SF): Shadow Hawk, which along with Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Mara, Daughter of the Nile, left me determined to write my own stories set in ancient Egypt, which of course now I do…and Year of the Unicorn, which is my favorite of all the Witch World stories. I try to capture some of the feeling of mystery and myth and magic that so permeated the Witch World, when writing my own books. This isn’t my first copy of Year of the Unicorn – I’ve no idea what happened to the original. I think I just liked this cover better!
Did you ever happen to read Andre Norton? Do you have a favorite novel written by her?