Talking About Favorite Andre Norton Novels

???????????????????????????????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?

Archaeology in Intergalactic Space

AtStarsEnd-medI’m interviewing Anna Hackett over at USA Today/HEA for my SciFi Ecnounters column, about her HEAnovel At Star’s End. The heroine is a galactic archaeologist who happens to be searching for an Earthly relic – part of the “Mona Lisa.” The how and the why is all part of Anna’s plot and worldbuilding, which we discuss in the column, but I’m perpetually fascinated by the idea of what remnants of other civilizations we might stumble across once we finally get into the galaxy.

I’ve always been drawn to the stories of the old, mysteriously unknowable civilizations on our own world, hence my writing a paranormal series set in ancient Egypt! But when I first started reading Andre Norton’s science fiction novels many years ago, one of the most intriguing aspects of her world building to me was the Forerunners. As I understood it, the Forerunners were actually many alien civilizations and/or possibly one large, unified galaxy-wide association of these worlds. They and their accomplishments were lost in time thousands (millions?) of years before Ms. Norton’s characters ventured on the scene. She was excellent at giving the reader only tantalizing hints and tastes of the Forerunners and I always wanted more.

Her 1955 novel Galactic Derelict was especially fascinating because over the course of this novel an galacticderelict_acef310alien spaceship is located on Earth, having crashed and wrecked maybe hundreds of thousands of years ago. (SPOILERS, although the book dates to the 1950’s LOL.) But conveniently, in this series, humans have time travel (acquired perhaps from another wrecked alien vessel? I can’t remember) so they go back and find the ship when it’s freshly crashed, still in one piece with all its technology and marvels functioning. As the ship is being brought forward to our time, the engines are activated and the ship takes off in the now, trying to complete its long overdue voyage home.

The ship makes stops at various places in the galaxy and each time the unwilling human passengers have to hope ancient mechanisms for refueling are still working, they do some exploring…and then the ship reaches its home and turns itself off. So then the humans have to figure out a way to retrace the journey yet again. In the meantime, home base for the ship seems to have been a central place of Forerunner civilization and we get glimpses of buildings and artifacts and Forerunner descendants…

I was thoroughly and totally hooked, let me tell you!

When I started writing my Sectors science fiction series set in the far future, one world building element I included was a galactic civilization that had come and gone, leaving traces and tantalizing clues, and perhaps even a few working installations. I decided to call them the Ancient Observers  or AO for short (although that’s subject to change). I haven’t been able to talk about it much in any of the books I’ve written to date. One of the AO devices was going to play a part in Escape From Zulaire but my editors and I concluded that adding in any significant discussion of this ancient civilization was just too much for the pacing of the novel. So the device is still in the book but without much reference to who built it. (Hint: think REALLY giant emerald. You’ll know it when you see it!)

I have some other plots in mind for future novels where my Ancient Observers may come up again as hopefully intriguing tidbits, might get more “time on the page”…we’ll see.

So, do you have any novels to recommend that feature archaeology out there, among the stars? Or vanished ancient races on other worlds that our descendants are trying to understand through shards and wall paintings? I’d love to read some more stories along these lines!


What Was Your First Science Fiction Read?

catseyeI can still remember the moment when I was a kid and I picked this book up from my Dad’s bookcase – Catseye was the first ever science fiction book I read. I loved it (although I thought it was too short and I always wished there’d been a sequel.) Of course after this, I tracked down every single book by Andre Norton I could find,  even the Young Adult and the romances.

I still have most of them. She was my gateway into science fiction. I loved the glimpses of romance that popped up in a few of her books, wished there was more and that no doubt helped inspire me to write science fiction romance. I devoured her Witch World series and a lot of other books by many other excellent people. And of course I still read SF.

Over at the USA Today Happily Ever After blog we’re running a special column where I asked some of my fellow authors in the SF&F romance community which book was their first foray into the wonders of science fiction and/or fantasy. I got a lot of fascinating answers, not a few of which were also favorite books of mine.

While I’m on the topic of Andre Norton, thought I’d share the vintage covers of a few of my most favorites:



I read and reread Catseye so often the binding fell apart! I loved her recurring themes of telepathy (especially with animals), time travel, alternate worlds, galactic empires that had risen and fallen long before we arrived on the scene…just the endless possibilities she opened up for me. Her ability to ask “What if…” and then spin a great tale inspired my imagination!

We’re going to run a second column next week over at USA Today/HEA with the rest of the “first SF reads” stories, so please stay tuned…