Tag Archives: Andre Norton

Stargate SG-1, the TV Series


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All right, if there are any fans of the series Ancient Aliens who are following this blog, raise your hand.

I cannot see you, but I know you have probably just perked up right now and are paying attention. Personally, I cannot stand Ancient Aliens. I have been around when it is on the television, and sooner or later, I end up snarling at the screen because someone said something with which I disagree. And every time someone on Ancient Aliens or another show like it brings up Ancient Egypt, I immediately moan and groan, “Not them again!

You might think this means that I hate Ancient Egypt. I admit to having my fill of it – especially from people who do not know what they are talking about, but who act like they do. That drives me crazy anyway, but in relation to the Ancient World, it is a good way to get me mad. I like history, so I know a lot about it. For example, I happen to know that the Ancient Greeks wore thick bronze and linen armor when they went into battle, not fancy leather suspenders like you see in 300. Catching five minutes of that movie had me raving for two to three whole days with fury.

So I know my history. I am no Egyptologist, but I know my history. So why do I moan and wail whenever someone on the History Channel or Ancient Aliens turns to the subject of Ancient Egypt? I wondered about that and, with the help of El Rey just a little while ago, I finally figured out the problem: I have heard practically all of these people’s theories before. Specifically, I heard them when I was a child watching and enjoying Stargate SG-1.

Yes, I was a child when the show first came out. And I watched the show until its final season’s finale. I even watched two or three of the made-for-TV movies that came out with it. I watched the sequel series Stargate Atlantis to its conclusion, but I managed to miss Stargate Universe and Stargate Infinity. From the sounds of things, I dodged a couple of bullets when I missed those related shows.

After Star Trek, Star Wars, and probably the Marvel media I was exposed to, Stargate SG-1 was my go-to sci-fi fix. I already knew Richard Dean Anderson from the reruns of MacGyver, but I found I liked him a whole lot more as Colonel Jack O’Neill (with two L’s) in Stargate SG-1. I had never heard of Michael Shanks or Amanda Tapping before, but I found I liked them as well. I also think, rewatching the television series now, that Tapping’s character, Samantha Carter, grew as the seasons progressed. Some of her first appearances were waaay too stiff and full of “girl power” motifs, and the writers wisely stopped being so heavy-handed with this stuff as the series ran its course.

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Finally, we had Teal’c. Christopher Judge was the best possible choice for the character. It turns out that I heard him in X-Men: Evolution as the voice of Magneto without ever knowing who he was until years later, when I realized his voice was oddly familiar. Teal’c was the fish out of water before Thor, and Judge did a perfect job pulling off the confusion, shock, and outright clumsiness an alien in modern times would experience. It took the reruns on El Rey to remind me how much I liked him and the rest of the crew – and how much I missed them.

Of course, I cannot leave out the star attraction of the series. This was the alien Stargate for which the series, and the movie that spawned it, is named. But this Stargate is nothing like the Star Gate in Andre Norton’s novel of the same name. (You can find a post on that book here, too, readers.) This Stargate generates an artificial wormhole that connects two points in space together for up to thirty-eight minutes, less if you know how to shut the device down on your own.

To make the device work, you have to “dial out” by inputing some of the symbols inside the ring through a DHD or “dial home device” connected to the Stargate. Like an old dialing telephone, these symbols will rotate through the circular Stargate and stop beneath one of the red “Chevrons,” which will open and glow to lock in the coordinates as the gate “dials out.”

When the necessary seven “chevrons” are “locked,” you had better not be standing directly in front of the Gate. That watery substance may look pretty as it “flushes” out at you, but anything organic and most metals that touch that initial “flush” of liquid-like material will be incinerated by it. The same sort of thing will happen if your hand, arm, leg, or head is in the portal when the Gate is shut down; part of you stays on one planet while the other part comes back to Earth.

If you are thinking this was awfully gross for a kid to watch, no worries, my parents made sure I never saw the really disgusting stuff. This meant that I did not get to see much of the main alien antagonists for the series, either. These aliens were the snake like parasitic/symbiotic Gou’aould. They were intelligent and could not survive in their regular forms outside of water or some liquid like it. So to get aruond, they would highjack human bodies.

They did this often enough that they set themselves up as deities in Ancient Egypt – the deities all those Egyptologists and Ancient Aliens people like to rave about. According to the story, the Ancient Egyptians eventually rebelled against their Gou’aould controlled oppressors, who went off into the galaxy in search of greener pastures, continuing to play gods as they did.

Now, readers, we must fastforward to the time of the movie. In the film Kurt Russell plays Colonel Jack O’Neill and James Spader plays Daniel Jackson; these are the roles which Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks eventually took up. (And boy, in the early days, was Michael Shanks a ringer for young Spader!) I have never seen the film, but through the TV series I gather that Jack and Daniel, along with other Air Force soldiers, passed through Earth’s Stargate to a world called Abydos. On Abydos they found a civilization that was like a page out of an Egyptologist’s dream book – which is to say that Daniel loved it, because he was an Egyptologist.

While they were there, one of the Gou’aould, using a new host but the old name of Ra, dropped by to collect tribute from the Abydosians. Long story short, the SG team killed him, came back home minus a few members, and pretended that they had blown up Abydos and the gate before they came back. Daniel was supposed to have died in the conflagration with Ra, too, but this was a lie; he actually married one of the Abydosian girls and did not want to leave the planet, so the SG team left him behind to live happily ever after.

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Enter the TV series. In the first episode, a new Gou’aould, Apophis, visits Earth through the Stargate to see what can be seen. He picks up an Air Force officerette who was stupid enough to approach the device the Gou’aould threw through the Gate to see if Earth could support life. She did not last long, in case you were wondering, in Gou’aould land.

Well, Apophis’ arrival blows a big hole in the story Jack and his team told command about Abydos. So a new SG team, headed by Jack and including Samantha Carter, goes back to Abydos to ask Daniel’s help in figuring out Apophis’ identity – because who in the Air Force can tell one Ancient Egyptian inscription from another?

Well, Daniel’s been living happily with his wife, Sha’re, and the Abydosians for two years, but he has not been idle. He has deciphered a series of inscriptions in a place near the main Abydosian settlement, and he thinks there are a whole lot more Stargates out there. A whole galaxy full, to be exact.

But while Jack, Daniel, and Sam are out at this location, Apophis pops in to the main Abydosian camp and kidnaps several of the people there. This includes Sha’re and her younger brother Skaara, who is close to Jack. Our team Gates back to Earth, gets permission to go on a rescue mission, but arrives too late to save Sha’re from being made host to Apophis’ wife.

Daniel does not take this well, as you might imagine, and Jack does not take Skaara’s being turned into one of the “children of the gods” any better. But it looks like they may not have a choice about any of this when Apophis orders his guards, led by Teal’c, to do away with SG-1 and the other captives.

Only Teal’c has other ideas. Forced to serve the Gou’aould with all the other Jaffa, Teal’c is one of the few who knows the Gou’aould are false deities. But he and the others who know this are not in a prime position to do anything overt about it because the rest of their people are firmly under the Gou’aould’s thumbs. And since most of the other peoples in the galaxy that Teal’c has met are technologically inferior to the Guo’aould, he has not been able to defect to a stronger side to stop the false gods from doing what they are doing.

That is, he had not met anyone to whom he could defect until Jack, Daniel, and Sam showed up. Recognizing their technology to be superior to the other races’ – though not the Gou’aould’s – Teal’c decides the time is right to strike back at the slave masters who control his race. He frees SG-1 and the others in the room with them, but has nowhere to go after this until Jack tells him, “For this, you can stay at my place. Let’s go!”

Thus begin the epic adventures of Stargate One, SG-1 for short. This “army of four” manages to often single-handedly defeat the Gou’aould at every turn during the series, and it is a thrilling ride to run with them. They kind of lost me after Richard Dean Anderson left the show.   Seasons eight, nine, and ten also went a little weird…but it was still Stargate, and I could not find anything better that I liked at the time. I had to see the show through to the end, and I did, though I liked everything up to season seven or eight better than what I saw in season nine to ten.

One of the really appealing things about the series for me, early on, I think, was the fact that SG-1 was going up against false gods. Now, even at a young age, I loved history. I learned about Cortez and his march through Mexico, how he stopped the Aztecs’ bloody worship of stone idols and tore those stone statues down. I have since learned more details about the Aztecs’ sacrifices, and I can say with all certainty that the Spanish did us a favor by putting a stop to their murderous mayhem.

SG-1 reminded me of that a lot as a little child. Everyone around them believed that the Gou’aould were actual deities and, time after time, SG-1 would have to prove that the Gou’aould were anything but gods. It was a fun series with plenty of great sci-fi and character exploration, but one of the things I will never forget about the show is that it presented a group of modern “Conquistadors” who were not afraid to knock down idols others treated as divine and show them who the man behind the curtain really was.

If you are wondering if this is why I end up screaming at the History Channel and Ancient Aliens, you come close to the right answer. The fact is, all those theories the people on those shows have about Ancient Egypt have been thought of before – and I should know, because I saw them played out in Stargate SG-1. I do not need them repeated to me, and so when I hear someone waxing eloquent about these things, I cannot help getting a little…testy. That is why I usually avoid those shows. 😉

Well, readers, that is all I have for now. Other than to shamelessly plug the fact that El Rey is rerunning one of my favorite series, that is. If you have never seen Stargate SG-1, then this is your best chance to catch it on television. So what are you waiting for?! Dial up that Gate and go have an adventure!

Jaffa, kree!

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Book Review: The Witch World Trilogy by Andre Norton

About a year ago, maybe two, I covered Andre Norton’s famous first Witch World novels: Witch World and Web of the Witch World. As you may remember, those books detailed the arrival of Simon Tregarth to the Witch World from Earth. After several adventures in this new world, Simon married the Witch Jaelithe who, though she was cast out of the Witches’ Council, retained her Power after marrying him.

These next three tales, which are crucial to understanding the timeline and references in all future Witch World novels, continue their tale in a new form…

Three Against the Witch World

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Three Against the Witch World is set after the Kolder War, at the very end of the year. Told from the point of view of Kyllan Tregarth, he describes how his mother, Jaelithe, gave birth to triplets. This was astounding because no one in the Witch World had ever had more than two children at once. Not in recorded memory, at least; if it ever happened before, it is lost in the Witch World’s ancient history.

But the birth was difficult, leaving Jaelithe lethargic and nearly catatonic for an entire year. This nearly drove Simon mad, and his work on Estcarp’s border with Karsten came dangerously close to killing for killing’s sake. Only when Jaelithe recovered did he calm down.

And the children? There were three: Warrior, Sage, and Witch. Kyllan is the warrior. He reached for a sword hilt when he could only crawl. The first born, Kyllan is not prone to asking questions or thinking on ancient mysteries. He is a man made to face the present moment, the desperate hour of battle.

Kemoc, the second of the triplets, is the Sage, the one with all the questions. He pries into records, old knowledge, and wants to learn anything and everything. Kaththea, the third triplet, was born almost immediately after him, and so the two have always been closer to each other than to Kyllan. Though not displayed in her early life, Kaththea has the same gifts as her mother; she is the Witch.

With Karsten maintaining its aggressive stance toward Estcarp, Simon and Jaelithe have to spend almost all their time on the border. Thus they rarely interact with their own children, whom they leave in the keep of their old friend, Loyse of Verlaine, the wife of Koris of Gorm.

The children’s only real mother is Anghart, a Falconer woman who left her village after her own deformed son was killed. The Falconers cannot tolerate weakness of any kind in their ranks because of their harsh lifestyle as mercenaries. And so, like the Spartans of old, they traditionally dispense with any child that is crippled or somehow blemished – even by, say, a large red birthmark splattered across their face. So Anghart is cold and distant to all in the keep. Only the Tregarth triplets, whom she cares for as her own, know her true warmth and nature.

Anghart may be the only one, aside from Jaelithe, who perceives the special tie among the triplets: though three distinct people with their own strengths and weaknesses, the Tregarth heirs have a mental link that lets them meld into a cohesive whole. On instinct, they do not display this ability openly or use it often. It is private, for them alone…

But when Kaththea accidentally intercepts a message sent by a Witch to the Council, asking for aid, their bond activates in response to the urgency of the summons. Captured by Karsten raiders, the Witch called her Sisters for help, and Kaththea was in the line of communication. She and her brothers immediately used their special connection to find the Witch and then help the Borderers save her.

But in doing so they revealed Kaththea’s talent. The Witches do not care for men, and because Jaelithe had left the Council, they did not test her daughter to see if she had the Power. With this rescue of the Witch, however, Kaththea’s Power has been revealed to them. The Council demands the right to test her and, if she proves to have the Power, to take her as a novice who will someday become a full-fledged Witch.

Although they almost never spend much time with their children, the Tregarths are no less protective of their offspring than any other parents. They flatly tell the Council that Kaththea is off-limits and will not be tested. But the Council is patient, and when Simon goes missing two years later, Jaelithe chases after him once she has found his location with the help of their children’s Power.

Years later, despite their parents’ best attempts to guard them, while Kyllan and Kemoc are with the border guards, the Council strikes. Sensing Kaththea’s cry for help, her brothers take off immediately to protect her. It takes the two of them a couple of days to get to the keep, where they find Anghart, barely alive. She stood by her foster daughter to the last, throwing herself between Kaththea and the Witches. When she would not be persuaded to move, they tore her will to live from her with their Power. Though she has the will to live long enough to tell Kyllan and Kemoc what happened and to advise them on how to rescue their sister, she dies two days later.

And so the Tregarth brothers remain Borderers, protecting Estcarp from attacks committed against their nation by Karsten, biding their time until they can find a way to save their sister. In one of these skirmishes Kemoc’s sword hand is injured and he has to be sent to Lormt to recover. When he comes back, he tells Kyllan he has learned where their sister is and where the triplets may hide from the vengeance of the Witches: in the East.

Why is this so special? For all those in Estcarp save Simon and his three children, there is no East on the map. There is not even a recognition of the word in the minds of those Kemoc has asked about the East. It is as if something blocks them from traveling or even thinking in that geographical direction.

So the brothers rescue their sister from the Witches’ training grounds and take her East – where they upset many balances, meet new allies, and find bitter, monstrous foes…

Warlock of the Witch World

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The sequel to Three Against the Witch World, this novel is from Kemoc’s perspective. Living in the Valley of Green Silences with its people, his brother, and his sister, Kemoc leads raids against the evils that prowl the Eastern land known as Escore. Kyllan has married a high lady among the People of Green Silences – Dahaun – but Kemoc and Kaththea as yet have no such heart-ties.

Until a man named Dinzil arrives with his people to join in the Valley’s defense. Kaththea and he get along right from the get-go, and he is well known by reputation among the People of the Valley, not to mention well-liked for his charm.

The only one who cannot stand him is Kemoc. It is not that his sister, with whom he has always been close, is showing favor to the man. That bothers him, but not in the way you might think. The reason that it bothers him is that he instinctively dislikes Dinzil. He cannot find a reason for his aversion; he only knows that every time he gets close to the guy, he has to restrain the urge to grab for his sword. The fact that Kaththea and Kyllan do not have this problem, and that Kaththea is dazzled by Dinzil, only makes matters worse for the Sage.

Dahaun figures this much out through observation and asks Kemoc what his problem is. Kemoc admits that he does not want to speak ill of an ally, nor does he want to accuse a man without proof. He only knows that something about Dinzil feels wrong. He cannot say it any other way.

Unlike his siblings, Dahaun accepts Kemoc’s instinctive assessment of the man. She knows Dinzil’s reputation, knows that he has been vouched for by others as a servant of the Light. But she is not willing to dismiss the second Tregarth youth’s concerns out of hand. Instincts can be as good as knowledge or reason; sometimes, they can be even better than those. In this case, she thinks he may be right and promises to keep as close an eye on Dinzil as she can.

Later, Kemoc and one of the men in the Valley go to visit the Krogan, humans mutated centuries ago by Adepts in magic so that they can live in water, not to mention weave spells using it. The catch is that the Krogan cannot survive long out of water. If they travel too far away from any source of water, salt or fresh, they will die. Don’t bring ‘em to the desert. 😉

At the lake the Krogan call home, Kemoc meets Orsya, one of the Krogan women. Later on, the Krogan emissary states that his people wish to remain neutral. Though of the Light and not allied with Darkness, they are tired of war and just want to be left alone.

Kemoc and his guide/commander leave the lake peacefully. But on the return journey, Kemoc is separated from his friend by a flood. It is not a natural flood, either; Kemoc feels as though this flood was conjured up by something or someone of the Dark. He gets back to the Valley eventually – only to learn that Kaththea, distraught at his disappearance and her inability to find him by mind touch, has gone with Dinzil to use that man’s “means” to locate him.

Though no one else is worried, Kemoc sets out almost at once to find her.   His every instinct is screaming that this was a trap set for his sister, and he has to find her before she is killed. Or worse….

Sorceress of the Witch World

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The final book in this trilogy of Witch World novels is from Kaththea’s point of view. After the events of Warlock of the Witch World, Kaththea was left in a childish, not-quite amnesiac state of mind. She has had to relearn everything, and her memory has come back slowly. Soon, though, the only things she does not truly remember are what she did while she was with Dinzil.

Nevertheless, her dabbling and subsequent mind wipe have left her open to the wills of the Dark things that roam Escore. Finally, she can stand the nightmares no longer. She decides to go back to Estcarp to find a surviving Witch to retrain her in the use of her Power.

The plan goes awry, though, when an avalanche separates her from her brothers in the mountain pass that leads back to Estcarp. Alone and unable to contact her brothers due to her weakened mind bond with them, she can only hope that they are still alive and that she will be able to return to them and the Valley.

That idea seems destined to die when a primitive man finds her and takes her back to his tribe – which turns out to have an old, old, old Witch guiding it around Escore’s myriad dangers.

Although she does not like being in this tribe or her separation from her brothers, Kaththea instantly recognizes that this Witch can help her regain control of her Power. This arrangement works well enough – until the old woman appoints Kaththea her replacement in the tribe’s society, seconds before she topples over dead!

Trapped with a tribe she does not want to lead, Kaththea slowly breaks free of the spell holding her to these people. When her attempt to safely guide the tribe ends in a massacre, Kaththea escapes, with only her most bitter enemy for company as she searches for a way back to the Valley.

The search is hampered not simply by those who are hunting the two women, but also by the magnetic pull of magic coming from an abandoned Adept’s castle. Unable to resist the pull, Kaththea and the other woman enter the castle and pass through a gate into another world –

It is through these events that Kaththea becomes the Sorceress of the Witch World.

Wow, that was a longer post than I had intended to write. Whew, I did not realize how much I would have to say to whet your appetites, readers! I think I will sign off now and let you look up these books yourselves. ‘Till next time!

Book Review: Forerunner Foray by Andre Norton

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And we are back in one of Andre Norton’s amazing stories, readers! Today’s title is one of her space novels, Forerunner Foray. This story focuses on a girl with the talent of psychometry.   For those of you who do not know, psychometry is the ability of someone with extrasensory abilities to see the history of any object they touch. The “sniffers” in the film Push are psychometrics. They touch an object, handle it, and can tell who used it before they picked it up. There are other characters in other stories that can do the same thing. Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos, for example, was a psychometric. This was not through any special skill of his in the Force but due to an inherent ability in his humanoid species.

Parapsychology and telepathy are standbys of Andre Norton novels, which you probably know by now, readers. Forerunner Foray is set in the far future, on a world called Korwar. A pleasure world, the wealthy come here to play, while the poor live in a place amid the splendor called the Dipple.

The Dipple began life as a “temporary” refuge for people fleeing some sort of war – or series of wars – in the galaxy. Gradually it turned into a permanent camp of poor people. It is a little like the Undercity on Taris in the Knights of the Old Republic game. If you are sent down there, you stay there, unless you are only visiting. No one born in the Dipple ever gets out on their own, either.

Ziantha was lucky. Her telepathic talent and psychometric ability attracted the attention of one of the highest members of the Thieves’ Guild: Yasa, a feline/humanoid Salarika. Yasa plucked Ziantha out of the Dipple and had her taught everything she needed to know to become a skilled thief. Because of this and the oath Ziantha took to become part of the Guild, Yasa as good as owns her.

At first, though, Ziantha does not really seem to mind this. Especially as she goes on her first major “foray” into the apartments of a member of the Guild who was kicked off-world. Yasa wants some information from the data cubes this guy keeps in his treasure rooms. What is the safest way to get the information without his knowledge? Psychometric readings.

So Ziantha is sent to retrieve the information on these cubes. She gets in safely, finds the cubes, “downloads”’ the information from them into her mind, and heads out…

Only to stop by a table filled with, presumably, other valuable artifacts. I say presumably because the one which has caught Ziantha’s mental eye is a nondescript lump of clay or stone. Whatever this thing is, it is dragging her attention toward it.

Ziantha reaches out to touch it, then snatches her hand back. These apartments and rooms are the property of a head honcho in the Thieves’ Guild. Just because the government caught him in illegal dealings and kicked him off of Korwar does not mean the booby traps littering his residence have been deactivated. If she so much as touches that object, she could set off an alarm.

And so Ziantha does not pick the object up as she desires. She instead escapes back to Yasa’s villa and delivers the information safely. The mission is so successful that Yasa promises Ziantha whatever she wants as a reward. While considering this in her rooms, Ziantha realizes that what she really wants is that lump of clay.

So she goes back to get it – and the adventure begins.

Forerunner Foray is a complicated story. You have to follow Ziantha carefully or you will get lost as her adventures take her out of herself and, perhaps, even out of time. During the course of her adventures, she learns what she is really made of – and what it means to be free.

That’s all you will be getting out of me, people! If you want to know more, then you will have to go on your own “foray” to find a copy of this novel to peruse at your leisure. This is as far as I am taking you. Happy hunting!

Book Review – The Time Traders: Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin

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If the names Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin look good together, then that is because these authors collaborated several times on novels set in Andre Norton’s universes. From the Witch World to the Time Traders, P. M. Griffin co-wrote a number of stories with Miss Norton. To the best of my knowledge, the only books she has written on her own are her Star Commandos series. I have not been able to read any of those yet, but hopefully I will get that chance in the future.

Firehand is a novel set in Miss Norton’s Time Traders series. Now, I have not read the series all the way through. Heck, I have not even read the first book in the series! Firehand was my introduction to it.

From what I can gather, the Time Traders are units of time-traveling Terran agents who work to ensure that history either remains the same or yields better results than it did previously. But they are not doing this for economic gain. That is, at best, a side benefit. No, the Time Traders’ main mission is to protect the Terran timeline and the histories of its allies/potential allies from the interference of strange aliens called Baldies.

Baldies get their Terran nickname from their bald heads. None of these aliens have tried to be friendly or to make first contact with the Terrans. Mostly, they have either tried to eradicate them or to control them.

Ross Murdock, the young time agent, encountered these aliens in Earth’s Bronze Age on his first time-trading mission. The Baldies, powerful telepaths, at one point were working hard to take control of his mind and bend him to their will. Running for his life, Murdock could not afford to sleep. Sleep would mean his conscious mind was relaxed, which would mean he could not maintain control of himself. So the Baldies could have him sleepwalk all the way back to their camp or into a river where he would drown, and he would be none the wiser until it was too late.

So Murdock kept moving, becoming more and more exhausted as he fled the aliens. Exhaustion, of course, is a threat as well; the more he tired, the more likely he would fall unconscious or collapse into sleep. This would leave him vulnerable to the Baldies’ telepathy as well.

Ross is not a man who submits to domination willingly. In order to stave off sleep and keep the Baldies out of his mind when he rested, he set a fire. Then he put a brand in the fire, took it out, and burned his own hand with it.

That was at the start of his career as a Time Agent. By the time of Firehand, he has been on at least a couple of other missions, gaining more experience and getting tougher by the day.

This latest assignment to the planet Hawaika, though, looks to be his last. With fellow agents Doctor Gordon Ashe and Karara Trehern, Ross had to destroy the time gate to save Hawaika’s future. Now, they are all trapped in Hawaika’s past.

Not that Karara is too unhappy about that. Melding with ancient Hawaikan magic before the final battle, Karara has become something other than human. To leave Hawaika now would be a death sentence for her. But to stay would be equally bad for Gordon and Ross.

Thankfully, the Time Traders have no intention of leaving their highly trained, very expensive agents stuck in the past. Karara they have to leave behind in time for the new history to remain the same; but Ross and Gordon are coming home…

….To face yet another historical crisis. This time, the world they have to save is the Dominion of the Sun-Star Virgin. When they saved Hawaika, something went wrong in the Dominion’s past. Now that world is reduced to a glowing cinder.

So Ross, Gordon, and former Time Trader weapons instructor Eveleen Riordan are going back to Dominion’s past to fix this mess.

And that’s all I am writing, fellas. If you want to know the rest, hunt up the Time Traders series or skip straight to Firehand. As I have said elsewhere, Miss Griffin is a superb writer. Her work on Firehand is not necessarily of the same caliber as her work on Seakeep and Falcon’s Hope from Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance, respectively. In fact, if you are paying attention you will see some similarities between those stories and Firehand.

However, the similarities do not cause too much of a problem for me. If anything, they just show the writer’s preferences. Every writer has some favorite plots, names, animals, character types, or worlds, etc. Who am I to jump all over P. M. Griffin for being normal?

In a while, Crocodile!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Tales of the Witch World by Andre Norton

Here is that next Andre Norton book I promised to review some time ago.  This book is not entirely Miss Norton’s creation. It is an anthology book, which contains several short stories set in Miss Norton’s Witch World universe.

Miss Norton only wrote one story in the whole volume. The others were written by her protégés, authors she helped to get noticed and published by the companies who published her work. It is a long list of authors she helped to get started, readers.

If you are not familiar with the Witch World, you can check out a couple of my other posts about that universe here on the blog. But the Witch World is wide and varied, and those last two posts are just glimpses of a bigger world. Some of these stories will not make much sense if you have only read Witch World and Web of the Witch World.

So this is why I am going to list which stories in Tales of the Witch World are good, and which you may want to avoid. To start with the negatives first, it would be best to avoid Heir Apparent, Cat and the Other, To Rebuild the Eyrie, Milk from a Maiden’s Breast, and Green in High Hallack. None of these stories are particularly well written, in my opinion, and some of them do not fit properly with the rules Miss Norton’s established for her world.

Heir Apparent is told from the villain’s perspective, and so I found it very annoying. Cat and the Other played fast and loose with the rules of Estcarpian society, the niceties, as it were. The honorifics were sloppy and insincere sounding. This makes it grate on my nerves, and so I do not recommend it at all. To Rebuild the Eyrie, which focuses on a young Falconer trying to reestablish his people’s base in the twisted southern mountains, was so poorly written that I did not even finish reading it.

Milk from a Maiden’s Breast I managed to stagger through, though again, I found the author had almost ignored the rules of the Witch World. Green in High Hallack was almost unbearable for me to read for the same reasons. It was also poorly written, which increased my aggravation with both story and author. *Deep sigh.*

These are the stories in the book that I avoid and therefore do not recommend be read. What you wish to read or not read, however, is for you to decide. The only reason I have gone to the trouble of listing the stories which drive me crazy is because I cannot, in good conscience, recommend stories I hate. If you like them, that is your prerogative. My imperative is simply to be as honest as possible when I give my opinions.

On the positive side, I enjoyed most of the other stories. A few of these came dangerously close to breaking Miss Norton’s format, but they were well written and therefore managed to avoid irritating me too much.

The first story in the book is by Andre Norton herself. This one is called Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir, and it is an introduction to the story of Kerovan, a character who lives in High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. Kerovan’s stories usually involve gryphons; one of the books that feature him and his wife is called Gryphon’s Eyrie. I have only read that one story which was based on him and his wife, and so I do not know much about him. Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir fills in some of the blanks for me, but I have much more to find out about him yet.

Then we have Fenneca and Bloodspell. Both these stories also take place in High Hallack, I think. Fenneca may actually take place in Estcarp; the location is never exactly stated. Fenneca breaks a few rules, but it is written well. I am therefore willing to forgive Wilanne Schneider Belden and to recommend that Fenneca be read.

Bloodspell was written by A. C. Crispin. Crispin co-wrote several novels with Miss Norton, and then went on to write a few Star Wars novels. Bloodspell takes place in Arvon, a state in High Hallack which is beyond the Dales. In Year of the Unicorn, it was implied that no one in High Hallack could enter Arvon except through luck or the gates which connect the Witch World to Earth. Bloodspell does not break this rule, but another story later on in the book does.

Crispin’s short story focuses on the Were-riders. Men who were bespelled by an Adept so that they can shape shift into animals, the Were-riders call themselves a Pack. We learn about them first in Miss Norton’s Year of the Unicorn, a very good book I will someday review here. For now, it is enough to say that Crispin wondered why the Were-riders were kicked out of Arvon into the Dales of High Hallack. Miss Norton said she did not know why, and this allowed Crispin to give us the reason in Bloodspell.

Next is The White Road, by Charles de Lint. This story is set in High Hallack immediately after that country has been freed from the Hounds of Alizon. It is fairly well written and takes little liberty with the established rules of Miss Norton’s Witch World. I would give it four out of five stars, if pressed to rate it.

Then there is Oath-Bound, by Pauline Griffin. After Miss Norton, Miss Griffin is the one writer I would trust to successfully tell a story about a Falconer. This story seems to have preceded Seakeep and its sequel; Miss Griffin’s writing here is good, but by her later stories in Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance her writing had greatly improved. I rate Oath-Bound as a somewhat lesser story for this reason, and no other.

Of Ancient Swords and Evil Mist and Nine Words in Winter follow. These stories skate close to breaking Miss Norton’s established laws in the Witch World, as well as the history she had formed around the countries where they take place. However, their writers knew their craft, and so the stories do not truly grate on this reader’s nerves.

Were-Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey, is a very good story. Truth be told, I cannot stand Miss Lackey’s novels (she co-wrote novels with Miss Norton). The woman puts a great deal of detail in her novels – too much detail. She has to explain the whole universe, all the scenes, characters, customs, and clothing in great specificity. This means her novels suffer from a burden of too much description and not enough story. What is more, the resolutions of her novel conflicts are often anti-climatic and unfulfilling. As a novelist, she drives me crazy.

But as a short story writer, she is not so very bad. Were-Hunter is a good example of this. The story is set in Arvon, as a sequel to Year of the Unicorn. Miss Lackey’s handicaps are assets here, and Were-Hunter is one of the stories in Tales of the Witch World that I like best. I do not understand how I can enjoy her short stories and hate her novels, but I do.

Then we have Neither Rest Nor Refuge. This story is set in Karsten at the time when the Old Race was thrice horned, or outlawed, and killed by Duke Yvian in Witch World. It is written well enough that it garners my appreciation for that reason. It also introduces a male character native to Estcarp who can wield the Power. The ending is a cliffhanger, so do not expect too much from it. Still, it is a passable story.

Next are Night Hound’s Moon and Isle of Illusion. Night Hound’s Moon is set in the Dales of High Hallack. It takes place either some time after the end of the war with Alizon, or during a lull in the conflict. Other than that, it is an entertaining story. Isle of Illusion does not adhere very well to Miss Norton’s rules for magic, in my opinion, but it is otherwise well-crafted and the writer knows her business. I do not know just where in the Witch World that Isle of Illusion is set. Seemingly, it is off the coast of High Hallack, but I cannot say for sure.

And last we have The Road of Dreams and Death. Robert E. Vardeman writes well, but I think he should have read a few more of Miss Norton’s Witch World novels before diving into this tale. In The Road of Dreams and Death, the barrier between Arvon and the rest of High Hallack is non-existent, when by rights it should still be there. This is the one thing about the story I do not understand and which rankles when I read it. Otherwise, it is an acceptable yarn.

These are the stories you will find if you pick up Tales of the Witch World, readers. You may like the stories I hate and hate the stories I like. Or you may dislike the whole thing. That is your choice. The stories I have described in some detail are the ones I enjoyed the best and wanted to share with you. If any of you wish to drop me a line disagreeing or discussing the above book, I would certainly enjoy hearing from you! For now…

See ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Spotlight: Strong Women – A Return to the Question

Image result for the walking drum

We had met as equals, rarely a good thing in such matters, for the woman who wishes to be the equal of a man usually turns out to be less than a man and less than a woman.  A woman is herself, which is something altogether different than a man. – (Emphasis added.)

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This quote is from The Walking Drum, written by Louis L’Amour.  While Mr. L’Amour is best known for his Western fiction, the truth is that he wrote a great many other stories as well.  He served in World War II and “yondered” much of his early life.  He was many things and he saw many things.  The Walking Drum is a novel he wrote – and it is set in the twelfth century.

Why start a post off with this quote?  Because it is a timely admonition.  A woman ends up being less than herself when she is trying to be something she is not.  And yet we have no end of “experts” proclaiming that women are equal to men.  It makes the observant wonder just what they are selling.

The research I did for the post “Offended, Insulted, and Not Shutting Up” is what got this article rolling.  And before anyone asks, no, I have not shifted my position on Marvel’s decision to make Jane Foster the latest version of “Thor.”  It is a stupid decision which they will soon learn is not helping them.

My research into the opinions of others regarding “Thorette” allowed me to find comments and articles that expressed what I have thought for some years.  They were not all as delicate in their statements as I would have been but, to borrow a line from Mr. Spock and the Vulcans, that is part of the wonder of living in a world of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.”  With this research tumbling around in my head, I began to think not only about “Thorette” but about what the intelligentsia says we are to praise in the female characters being created these days.

This brings us back to the question I asked in the previous “Strong Women” post.  Just what makes a strong woman?  Looking at “Thorette,” it seems safe to say that many writers and artists think a woman is only strong when she has an above-normal muscle structure.  This sort of physique also happens to look good in some form of armor-plated swimsuit or underwear, which conveniently guarantees a male audience of some size.  (These are probably not the guys a girl should accept the offer of a date from, by the way.)

Being a curious observer, I have a question to ask the writers and artists at Marvel and elsewhere.  Do they know how many female fans Carol Danvers has?  Do they know how many women are in Thundra and “Thorette’s” fan clubs?  Has anyone taken a poll of female Marvel fans to ask them what they think of these characters – not to mention what they think of all the other heroines on Marvel’s roster?

If Marvel were to poll its female fans, I believe that they may get answers like mine.  For instance:  I have never liked or admired Carol Danvers.  And I cannot seriously contemplate Thundra, a character from an alternate dimension where women are the dominant sex, without stifling the reflexive urge to throw up.  She has to be one of the few characters Marvel has created which I find utterly repulsive.  I know and prefer her only as a convenient villainess.

My opinion of Jane Foster/“Thorette” is well documented.  Jane Foster has been warped and nearly destroyed as Marvel’s writers, editors, managers, et al attempt to gain fashion and political points from her “new look.”  But what they fail to comprehend – or perhaps to admit – is that she looks horrible!

Now, does everyone feel this way about these characters?  Hardly.  But in my humble view, these female characters do not appeal enough to be worth any kind of money.  Judging by “Thorette’s” anemic reception and the letters Marvel received about Carol Danvers years ago, I do not think I am that alone in disliking them.

What kind of female characters, then, impress me?  Allow me to pull out another quote from Mr. L’Amour to illustrate my answer:

 

 Image result for chancy by louis l'amour

A man you can figure on; a woman you can’t.  They’re likely either to faint, or grab for a gun, regardless of consequences. – from Chancy

 The Cherokee Trail

These are the kind of women who fascinate me, and whom I wish to emulate.  Remember, fainting can easily be faked.  How is a man to know a real faint from a false one without putting himself in danger?  Louis L’Amour’s female characters are like this.  They are iron-willed women who have bones of steel.  They can handle a pistol, a rifle, or they can use some other object as a weapon.

You will not find any of L’Amour’s female characters holding up stages, taming broncos, or riding the range as cowgirls, it is true.  But you will find women in his stories that are leading cattle drives, managing ranches, and defending their homes from Indians or bandits.  And plenty of his women are quite happy to back up their men in a fight by holding a shotgun on the group of ruffians looking to make trouble.  The women in L’Amour’s novels of seafaring and in his football stories are no different.  Admittedly they do not carry guns in the vicinity of a football game, but they are just as determined and forceful as the frontier women who were their ancestors, in spirit if not in fact.

What does all of this have to do with Marvel?  The comic book company already has a Rolodex of formidable heroines.  To name a few, there is the Wasp, the Black Widow, Mockingbird, Wanda Maximoff, Silverclaw, Jean Grey, Rogue, Storm, the Invisible Woman….  The post “Offended, Insulted, and Not Shutting Up” has a more comprehensive list, if you would like to learn of more heroines in Marvel’s Universe(s).

The fact is these women can all hold their own in a fight.  Yes, these characters have an extra asset of some kind during combat.  Mockingbird and Black Widow have extensive hand-to-hand combat training, while Storm, Rogue, and Jean Grey have mutant powers.  Many other female characters within the Marvel brand also have superpowers.  But a pistol or a rifle is an asset, too, and no frontier woman who wanted to survive would shun either weapon because it was not natural to her.  It was often the only thing standing between her and harm – or death.  You respect that kind of tool; you do not toss it aside.

So do any of these Marvelous assets cheapen who these women are as characters?  No, they do not.  Nor do they enhance their characters; they are simply stand-ins for the rifles, pistols, or the various weapons women have used throughout the centuries.  Sometimes they are even extensions of the abilities women have always had:  intelligence, mental agility, and outright strength of will.

As a result one never knows just what any of these heroines are going to do in a given crisis.  One can never know just how they are going to play the game, how they are going to react to the villain’s bait.  They may play on his arrogance or they may pretend to be simpering, frightened damsels.  Whatever they do it is bound to be interesting and exciting, for the simple reason that it has the potential to be totally unexpected.

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Carol Danvers or Thundra, in comparison, can always be counted on to hammer at a problem until it goes away.  Why is this so?  It is so because they are women who are less than women.  The writers have decided to make them something they are not.  As a result, they have personalities that are as stilted as a puppet’s limbs, making them very uninteresting.

The other heroines do not have this built-in handicap.  They are women who are not afraid of being women.  This means that they do not think like the men around them.  This gives them their edge in a battle.  It is not their superpowers, skills, or weapons.  It is who they are as people, as women.

When these heroines are safely captured, they are often deemed by the villains as no longer a threat because they cannot use their powers, kung fu, or technology.  With Danvers or Thundra this is usually a true assessment.  They are not used to thinking outside the box – or thinking much at all, from what I have seen.  In a pitched battle they simply react.  This makes them relatively easy for their opponents to overcome or dispatch.

Many of Marvel’s other heroines, however, never stop thinking.  They are always watching, listening, assessing, and working out a plan of some sort.  If the only possible plan they can make is to wait for back up, then that is what they have to do.  Their male counterparts have experienced similar crises, though you will not hear these mentioned by very many critics.  If they could survive the wait and not be diminished by it, then why can’t their female counterparts?

From Marvel to DC, from Star Trek to Andre Norton’s Witch World series, from Star Wars to Howl’s Moving Castle and its sequels, there is no end of proof that women can be as bold and brave as the men in their lives – and they can be as bold without compromising their womanhood.

This is what modern writers, filmmakers, and artists no longer consider.  In fact they are actively running away from this truth because it has become passé to portray a woman as she actually is.  Instead a fictional heroine must be displayed as something other than a woman.  You go to the theaters to see the latest films and most of the women in these movies have no problem cutting off men’s heads or disemboweling them.  Not only do they have no physical problem doing it, which many of them should, but they also have no moral qualms about doing it.

Image result for wonder woman filmThe Wonder Woman movie out next year promises to be a case in point.  I was once a big fan of Wonder Woman.  This was not because of her strength or because of her Lasso of Truth.  No, I liked her because of these things and the fact that she was still a woman.  Throughout her adventures with the JLA, Diana learned to respect and like her male teammates, to appreciate their abilities and welcome them as friends.  Later series even had her dating Batman!

But recent rewrites by DC Comics have turned Wonder Woman into a bloodthirsty man-hater.  It is true that in the coming film she is going to fall in love with Steve Trevor (portrayed by Chris Pine).  While she is doing that, though, she will also be happily carving men to pieces and telling women that being secretaries is the equivalent of slavery.  You would think she came from an alternate universe and not an island inhabited by Greek warrior women.

All of this detracts from the real power of women.  By portraying a woman as what she is not, these writers and artists are not elevating women.  They are demeaning and demoting them.

The fictional heroine who easily encapsulates what a real warrior woman can and should be is Éowyn of Rohan from The Lord of the Rings.  Secretly joining the Rohirrim’s army as it marches to battle in Gondor, she is the one who defeats the Witch-king, the leader of the Nine Ringwraiths or Názgul.  Merry, taken into Gondor by her when she wore the guise of a male Rider, helps her with a well-placed sword-thrust.  But it is Éowyn who ultimately strikes the fatal blow and wins a great victory in the glorious Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Still, many Feminists go into apoplectic fits over Éowyn’s role in The Lord of the Rings novels despite her amazing display of courage and fighting skill.  Why?  They do this because Éowyn leaves war behind forever when she decides to accept Faramir’s proposal of marriage after recovering from her battle with the Witch-king.  That particular passage reads thus:

Image result for eowyn battle of pelennor fields

Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.

‘I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,’ she said; ‘and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’

Image result for eowyn and faramirThe thing Feminists do not understand – or the thing which they absolutely refuse to accept – is that Éowyn’s triumph in battle does not define her.  She did an amazing, wonderful thing, which most other people could never accomplish.  Her decision to marry Faramir does not render her defeat of the Witch-king any less; rather, her decision to marry is the reward she earned in that fight.

Éowyn’s part in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields does not define her identity, and most Feminists want that stereotype to define and limit her.  This is most of Éowyn’s own problem in the trilogy until she falls in love with Faramir.  Up to that point, she believes that battle will give her satisfaction.  Poisoned along with Théoden by Wormtongue’s whisperings, in her confusion and slow descent into despair Éowyn decides that only death in battle will give her a chance at glory and renown.

Now, readers, the fact is that death is not a fulfillment of life.  It is the end of life, and if you ally yourself with death, you are allying yourself with the Enemy.

In Minas Tirith – originally named Minas Anor or ‘Tower of the Sun’ – Éowyn finally comes to see that battle is not where she can be most useful when she is at last confronted by Faramir’s genuine love for her.  Being a warrior is not her calling, although she can certainly wield a sword as well as any man.  Her vocation in life is being a woman, a wife, and eventually a mother.

Through Éowyn the author of the trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, demonstrates that a woman is not made by her fighting ability.  She is distinguished by her will, her womanhood and – if she is lucky – by her motherhood.  “For the hand that rocks the cradle is that hand that rules the world.”  Mothers shape their children, daughters and sons both.  These daughters and sons will grow up to change the world through the things they do, the things they create, and the children they bring into the universe.

Modern media has largely forsaken this understanding of womanhood at the behest of the Hegelian/Nietzschean complex, the modern incarnation of Sauron.  There has been a war going on for the past century or three which most have not paid heed to.  This has led to nothing but a lot of pain for women, who have been persuaded as a group to throw away the knowledge that they once possessed. Their honor is their womanhood and it is our societal honor to know them as such.

Mockingbird

This is why I have taken issue with Jane Foster’s identity change, not to mention the identity change of several other formerly male characters.  This is why I have written two posts on strong women.  It is an attempt to remind women of what we truly are and what we can actually achieve.  For when women stop valuing themselves as women, society stops valuing them as well, and then that society sooner rather than later treats them like chattel.

ISIS does this on a daily basis.  Slave traders and sex traffickers rely on such attitudes to do “business.”  The shout of “I am Woman, hear me roar!” has led to nothing but pain and sorrow for millions of women.  They have chosen to debase themselves.  This means they are no longer worthy of special respect and value to men.  For if women do not value themselves as women, as potential wives and mothers, then why should men?

Does all this mean that a woman cannot fight?  Pshaw.  Éowyn fought, did she not?  It is not possible that she forgot how to swing a sword after marrying Faramir.  She simply did not make a living fighting – and for the record, neither did he!  The heroines of Marvel Comics fight; the women in Star Trek and Star Wars fight.  The will to fight is the influential factor.  Just ask the mothers and wives who grabbed a gun to help defend against Indian raids or bandits back in the Old West!  Or those that defend themselves and their families similarly today.

But if a woman wants to make a career as a warrior, she cannot try and be the equal of the men.  This can never be, for the simple fact that no amount of human interference – psychological or scientific – can overwrite what she is.  And if a woman decides she wishes to be a “shieldmaiden,” then she had better be prepared for what could happen to her on the field of battle.  Torture, the loss of life and limb, rape – these are just some of the risks which I can see ahead of a female soldier.  An enemy who does not value life – and there are many of those today – can be abominably creative in the management of prisoners.  Just ask Dean Koontz.

Han and Leia

Does all this mean that I believe a woman should not be prepared to fight?  Civilization is a very, very fragile construction.  One small thing goes out of whack and entire nations fall to their knees.  Women definitely need to know how to defend themselves.  They have always needed to know this.

But what women need to relearn is that it is not battle which will define them.  Battle does not define a man, so how can it define a woman?  A man or a woman is defined by who and what they are.  A man is defined by his manhood, a woman by her womanhood.  That is all there is to it.

This is not weakness.  It is not slavery.  Knowing who and what you are is not a defect; it is a strength.  Being proud of being a man or a woman is what gives one the will to fight, to protect oneself from those who do not appreciate you for who and what you are.  Muscles, weapons, skills – these are the tools.  They are not the determining factors.  We, men and women, are the weapons.

Until writers at Marvel, DC, Star Trek, and elsewhere figure that out, though, we will have to endure continuous watered-down portrayals of heroines in many stories.  Until these “artists” ask themselves, “What really makes a strong woman?”, they will continue coming up with the wrong answers.

Readers, I will give Mr. L’Amour the last word on this subject:

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She’ll stand to it.  There’s a likely craft, lad, and one to sail any sea.  You can see it in the clear eyes of her and the way she carries her head.  Give me always a woman with pride, and pride of being a woman.  She’s such a one. – from The Warrior’s Path

Amen, readers.  Amen!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Beast Master by Andre Norton

ANDRE NORTON ORG: Coverart Gallery!

The last book of Miss Norton’s reviewed here was Star Guard. Though I have plans to soon revisit the Witch World universe she created, we are not going there just yet. Our next stop, however, is almost as colorful. Allow me to introduce you, readers, to the world of Beast Master.

No, I am not talking about the TV show of the same name. While I enjoyed that series, I cannot help but wonder how it ended up sharing the same or a similar name with the book. There are no likenesses between the two stories.

At the beginning of Miss Norton’s novel, we learn that Earth – Terra – has been turned into a radioactive blue ball by an invading species called the Xiks. The Xiks are not human, though they are relatively humanoid. The first Beast Master novel does not go into great detail about what the Xiks look like.

Everyone on Terra is dead. Everything on Terra is dead. And at the Separation Center of the Confederacy, human colonists from other worlds have to deal with veterans of a world that is just plain gone. Many of the Terran veterans of the Xik war have lost their minds to grief because of the destruction of their world. These veterans either attack those who are trying to help them or they turn their weapons on themselves. Not a pretty picture, to be sure.

A Commander at the center is dealing with one such veteran’s case right now. Hosteen Storm, a Galactic Commando, is asking to leave the Center for the colony world of Arzor. He is a calm, cool, Amerindian man. Unlike many of the people at the Center, the psych-medics have been unable to find any sign of mental instability in him.

Maybe this is because he is one of the few Beast Masters. Beast Masters, once used to survey new planets for possible colonization, were reconverted into commandos for the war. Their bonds with teams of animals meant they could scout out danger faster than unaided humans in the Survey Department. During the war, their animals helped them track down enemy bases, sabotage enemy equipment and camps, and the Xiks were never able to face down the animals very well in personal combat.

To all appearances, Hosteen Storm seems completely healthy. Remarkable for a Terran veteran, true, but otherwise he seems to be nothing special.

Yet the Commander at the Center is reluctant to let the Beast Master go. Something about the young man is off. Oh, he answered the psychologists properly, and he has helped them handle the other, more unstable veterans who are mourning Terra’s destruction. But there remains something about him – a danger the Commander cannot put his finger on and which he cannot name. He only knows that he would rather not let the Commando leave the base.

However, he also has no precedent or excuse to keep him at the Center. Reluctantly, he gives Storm his papers. The Terran veteran accepts them, then leaves to pack his things and pick up his team.

Storm’s fascinating team consists of Baku, the female African Black Eagle; Ho and Hing, a mated pair of meerkats, and Surra. Surra’s ancestors were the small, fox-faced and eared dune cats. But they were bred successively with bigger and bigger cats over the years. So now, though Surra retains the distinctive fox-face and ears, along with the desert treading paws, she is the size of a cougar. Of the four animals on the team, she is the unquestioned empress.

 

ANDRE NORTON ORG: Coverart Gallery!

Storm, one of the Dineh, the Navajo, has a reason for picking Arzor as his next stop. Not only is the planet the most like his native Southwest U.S.A., it is the home of an old enemy. The Commander’s instincts are right. Storm is not yet done riding the war trail. He has a score to settle on Arzor, though he has never met the man he wants to kill.

Once on Arzor, a planet which is pretty nearly the equivalent of the Southwest in terms of culture and land (though the sky has a mauve tint), Storm hooks up with a man named Put Larkin. Larkin is hiring riders for a drive to his range. He has a herd of horses he has to get home quickly. Storm’s Terran heritage causes a pause, but when the young Beast Master spectacularly tames an untrained horse, Larkin happily hires him on the spot.

On the trail, Storm makes an enemy of a fellow driver named Coll Bister. Bister gives the impression of a bigoted, swaggering, boastful man. But later events cast doubt on this idea. He is too cautious, and his hatred of Storm too deep. A blustering fool might take a dislike to a newcomer, but only upon having his fanny handed to him in a fight will he hate a man. Bister, however, hates Storm even before the other knocks him to the ground.

To add to this, Storm keeps hearing about some sort of trouble between the human settlers and the natives. Terrans and humans from other worlds usually avoid settling on planets with native populations. But the first settlers on Arzor came when space travel was still touch-and-go. They landed and found that – whoops – there was already a sentient species on Arzor.

These aliens – called Norbies – are roughly seven feet tall with white horns on their heads. Green skinned and very slender, the Norbies’ vocal chords are constructed in a way that prevents them from speaking human languages. In a twist of fate, no human can speak their whistling, chattering tongue either. Instead, they communicate with humans through a form of sign language, called “finger talk” in the novel.

To avoid the friction American settlers and Indians in the West encountered, the human settlers made strictly enforced pacts of friendship with most of the Norbie tribes. They may pass through Norbie territory while driving their herds, and the Norbies are happy to trade with them for horses, meat, or other things. Ranchers will hire Norbies as workers on their ranges, and the Norbies are good at tracking lost animals. Otherwise, though, a human cannot enter or hunt Norbie land without the Norbies’ direct say-so. There are outlaws who use the territory, certainly, but both the settlers and the Norbies dislike them.

The system between the two species does not please everyone on both sides, but by and large it seems most settlers and Norbies appreciate and like each other. This makes the determined, bigoted hatred of Bister and some other settlers out of character. These guys believe that recent losses in frawn and horse herds can be blamed on the Norbies. Most other ranchers do not buy this story, but that does not mean these hot-blooded men may not go off and do something stupid. If the balance between the Norbies and human settlers is upset, it will mean all out war. And primitive people do not do well when they war with more advanced peoples.

Storm, determined to pay his debt, does not want to get involved in this brewing fight. His mission is made even more complicated when he encounters his quarry during a night in town. Storm was expecting a man he could hate. Instead, he has found a man he can respect and could even like, if his blood-debt were not in the way.

Over the course of the book, however, both Storm and his quarry are drawn into the conflict between the Norbies and Settlers. Storm runs into successively greater and deadlier surprises along the way. Just because Terra is a blue ball of radioactivity does not mean the Xiks are willing to leave humanity alone. Their hatred runs too deep, though no human has any idea why the Xiks hate them. Attempts at reconciliation between the two species always ended badly for the humans involved.

Does Storm do what he came to Arzor to accomplish, you ask? You will have to read the book to learn that, readers! I have spoiled a large part of the story as things stand now. If I say any more, you will not need to read the book. And I want you to at least try it. Hopefully, you will enjoy it. And if it makes you a fan of Andre Norton’s writings, then so much the better!

See you around!

The Mithril Guardian

Andre Norton with her World Fantasy Award
Andre Norton