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Book Review: Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton

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On and off over the last few years this blogger has hoped to write a review of Andre Norton’s Three Hands for Scorpio. But despite her best efforts, until today this blogger did not manage to find the time. And on closer reflection that may have less to do with her schedule and more to do with the quality of the book itself.

Scorpio was the last novel Andre Norton wrote before her death in March 2005. Already ill for some time before this, she lived long enough to see the cover art (pictured above) before passing through the last gate she referenced so often in her fiction. Though she did her best and turned out a good story, comparing it to her previous works shows that Norton was at the end of her time when she wrote Three Hands for Scorpio.

Set in a fictional version of England, the book blends sixteenth century and Medieval Britain, with mixed results. There are snaplocks (guns) and swords used alongside alien magic and ancient sorcery. A church under the head of a queen is the primary religion in the characters’ home country, while a strange religion that brutally mistreats women has taken hold in the northern land of Gurlyon. Amidst these two countries lies a third land hidden in a ravine. This country is filled with strange creatures and even weirder inhabitants. Known as the Dismals, it is a land where many go but from which none have ever returned.

Andre Norton Witch World series/Halfblood Chronicles series/Trillium series/stand alone novel ...

Andre Alice Norton

Normally, Ms. Norton could have sewn this tapestry together seamlessly. But due to her illness, she did not succeed as well as she could have. Although the story is entertaining there are scenes that do not seem to be related to one another, yet are said to tie together. Descriptions, one of Miss Norton’s strong points, wander off base from time to time or focus on matters that have no importance. Some could accuse her of always engaging in this practice, but previous Norton novels always used descriptions of weird temples, places, or beasts/plants to help enhance the sense of strangeness and wonder in her fictional worlds. Three Hands for Scorpio tries to do this but does not quite succeed.

I think, personally, that the reason for this failure rests entirely on the author’s deteriorating powers. Ms. Norton was not far from death’s door when she wrote Three Hands for Scorpio. After a point, I believe, she simply could not focus well enough or spend the energy to finish tying off the various threads of the story without using up what time remained to her.

In all honesty, despite its flaws, I appreciate this novel precisely because it is Ms. Norton’s last. She held on long enough to give her fans one final story, a book to cherish because she fought death to give readers an enjoyable parting gift. That took a great deal of strength, commitment, and courage on her part, and I believe it behooves readers to give her the respect she earned in her final months on this Earth.

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Having said this, it is now time to take a look at the tale itself. Three Hands for Scorpio follows the adventures of the three daughters of Earl Scorpy of Verset. Verset is on the Alsonian border, right across from the northern country of Gurlyon. A great battle waged on the day of the sisters’ birth ended the ongoing war with the North, though border raids and kidnappings remain a part of life in and around Verset.

The three Scorpy girls – Tamara, Sabina, and Drucilla – are identical triplets. Tamara is the oldest, the one who enjoys horse riding and combat training the most. Sabina’s talent is herb lore and healing. Drucilla enjoys weaving tapestries, often basing her patterns on things she has seen in her dreams.

Each sister possesses the Talent, a measure of Power with which they were born. It seems to operate on the same basis as the Talent in the Witch World even though this country is in an alternate universe. All three girls can communicate telepathically, constantly talking among themselves mind-to-mind. They are also able to speak to their mother, who is a strong sorceress, and their father in this manner. While he has less Talent than the women in his family, that which the Lord of Verset does hold is quite formidable.

The story starts with the three sisters embroidering a tapestry Drucilla dreamed up. As they are working Sabina comments that there is something off about the design, prompting Tam and Cilla to take a closer look at it. Just as they realize the drawing is of Dark origin, their mother steps into the room and demands to know what is going on. Learning that Drucilla dreamt the design and did not of her own volition choose to begin weaving it, the Lady of Verset has her daughters repudiate the evil behind the picture. She then has the family’s wise woman, known as Duty, take the embroidery to be destroyed.

Once the offensive weaving has been removed from the room, the Lady of Verset tells her daughters that their father has at last secured a truce with the neighboring Gurly lord, who will bring a priest of the alien religion along in his retinue. Rumors about this creed’s view of women have reached the castle already and the girls are advised to be on their best behavior. Angering the priest may jeopardize the treaty and begin the war all over again.

Now one would think Cilla’s dream and near-disastrous embroidery would have served as a warning to the family that something nasty was coming. And the Verset family is certainly cautious. However, despite their best safety measures, trouble erupts. The priest traveling with the Gurly lord calls the Verset ladies openly insults the ladies of Verset, and the noble’s second son speaks to Tamara as though she were a prostitute at dinner. Infuriated by his lack of honor, all three sisters immediately stand up. Mincing no words, Tam explains why they are leaving the table, further humiliating the young lord. Then she marches off with her sisters to their tower room.

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Thinking over their behavior after they have calmed down, the three are none too sure they acted rightly. When their mother arrives they expect a scolding. However, while she admits their abrupt exit caused a scene, she holds them blameless for the dilemma. Their father likewise absolves them when he joins their mother in holding court in the girls’ bedroom.

Explaining that the three will remain home when their parents go with the Gurly lord to sign the treaty elsewhere, the sisters’ parents tell them that while they are technically “grounded,” they essentially have to hold the fort while the Lord and Lady of Verset are gone. This night’s trouble has been a baptism of fire, meaning the sisters have now unofficially entered the world plotting and scheming the adults have dealt with for so long. Therefore they must be prepared to ride to war – metaphorically speaking. They are officially “grounded” and confined to the tower for the foreseeable future, after all.

So for the next few days the Scorpy girls maintain their training regimen at the same time they monitor the castle. As they wrap up fencing practice two of the maids run in to tell them about a peddler, one who says he has no news of the North. Since every peddler usually has news from Gurlyon, the three are immediately suspicious. They send the women to buy some of the trader’s finery and learn more about what he has or hasn’t seen. They also have the castle bailiff try to get information out of him via games and drink.

What information the sisters’ receive isn’t unreasonable but it is still odd enough to set them wondering. With dusk becoming night the three head up to bed, suddenly quite tired. Before hitting the sack, though, one of them draws a symbol for warding over the door to their chamber. When asked why, she admits she did it on instinct.

Too tired to think about this very hard, the three fall into bed. In the middle of the night, Sabina awakes to find she cannot move. Nor can she speak, telepathically or with her voice. Helpless, she witnesses strangers pull her and her sisters out of bed, tie them up in rugs, and take them out of the castle into the wilds.

After a time of hard riding Tam, Bina, and Cilla find they have been captured by a Breaksword, one who survived a hanging. Though he has been hired by the Gurly noble’s son to bring the Scorpy girls to him, he also wants revenge on the Lord of Verset. Since Lord Scorpy had him hung, this Breaksword is happy to take the job of kidnapping his daughters just to make him suffer. When the castle rouses from the spell laid on it and the residents come looking for the sisters, he has them thrown into the Dismals – where the adventure really begins.

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As I said above, the novel is not very well tied together. The description of the sisters’ abduction does not flow the way previous kidnappings Norton orchestrated did. Scenes like it also fall apart as one tries to read them. The active transitions from place to place or scene to scene literally become a near-incoherent mess for two or three paragraphs (in this reader’s mind) before straightening out into intelligible writing. It makes the story hard to read and can give even the most committed reader a headache.

Now, this does not change the fact that the story is good, or that it was a strong effort on the part of a dying author. It does, however, mean that readers will have a difficult time making their way throughout the narrative. Norton did her best – she really did. But it was not enough to make Three Hands for Scorpio the equal of her earlier works.

Clearly, this book is not for the casual reader. It may not even appeal to die-hard Andre Norton fans. I really cannot recommend this book to anyone in either category who looks at my opinion and says, “Nope, not going to wade through that to find the gem!”

I understand that. I really do. And I respect readers who feel Scorpio isn’t worth their time. However, I do suggest giving it at least one read through. Norton was not at her best when she wrote Three Hands, but she was determined to go out with flags flying. That is an effort that is worth a glance, isn’t it?

‘Til next time,

The Mithril Guardian

Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout: Before There Was a J. K. Rowling There Was Andre Norton

Book Review: The Gate of the Cat by Andre Norton

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Once again we enter Andre Norton’s Witch World series, readers! Now, I know some of you are impatiently waiting for reviews of a Dean Koontz and a couple of Star Wars books to appear here. Fear not, please, they will be forthcoming! However, The Gate of the Cat and a couple of other novels have been patiently awaiting my attention, to the point that they are now becoming annoyed with me. As soon as they’re taken care of there will be analyses for Star Wars and Dean Koontz.

Until then, we must turn to today’s subject: The Gate of the Cat. The book starts out with young Kelsie McBlair heading out during the night to try and find an injured wild cat on her land. An American with Scottish heritage, Kelsie came to Scotland following a distant relative’s death in order to see if she would fit in at the ancient family estate and the town around it. But her real desire is to be a veterinarian – something that makes it hard for her to accept the hunting practices of the Highlanders. They like their deer hunts and consider wild cats to be vermin, attitudes which infuriate our heroine.

So when she’s tracking down an injured wild cat on her property, it doesn’t take her long to recognize the man prowling that she spots preparing to shoot same animal. Furious that Neil McAdams would pursue the wounded creature – and on her land, no less – Kelsie knocks his aim off, spoiling his first shot. When he tries to fire again, she makes another attempt to stop him. In the ensuing struggle, the cat escapes through a stone arch moments before the man hits Kelsie and sends her tumbling through the same portal.

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As you may have guessed, this is no ordinary stone arch. Nor is it your run-of-the-mill ancient Druid site. No, the three stones which make up this archway are a gate to another world; in this case, the Witch World. They specifically lead to Escore, the country to the east of Estcarp. A land of old balances that have been upset, Escore is was in the midst of a “cold war” before the arrival of the three Tregarth heirs. Now that “cold war” has become very hot, so that Escore is once again torn by conflicts between the Dark and the Light.

Kelsie literally tumbles into the midst of the hostilities after falling through the gate. Awakening sometime after her fight with McAdams, she gets to tend to the wild cat as she wished. But she also finds she is in a “dream” or nightmare world – one she can’t seem to wake up from. After attending to the cat, Kelsie has to do battle with creatures of the Dark, including a Sarn Rider and his pet hound. Confused and frightened, Kelsie winces when a strange call echoes in her mind. A yowl from the cat, which takes off toward the “sound,” convinces her that she wasn’t the only one to hear it.

Following the animal due to the pull of that strange mental summons, Kelsie comes across the remains of a war party. The lone woman in the party, though she is dying, is holding off yet another hound with a sparkling jewel in her weak hand. Kelsie manages to drive the hound off and keep it at a distance, then turns to try and help the dying woman. But there’s no help for Roylane, as the Witch identifies herself; there is only the “last gate” – death.

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Still, the dying Witch from Estcarp manages to give her jewel to both the cat and Kelsie, who eventually return the stone arch and the rocks that join it to form a rough circle. More trouble arrives as the hound follows them, attempting to gain entry to the circle by forcing one of Roylane’s dying companions through the archway. Only the timely arrival of Dahaun and a man from the Valley of Green Silences saves the two from the canine’s evil intentions.

On discovering that Kelsie is not of the Dark, Dahaun and her companion take the girl and the cat back to the Valley. There they help her clean up, start teaching her their language, and feed her. But when Simon Tregarth arrives and addresses her in English, Kelsie is thrilled to meet someone whom she can talk to plainly. She immediately asks how she can get back home and Simon has to tell her – repeatedly – that as far as anyone knows, there isn’t any way to get back to Earth.

This is where I leave you, readers. The Gate of the Cat is a good story, though recently this blogger seems to have lost some of her old interest in it. I don’t know why that is – it’s an enjoyable tale, with lots of adventure and many strong points. Perhaps the finale is too open-ended for my taste; Andre Norton didn’t always put her heroes and heroines together, but when she did she made it plain that they were in love.

In this novel, that wasn’t the case, which kind of annoyed me. I wanted a definite yes or no on the potential romance in this tale. But all I received was, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t; why don’t you decide?” Sometimes, if the writer leaves enough clues, this type of ending is not an unpleasant one for me. But if there’s a dearth of evidence, I tend to hate such finales; I’m not sure the Andre Norton left enough breadcrumbs to confirm the hero and heroine’s mutual attraction, let alone their eventual happily ever after.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that she did do this, and I’m just being stubborn. Either way, The Gate of the Cat IS a good, worthy read. It just doesn’t seem to appeal to me as much as other Norton books do.

Hopefully, though, this won’t be a problem for any of you, readers. Pick up and read The Gate of the Cat at your earliest convenience. 😉 ‘Til next time!

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Book Review: Year of the Unicorn by Andre Norton

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Welcome back to the Witch World, readers! This book – Year of the Unicorn – takes place in the Dales of High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. We are in uncharted, amazing territory here. Let’s dive in!

The long war between the Dalesmen and the Hounds of Alizon is finally over. The uniting of the Dale Lords, coupled with the loss of their support from the alien Kolder, weakened the Hounds’ ability to fight the Dalesmen, to be sure. But even this was not enough to secure the victory of High Hallack over the invaders. No, only one thing tipped the balance in their favor toward the end of the war. That was the appearance of the Were Riders on the side of the Dalesmen.

You are probably wondering who or what the Were Riders are, aren’t you? Bespelled by an Adept in the hidden realm of Arvon, which is sealed off from the rest of High Hallack, the Were Riders are men who can turn into animals. They have other magic as well, of course, but the Dalesmen know them best for their ability to assume the forms of beasts and birds.

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There are roughly thirty members of the Were Rider “Pack,” as they call themselves. And they agreed to enter the war on the side of the Dalesmen on one condition: after the war was over, the Dale Lords would provide the Riders with thirteen maids of marriageable age. They were to be comely and without illness or some other blemish, and they were to become the brides of thirteen of the Riders. The Pack was exiled from hidden Arvon to the rest of High Hallack; they did not come here willingly, they were banished.

But their time of exile is nearly ended. Once it is done they will either be allowed to reenter Arvon – or they will be stuck in High Hallack for the rest of their lives. If that last occurs, they do not want their people, such as they are (all the Riders are male), to disappear. The only way to preserve themselves as a race is to marry.

At the Abbey of the Flame in Norsdale, Gillan helps the Dames at their daily tasks. Taken by the Hounds from a land across the sea, she remembers nothing of her real home or people. Gillan only remembers scraps of the sea voyage and being rescued by Dalesmen raiding her captors’ ship when it arrived in port.

The Lord Furlo led the raid which rescued Gillan and so his wife, Lady Freeza, kept her as a fosterling. They retreated to the Abbey when he was killed and their Dale taken by the enemy. The strain of both losses, however, was too much for Lady Freeza and she died, leaving Gillan in the care of the Dames.

While grateful for the Dames’ protection over the years, Gillan has begun to feel trapped in the Abbey. Her chance to escape comes when the selected brides for the Were Riders stop by to take advantage of the Dames’ hospitality – and to pick up a couple of brides to fill the quota along the way.

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One of these prospective maids, a girl named Marimme, goes off into hysterics when she learns what her guardian has in mind for her. Seizing her chance both to help the poor creature and to escape the Abbey, Gillan knocks the girl out and takes her place, joining the other twelve brides on their journey to meet the Were Riders. By the time her deception is discovered it is too late to send her back, and so Gillan goes with the other young women to meet her future husband.

The Rider she chooses is Herrel. Herrel is not a full Were Rider; he is not as powerful as the rest of the Pack. And Gillan did not choose him because she was bedazzled by the marriage spell he and the other Riders used to call their new wives to them; somehow, she could see past the illusion. Nevertheless, she chose Herrel as her husband.

Herrel soon puts two and two together, realizing in the process that Gillan is not like the other girls or even of High Hallack. But because he is not as powerful as his fellow Riders, he cannot protect her from anything they try to do to her if they discover her power. So he asks Gillan to pretend the illusion the Pack keeps up for the benefit of the other brides is real, in order to protect them both from trouble.

If you think she says no, you would be wrong. If you think Herrel’s hope to keep Gillan’s ability secret gets exposed, you would be closer to the mark, readers. Year of the Unicorn is one of the best novels Miss Norton ever wrote; after the Falconers, I think I love the Were Riders best out of all her fictional races. They are just as cool and mysterious as the men of the Eyrie who, despite their practices, have always intrigued me.

In one of her essays, Miss Norton said that Year of the Unicorn is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I leave you, readers, to discover how they are alike. No more spoilers here; go out and get the book yourselves. You won’t regret it!

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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