Andre Norton had many titles conferred on her in life. The one that is best known and oft repeated is “the Grand Dame of Science Fiction.” You regular readers of this blog have perhaps seen posts I have done about some of her other books – three Witch World novels and Star Gate (no relation to the TV series). I have not found many Andre Norton books which I dislike. This novel, Star Guard, is no exception.
The year is 3956 A.D. Man pushed into the stars only to meet with a galactic government – Central Control – which saw something dangerous in them. Deeming the Terrans too bloodthirsty and primitive to be allowed offworld of their own accord, Central Control told them they would only be permitted to leave their planet in a capacity the government assigned to them. Since Central Control had far more power than the Terrans, humanity had no choice but to accept these terms.
Labeling humans “barbarians,” Central Control put all of Terra on a leash. Now the only way offworld is to become a mercenary. Humans can only travel the stars as contract soldiers divided into units called hordes or Mechs. The hordes fight the old-fashioned way, with swords, spears, knives, bows, and other weapons. The Mechs get to use the latest technology in their fighting work.
Kana Karr, Arch Swordsman, Third Class, is a rookie who has just arrived at Prime, the capital city of Terra. An eighteen year old Australian-Malay-Hawaiian “greenie,” Kana overhears startling news on his first day in the city. The modern, up-to-date Mechs have recently lost two Legions – two more to add to the twenty Legions they have already lost over five years!!!! For these units – dispatched to “civilized” worlds – to lose so many contingents signals danger of some kind. And if they have been so badly decimated, then what of the hordes – those corps of human mercenaries sent to “barbarian” worlds? How bad have their losses been?
He finds out just how bad things are for the hordes when his is dispatched to serve on the planet Fronn. Kana soon discovers that someone in Central Control has it in for humanity. Perhaps more than one – the whole government is determined to wipe out the upstart Terrans. The C.C. has been denying Terrans equal citizenship with its other political members since it accepted the humans’ presence in the universe. This is well known.
Central Control claimed that, if humanity were allowed full citizenship in the government at once, their primitive will to fight would drag world after world into an age long war – or series of wars. The only way for humanity to enter the galaxy, they insisted, was as mercenaries. Then, when they had become more civilized, they could become full citizens.
On Fronn, though, Kana and his horde face enemies who have tech that is superior even to that of the Mech units. Fronn, a medieval world, should not have this kind of tech. The only reason this machinery would be on this planet, facing Kana and his unit, is if someone wanted the horde dead.
Through his adventure Kana learns this is just what Central Control is after. They either believe humans will always be barbarians, or they fear them for their growing sophistication. Whatever the specific dread, the alien government has absolutely no intention of allowing humans to enter the galaxy as full citizens. Ever.
Now, trapped on an alien world with the remnants of his horde, Kana Karr must do more than survive this treachery. He has to return to Earth and tell his superiors what is going on. This betrayal cannot be swept under the rug. Humanity has to know what is happening, and soon, before they are once again denied their desire for the stars. Kana is determined that neither he nor the rest of his species will be forced to stay on Terra as slaves. This time, he intends to see that the stars are ours!
Star Guard is a great story. Though Miss Norton is vague on the tech and how it works, the thing is that she never really took a shine to computers and machinery. However, her characterization of Kana, his friends, and his enemies is spectacular. And as always, her description of the aliens and their world is fantastic! I definitely recommend Star Guard to you, readers. This post is skimpy on detail, but that is to whet your appetite. If you want to know what else happened in the book, you will have to read it to find out! 😉
To the stars!
The Mithril Guardian