Horses and Horsemen in C.J. Cherryh’s Gate of Ivrel

C.J. Cherryh, Gate of Ivrel, cover crop, Michael Whelan

When writers ask me how to tell whether a writer (of any genre) knows horses, I’ve tended to fumble around for examples, any examples, help me, wonky memory, you are my only hope.

Not any more. I finally reread Gate of Ivrel after quite a few years, and now all I need to do is point. “Read this. See what it does. Do likewise.”

It’s a great book to begin with. It takes the classic Andre Norton plot—lonely, abused orphan caught up in death-defying adventure involving ancient aliens and their artifacts, gates between worlds, medieval-style riders on horseback mixed in with futuristic machines, and a beautiful woman with Powers—and turns it into a rich, complex, and totally engrossing story. As Andre herself said in her introduction, it’s a Norton-inspired novel by an author who can write rings around her. And she loved it, and so, when I first read ...

Going Green: Andre Norton’s Judgment on Janus

I had an odd reaction to this entry in the Norton canon. It starts off with a fridging—killing off the protagonist’s mom to get the plot in gear—and then, to make things just plain weird, he turns into the Green Goblin. But then I started to kind of like Naill Renfro, and when Ashla showed up, I realized I was enjoying the ride. By the time I got to the end, I was eager to move on to the sequel (and next time I will).

The broad outlines of the plot are very familiar by now. War refugee living in the slums of pleasure world loses maternal figure and ships out to frontier planet that turns out to be full of ancient alien artifacts. There’s a lot here that reminds me of the Forerunner series, particularly the Simsa books, but Judgment was published much earlier, in 1963. This means male ...

White Horse in the Moonlight: Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground

Airs Above the Ground Mary Stewart

If you ask a Lipizzan enthusiast in the US how they first became enamored of the breed, there’s a very short list of books and films that comes up immediately. Prominent on that list is the Disney film, “The Miracle of the White Stallions,” and Mary Stewart’s 1965 suspense novel, Airs Above the Ground.

Stewart was not, as far as I know, a horse person, and the book is not a horse book. It’s about a young woman searching for her husband in the Austrian countryside, and international drug smuggling, and, incidentally, one of Austria’s greatest treasures, the Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. In the mid-Sixties, between the film and the Spanish Riding School’s 1964 tour of the US, the Dancing White Horses of Vienna were very much in the news, and Stewart seems to have caught the bug along with many others. Being ...

Airs Above the Ground Mary Stewart

Surprisingly Timely: Andre Norton’s Rereading Night of Masks

Most of the Andre Norton novels I’ve read and reread so far have had issues with being, as we say here, “of their time.” Even when they try very hard to be diverse and inclusive, they’re dated, sometimes in unfortunate ways.

Night of Masks feels amazingly modern. It’s vintage 1964 in its technology (records are kept on tapes, starships are rockets with fins), and there’s only one human female in the book, whose name is a patented Norton misfire: Gyna. But at least she’s a top-flight plastic surgeon, and she performs in accordance with her pay grade; nor is there any reference to her being a second-class human.

The plot is pretty standard. War orphan Nik Kolherne scrapes a living in the slums of the planet Korwar. Nik is the sole survivor of a shipload of refugees that was brought down by enemy fire; he was severely burned, and ...

Dancing Before Kings: Marguerite Henry’s White Stallion of Lipizza

As much as King of the Wind filled my tween heart and soul, this other Marguerite Henry classic came to mean more to me when I grew out of tween and teenhood. I could dream of owning (or being owned by) an Arabian someday, but the white horses of Vienna, the fabled Lipizzans, were not for the mere and mortal likes of me. They were and are state treasures of Austria. I could worship them from afar. I might even be able to ride the movements they made famous, but on other breeds of horses. If I had a dream in that direction, it was to ride a Lipizzaner once, and then, I told myself, I would be content.

The universe always laughs at us. Sometimes even in a good way.

At the time I first read and reread White Stallion of Lipizza, the book was fairly new. It ...

Worlds Beside Themselves: Andre Norton’s Star Gate

Long before McGyver ran through a big rattly circle into strange worlds in the beloved TV series with an almost-identical title, in 1957, Andre Norton had a go at gates between worlds—in this case, parallel worlds. My copy happens to have been slapped together with Sea Siege, but it’s not immediately obvious why. Star Gate is a different kind of story in every way. All it has in common with Sea Siege is a set of late and passing hints that the Star Lords came from Earth. The two books are completely different in voice, style, setting, and characterization. They are literally not even in the same universe.

If I were going to put Norton books together in sets, I would hook up this one with The Jargoon Pard or possibly The Crystal Gryphon. Star Gate reads like proto-Witch World. It has the odd, archaic style and the low-tech ...

King of the Horse Books: Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind

This book. Oh, this book. Horse-crazy tween me loved it with all my heart. I borrowed it from the library over and over, read and reread it. It was the most perfect book I had ever read.

It had everything. Far-away settings. Exciting adventures. Actual real history. Characters I could see and hear in my head. And, of course, horses. Perfect books always had horses.

When I embarked on the SFF Equines Summer Reading Adventure, I knew King of the Wind had to be on the top of the list. Somewhat ironically, I never owned a copy. These days I tend to prefer ebooks for ease and convenience and because my book storage runneth over, but in this very special case, I had to have the physical book. That meant the original edition with the Wesley Dennis illustrations and the lovely cover with its head of an Arabian at full ...

King of the Wind Marguerite Henry

Surviving the Nuclear Holocaust: Andre Norton’s Sea Siege

For the first time in my reading and rereading of Andre Norton’s novels, I’ve found one that happens during the atomic holocaust. Especially in the Fifties, she referred to it constantly, taking as a given that Earth would nuke itself. But her stories nearly always take place in the aftermath, sometimes very long after—Plague Ship, for example, or Daybreak/Star Man’s Son.

In Sea Siege, the big blow comes midway in the book.

It’s pretty clear it’s coming. Protagonist Griff Gunston (could there be a more perfect Fifties boy’s-adventure name?) is living a boy’s dream on Caribbean island with his scientist father and his father’s assistant, Hughes. He swims, dives, and hangs with the native inhabitants of this bleak expanse of rock and salt. He’s aware that the outside world is lurching toward war, and there are signs that all is not well with the environment. Boats ...

When Aliens Join Your Horse Fantasy: Walter Farley’s The Island Stallion Races

When I was writing the last SFF Equines post, between the research I was doing for the post and the many recommendations in the comments, I was possessed of a powerful urge to read horse books. Old favorites. Other people’s favorites that I never heard of, or never got to. Horse books! And, as we’ve achieved both the Celtic version of northern summer (having passed the feast of Beltane) and the US Southwestern version (with icebreak on the Santa Cruz River in Tucson), it’s the perfect time for a Summer Reading Adventure.

So, over the next few months, I’m going to read horse books—in genre as much as I can, but a few old favorites as well. I’m taking recommendations, so feel free to make suggestions in comments.

For now, I have an actual science-fiction horse novel in front of me, and it was one of my very most ...

Special Delivery: Andre Norton’s Postmarked the Stars

Thanks to James Nicoll and fellow commenters, I am very happy to have found this late entry in the Solar Queen series. Postmarked the Stars was published in 1969. In the years between it and Voodoo Planet, the Sixties happened—including “Star Trek” and, in Norton’s own personal world, the first few volumes of the Witch World series plus my beloved Moon of Three Rings. A whole lot had changed, and the science-fiction genre was a different place.

The Queen’s universe is still persistently male and its characters have no perceptible signs of hormone activity, but there are slight cracks in the facade: not just an actual female alien with a speaking role AND a secondary female alien with visible agency though she doesn’t speak to the humans, but actual living human women. Admittedly they’re an amorphous blob of women-and-children who exist to provide incentive-to-rescue. Still. Live women. In …

Ticking Off the Boxes: Andre Norton’s Star Hunter

This more or less standalone novel first appeared in 1959, which puts it right in the middle of Andre Norton’s Golden Age science-fiction adventures. It seems to be written more for adults than for younger readers: the first viewpoint character we meet is an injured space pilot, and we travel along with him for a while before the narrator shifts to a person of young-adult age. The edition I have is an Ace Double with an abridged version of Norton’s The Beast Master, but at least one commenter has mentioned another Double-ing up with Voodoo Planet.

Either one works as a pairing. Star Hunter shares with Beast Master the somewhat older character whose service—military or quasi-military—appears to be over, and like Voodoo Planet, it depicts a young orphan with few prospects, dealing with danger and adventure on an alien world.

They all feature mysterious, ancient alien installations and ...

How Smart Can a Horse Be?

One of the most interesting developments in recent animal science, for me, has been the ongoing discovery that humans are not the only sentients on this planet, and that animals are much more intelligent than humans used to believe. So many of the traits that used to be cited as uniquely human are turning out be present in animals as well, sometimes on levels that we used to think not possible for any creature but a human. Octopuses, anyone?

Horses are definitely not octopuses—for one thing they don’t have the kind of limbs that can manipulate objects with that much dexterity—but the old view of them as not very bright loses more traction with every study of equine cognition. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sent variations on the famous horse-blanket study. And that’s a variation itself on the idea that horses can interpret written symbols.


Vacation from Hell: Andre Norton’s Voodoo Planet

I’m a little sad that Voodoo Planet is the last of Norton’s Solar Queen novels. It’s quite short and feels like a coda after Sargasso of Space and Plague Ship—kind of “What We Did On Our Summer Vacation,” in between the wild ride from Sargol to Terra and the presumably uneventful postal run for which the ship is preparing when Captain Jellico and his very abbreviated crew are invited to take a quick break on a resort planet.

These books are so charming and so unabashedly all-in with the genre of the boy’s adventure. Zero girls, lots of excitement, and plenty of chances to get muddy and stay muddy.

This time the ship is just about ready for its postal run, with an obligatory frisson of anxiety about making deadline, and most of the crew is elsewhere. It’s only Jellico, Tau the Medic, and our protagonist Dane Thorson as ...

Taming the Wild Horse

I do a lot of thinking about horse intelligence, where it comes from and how it works. Part of it is personal interest, and a good part is practicality. I spend hours every day in the company of horses. I have to understand how they think, and why, or I’ll be a wet spot on the barn floor.

On my expeditions through the internets in search of new information, I’ve come across frequent references to the fact that when humans domesticate animals, the animals are “dumbed down.” Their brains get smaller and they lose the capabilities that kept them alive in the wild. Humans breed for tractability first, and then for specific uses that aren’t necessarily related to the animal’s original function.

Of course, as the article notes, we haven’t studied this subject enough really to draw firm conclusions. With horses, we’ve recently discovered that as far as ...

It’s a Boy’s Universe After All: Andre Norton’s Plague Ship

The second installment in the Solar Queen series reads as straightforward young-male-adult adventure, vintage 1956. It’s got all the elements: Rocket ships with fins and shiny hulls. Weird alien planets with equally weird alien life. Desperate crisis that only the kids can solve. Plenty of action and derring-do.

Plague Ship is one of the most tightly plotted Norton novels I’ve reread so far. It canters along at a good clip, each action and reversal following in logical fashion. It’s clear how it will end, but it’s great fun along the way.

The story begins shortly after the adventure on Limbo. The captain has negotiated an upgrade: they’ve taken over the trade rights of one of the crashed pilots, to a planet called Sargol, which has intelligent life, a whole lot of exotic perfumes, and a potentially rich gem trade.

Protagonist Dane Thorson is a little more experienced but still as ...

The Ancient Equine and How (and Where) We Think It Grew

I’ve always been fascinated by very, very old things. Fossils. Prehistoric artifacts. Cave paintings and petroglyphs. It’s like reaching out across the expanse of time and touching something that was alive long before what we call history—i.e., our written past.

One of my favorite Twitter feeds is The Ice Age, curated by Jamie Woodward. It’s a succession of images and links and bits of fact, always interesting, and sometimes weirdly apposite to my life in general and this series in particular.

Last September, Prof. Woodward posted an image that made me sit up sharply.

It’s made of mammoth ivory, and is around 35,000 years old. Someone in the feed referred to it as a “stallion,” but it’s not. The neck is too refined, and the shape of the belly is quite round. It is, perhaps, a mare, and perhaps a pregnant one.

And she looks just like ...

A Boy’s Own Adventure: Andre Norton’s Sargasso of Space

This Andre Norton novel is a complete blank in my memory, except for the title. As far as I can recall, I might even have found it up the library shelf a bit, under its original byline, Andrew North. I wouldn’t have cared if Norton and North were the same person, nor did I know the author was a woman. Library-strafing early-teen me was a complete omnivore when it came to books with rockets on their spines.

By the time I would have discovered it, Sargasso was a few years old: I was a newborn the year it was published, in 1955. I’m sure I enjoyed it, because on the reread—which was effectively a first read—I had a grand time.

Of course it’s of its time, which seems to have become the euphemism of this series. There are racial stereotypes and ethnic terms that are no longer considered acceptable (Negro, ...

Going Native: Andre Norton’s Lord of Thunder

In light of some of the comments on previous entries in this reread, I think I should clarify what this series is about.

It’s a reread of books I loved as a child and a teen. That means it’s subjective. It’s about how I reacted then, and whether that reaction is the same now, or whether my feelings have changed. It is not a scholarly study. And yes, I do know how to do one. That’s just not what I’m doing here.

The early Nortons especially are of their time, as commenters have been diligent in informing me. And I understand that. I make a point of saying so, in so many words. But I’m reading them now, in 2018. And sometimes that means that what Norton thought she was doing well or knowledgeably has not stood up to the changes in our culture and understanding. Regardless of what ...

SFF Equines: Considering Telepathy in Terrestrial Horses

A couple of posts ago, one of our dedicated commenters happened to apprise us of a discussion over at the Vorkosigan reread. There, host Ellen MCM opined,

I would be very surprised if my unicorn was telepathic. And if it could read minds, I think it would be unlikely to act on the information in a way that humans would consider useful.

I think it begs the question: if one did have a telepathic equine, how would it react to hearing our thoughts? Or how would a human telepath perceive an equine mind?

Well now. To answer these questions, we’re going to have to suspend some modern Western disbelief, and enter into the fantasy novel that is many horse people’s daily existence.

Horses are extremely sensitive to body language. They pick up signals that are far too subtle for human senses, and communicate on levels that may not be ...

Still Not Even Slightly Apolitical: Andre Norton’s The Beast Master

The Beast Master, published in 1959, is one of Norton’s most openly subversive novels. It’s well ahead of its time. Its protagonist is Native American, he’s deeply imbued with his culture, and it’s his resort to that culture which resolves the major conflict of the novel.

And it has me tangled up in knots. I can see why this was one of my all-time favorite Norton novels, right up there with Moon of Three Rings and The Crystal Gryphon. I loved it in the reread, too. And yet—and yet—

Our protagonist, Hosteen Storm, is the classic Norton loner-with-telepathic-animals in a universe that’s mostly alien to him. His world is gone, slagged by the alien Xik. He and his team (giant sand cat, pair of meerkats, and African black eagle) have helped defeat the Xik, but now they’re homeless, without a planet to return to. Storm has fast-talked his way ...