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 ...

Riding is Easy, Right? SFF Equines and Horses as Plot Devices

Last week in my other twice-monthly column I reread Andre Norton’s postapocalyptic novel, Daybreak—2250 A.D., published in 1952 under the title Star Man’s Son. Among the various and—for the period—diverse cultures in the book are tribes of white people appropriating the horse culture of the Plains Indians. The protagonist at one point manages to capture, tame, and ride one of the tribes’ mares.

Around the time my reread post went live, one of my horse-world colleagues on facebook posted a historical video featuring Lipizzan horses. It so happens that the video dated from 1952, and was an excerpt from a science-fiction film, 1 April 2000. Synchronicity!

1952, it’s clear, was a vintage year for speculation about the future. Norton goes full-on dystopian, transforming the American Midwest into an atomic wasteland full of remnants, refugees, and mutants both benign and unremittingly evil. The film on the other hand presents ...

After the Apocalypse: Andre Norton’s Daybreak — 2250 A.D.

Not for the first time since I began rereading Andre Norton’s science fiction and fantasy, I discovered that I remembered the titles of this novel (there are two), the main character, the fact that I loved it when I first read it, and nothing else. I do understand why Star Man’s Son became Daybreak etc.: the original title makes one think one will be getting a space adventure, but that’s not what it is at all.

Though right at the end, there is an explanation.

What we have here is a postapocalyptic quest across a blasted landscape full of mutants and ruined cities, with huge piles of rusted machinery, and “blue areas” where no one goes because of the radiation. Plucky protagonist Fors is the proto-Norton hero (and later heroine): all alone, friendless except for an awesome animal companion, and exiled from his mountain tribe because he’s different. He’s ...

When Tropes Go Bad, Australian Edition: Horses Acting Up Down Under

As we transition (in my case terribly slowly) from the time out of time that is the end of the year to plain ordinary reality, I’ve been bingeing one of my favorite television series, the Australian hit show McLeod’s Daughters. This isn’t genre, exactly, but it is horse-related, and it plays with various film tropes about horses and other livestock.

Pause here to note that this show, which aired over eight seasons beginning in 2001, was developed and written by women, and featured a group of women running a cattle station in the Australian outback. Running it well, having adventures, dealing with men both good and very bad (including rape and infidelity, but also more normal and healthy relationships—nothing non-hetero, but we take what we can get). We can only dream of such a show in the US.

Anyway. The station runs both cattle and sheep, diversifies into various crops, ...

Once Again, With Closure: Andre Norton’s Forerunner: The Second Venture

In this last of the Forerunner books, published in 1985, Norton rounds off the series with another plucky-loner adventure. Forerunner remnant/revenant/descendant (it’s never totally clear) Simsa is back out in the wild, alone but for her loyal alien animal companion Zass, and she has cornered the market on character-in-jeopardy. This time she’s on a violently hostile alien world, she’s barely surviving, and we learn in flashbacks how she got there.

After the abrupt ending of Forerunner, Thom shipped Simsa out with supposedly trustworthy colleagues who were supposed to take her to their Zacathan boss. But Simsa picked up mental signals that led her to commandeer the ship’s escape pod and make a run for it. The male spacer wanted her for her monetary value, and the female doctor wanted to dissect her.

The pod dropped her on a blasted planet with severely inimical native life. Simsa manages to find, ...