norton 21norton died in 2005, aged 93, with a LOT of titles to her name — my reread entirely took in books i read aged i wd say 10-12

my interest was slightly piqued by fellow lollard TRACER HAND, who lent me THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN (ed.Drake/Flint/Baen), a compendium of golden-age SF short stories which included, in the intro, an encomium to Flint’s THREE GREATS = clarke, heinlein and norton — this linkage surprised and interested me, as i had always (perhaps just based on my own pre-teen interest turning into mild disdain) assumed AN was NOT highly regarded by the learned aficionado, precisely bcz she was taken (by librarians at least) to write for kids rather than grownups

anyway here is my re-appraisal — pocket reviews first, general overview after

norton 2STAR MAN’S SON (1952): Her first book, and I’m not sure I read it way back. Set on post-apocalypse Earth, the surviving tribes battle mutants, negotiate uneasily with one another, and travel through the blasted ruins of a formerly hi-tek America. The hero can communicate with animals by mindpower.

STAR RANGERS (also sometimes knowns as THE LAST PLANET) (1953): I loved and reread this book SO OFTEN that my mum commented on the fact (it is also recommended by Flint, as noted above). What I liked wz the sense of professional companionship acrosos cultural-racial divide –– the PATROL (= the galactic police force, more or less) has two factions, the humans-are-for-humans faction (who dominate the nuts and bolts military-and-techie element) and the all-aliengs-together-faction (who make up the RANGERS, whose role is er exploring “strange new worlds and civilisations”™, and meeting and greeting and understanding the locals): many of the latter having the add-on of being HIGH-POWERED TELEPATHS. Anyway the Federation is coming apart, and this particular Patrol ship — which has received no orders from Central for years — crashlands on an unknown Earthlike planet. Only to discover [MAXIMUM SPOILERS TURN BACK TURN BACK] that is in fact the fabled origin planet of the species, long lost/forgotten/assumed fictional [end SPOILERS]. The hero can communicate with animals by mindpower.

norton 1STAR GATE (1958): Curious Tolkienesque story, which features a portal between paraellel universes at the beginning, highly advanced invader beings (=us) somewhat unwelcome on a backward planet, and an ending which is somehow at once funny and ridiculous and (in terms of style and effectiveness) rather rushed. The hero can communicate with animals by mindpower.

THE BEAST MASTER (1959): The hero can communicate with animals by mindpower. In fact, it’s his JOB, rather than just a handy “SF-style” characteristic. He is also the LAST SURVIVOR OF THE NAVAJO, since Earth boiled to a “deadly blue glowing cinder” in the Xik Wars. This aside, this is fundamentally a straight Western, complete with quick-draws and horseriding and checking the wire fences on the ranch perimeter, with the added tweak that the main cowboy is the last of the red indians — and the planet he has arrived on has its OWN indians (called the NORBIES) (they are seven feet tall and have HORNS hurrah). Also an uneasy and interesting struggle between local magic and human hy-tek capability.

norton 25CATSEYE (1961): The hero can communicate with animals by mindpower: it’s his job. When his boss — who hired him to look afrter some rare and fancy pets (viz MEERKATS! and plus a KINKAJOU) — is murdered, the hero goes on the lam with the pets into a nearby FORBIDDEN ZONE. This debuts — at least in my reading arc — Norton’s fascination with the idea of THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE, an alien pan-galactic civilisation which has left traces (and working machinery) on many of the world man has subsequently colonised.

LORD OF THUNDER (1962): Sequel to the Beast Master (so the hero can communicate with animals by mindpower). More THOSE-WHO-HAVE-GONE-BEFORE action: a madman has reactivated the weather-machinery left in sealed caves by a previous alien civilisation. His activities threaten breakdown of treaties between Norbies and farmer settlers.

norton 19JUDGEMENT ON JANUS (1963): Newcomer on a Amish-type frontier settlement, on a Forest Planet, finds he has somehow BECOME one of the planet’s former inhabitants, the Iftin, locked into a battle with an EVIL FOE they just call “IT”. Intensely — irritatingly — Tolkien-esque, in the hippy mode, the Iftin are greenskinned treehugging elf-types, while their foe has use of endless robots, including robot Iftin. I liked this — or rather its successor (see below) — a LOT when I was 10: now the deus-ex-machina local magic (and elvish chanting) is insufferable. The hero can communicate with (certain) animals by mindpower

NIGHT OF MASKS (1964): I remember the cover of this so clearly that I thought I must have read it — rereading I think I cannot have done (at least not carefully). The hideously scarred hero, who can’t communicate with animals by mindpower, is given a new face by dubious crims to pretend to be the kidnapped rich-kid’s IMAGINARY FRIEND, on a night planet, DIS, until ransom is paid.

norton 18VICTORY ON JANUS (1966): Completes the story — “IT” turns out to be an ancient “first wave” colonising ship from Earth, programmed to defend itself long after the actual passengers were dead. They defeat it with MAGIC SWORDS hurrah. One nicely memorable scene: our hero is unconscious and dreams he is playing a chess-like game with “IT”, with pieces fashioned like Ifts, their ancient enemy the Larsh (=orcs, ssssh), robots and others. When a piece is “taken” a little mirror comes up out of the board and converts YOUR piece to “ITs” piece.

Sex: Not even a slight hint that bois are sometimes interested in grrrls, or were back in pre-Federation days. (But these are mostly from the 50s and pre-sexy 60s… did later books GO THERE and DO IT?)

exilesAliens: Plenty! In Star Rangers, there is a sustained attempt to portray a system where integration of humans and various aliens — known derisively as BEMMIES — has not succeeded. The ones I liked best as a kid were the ZACATHANS: highly evolved lizard people who lived for 1000 years, had off-the-scale telepathic powers, and were courteous and scholarly — they liked to study history. (Star Rangers features a whole family of em, including kids… I like to think that FRANK HERBERT’s Gowachin are inspired by the Zacathans: he wanted to imagine the rituals, taboos and COMPLETE LEGAL SYSTEM of a real-actual highly evolved lizard people. Zacathans are totally humans with rubber lizard-masks. But I still like em and so did Norton.)

Cats: er she really really liked em. Big, small, meer… Her heroes don’t have girlfriends they have pet-companions. This is how it is.

Indian Lore: The Beast Master is dedicated to “OTIS LOUIS ERNST, Soldier, Engineer, Collector of Indiam Lore (1914-1958)”. Norton’s books seem to me early and strong as regards the re-evaluation of all things Native American (which I mainly associate with the 1960s, the aftermath of the publication of BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, and a broad youth-culture feeling that — whatever the good of the establishment of the US — great crimes, and perhaps genocide, were also involved). By the 70s, some of these tropes were already a bit tiresome (not to say patronising), and I slightly fear AN’s later books don’t escape this: this is why I haven’t read em (so the judgement is the opposite of fair). The Janus Dyad can hardly not be read as an allegory of White/Red relations in America when the first settlers arrived — except with added Tolkienism and robots.

otherwhereRace: Start to finish she was writing against racism, vigorously if — it perhaps today feels — initially fairly naively (eg Star Man’s Son calls for friendship between the tribes, who are somewhat organised by skin colour, but demonises the “Beast Things” — radiation mutants — as the enemy of all. Which seems a bit unfair… the Xik — who feature in The Beast Master are also presented as casually murderous and without redeeming features; in the Janus books, however, it is humans who are somewhat seen this way, by the Iftin). Anyway it is key to 6 of 9 of the above.

The Dipple: an extremely handy plot-device which at the same time injects a sense of politics — even class war — into the settings of all her books that feature it. The Dipple is a vast (half-planet-size?) holding area for war refugees and displaced persons generally — it is NO FUN and somewhat Hobbsian. The Norton backstory-o-verse includes tiresome leisure-class aristos, exmilitary types, pirates, rough-hewn settlers (good and evil), and a MAJOR pan-galactic war in the recent past. The Dipple is the objective correlative of all this as well as being an endless supply of unrooted heroes up for random adventure (w.secret built-in yearning for a past that can no longer come again, courtesy boiled planets etc).

Continuity: On the whole, the same identical backstory-o-verse could be fitted into all the tales reviewed above, with — for example — repeat items like the Dipple or the Zacathans turning in otherwise unrelated stories. One element that won’t fit all stories is the boiling of Earth to a cinder.

Endings: a repeat feature of these books is being seven pages from the end and thinking “NO WAY can this be wrapped up tidily”! — and no it can’t! AN is the QUEEN of the hurried “oh oh and then it all came right” action ending, often with added super-strength deus ex machine (cf eg both the JANUS books).

a. Westerns — see above. “influence” if influence is clearly recognised to mean “take stuff X does and do something with it that X doesn’t do”
b. Kipling. All of her heroes seem somewhat Mowgli-ish, in their relationship to animals and the natural world. Kipling is of course a pioneer of multiculturalism as a solution to racial tension.
c. Tolkien. AN must have been an early and an avid reader — Tolk did not really get well known in the US till the mid-60s (LoTR was issued as a pirate paperback in the US and the resulting legal case got big coverage — the pirates actually also being the pulp publishers of many of Norton’s books up to and during that time). Again an early pioneer of multiculturalism as the basis for fantasy tales (elves rub along with dwarves run along with hobbits…). She is not to be honest much cop at Tolk-style poetry (even assuming you don’t mind the original). The best scenes in the Janus books and Stargate are the ones involving technology, sinister, mysterious, gleaming, independently active. On the other hand aged 10 I considered myself an honorary Iftin…
d. Lovecraft. The idea of a race of “elder beings” and left-behind artefacts of their civilisation — Norton loves this idea as a setting, though rarely goes very deep into it (of the above the JANUS stories go deepest and that isn’t that deep, to be honest).

At the heart of all these lines is a sense of challenge to the Top Dog culture — to be less arrogant, less complacent, less destructive. We’re at — or possibly just past — the extreme 40-year dip point in the fashionability of the very 60s-seeming attitudes; they feel a bit worn, still. Charming, in this manifestation — and in Norton’s quiet way daring, also.