Al Jackson

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 724

Alice Mary Norton is a strange phenomenon in sf. The whole structure and setting of her stories is thirty years out of date. It's as if you took all those raging blood and thunder stories in science fiction of the late thirties and the decade of the forties and combined them into, say, a Sunday edition of The Galactic Times. You would have plenty of headlines and loads of stuff to fill pages and pages of your newspaper. But, what about that little 'human interest' story for the Sunday supplement or the long quiet piece about everyday life you need for a filler on page 96? Well, Miss Norton has striven mightily over the last two decades to fill in all those little byways that must be in the background of Asimov's First Galactic Empire or Heinlein's Future History.

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Miss Norton now has over forty sf novels and no one in modern times has stuck more faithfully to their future history. Not that we ever have really found out much about it. We have the Patrol, the Scouts, the Rangers, etc. moving against the background of the same settings that she has used for nearly 20 years now. Yet we have rarely if ever found out what central power (for there must be some organizing agency) plans and knits all these interstellar services together. The hand that rocks the cradle is off there 'somewhere.' It does not matter because Miss Norton has left all that stuff to the front pages.

All this derivative milieu makes Miss Norton a hack of sorts. Yet that is a mean tag to pin on her. For it is easy to see her sincerity and fondness for science fiction. She uses what trappings she needs but does not abuse or pervert them. Ninety percent of her novels have been sold as juveniles and one should keep this in mind. One should tone down his expectations: don't look for characterization, and as Schuyler Miller has pointed out, pay attention to the fine flair of a good story teller. Miss Norton has woven some nice gems like Star Guard, Galactic Derelict, recently the Janus stories and others all straight sf. I am not a fan of her fantasy work, finding the Witch World series somewhat lacking.

Dread Companion falls into a subclass of Norton stories. Namely the mixing of fantasy (of sorts) with straight science fiction. The main character Kilda is led into a parallel universe, with a fantasy superstructure, by the two possessed children for whom she is governess. This adventure fills the middle portion of the book and though most of the action takes place in this parallel world, it only serves to connect two different time slices on the same planet. The major preoccupation of this novel, the action in the fantasy world, seems to serve no recognizable purpose (except to explain in part the possession of the children). It is an aimless adventure and Miss Norton leaves her usual number of loose ends. One gets the impression that she found this parallel world so unappealing that she disposes of it as a plot idea about 3/4 of the way through the book. Just as well, the loose ends left are better off if they drift into oblivion. (p. 53)

Al Jackson, in Luna Monthly, October-November, 1972.

Andre Norton is among the best and most imaginative present day writers of science fiction. [Android at Arms] is well up to her high standards. It is a mixture of the future in the past. The empire that Andas Kastor claims, could well have been that of the Incas. His problem is, is he the rightful heir or is he an android? He has been imprisoned on an alien planet for an unexplained period and when he returns he brings with him Yolyos, a strange creature from another world who was a fellow prisoner. Together they experience in a haunted palace the future in the past and Andas is so sickened by what he knows will be, he determines at all cost to defeat his rival and enemy. How he does so is powerfully described.

The readership is again hard to define, it is definitely for the older addict of SF, that is the twelve to sixteen-year-old boy or girl—but many adults will also be fascinated by it. (pp. 407-08)

The Junior Bookshelf, December, 1972.

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