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[July 21, 1962] The Human Soul In A Robot’s Hand (Movie Review: The Creation of the Humanoids)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Rosemary Benton

The complex range of anger, fear, acceptance and love that characterize the relationship humans have with robotic life is hardly new ground for science fiction. You have stories that explore societies controlled by artificial intelligence like in Jack Williamson’s With Folded Hands, stories in which robotic life works in service to their human superiors in accordance with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and stories that span every possible combination.

The newest addition to the science fiction sub-genre dealing with the evolution of humanity and its integration with robots came out this month in the form of the movie The Creation of the Humanoids. Following its premier in Los Angeles on July 3rd, this intriguing film made its way into theaters across America, including the theater in my city. It suffers from several weaknesses, but more than makes up for them with solid dialogue, interesting characters and a plot that makes the audience think.

I first and foremost have to congratulate the screenplay writer, Jay Simms. The story he told was both philosophically intense and well paced with each scene effectively written to expand upon the post nuclear war world in which the film takes place. In the first series of short scenes the audience is made aware of the progression of robot technology, the concern some humans have with human-looking robots, as well as a robot led movement to advance artificial life to the point of near complete human replication. In short order we are told of a fellow by the name of Dr. Raven, a brilliant scientist who is responsible for the technology being used to replicate robotic versions of deceased humans and implanting them with the personality and memories of said humans. When his lab is discovered Dr. Raven orders the synthetic human he was working on to kill him, thus instigating the first instance of a robot murdering a human and showing that their prime directive can be overwritten.

From this point the story closely follows the work of Captain Kenneth Cragis, a high ranking member of the quasi-racist anti synthetic human organization: The Order of Flesh and Blood. We see him conversing with an assembly of the Order as they discuss the discovery of Dr. Raven’s highly advanced humanoid model, whereupon we learn that, when confronted with the fact that he is not physically human any longer, the model shut itself down. After the assembly Cragis pays a visit to his sister who serves as a representation of how accepting, or complacent in Cragis’ opinion, the human race has become living side by side or even in love with humanoids. He is then introduced to her friend Maxine who works at a news agency. Despite a rather awkward and fast romance the two of them fall in love that evening. They want to start a relationship, but Cragis expresses concern that he won’t be able to give Maxine any viable offspring due to the radiation left over from the war. Despite his concern Maxine persists, and we see that Cragis is beginning to consider it.

The final act of the film contains some of the best dialogue, but also suffers from the most issues. Two low level humanoids approach Maxine and Cragis as they are walking through the streets discussing their future together, and then suddenly the scene shifts to the city’s main recharge building for the humanoids, or “temple” as they call it. Maxine and Cragis are standing stock still in clear plastic tubes as they mechanically answer questions posed to them by the three humanoid we see at the beginning of the film. The change is so sudden and without explanation that it takes a while to understand what is happening. Maxine and Cragis, as it turns out, are relaying information that they have gathered in their other lives amongst the general population. Unbeknownst to them, they are deceased humans who have been brought back to life in advanced humanoid bodies curtesy of Dr. Raven.

Deciding that their usefulness as double agents has been used up, the humanoids tell Maxine and Cragis about their true origins – that Cragis died of a brain aneurism one night in his lab, and that Maxine was accidentally killed by a bomb which, ironically, Cragis and the Order planted at her work place to harm the humanoids working in the mail room. Dr. Raven, now inhabiting an advanced humanoid body himself, explains that their souls are as much a part of their new bodies as they were in their originals. Everything that made them themselves – their memories, experiences, motivations and emotions – are still present, but in a new vessel. With a few further modifications they will even be able to reproduce. Maxine and Cragis come to accept their situation and approve of the technology being spread to the rest of the dwindling human population. Annoyingly, the movie ends with Dr. Raven turning to the camera and breaking the fourth wall by saying, “Of course, the operation was a success…or you wouldn’t be here.”

The production of The Creation of the Humanoids is impressive given what most movies of this nature are given to work with. Beautiful matte paintings and well placed sleek yet simplistic furnishings really drove home the aesthetic of the world. The color of the film is bright and crisp and frankly a welcome change from the more common black and white color scheme. Seasoned makeup artist Jack Pierce, who perhaps most famously created Boris Karloff’s iconic monster design in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, did an incredible job on the application of the grease paint and bald masks worn by the actors playing low level humanoids. The metallic scleral contact lenses that he crafted for the humanoids are especially effective and creepy.

Another well known Hollywood name that I was surprised, yet delighted, to see on the credits was Academy Award winning cinematographer Hal Mohr. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe his work on The Creation of the Humanoids to be one of his more memorable projects, but you can pick out his characteristic style of framing especially in the first encounter the story has with Dr. Raven. I have no doubt that without Mohr’s contribution to the project The Creation of the Humanoids would have been a far more static movie, especially since so much of the script is dedicated to people sitting or standing around talking.

Aside from some issues with transitions between scenes, and a weak conclusion to what would otherwise have been a powerful message on the means to the end of human mortality, The Creation of the Humanoids was a very fun movie that managed to be engaging and enthralling. The characters are written to be multilayered and well informed on their individual philosophies, the world in which they walk was distinct and believable, and the moral conundrums that they faced were not handled in a ham fisted manner. I would highly recommend this movie, even if the execution was lacking at times. Happily I give it four stars for creativity. 

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  We’ll be talking Summer Blockbusters and you’ll have a chance to win a prize!)




[July 4, 1962] Happy submersion (The Drowned World, by J.G. Ballard)


by Rosemary Benton

At last, the levity that I so desperately needed has been provided. Prior to reading The Drowned World I was only aware of J. G. Ballard as a name. He was well published, I knew, but ultimately a background figure to my science fiction library. That all changed on June 30th, however, when I went to the town bookstore and purchased The Drowned World. The bookseller said that it would take me no time at all to read. I found this to be true, although the time it took me to process the book was far longer than than I had expected.

J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World is a post-apocalyptic ballad performed by a select cast, and encased in a small slice of Ballard’s much larger story of the evolution of Earth. The location of the story takes place in an entirely fictional future vision of Earth. Due to a sun which has become unstable, the Earth is rapidly heating. The remaining 5 million humans have fled to the Antarctic circle where the temperature is a tolerable 85 degrees. The Earth’s equator, by comparison, is close to 200 degrees on any given day. Bombarded by solar radiation and spurred on by the intolerable heat, flora and fauna have begun to mutate to prehistoric shapes and sizes. Enormous iguanas, crocodiles and snakes are now a common site in Berlin and London, whose streets and buildings are now submerged by upwards of 50 feet of water. Large bat-sized mosquitoes bash themselves relentlessly against the wire meshes and cages encircling the last human bastions in London, while dog-sized bats feast upon the oversized insects. The evolution of disease has kept pace with the changing environment; malaria becomes the most common affliction hitting the human population.

Much of Europe has been reduced to lagoons nestled between vast expanses of jungle and silt dunes. In one such lagoon, floating over the decaying architecture of London, sits the stage and players of the story. Central to the book are the biologists Dr. Robert Kerans and Dr. Bodkin, the emotionally distant heiress Beatrice Dahl and the villainous looter, Strangman. Surrounding them are the rest of the research team sent to monitor the changing landscape, and Strangman’s crew of tribalistic-minded followers.

On a small scale Ballard includes the traditional elements of science fiction and action-adventure. There is a hero, a villain, a love interest who is desired by both the villain and the hero, a climax to the tension between the battle of the hero and the goals of the villain, tied off nicely with a sacrificial confidant and companion to the hero. On a much larger scale The Drowned World offers a character study of a villain and a hero, both of whom are morally ambiguous, as they navigate a truly alien environment with totally different sets of rules for survival.

To best dissect The Drowned World I think it is necessary to take a look at the three major players to Ballard’s drama: Ms. Dahl, Strangman and finally Dr. Kerans. Ms. Dahl is perhaps one of the more developed characters of the story, and yet her journey is largely symbolic. A key element of Ballard’s world is that not only is the physical world around humanity devolving, but so is the unconscious mind of humanity. Plagued by memories of survival urges now unlocked after centuries of culture and socialization, humans by and large are subjected to nighttime visions of hot, fiery landscapes and looming reptilian danger. Ms. Dahl is one of the first characters who we see suffering from these apparitions.

We read about her trying to deal with them through alcohol and cool detachment. Her acceptance of the end of the human world is made all the more evident by her refusal early on in the book to leave the lagoon for the more tolerable temperature of the northern settlements. Despite the coming rains, the rise of the water, and the abandonment of the post by the well equipped scientific team, she shows little interest in leaving behind her home. Yet in the shifting pools of green, warm water with its surface disturbed by the movement of reptiles swimming in and out of the lower levels of the ruined buildings, she has managed to find an equilibrium in which she can live out her days, even as the prophetic nightmares of flooding rain and dense jungle encroachment press ever closer. She has given up fighting against nature and the universe’s larger plans for the planet, and instead finds her small pleasures in dining on the dwindling reserves of fine food, sunbathing, and keeping up a cultured outward physique.

Ms. Dahl’s personal journey is taking her along the same path as Dr. Kerans’. She is dreaming of an ancestral life and living it as best she can in the present. When confronted with a challenge to this backwards slide she recoils and withdraws within herself. She longs for the return to the encroachment of the water and reviles in the exposure of the land.  She is unable to deal with change that could draw her on a different path from the envelopment of Earth by the sea, and ultimately it destroys her relationship with her companions Dr. Kerans and Dr. Bodkin.

Enter Strangman on his ridiculous riverboat piled high with looted objet d’art, liquor and jewelry. Like Ms. Dahl, Strangman enters the story as someone who has given in to the changing world, although he has done so in a drastically different fashion. In keeping with salvage laws and the overall objective of land reclamation, Strangman drains the lagoon in order to gain favor with the loosely upheld government. At the same time he is able to continue with his passion of surrounding himself with items of beauty from the old world. Unlike our protagonists, Strangman is not regressing backwards to a state of piteous apathy, nor is he embracing the larger time scale that Ms. Dahl and Dr. Kerans have via their million year old primitive dreams. Even though he is aware of them via conversation with Dr. Kerans, and presumably experiences them himself, he is written as an opportunist. He takes risks in sending his crew, which he provides for and never once abuses, down into the sunken city. He takes chances by draining the lagoon in order to reclaim the land and thereby more easily take its sunken riches. He is progress in a backwards way because ultimately nothing he does will have any lasting impact, but he at least fights against the insignificance of his actions and his existence.

Along this line he is also upholding the pre-drowned world, and while he revels in the finer luxuries it provided, he doesn’t do so in the same way as Dr. Kerans or Ms. Dahl. While they are content with living out the lifespan of their delicious foods and luxury accommodations before the sea reclaims them, Strangman wants to make them last as long as possible. Even unnaturally so. He rejects the inevitable in favor of the possible when he drains the lagoon and likely plans to drain others in the area. He is even commended for his actions by Dr. Kerans’ team when they return to the area at the end of the book and see what he has accomplished.

At last we must examine Dr. Kerans. This man, who we meet standing on his balcony of the Ritz complete with air conditioning, fine clothes and even finer furnishings, is not shaken by the thought of nearly anything involving his future. Absorbed in the visceral feel of his present environment, Dr. Kerans is a man who lives entirely in the now with little thought to the future or concern for the past. Only later does he even begin to experience the dreams that have led most of the cast to a delayed madness. At the end of the book he even embraces a futile journey south and consequently a slow, painful suicide. Put concisely he is against everything that we, as modern humans and Americans, are taught to embrace as progress – the continuous struggle against nature, the need to suffer for progress, and the need to forge your own fate. In any other story he would be the villain trying to prevent the human race from fighting back against its aggressor. Interestingly, in this story he is the hero. But why is he the hero? Ultimately I believe this can be answered by Ballard’s writing style.

J. G. Ballard’s writing is like a good red wine. It has body, heft, and layered flavors that reveal themselves based on how you indulge in them. I read The Drowned World over the course of several days, taking my time to sink into the atmospheric environment that Ballard creates. In short sips the book takes the reader a long way. So many descriptive analogies, metaphors and adjectives are crammed into each page that one would think Ballard had gone overboard. Yet despite his verbose world building, nothing felt repetitive and frankly, I couldn’t get enough.

I lived for days on how Ballard would express his characters’ wonder at the world surrounding them, and how each as an individual would contribute to the progress of the story. It is this individual experience that I believe made Dr. Kerans the hero, Strangman the villain, and Ms. Dahl the figurative totem. When one reads Ballard’s dialogue it is abundantly secondary to the individual brazen actions taken by each character. This isolation, when a character acts of their own volition outside of what their companions would want or desire, is what Ballard revels in. The individual, whether walking forward or backwards in human evolution, is a lynchpin. What they see, how the environment congeals around them, and how their actions later influence others is paramount to Ballard’s The Drowned World.

Thus, Dr. Kerans was the hero because he was willing to press forward into that isolation of standing behind his scientific team, and in the end, the isolation of the journey south toward the epicenter of the heat. Strangman, on the other hand, was nothing without his crew, his treasures or his need to change the world for the benefit of the many. As such he was the villain. It is an interesting reversal, and one which I believe took a cunning mind to pen. I look forward to exploring more of Ballard’s works and retroactively swimming through his vast sea of published works. This book deserves a well-earned five out of five stars. 

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  If you can’t make it to Worldcon/Chicon III, this is YOUR chance to Vote for the 1962 Hugos!)

[May 28, 1962] The Invisible Women (Raiders from the Rings, by Alan E. Nourse)


by Rosemary Benton

After a short hiatus following the death of a dear family member I was in desperate need of some levity. Avoiding the non-fiction section, and especially the news stand, I made my way to the science fiction shelves of my favorite book store and picked up a novel that had originally caught my attention back in April. Raiders from the Rings is latest story from experienced science fiction writer and physician Alan E. Nourse.

Following a near cataclysmic world war, Earth has separated genetically and culturally from those who live out an exiled existence in space. This space-bound society, appropriately called the Spacers, squeak out a living by occasionally raiding food stores and supply depots on the technologically-lagging Earth. But when a newly built secret Earth armada confronts a raiding party of Spacers, all out war is declared once again. Like the conflict that nearly wiped out humanity before, both Earthmen and Spacers seem to be on a trajectory of mutual destruction. It will be up to Ben of the Martian house of Trefon and his two Earthling hostages, Joyce and Tom Barron, to keep their people from pyrrhic victories.

Raiders from the Rings isn’t a badly written book, but lacks something that would have made it a truly good read: humanity. Through an overuse of narration and a lack of actors Alan E. Nourse creates a science fiction future that lacks essential human elements. As the reader makes their way through the book the characters start to feel flat as the society of the Spacers loses its sense of realness.

A key example: roughly a third of the way through the book, I realized that, aside from Joyce Baron, there is not a single named female character even marginally involved in the story. For a narrative that relies so heavily on the history-keeping tradition of the Spacer women, it feels odd that individual women are not featured.

But what about Joyce Baron? Surely an Earth woman kidnapped by the main character for the purpose of being assimilated into the Spacer culture should have a prominent place in the story. She is first introduced as a spirited person with strong viewpoints, so naturally her position as a captured bride-to-be would help to drive the plot, correct? True, Joyce does drive the plot, but merely to provide exposition for why Earthmen and Spacers dislike one another.

Upon being captured along with her brother, Tom Barron, Joyce begins to fight with Ben about the evils of the Spacers. She tells him about how Spacers, according to Earth’s understanding, are irradiated inhuman monsters who capture women in order to force them to breed with the ranks of their subhuman army. It’s obviously untrue, as the reader knows having followed the exploits of the Spacers up to this point, but in that lies the role that Joyce’s character fulfills – she’s there to be wrong about everything. Everything that she has been taught about the Spacers is wrong, from their genetic makeup to the way they treat the women they kidnap. And once this role is essentially fulfilled when Ben rebukes all of the claims against his people, Joyce becomes merely a passenger, cook and apparent ally in the main character’s journey.

But why are women as individual actors marginalized in this story? Because it is the idea of the Spacer women, rather than the women themselves, that fascinated the author. Alan E. Nourse writes a space bound society that the main character and narrator both insist treasures its captured brides. He even makes the distinction in chapter five that, “No girl has ever been forced to become a mauki, and there are always a few who refuse to marry, but not very many. For most of them our life has become their life, and they are as loyal to us as any Spacer man.” Nourse is clear and adamant about the fact that it’s the choice of the captured women to marry and become storytellers, mothers, talented singers, and history-keepers. Truthfully it’s a far more noble take on the role of women in a science fiction society than some of the other books and films I have seen, but Nourse sells himself short by not showing us how the Spacer or Earth societies have their women and men interact on a normal, everyday basis. We are told rather than shown how this fantastical future is run, and because of this the story leaves the reader feeling a lack of depth.

“Telling” rather than “showing” becomes a consistent problem in Raiders from the Rings, and not just when it comes to broadening the realism of the Spacer culture. After Nourse has introduced his cast, the narration carries the plot more and more. By the time the Searchers, an alien elder-race that has been watching human society evolve for thousands of years, are introduced the narration takes over almost entirely. Nourse spends an annoying amount of time telling and retelling the message of the Searchers, which also happens to be the moral of the book – that childishness and immaturity are the root causes of humanity’s war with itself. Maturity and survival go hand in hand, otherwise mutually assured destruction is imminent. This is not something that is left for the reader to parse out, it is literally stated as such in chapter eight.

The characters, plot and message of Raiders from the Rings all unfortunately fall prey to a lack of three dimensionality essential for a story to be relatable. This culminates in a quickly resolved finale which left more questions than it answered. Despite its ambition and potential for expansiveness, Raiders from the Rings feels underwhelming and claustrophobic. Nourse certainly has potential, but in Raiders from the Rings, his efforts just don’t pay off. Sadly I have to give the book only two and a half stars. 

[March 25, 1962] A Double Hit (A. Bertram Chandler’s The Rim of Space and John Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra)


by Rosemary Benton

I love the bookstore in my town. Not only do they have a newsstand in front that provides me with the latest world events and developments in the US space program, but they have a very comprehensive science fiction section, front and center, as you walk in. I’ll occasionally look at the stand’s selection of comic books when I hear that there is a new series from Marvel Comics, but every trip to the bookstore must come with at least thirty minutes spent in the science fiction section.

This month part of my book budget went to Ace Double Novel F-133 containing the third publication of A. Bertram Chandler’s The Rim of Space as well as the first edition of John Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra. Reading these stories back to back was a real treat, and one that I desperately needed this month. After the national tension created by the USSR pledging millions of dollars in military aid to Cuba on February 8th, coupled with the rapidly deteriorating health of one of my family members, my mind had been adrift on dark thoughts. I needed distractions of the science fiction variety, my favorite form of escapism. These stories supplied it in spades.

The first book I read was Chandler’s The Rim of Space. This novella centers around a rag tag team of wash-ups turned merchants aboard the dilapidated, but reliable, ship Lorn Lady. Stationed on the fringe of the Galactic Rim, this is a territory so remote from Earth that the central Terran government, the Federated Worlds, has little influence. Rebellion is building in order to mount a push for the Rim Worlds to become their own government. Caught in this wave of frontier space nationalism is Derek Calver, a man who used to work for a respectable company but has since left to pursue a drifting life in deep space. Through episodic adventures loosely tied to the exchange of merchandise, the crew of Lorn Lady meet intelligent alien lifeforms and experience strange space anomalies.

After finishing The Rim of Space I turned to Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra. I couldn’t help but feel as if I was reading a novella that pitted the characters of H. Beam Piper’s Paratime series against the American agents of The Time Traders. In almost exact contrast to the universe of Chandler’s piece, Brunner’s protagonists are agents of the Corps Galactica – a economic and security force powerhouse for Earth’s galaxy-wide territories. When a remote and technologically backward world called Planet 14 is penetrated by off-worlders looking to take advantage of the natural resources of the isolated human society, it is up to agents of the Corps to infiltrate the population without notice and take down the exploitative evil doers.

Of the two novellas I found Brunner’s tale of espionage and infiltration to be the more complete of the stories. Like H. Beam Piper, Brunner goes to great lengths to build up an unEarthly society complete with religion, social casts, lore and legend. When I first began reading Secret Agent I had no idea what an unexpected turn the plot would take. The society of Carrig, the central city on the planet, is first introduced in such minutia through the eyes of a merchant trader that one would think he would be the main character. In no way would one guess he was from another planet. In no way would the reader assume he was, in the grand design of the plot, such a minor character. Brunner has a way of making each citizen who appears in his book an indispensable part of the story, even if they play a minor roll. Within the entirety of the book I don’t believe I read about a single character that was superfluous to the overarching story. Every player had a part to play, and it was clear that Brunner knew where he was going with his story from start to finish.

The Rim of Space, on the other hand, focused nearly entirely on building up only three characters out of the entire cast – Derek Calver, the purser Jane Arlen, and strangely enough, the aged Captain Engels. To Chandler’s credit these are three very interesting characters. Calver and Jane are both deeply flawed people with questionable morals, rocky relationship histories, and physically rough around the edges. The relationship that develops between them is entirely fitting for their damaged pasts, and their snappish and jeering squabbles seem to come naturally even as they grow closer. Captain Engels, while nearly absent from the first half of the story, comes to be a constant reminder of the impending conflict that will arise between the Rim Worlds and the Federation. He’s grandfatherly and wise, but frail.

This was a great purchase, and one which I happily give four stars to as a whole. I would love to read the full novel of The Rim of Space at some point. Apparently chapters four and five had to be removed for printing purposes in the Ace Double Novel edition. My hope is that these missing chapters will more closely tie in the impending revolt of the Rim Worlds with the rest of the episodic adventures. As it stands though, individually I think that The Rim of Space is a solid three and a half stars for choosing to develop only three characters and not tying up the adventures of the Lorn Lady’s crew more closely to the hints of a larger overarching plot. Secret Agent of Terra deserves a full five stars. Great twists, incredible setting, fully rounded characters and impeccable world-building put it on the very top.

[February 17, 1962] Time and Culture at Odds (Andre Norton’s The Defiant Agents)


by Rosemary Benton

It’s an interesting premise: what would a meeting between Apaches and Tartars be like in a “wild west-esque” science fiction setting? And what if the Apaches were American explorers while the Tartars were from the Soviet Union? Andre Norton sets out to explore this idea in The Defiant Agents, her third installment in the Time Traders series.

This time it’s not agents of the future who are being sent physically into the past, but rather the minds of a select group of volunteer Apache explorers who are on a rushed mission to reclaim the alien planet Topaz from the Communists. In a deep sleep they remember the past lives of their ancestral people to prepare them for the frontier world, while their bodies traverse space to the planet. After a crash landing the crew wake up with little memory of their former lives in the present and even less recollection of their mission. Battling the dual lives crammed into their heads as their memories slowly return, archeologist and animal-talker Travis Fox tries to help his group survive against the Tartar peoples under mind-control by the Reds.

Since reading Catseye I have become a firm fan of Andre Norton’s characters and storytelling. So much is my appreciation of her skill as a writer that I took the liberty of familiarizing myself with the rest of the Time Traders series before diving into The Defiant Agents. In 1958 Andre Norton hit the science fiction community with the first book of what would become her enduring series, simply titled The Time Traders

It was a critical and commercial success with an enthralling plot about the search for ancient long-lost knowledge. To uncover this treasure trove of information, social misfit and petty criminal Ross Murdock is selected to travel back to the time of the Beaker culture of Bronze-Age Europe. Without significantly changing the timeline, he and his partner, archeologist Dr. Gordon Ashe, must blend seamlessly into the people of that time to find the knowledge source before their competition does.

Though still largely unfamiliar with Andre Norton at the time, I recall reading Galaxy in 1959 and noticing that The Time Traders appeared on Floyd C. Gale’s “Galaxy’s 5 Star Star Shelf”. Looking back through my own collection of Galaxy I was able to pull up his exact words. His review of the book stated that on page 140 that, “Traders gets Miss Norton back solidly and admirably on her track of excellence.”

With a quick trip to the campus library I was able to find another reviewer in Kirkus Reviews that declared The Time Traders, “An interesting idea, well handled by Andre Norton, science fiction expert, who projects his [sic] reader deftly both backwards and forwards in time and injects his [sic] narrative with considerable and interesting historical information”.

The next book in the series is Galactic Derelict. It came in quick succession, being published in October 1959. I have unfortunately not been able to lay my hands on a copy yet, but reviews gave enough background information for me to be able to read The Defiant Agents without interruption. Again, reviews seem to be overall positive. The October 1959 Kirkus Reviews description of the book even goes so far as to say that, “Andre Norton has no peer in his [sic…again] chosen field of science fiction for teen agers.”

Which brings us to The Defiant Agents. After reading The Time Traders and reading up on Galactic Derelict, I was very excited to begin the third installment of the Time Traders series. Norton had left off Galactic Derelict with a daring trip through hyperspace and to several worlds, all covered in the ruins and decaying machinery of a long gone civilization. Our three protagonists, the Apache archeologist Travis Fox, and the project agents Ross Murdock and Dr. Gordon Ashe all return in The Defiant Agents. The story mainly focuses on Travis Fox however, with only brief appearances of Ross and Dr. Ashe in the beginning chapters to provide exposition.

I was initially (though not lastingly) underwhelmed by the pace of the plot in The Defiant Agents. With such a steady stream of action and changing scenery in The Time Traders, reading The Defiant Agents felt more like a drama than the action story preceding it. This mainly stems from the time Norton dedicates to show the dueling emotions of Travis and his fellow explorers.

In short order Travis and his group of other Apache volunteers find themselves marooned on the contested planet Topaz, groggy from their trip made under the influence of the “Redax” machine, and with no memory of what their original mission was. Their very identities are contestable. The Redax machine allowed them to relive the lives of their ancestors to better prepare them for the frontier of Topaz, but with such a rushed voyage to reclaim the territory from the Reds there was little time to work out all of the flaws in the experimental technology. The resulting story is an interesting one, to be certain, but a much more slower paced one than Norton’s previous novels.

The most important and noteworthy aspect of The Defiant Agents is how Norton respectfully writes her Native American characters and encapsulates their experience with strong tinges of their cultural memory. Norton writers her Apache characters in a humanizing and personable way, far from any stereotypes of savage and animalistic barbarians (as are common on television, for instance). She repeatedly uses the analogy of the Native Americans on a road between present and past, and relates that condition to their present plight on Topaz, stranded as they are without many supplies and no way of contacting Earth – modern-day Native Americans trapped in a simulacrum of the past.

An evolving theme throughout the Time Traders series is the growing appreciation that our three main characters have for the power of the ancient aliens whose technology and information the US and the USSR so covet. Travis is the culmination of this appreciation. Travis and his people are resourceful and brave, but not so daring as to try to possess the destructive alien power they find on Topaz.  Although he finds a gun that can vaporize immense objects, and he uses it to free the Tartars from their Red held mind-control slavery, it’s Travis who argues that such a thing is the equivalent to the atom bomb and is best left taboo. They take what will benefit them – star tapes, supplies, etc. – and leave behind what could overwhelm them. It’s almost as if Norton is saying that to best survive in our present, looking back on history and culture can provide the best path forward.

Despite the slow pace I wouldn’t say that the book is boring or uninteresting; it was simply not what I was expecting. That being said, I feel confident in giving The Defiant Agents four out of five stars. It contains a resonating message about the dangers of power, a cross cultural exchange between modern people and their ancestral heritage, and a message of peace between like-minded but geographically distant cultures. Inspiring and refreshing, although slow at times, The Defiant Agents is a must read.

[And by the way, Happy 50th birthday, Andre Norton!]

[January 23, 1962] A Methodical Approach to Writing (H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy)


by Rosemary Benton

Science fiction is a wonderful genre in that it allows an author the opportunity to pick a discipline – religion, economics, etc. – and create scenarios that are free to play out completely beyond any current restrictions or known facts of nature. Consider James Blish’s The Star Dwellers with its sentient energy creatures or Andre Norton’s Catseye with its telepathic animals.

But then there are the science fiction authors who try to ground their scenarios as close as possible to the discipline they are examining. For H. Beam Piper, it seems as if he wrote his most recent novel with a mission to accurately play out the issues and triumphs of an anthropologist. The results is the well written (if slightly dry) young adult novel, Little Fuzzy, the story of one interstellar prospector’s journey to protect the small, furry family he has adopted, cared for, and believes to be as intelligent as any group of humans.

H. Beam Piper is a prolific author within the science fiction genre. He’s been a published writer since 1947 with his short story Time and Time Again, and since then has averaged two short stories a year with the occasional novel blooming out from these stories.

But if you were to ask me how to best describe the flavor of his writing, I would be hard pressed to place Piper into an exact style. He lacks the poetic flow of words that embody Zenna Henderson’s work, and his ability to balance world-building and exposition is not as smooth as James Blish’s recent work. The pace of his stories is not as intense as Andre Norton, preferring instead to take things minute-by-minute. And yet I enjoyed Little Fuzzy and would recommend it as an intelligent, well written story. But how would I describe the writings of Piper? The best word I can use to describe H. Beam Piper’s writing is methodical. 

Piper goes to great length to construct his fictional environments, but he does not achieve this by the use of colorful adjectives. Piper’s world-building is more bureaucratic in nature. In his 1951 short story Temple Trouble, Piper spends a great length of time describing the way that time and dimension traveling beings calling themselves the Paratime Police use a fabricated religion to allow privatized corporations to mine uranium and other commodities right under the noses of the low-tech societies they have converted. Exposition goes into the minute details of how temples are set up in new cities, even in depth on how low level priests are selected to serve the god without being made aware of the advanced technology that creates the god’s “miracles.”

Via conversation between the main characters we are also privy to the internal struggles of the mining company. Is this onslaught of information necessarily vital to the plot? No. Does it help set up the cast of characters? In a way, yes. Does it build a relatable and recognizable setting for the story? Absolutely. So why does H. Beam Piper go into such minutia in all of his stories, not least of which includes Little Fuzzy?

Where other authors employ a liberal use of descriptive adjectives to set a scene, or will go into the extensive details of a character’s emotional state, Piper builds his environments by describing at length how a world or society functions as a whole. Take Graveyard of Dreams for instance. When the main character, Conn Maxwell, returns to his home world after leaving to further his education he sees the people he has left all those years ago and can’t help but think about how their clothing is from salvaged fabric, how their town is in disrepair from the lack of Terran Federation interest in the region, and how that situation has come to be. By and large, Piper will spend relatively little wordage in detailing the facial expressions or internal feelings of his character. He instead reserves his vocabulary for historical accounts, political ramblings, and anthropological observations. 

Which brings us to Little Fuzzy. In true Piper fashion the story is set to the tone of a conversation between upper management and underling in which we begin to understand what concerns will drive the plot – a colonized planet’s climate change, its resources, and the rights people have to inhabit and collect its resources. We are also made aware of the divide between corporations and conservationists.

In Little Fuzzy the privatized corporations that own the land rights to territories under Terran Federation jurisdiction must first and foremost consider the natives and whether or not they warrant sapient categorization. If the inhabitants are sapient, the planet will be granted certain protections which severely limit any corporation’s profit margin. If a sentient species were discovered on Zarathustra, the planet on which Little Fuzzy centers, the company would need to renegotiate its charter, conservationists would have fodder for their fight against the industrialists, and corporate heads would roll.

Again, is this onslaught of information necessarily vital to the plot? To an extent, yes, as it sets the stage for people’s loyalties. Does it help set up the cast of characters? In a way, yes, although many more are introduced later. Does it build a relatable and recognizable setting for the story? All too much so.

Knowing how the universe of Little Fuzzy operates is crucial, the same way that a working knowledge of any society plays into all of Piper’s works. From there he weaves in common themes such as self reliance, humble beginnings, exploration, and the ever present military. As I have said before, Little Fuzzy is a little dry since the debates that center around the fuzzies and their levels of sapience unfold in a minute-to-minute fashion, but they are thoughtful and well crafted arguments that give each character a distinct voice. H. Beam Piper is a unique writer, but one worth following. His newest novel only proves this. Three stars.

[January 2, 1962] Hope, Free Thought, and Character Arcs (James Blish’s The Star Dwellers)

I’ve reserved a special prize for my first guest author, Rosemary Benton.  Today is January 2, and not only will her piece be the first of 1962, but it will be published concurrently with an important astronomical event.  Every year, the Earth passes closest to the sun on the second day of the year, its “perihelion.”  If you’re wondering why it’s still so cold in January, it’s because the seasons are controlled mostly by the planet’s tilt, and only secondarily by its distance from the sun.  On the other hand, this annual proximity does mean that, in general, Southern hemisphere summers are hotter, and Northern hemisphere winters are milder.

Anyway, today is also Isaac Asimov’s birthday.  He once wrote that perihelion occurs on the day that it does because it is the day the Good Doctor was born.  Well, my nephew, David, took umbrage upon reading this bit.  As it turns out, his birthday (and that of his mother) is also January 2.  David wrote a letter to Dr. Asimov to set him straight: “January 2 is perihelion because it is my birthday and my mother’s!

Asimov sent my nephew a postcard posthaste.  It said, “By God, you’re right!”

Now, without further ado, what you actually tuned in for:


by Rosemary Benton

Fate has been very kind to me throughout 1961. I was able to find a niche for myself as a university archivist, and I came across many people who shared my interest in all things science fiction. I have had the pleasure of publishing my thoughts on such amazing creators as Zenna Henderson and Andre Norton, and have even taken daring adventures to the shadier side of the science fiction entertainment industry. Finishing out the year with James Blish’s The Star Dwellers was the cherry on top of a very delicious ice cream sundae.

The Star Dwellers is an exceptional science fiction achievement that both suscribes to the futurist tendencies of the genre, yet breaks with them at critical moments to create both stirring characters and plot. In the year 2050, scientific innovation and philosophy has allowed humans not only to leave Earth, but to discover and categorize other intelligent life. Even more shocking than finding other protoplasmic lifeforms (cell based creatures) is the discovery of alien lifeforms that take the “negative entropy” theory of life (explained in concise wording in the book’s forward) to an entirely unexpected level.

Dubbed “Angels” by the popular imagination, these are beings of pure energy; some of which have existed since the first 20 minutes of the universe’s conception. Desiring to learn from and about them, a small three man team is assembled to covertly venture into their home at the center of the Coal Sack nebula. Bearing the weight of the future of the whole Earth, this team’s mission is simple: to determine what the agenda of this mysterious race is and, ideally, to reach an accord that is equally beneficial between the two races so unequal in power.

89 years from 1961, James Blish imagines a world that is solidly entrenched in classic Blish style, yet populated by a cast that showcases his maturity as a writer. Since writing The Thing in the Attic (1954), and even his story from earlier this year, Titan’s Daughter, Blish seems to have hit upon a winning combination of his three common writing themes – hope, challenges to conformity, and character growth.

Blish inserts hope into his writing through several means. First and foremost is the characters’ determination to survive. In The Thing in the Attic a deep belief in the strength of teamwork inspires a hope that is of paramount importance to the main characters as they struggle to survive for one thousand days on the ground of their savage jungle homeworld.

In The Star Dwellers hope is what drives the main character, a diplomat cadet named Jack Loftus, in nearly all aspects of his desire to return to Earth alive. Hope that his teammates, the brilliant scientist Dr. Langer and his understudy “Sandbag” Stevens, can be saved when their part of the mission goes awry. Hope that Jack’s diplomatic skills will not enrage the ancient Angels’ sensibilities. Hope that he has made a beneficial treaty with the Angels to ensure the Earth’s prosperity. And hope that the human race will be able to hold their end of the bargain or risk losing everything to the will of these higher-reality beings. 

Blish’s vision of the year 2050 is filled with his own hopes. In Blish’s world, the United Nations is a powerful organization which has successfully mitigated the rivalries and disputes of all nations since its creation. Meeting in a fair and equal arena, even the United States and the Soviet Union have ceased to be active adversaries thanks to the technological competition we are experiencing today. In Dr. Langer’s words it was, “very good for both sides.” (19)

In Blish’s imagination, war and nationalism have given way to a higher purpose of unity through privatized space exploration and free trade. Though his characters endure realistic hardships brought upon them by their environments and their fellows, Blish nonetheless seems to hold onto a hope that harsh times may yet still yield to the self driven evolution of humankind.

By far my favorite Blish theme is the challenge to conformity. As you may recall in my review of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, one of my chief complaints was that the characters all seem to fall in line to create a conflict-less world. There didn’t seem to be any natural character arcs since all who came into direct contact with Mike (Stranger’s protagonist) would eventually come to the same conclusion: that Mike knew best and had all the answers.

Blish, on the other hand, seems to have a better grasp of character arcs. Individual peculiarities mean that those who hold the light of modern culture unflaggingly will not be infallible. Rather, those who are most willing to challenge norms while learning their own paths will become the heroes.

Probably the best example of this in The Star Dwellers is the exchange between Dr. Langer and the two cadets, Sandbag and Jack.  As they travel to their last stop before diving into deep space in search of the Coal Sack nebula, Blish takes the time to world-build a bit through a lecture delivered by Dr. Langer. In this lecture Dr. Langer tells the two teenagers about life in the 19th century, and how far the Earth has come as a unified culture. The dangers of popular culture and music, the need to educate youngsters in advanced learning programs that are not coed, and other “props of chain infatuation” (37).

Rather then ooh and ahh over the wisdom of their teacher, both boys come to their own conclusions about the veracity of this cultural change. Indeed, Sandbag is said to have been, “not as impressed by Langer’s reasoning as the trouble shooter obviously had intended that he should be” (38). Jack later comes to his own appreciation of poetry. In the world of The Star Dwellers this is against the culture’s theory of avoiding “chain infatuation.” But then again, these are not one dimensional characters we are reading about.

It would have been so much easier for Blish to have written Dr. Langer preaching to a ready and absorbent audience. But he didn’t. Life doesn’t work that way, and I believe Blish understands that. People, and especially young people, can’t and won’t take everything at face value. Varying degrees of belief and conformity is found in all of Blish’s writing. For Blish, independent thought amongst his cast is essential to making his characters relatable. This is turn greatly increases the quality of his books.

All in all, The Star Dwellers is a fine book with which to close out 1961 and ring in 1962. It renewes my confidence in this genre I love so much — for every Beast of Yucca Flats there will be a Star Dwellers. The Star Dwellers was a very well written book, and I look forward to finding more of its ilk in the coming year.  Five stars.

[November 21, 1961] Jules Verne on a Budget (Valley of the Dragons)


by Rosemary Benton

Very little deters me from seeking out science fiction films. Even if the venue is a little disreputable I will still venture in. Even when a film is being trashed by critics I’ll still give it a chance. But in the case of Valley of the Dragons I wish I had turned around at the entrance to the seedy theater I found it in. I wish I had heeded the warnings of fellow film reviewers. Valley of the Dragons is this month’s science fiction B-movie and 1961’s third Jules Verne inspired motion picture. It has everything including a story slower than my Greek tortoise, well known bit-role actors and of course copious use of stock footage. But is it still watchable? No.

Set in 1881 Algiers, the motion picture begins with two men facing off in a duel when a comet swipes past Earth, and pulls them to its surface and off into space. Suddenly finding themselves in a new and hostile world, the duelists must put aside their differences in order to outmaneuver a herd of mammoths, roaming giant lizards and bloodthirsty cavemen. Eventually they learn to adapt to their new home and are each adopted by a rival tribe of prehistoric humans. The second half of the film focuses on the emerging romances each man sparks with a cavewoman from his tribe. The script concludes with the tribes learning to come together to better fight for survival on the unforgiving comet. 

The poster for Valley of the Dragons touted several interesting aspects that I was hoping would be delivered. First and foremost, in bold red lettering the poster said that the film was photographed in “Monstascope.” Would this mean that the movie was in an aspect ratio other than 1.37:1? Yes, the film was definitely not 1.37:1, but neither was it CinemaScope with it’s glorious 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Herein lay the first let down of Valley of the Dragons. If I had to hazard a guess I would say it was closer to a 1.85:1 ratio.

Next, the poster advertises the involvement of director and writer Edward Bernds. Bernds is best known for Return of the Fly (1959) and World Without End (1956), although he has made his mark in exploitative films like High School Hellcats (1958) and even comedies like the Blondie Bumstead franchise. Being well versed in such a wide expanse of genres, I was interested to see what Bernds could cook up with subject material as potent as a Jules Verne novel. But despite my initial interest in the setting and the two protagonists, the plot quickly dissolves into painfully cliché storytelling with little in terms of originality. The former being especially true with the ridiculous amount of footage from other movies that Bernds stuffs in. Bernds relies so heavily on repurposed footage of monster fights and special effects that I felt like I was watching a fan-made reimagining of One Million B.C. rather than an original movie that happened to borrow some of its more memorable scenes.

But I can’t say that Valley of the Dragons is completely without charm. Hector Servadac, the only character retained from the original 1877 Verne novel Off On a Comet, fits well into the role of the more logical and methodical of the two protagonists. His monologue theorizing how they came to their current situation is also characteristically in keeping with Jules Verne’s fantastical science.

“There’s only one explanation that fits all the facts as we know them… A heavenly body, a small planet, or a comet perhaps, collided with the Earth and bore us into space carrying an envelope of the Earth’s atmosphere with us.”

It was also fun, as with almost all B-movies, to see how many different films they used stock footage from. At least I found it fun recognizing the various 40s and 50s films meshed together with original footage. But then again, I’ve seen too many movies. I was able to instantly recognize the alligator and monitor lizard fight, not to mention the woolly mammoths and giant iguana, from the 1940 film One Million B.C. It seems strange to me to use widely recognizable footage from a classic like One Million B.C., a movie that is played repeatedly on television, but not knowing the mind of Edward Bernds I can only assume he thought it looked interesting and would shave precious money from the production budget. In the last half hour of the film there is even some Rodan (1956) and Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) footage.

On the subject of saving money, Valley of the Dragons did include one prop that I was surprised and frankly impressed that Bernds employed. After our protagonists begin exploring the strange comet they find themselves on, they stumble into a cave to escape some roaming giant lizards. In this cave exist giant spiders. Very familiar giant spiders in fact. Since having them built for World Without End, Bernds has said that the mechanics nearly never worked and were a constant source of frustration for himself as well as the actors. Despite this, he has continued to employ these props in nearly every one of his science fiction films. It has become nearly a trademark to see these Labrador-sized furry spiders jumping on scientists, adventurers and heroines in an Edward Bernds movie. 

Ultimately Valley of the Dragons has not won me or the critics with either its Jules Verne appeal or its a giant spiders. This might a passable movie for anyone who has not seen a science fiction film over the last twenty years. Or anyone who doesn’t owns a television set and hasn’t seen over half of this movie via reruns of Rodan, One Million B.C. or Cat-Women of the Moon. But for those who are looking for a competent science fiction movie with fun special effects and originality, I would strongly advise looking elsewhere. Valley of the Dragons has its moments, but I can’t say it was worth the price of admission. Edward Bernds may be a competent enough director and writer, but Valley of the Dragons will not go down as a shining moment in his filmography.

[October 28, 1961] Heavy Lifting (Saturn C-1 SA-1)


by Rosemary Benton

It’s a great leap forward for the United States.  This morning, October 28th 1961, one can open the newspaper and learn about yesterday’s launch of the Saturn C-1.  Some of us even saw the live coverage of the launch on television, watching as the giant rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida and flew 95 miles into the air before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.  A rocket this powerful has never been launched before, and I can only imagine that the scientific community must be trembling like the ground beneath Saturn C-1’s S-1 first-stage cluster of nine tanks and eight engines. 

It was, quite simply, the biggest rocket ever launched.  By far.

As the world reaches farther and farther past the stratosphere, I wanted to take a look into the recent past in order to better appreciate where we are today.  The development of this impressive rocket was a potent combination of money, ambition, and potential, beginning in December 1957 when renowned rocket scientist Dr.  Wernher von Braun and his team proposed the creation of a booster with one million five hundred thousand pounds of thrust – that’s five times that of the Atlas (the rocket that will take an American astronaut into orbit).  The Department of Defense listened, and by August 15, 1958 the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) began work at the Redstone Arsenal to create the vehicle that would culminate in the tower of flame that lifted slowly, inexorably, from its Florida launchpad yesterday.

The initial design of the booster was something of a lash-up, fusing the liquid oxygen and fuel tanks from the Redstone and Jupiter missiles with the tried and true S-3D engine from the Thor and Jupiter missiles.  After significant retooling, the upgraded S-3D engine was clearly a new beast.  So it got a new name: H-1.  As the development of the H-1 continued through 1958, ARPA began to take a more ambitious approach to the aims of the project.  It would not be enough to develop a booster capable of propelling enormous payloads.  Instead they set their sights on creating a multistage carrier vehicle for a long term manned expedition to space.  The result was the October 1958 project tentatively called Juno V, the name indicating the booster’s kinship with its predecessor Juno rockets) based on the Jupiter missile.  The project quickly outgrew any resemblance to the Jupiter family.  On February 3, 1959 that the ARPA renamed the project after the next planet out from the Sun: Saturn. 

Saturn’s development has been nothing less than breakneck.  Dr.  Von Braun’s group at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) delivered the first production H-1 engine on April 28, 1959 and successfully tested it on May 26.  The Department of Defense prioritized the civilian Saturn.  July of that year was a particularly productive month.  At Cape Canaveral there began construction on a blockhouse for the project’s Launch Complex 34, and the Redstone Arsenal shops shifted their focus away from Jupiter rockets in favor of the Saturn project.  By the end of July, the Army Ordnance Missile Command (AOMC) was ordered to cease work on the Titan second stage boosters in favor of the Saturn project. 

NASA stepped in to assume direction of the Saturn Project from ARPA on March 16, 1960.  From the start NASA saw the three stage Saturn C-1 as a starting point in the creation of more powerful, larger vehicles.  Through April and March of 1960, success after success met the Saturn project.  As is tradition, private companies were brought on board to design and construct components of the vehicle.  Contracts between NASA, Douglas Aircraft Company, and Pratt & Whitney, were drawn up in July and August of 1960 respectively.  Douglas Aircraft Company would be responsible for the conceptualization and production of the four-engine S-IV stage of Saturn C-1.  Pratt and Whitney would produce the LR-119 engines to be used in the S-IV and S-V stages. 

As forward thinking as he is driven, Dr. von Braun had bigger plans for the Saturn C-1.  In January 1960, shortly after Convair Astronautics submitted a proposal for an S-V upper stage for the Saturn vehicle, Dr. von Braun floated the idea past NASA administration that the developing lunar project “Apollo” did not need a three-stage C-1; two would be sufficient for the early orbital missions planned for the spacecraft.  His proposal was approved, and NASA removed the S-V stage.  But the S-V stage was not completely scrapped.  In May 1961 the S-1 stage of the vehicle was modified to allow the Saturn C-1 to be a two or three-stage vehicle, increasing its versatility. 

Even before its launch on October 27th, the Saturn C-1 design was already being improved upon in the form of the bigger C-2 and C-3 plans.  In March 1961, considerations were well under way to make use of the Centaur’s LR-115 engines in Saturn C-2 rather than the more expensive LR-119 engines developed for Saturn C-1.  Fins were added to the C-2 design in order to make it more structurally sound, and the thrust capacities of the S-1 stage were reviewed for improvement.  Work continued to accelerate on the Saturn C-2 design until recently on June 23, 1961, when Dr. von Braun announced that the C-3 would hold priority over the C-2 due to the preferable use of the C-3 for the later stages of the Apollo project.

Even as the first of its family, the Saturn C-1 launch is a milestone of astronautics.  First and foremost it represents a great leap into the future of propulsion.  Developed under the guiding hand of Dr. von Braun, the The Saturn C-1 rocket itself is one hundred sixty two feet tall, four hundred sixty tons in weight, and packs one point three million pounds of thrust.  The payload of this particular rocket is 10 tons — far outstripping that of any previously launched rocket. 

More than anything, however, is the fact that the Saturn C-1 was a success on its first flight (albeit with a dummy 2nd stage — that will get tested next year).  This bodes well for future Saturn projects.  In terms of the evolution of rocket science, the C-1 has broken new ground in all aspects of rocket design, execution and function. 

The Saturn project has brought us one step closer to manned expeditions beyond orbital space. 

[Sept. 26, 1961] Sense of Adventure (Andre Norton’s Catseye)


by Rosemary Benton

Catseye is the short, but very well written, science fiction novel from the pen of the legendary Andre Norton.  I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t experienced much of Norton’s writing myself, although her fans sing her praise joyfully and have repeatedly recommended her titles to me.  Reading the back cover of Catseye while in my town’s book store, I had to berate myself for not looking into her before.  If half of what her book promised was true, then here was an author that I could fully invest in.  I was not disappointed.

In this new installment of Norton’s ever growing bibliography we meet Troy Horan, a young man who, like many of his generation, was displaced from his homeworld because of The War of the Two Sectors.  Bitterly fought until a stalemate was realized, the War rewrote galactic geography and national boundaries, forcing many to live in semi permanent statelessness.  On the planet Korwar, people like Troy live in slums called the Dipple.  Norton ascribes a bleak and uncertain future to those of the Dipple.  They can contract to be shipped off-world to some unknown fate, acquire a work permit that will allow them to find short term meager employment in northern Tikil, or they can buy their way into the booming underground Thieves Guild organization.  Luckily for Troy, his legacy as a former colonist of Norden allows him to snatch a temp position at a pet shop that caters to the upper echelons of the planet. 

Being from the well known herding society of Norden, Troy has an uncanny affinity to animals.  The levels of his skill with beasts surprises even himself after he learns that he can communicate telepathically with a select few of the animals at his employer’s establishment.  The small menagerie of highly intelligent animals, including the foxes Sargon and Sheba, the cats Sahiba and Simba, and Shang the kinkajou, draw Troy into a maelstrom of conspiracies and death.  Troy must decide whether to do what is right or what will best help him survive. 

Catseye is most impressive in three ways.  First and foremost, the quality of the narrative can not be overlooked.  In perfect harmony with the otherworldly environment, Norton peppers original sayings, phrases and honorifics into her writing.  The end result is a narrative that makes the reader feel like they are experiencing events within the actual mind of our protagonist. 

This is not an easy task for writers.  I can’t impress how often I’ve read science fiction and fantasy only to see this common issue of inconsistency with language.  For example, in Catseye a “flitter” is a ship and “patroller” refers to the police.  This unique dialect creates a flow in the story that makes the reader feel like they are really experiencing a story from another time and place.  Take this paragraph from chapter 2:

“There were pedestrians, a crowd of them, gathering.  But until they knew that this was not some private challenge-fight, none would call a patroller.  By drawing his belt-knife instead of trying for a stunner, Zul had labeled this a meeting-of-honor, unorthodox as its setting may be”.

With only the barest of context Norton has created a scene that is understandable, yet distinctly foreign.  It’s a truly gifted writer who can fabricate dialects and weave them so well into their narrative.

The second way in which Norton goes above and beyond is in her tight story structure.  Again, writing a good novel is an art, and being able to sufficiently sum up important plot points without becoming side tracked is an essential element of good craftsmanship.  In the first chapter Norton establishes the history of the world she has created, introduces our protagonist and sets him on the path to his new employer.  The first half of the book is a steady build toward the chase, capture and escape of Troy and the animals back into the wilds.  The book concludes with room for a sequel or at least tie in novels.  Personally, I hope to see Norton build the world of Catseye into something more.  With her succinct ability to set up environments, plot and characters I would love to learn more about the events that led to and occurred during The War of the Two Sectors, clearly modeled after the events of The Great War. 

Third, and most importantly, the deeply resonating themes of Catseye make it a must read work of science fiction.  This is a book that not only questions the ethics of moral rightness versus survival, but the lives of displaced people.  Last month when I reviewed Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land I bemoaned the fact that Heinlein did not try out his proposed social and moral constructs outside of largely intellectual conversations between characters.  Norton, on the other hand, accompanies words with actions.  While her prose are not as poetic as Zenna Henderson, she has a knack for incorporating astute observations at just the right moments.  Take this instance in chapter 4:

“He had early learned in the hard school of the Dipple that knowledge could be both a weapon and a defense, and something as nebulous and beyond reason as his odd mental meeting with two different species of Terran life he preferred to keep to himself”.

In chapter 6 the world building continues with Norton’s point about the necessity of keeping the ugly business surrounding the psychic animals away from the pleasurable aspects of high and comfortable society:

“As long as we can keep Korwar as a pleasant haven for the overlords of other worlds, some of them the greed-wrecked ones, we can hold this one inviolate.  One does not want such desolation in one’s own back yard.  So far those of the villas have the power, the wealth, to retain Korwar as their unspoiled play place.”

For a first introduction to Andre Norton’s works, Catseye is an exceptional read.  It has heart, it has style, and it has philosophy backing it up at just the right moments.  I really hope that I can find more from Norton regarding Troy and his journey as a new, free man.  The concept is fresh, and let’s face it — as kids and even adults, wouldn’t we love to have Troy’s power and know what’s going on in the minds of our pets?