Recently observing mounds of languishing Andre Norton novels has worked an opposite effect in me. It’s like the sign that says, “Hot: Do not touch!” and my instinct is that I want to touch it. What I mean by this is that I read one of Andre Norton’s novels. Said novel is written under her pseudonym Andrew North and the first installment of the Solar Queen series entitled Sargasso of Space. It might be overstatement to extrapolate an entire analysis of her work through one book but that’s what I’m going to do. But first, a summary.
Dane Thorson has just graduated cadet school and assigned a spot among an old trader ship, the Space Queen, with its ragtag band of explorers. When a fortuitous auction opportunity pops up, the ship’s crew scrounges together just enough cash to “buy” the planet Limbo in the hopes of a lucrative enterprise. Upon arrival of their new purchase, along with several suspicious but well-paying passengers aboard, the Space Queen and her pilots soon discover the planet’s auspices are more than they bargained for. As Limbo contrives to sucking in stray spaceships and crashing them upon its surface, confusion, abduction, and a search for the planet’s nefarious origin ensue.
As an aside, I find the novel’s titular allusion to the Sargasso Sea rather amusing. If you’re unfamiliar with this body of water (or if you haven’t read Jean Rhys novel, or you’re not a Bermuda Triangle conspiracy theorist), it is the only “sea” in the world whose borders are not dictated by land mass but rather by its own sustained currents and wind. The myth associated with this body of water is that it drags in ships. See the connection? In unfortunate contradistinction is that since the publication of Norton’s novel, this theory has been debunked.
But back to the review.
When looking at Andre Norton’s body of work you have to marvel as how consistently (an understatement) she pumped out novel after novel. Productively speaking, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s like she whipped out her calendar book, called her friends up and said, “Hey guys, can’t do anything this weekend. I’m locking myself in a room with my typewriter for the next 48 hours. But don’t worry, by Monday morning I’ll have completed an entire novel.” To this example, a writing marathon is, in some ways, what the novel read like. I don’t mean rushed. If a sample-size of one book can adequately proxy for the trajectory of her career, I declare: Andre Norton is an excellent story teller! But also: she’s not a great novelist.
Yes, I will explain. If we were sitting around a campfire and someone challenged us to tell a story from scratch, to just start on the spot and make it up as you go, Norton would be the all-time reigning champion. That’s what the narrative felt like. On the spot. Un-outlined. In the moment. Furthermore, if we were sitting around the campfire listening to her tell this story, I’d love it all. I’d be enamored, surprised, and a lot of other good things. But as a novel reader, I’m accustomed to a particular level of depth which was not present in this instance.
I can’t claim I was sucked in, but since the lion’s share of her novels don’t exceed 300 pages, if I need to revisit my theories, it wont take long to affirm or disprove them.
Anybody else in the internet world read Norton? Any recommendations for possible future reading?