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Read August 3rd.

This is an odd book for Norton, because it's an ensemble cast from the beginning and it stays that way; it never slips into what I think of as her default, which is the single person with telepathic animal having to trek across rough country to avoid some kind of nasty threat.

No, this is an entire spaceship's crew, wrecked, and they remain, basically, one party, and a lot of the conflict in the book is factionalism in the party and the difficult relationships in it caused by differences in rank, species, and ability. The ship is split down the middle into Patrol officers, who are human, and who are aristocratic and have a tendency towards xenophobia and are good at tech, and Rangers, who are sometimes human and sometimes other sapients and are good at things you do on a planet when you get there and need to survive. The protagonist is sort-of-human and a Ranger, so he's in an odd position where he has firm sympathies and friendships in the direction of his affiliation, but is also uniquely equipped to get concessions and decent behavior out of the other side (and feels obliged to try to keep them alive).

Things I liked: when I say sort-of-human, I do mean sort of; he's believably psychologically not-quite in ways I haven't seen Norton do before, mostly focused around his telepathy. I liked his Ranger team, who are snarky as hell and also think that most human priorities are pointless when you could be, you know, sitting on a rock and estivating. I liked that there are times the infighting can be set aside for survival and times it cannot.

However, plotwise this was trying to be about seven books at once. I mean, it has that much plot. There's the thread about where they've crashed, and the one about who else has crashed there, and the one about who else might crash there, and the one about the possible natives, and about three different things related to the infighting, plus it's a book where every single character has an arc, which is usually a good thing but here feels... crowded, because, as I said, about twenty-seven things going on every second. One of those books where nobody ever sits down, and you the reader do not, mentally, either.

I am therefore of two minds about it, because on the one hand the thing where it's ninety pounds of plot in a twenty-pound container and the complex three-dimensional character interactions are not standard Norton and mean that bits of this are good in directions that she doesn't usually hit. It also means that bits of it are bad in directions she doesn't usually hit. It was an early-fifties book, which Baen has just reprinted in one of those omnibuses they've been so nice with lately, and I can't tell whether I'm sad that this isn't a direction she really ran with or not. I mean, if she'd gotten control of the ensemble-cast-plus-complex-outer-plot thing that would have been awesome. On the other hand Norton is one of the great writers I know on the subject of people alone or in small groups or with animals surviving in hostile landscapes and it's one of the things I read her for. So... well, as with all roads not taken, I don't know. This book was fun, although fun in that way where it is frustrating to be able to see exactly what I would have changed in edit.
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Review from July 2nd.

I'm not entirely sure how I missed this book, because I've read both the sequels (Ordeal in Otherwhere and Forerunner Foray) multiple times. I put it down to Norton's huge bibliography-- seriously, every time I go to a good used bookstore I turn up something of hers I have never heard of, let alone read-- and the fact that several of her series are structured to be so independent of one another that I once went fifteen years without noticing that I missed a book that came between two other books. (To be specific, I read Moon of Three Rings and Dare to Go A-Hunting as a kid and found out about Exiles of the Stars when Baen put out the omnibus. Uh, oops. Actually I didn't find out about Storm Over Warlock until the omnibus came out either, but I think there's a bit more excuse for missing the beginning of a series than the middle.)

This has a very typical Norton setup, young man on the run on an alien planet with telepathic wolverines as his companions. One reason I love Andre Norton so much is that that is absolutely a typical Norton setup. Anyway, the wrinkles this time around are that the things chasing him are insectoid aliens who really cannot be communicated with in any way, and the alien planet is inhabited by matriarchal telepathic sea-dwelling reptiles who don't like him because he is confusingly both male and telepathic, a thing that doesn't happen in their species. It's a pretty standard protagonist-running-away-from-things book, mostly, but the sea-dwelling culture is really fun and convincingly alien, and the way in which the protagonist keeps spending immense time and effort to stop being trapped on small islands without food or water only to then find himself trapped on different small islands without food or water is structurally more enjoyable than it sounds.

Solidly second-tier Norton-- in a year or so it is going to blend in my head with her other sixty-three books about people running away from danger with telepathic animals. The sequels are much better, more complex and less standardized. But I felt no urge to walk away in the middle; Norton is always readable even when she's not impressive.
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An odd fusion of classical Gothic novel with (fairly respectfully handled) Chinese-myth-flavored fantasy. In the mid-nineteenth century, the orphaned Saranna comes to Baltimore and the house of her half-brother, whom she has never met and who is old enough to be her father. He fairly shortly decamps to Brazil, leaving the household in control of his daughter Honora. Honora, a recent widow, is plotting to get hold of Tiensin, the mansion full of imported Chinese art that her father-in-law left to her husband's daughter from his first marriage. Tiensin is reputed to be both haunted and full of incredibly valuable objects; Honora is attempting to have its child owner diagnosed as insane, at which point the house will be at her disposal. Saranna, the child's only natural ally, faces a pitched battle: penniless orphan versus society matron, stranger versus settled incumbent, but also, of course, caring heart versus mercenary one.

If you think the family relationships are complicated, did I mention, Gothic? But Norton manages to communicate all the undercurrents and dangers very clearly and very quickly. It is astonishing how thoroughly about half of the plot follows the pattern of the Gothic as defined in Joanna Russ's 'Somebody is Trying to Kill Me and I Think It's My Husband', an essay about the Gothic novel as a simultaneous articulation and denial of women's real fears. Many of the elements Russ identifies there (the heroine must protect a young girl in danger, for instance) are present here. But the other half is full of fox spirits. It's interesting to me what this does to the Gothic structure-- for one thing, it means that the heroine doesn't have to rely entirely on the hero, because she has a powerful female mentor and associate in the fox Princess. The addition of fantasy means the book is both less claustrophobic and less melodramatic than many of its nominal genre.

Since this was written in 1975, the portrayal of race is not necessarily all that one might wish, especially in terms of accuracy about Chinese religious practices. I do not however think it is terrible; I think it was good for its day, especially because the Princess is not a Magical Minority figure. She has her own arc, her own goals, and her own reasons for doing what she does, even if they are more subsumed to the heroine's than might be desirable. I am also not sure about the book's treatment of slavery. The most one can say is that the author obviously had good intentions.

If you can get beyond that, this is one of Norton's most tightly plotted books, satisfyingly paced, with a large and well-developed cast, interesting relationships between women, and enjoyable detail. It's not a genre I've seen her do before and she does it well. It is on the lower rung of my top tier of Norton.
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A couple of brief non-book-review things: firstly, that parsnip cake I posted the recipe for? If you can bear to, let some of it sit a couple of days after you make it. It was good when I first ate it, but today it was shocked-incoherent-noises good, I-only-have-this-reaction-to-chocolate-usually good, where-is-a-contest-I-can-enter-this-recipe-into-stat good. It is at this point one of the best non-chocolate desserts I have ever had. It was better than some chocolate desserts, and I say that as a person who considers chocolate a drug as opposed to a foodstuff. That said, I am decreasing the amount of anise next time, and have mentioned that in an edit to the recipe post, because the anise only builds as the cake sits. I love anise, and this amount worked well for me with the fresh cake, but it is definitely incredibly present as it ages and I suspect that ninety percent of everybody else does not want as much of it.

Secondly, I discovered today that one of Thrud's life ambitions is to someday have a fresco of Lorenzo de Medici inventing the internet.

In typical Renaissance style, with background figures including various philosophers and saints aloft upon an airship, the River Nile handing an elongated cat to the River Danube, a complex allegory of Venus and Mars looking towards and away from the new invention, a dance of the Four Cardinal Virtues, and Vulcan forging a series of tubes in the fires of Mount Etna.

Words fail me when I attempt to describe how much admiration this provokes in me. This has to happen someday. The world needs this fresco. NEEDS. We own a manga in which Pico della Mirandola is secretly a magical ninja, so clearly the universe is not inherently against it and we can damn well make this happen.

Anyway. Sorry. Book review.

Ice Crown is one of Andre Norton's Forerunner books, a loosely connected series of an indeterminate number of books set in the same universe (every time I turn around in the right kind of used bookstore I fall over a Forerunner book I've never heard of). The ancient and godlike civilization of Forerunners could do basically anything, but they vanished, and the current human civilization is attempting archaeological recovery amid wars, thievery, political intrigues and the usual dangers of interstellar travel. In this particular one, our heroine, Roane, is an archaeological assistant to her emotionally abusive uncle and cousin, who have gotten the rights to dig on a closed world-- one which a previous non-Forerunner civilization used as a setting for a planet-wide psychological experiment. The planet has been interdicted since the fall of the experimenters because no one knows what is going on with the experiment or how to stop it, but now there's the prospect of immense wealth and knowledge, so Roane's uncle's team are meant to get in, snoop around, and get out without ever interacting with any of the locals.

But after her initial, inevitable contact with the locals, Roane starts to realize that maybe there's a way out of the terrible life she has with her uncle and cousin. Unless, of course, the experiment is still causing trouble after all these years. Or other things go wrong.

I would not call this absolute top-echelon Norton, but it isn't bad, either. It's a good, solid, middle-of-the-road novel of the sort that used to be called 'science fantasy', notable primarily for having less of the truly inexplicable than many Norton books do, and less of a sense of deep time-- the planet is pseudo-medieval. Roane is an entertaining heroine but a kind I've seen a lot of in Norton, and her pain is told more than we feel it. The plot is well-engineered and does not do too much of the people going back and forth over the same stretch of country that Norton can resort to at her worst. Not very suspenseful, not very funny, but it doesn't do the annoying thing Norton also does a lot where the book ends about two pages before you would like it to.

This is honestly just a pleasant, mild book which will give you a moderately entertaining time without insulting your intelligence. There aren't enough of those in the world, really, so I approve.
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I'm back from my funeral-going (happily, earlier than I expected) and hope to catch up on these reviews within the next couple of days. The books I read for this review were read on September ninth, tenth, and eleventh.

As part of my travel, I found myself in my father's basement, which is full of books. He is a Golden Age SF fan and something of a collector in a small way, and I wanted some of the books of my childhood as comfort reading for the rest of the trip. I looked over the Andre Norton and discovered something I had not expected. Half of them I'd read about seventy-three times each-- all my old favorites were there, the ones I didn't steal when I moved out-- and the other half I had never read at all and had no memory of my father even owning. I know they must have been there when I was growing up because the last time my dad bought anything in genre was 1972, and also these are all paperback original first-run from the fifties and sixties with my father's Very First Address Labels from when he was in high school carefully glued into some of them. (I wonder whether a first of Witch World in very fine is worth anything, now?)

Then I went and looked over the Heinlein, and there was one I hadn't read there, also. Over the next three days I read Sargasso in Space, by Andre Norton; Rocket Ship Galileo, by Robert Heinlein; and Star Gate, by Norton again. It was a very good run of books surrounding a funeral, because they took about half an hour each when I was very tired, and had that known-author nature where one pretty much knows what to expect. Then I spent some while pondering the mystery of why I'd never read any of them previously, because I was a voracious reader then as now and it seemed odd.

I can only conclude that it must be the titles. )
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I felt like reading some Andre Norton, and my collection of crumbling old paperbacks is still in boxes in the portico. Fortunately, the public library-- as any good library should-- has a collection of crumbling old Norton paperbacks that almost completely does not overlap with mine.

One good thing about how sheerly prolific Norton was is that I know I'm never going to read them all. There's always another handful of titles I haven't seen at each new used bookstore. Of course, this is also an annoying thing, because I know I'm probably missing some of her best, and on occasion I discover that I haven't even read all of a series. I had no notion of the existence of one of the Krip and Maelen books until last year, even though I'd read the books before and after it.

Andre Norton is, of course, the literature of my childhood. )


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