Not for the first time since I began rereading Andre Norton’s science fiction and fantasy, I discovered that I remembered the titles of this novel (there are two), the main character, the fact that I loved it when I first read it, and nothing else. I do understand why Star Man’s Son became Daybreak etc.: the original title makes one think one will be getting a space adventure, but that’s not what it is at all.
As we transition (in my case terribly slowly) from the time out of time that is the end of the year to plain ordinary reality, I’ve been bingeing one of my favorite television series, the Australian hit show McLeod’s Daughters. This isn’t genre, exactly, but it is horse-related, and it plays with various film tropes about horses and other livestock.
Pause here to note that this show, which aired over eight seasons beginning in 2001, was developed and written by women, and featured a group of women running a cattle station in the Australian outback. Running it well, having adventures, dealing with men both good and very bad (including rape and infidelity, but also more normal and healthy relationships—nothing non-hetero, but we take what we can get). We can only dream of such a show in the US.
In this last of the Forerunner books, published in 1985, Norton rounds off the series with another plucky-loner adventure. Forerunner remnant/revenant/descendant (it’s never totally clear) Simsa is back out in the wild, alone but for her loyal alien animal companion Zass, and she has cornered the market on character-in-jeopardy. This time she’s on a violently hostile alien world, she’s barely surviving, and we learn in flashbacks how she got there.
The dark of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is a strange in-between period, a kind of time out of time. Even in cultures that begin their year around one of the equinoxes, there’s something just a little different about the weeks around the winter solstice.
When we last met Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir, we focused on the practical aspects: how his parents got together, how his body might have been organized (or is it her? Or is it genderfluid?), what his superpowers were. But that’s not all there is to Sleipnir. Commenters were quick to point out the more mystical aspects of the All-Father’s mount.
By 1981, readers had a very good idea what to expect of an Andre Norton novel. Forerunner did not disappoint.
It’s all there. The plucky protagonist of unknown origins and unsuspected powers. The character of opposite gender who seems to have everything under control, but really doesn’t. The loyal animal partners. The villainous pursuers. The lengthy quest through an alien landscape. The ruins of unimaginable age and mystery. The mysterious power objects just waiting to be discovered by our characters.
For those who are looking for “Sleipnir Rides Again (and Gets Super Mystical)”, we’re saving that for a more appropriate date. Look for it on the day between the years, January 1st. Meanwhile, as we all descend deeper into the Twilight Zone of the year, here’s a little joy for the season, and a question near and dear to my horse-breeder heart.
In the comments on the last Ask SFF Equine, gustovcarl asked: In your book “Writing Horses…” you mentioned briefly that stallions can be good fathers. Do you have any examples or stories about this subject?
Near the end of Forerunner Foray, we discover that it’s a sort-of-sequel to Ordeal in Otherwhere. It’s not obvious at first, since it begins in a new-to-this-series setting, on the “pleasure world” Korwar, with a new protagonist, Ziantha. Ziantha is classic Norton: an orphan of unknown provenance, scraping a living however she can, with arcane powers whose full extent she’s not yet sure of.
In this case she has been taken in by an alien high up in the Thieves’ Guild, the catlike Yasa, and she’s being trained in psychic powers by another of Yasa’s employees, Ogan. When we first meet her, she’s in the midst of a caper, stealing computer code from a rich aristocrat, using telepathy and psychometry to work the heist.
Everyone in my social-media feed is excited about Thor: Ragnarok these days, including the office staff at Tor.com. Somewhere amid the post-Halloween festivities, the conversation turned to Loki—because who doesn’t love Loki?—and someone happened to recall one of Loki’s more interesting adventures, the result of which was Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.
What about that? they asked.
Ordeal in Otherwhere takes us back somewhat circuitously to Warlock, this time with a female protagonist. The story opens in a very similar way to Storm Over Warlock: our viewpoint character is running away from a disaster and struggling frantically to survive. This time, it’s a young woman, Charis Nordholm. The antagonists are human, the planet is a new colony called Demeter, and the disaster is a plague that attacks only adult men. The closer those men are to the government service, the more likely they are to contract the disease.
Charis is a service kid, following her father around from post to post. Her father, Anders Nordholm, has died, without any great emotional outpouring on Charis’ part; mostly she’s preoccupied with staying alive and out of the clutches of the extreme religious conservatives who have taken over the colony. She succeeds for a while, but naively lets herself be captured when a spacer lands and turns out not to be the rescue she expected.
There’s an old adage: “The devil is in the details.” No matter how carefully you may tell your story, if you miss the little things, the whole story falls apart—especially for readers who have a particular interest in those things. This is true of any art, craft, hobby, or passion, and it’s definitely true of horses and horsemanship.
There are all sorts of details a writer or reader can research, especially now in the age of Google searches and Youtube videos. But often the researcher has to know what she’s looking for, what search terms to use and what questions to ask. There’s no substitute for actual experience, or talking to someone with that experience, but that can be hard to get in our mechanized urban world.
That’s where I come in.
In moving on from the Witch World to the Forerunner novels, I thought I’d be shifting from fantasy with a dash of science to good old space adventure. So what did I find? Witches on a world called Warlock, magical coins and telepathic aliens, and a fast-moving adventure that straddles the line between fantasy and science fiction.
And I liked it. I liked it just fine.
These days when we think of technology we think of complex machines. But those machines had to start somewhere, and evolved from early, simple forms to the current advanced models. Even before that, they grew from an idea: that humans can make life simpler by constructing devices that do some or all of the work.
Horses of course are animals rather than machines, but in their way they’re a powerful labor-saving device. The horse can carry a human or pull a human structure—wagon, chariot, plow—and increase the human’s strength, reach, and productivity by orders of magnitude. The horse had a huge effect on human wars and migrations, but one little modification in the equipment upped the ante even further.
I’m glad I let myself be talked into reading Songsmith. It’s a nice coda for the Witch World books, and it was a good, fast read, with engaging characters and some enjoyable reunions.
Andre Norton and A.C. Crispin make a good writing team. Norton’s distinctive worldbuilding meshes well with Crispin’s skillful characterization (and horse details!) and lovely prose.
This batch of questions centers around a couple of common themes, namely horse breeds and riding. I’ll take the shortest one first, and then circle out from there.
This is a strange book. It reads well, the pacing is brisk, the characters are memorable if not always likeable. Chronologically it’s the first of the Witch World books, though it was published fairly late, in 1981.
It’s also the most sexual of the books in the series. Not that that’s saying much—it’s still PG-rated for some nudity and a small quantity of sexual imagery. But after reading as many Norton novels in a row as I have, I’m a bit gobsmacked by a book about, for real, sex. As in, characters coming to maturity and voluntarily giving up their virginity.
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