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Judith Tarr

Andre Norton Goes Historical in Shadow Hawk

I know I read this book. I remember the title. That’s all I remember. But I did read it, devouring it along with every other historical novel in my small-town public library.

Reading it now, as an adult with my own bibliography of Egyptian historicals (including one on the Hyksos), was an interesting experience. I thought about how to approach it before I started, and decided to take the path of lesser stress: to read it as another Norton adventure story, and not worry excessively about historical accuracy or lack thereof. For one thing, our knowledge of ancient Egypt has expanded tremendously in the past sixty years, and the ways in which we interpret the data have changed at least as much.

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Agency and Mind Control in Andre Norton’s Ice Crown

Now that I’ve read and reread a wide range of Norton novels from the Fifties to the early years of the new millennium, I’ve concluded that, for me, her “golden age” ran from the early Sixties through the mid-Seventies. Her official “Golden Age of SF” books of the Fifties have a distinct retro charm, and her later works kept on trucking for decades, delivering the patented Norton themes and settings and the occasional new one—and then there are her many collaborations with younger writers, some of them truly fine. But from about 1962 until about 1976, she wrote the novels that spoke to me most clearly and influenced my own writing the most.

I managed to miss Ice Crown at the time (1970). It hasn’t displaced any of my favorites from the period. But it’s classic Sixties/Seventies Norton.

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SFF Horse Behavior: Fear Factor

Quite often when I talk about my life with horses, listeners will say, “I love horses, but I’m (a little)(a lot) afraid of them.” As often as not they add, “They’re so big!”

Horses are big. Even a small Mini weighs as much as a largeish adult human. A full-sized horse weighs in, on the average, at half a ton, and the big Drafts will double that and more.

It’s not just the avoirdupois. It’s the size of the animal even when it stands on all fours.

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Worlds Beside Worlds: Andre Norton’s Wraiths of Time

There’s a whole universe of fiction and highly creative nonfiction constructed around the rediscovery of ancient Egypt. The Curse of the Pharaohs! Ancient Egyptian magic and sorcery! Mummies and pyramids and hieroglyphs, oh my!

Andre Norton generally wrote in her own worlds. She often paid tribute to her antecedents, but she tended to weave her tales either away from Earth (in space or time, or in alternate universes) or in a fantastical present. It’s rather rare for her to tackle history (or prehistory), and when she does, she still puts her own spin on it.

I can see why bibliographies of Norton works would pair Wraiths of Time (1976) with Android at Arms (1971). Both were published in the Seventies. Both feature protagonists of African ancestry, and both are portal—I won’t say fantasies. They’re more science-fictional. Portal adventures, with ancient rituals and psychic powers.

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SFF Horse Breeds: Attack of the Pony Brain

Last time when I talked about ponies and the custom of mounting small children on them as a progression toward riding a full-sized horse, I mentioned, briefly, the phenomenon called Pony Brain. Commenter princessroxana then asked, So just how wicked is that pony brain? On a scale of Despicable Me to Maleficent?

My response was immediate and reflexive: Thanos.

I may have been exaggerating. But not by much.

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Twists and Turns in Andre Norton’s Android at Arms

This book did not go where I expected it to go at all. The title, to start with: I expected something like Forever War meets I, Robot. Protagonist finds himself kidnapped and hauled off into space to fight. I just read a Norton novel that did exactly that, Secret of the Lost Race.

For a fair few chapters I kept expecting this to happen. Planetary prince Andas expects to be chosen as the Emperor’s heir, but wakes up on an alien world with an assortment of other, more or less equally royal, noble, or politically powerful people. Or are they people? There’s been an interplanetary conspiracy to replace influential personages with android doubles.

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SFF Horse Breeds: “And I Want a Pony.”

Ponies are iconic. Ponies are a legend. They’re a catch phrase for the impossible dream. “Sure, and I want a pony.”

There’s history there. Horses have been solid working partners in many regions of the world, working on farms, in mines, in the woods, and in war. Ponies—who are not baby horses; they’re born small and mature small, sometimes very much so—have made notable contributions, for example in mines in the Britain and elsewhere, and as all-around working animals in the Shetland Isles. They’ve lived wild, too, in the Dales and on the Fells, and on the other side of the Atlantic, famously on the barrier islands of Chincoteague and Assateague. [Read more]

Again, All Too Timely: Andre Norton’s Secret of the Lost Race

Secret of the Lost Race is one of Norton’s future-noir novels, set in a universe of extreme income inequality, toxic capitalism, and planets occupied by inimical native life, rebels and outlaws, and predatory corporations and their enslaved workers. In a rare twist, the action begins on the mean streets of future New York, but it moves quickly to a barely habitable but economically viable hell planet.

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A Hecatomb of Horses

In ancient Greece, a hecatomb was a great sacrifice, the offering to the gods of a hundred oxen. It was a demonstration of royal power and wealth, and a means of propitiating notoriously capricious powers.

Well before Greeks were slaughtering oxen en masse on divine altars, horse cultures across Europe and Asia and even down into Egypt were burying horses in the graves of royal and noble personages. Often the horses were sacrificed in the funeral rites, as transport and as companions in the otherworld. Sometimes they may have predeceased their owners, as might have happened to the little red mare whose mummy lay in the tomb of Senenmut, the architect and favorite of the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut.

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When Species Collide: Andre Norton’s Star Born

I actually remember reading the beginning of Star Born, with the dark-skinned, fair-haired human and the furry alien named Sssuri in a boat. I don’t remember anything at all after that, but this book definitely came my way during my childhood library forays.

It’s a rarity for any author: a sequel that stands solidly on its own. It makes regular references to The Stars Are Ours! but the characters and story are distinct enough for a standalone.

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SFF Horse Breeds: Tiny Horses

A while back, one of the regular commenters asked about horses that aren’t ridden—what about them? Since every breed of domesticated equine that I know of has had someone at least try to ride it (and then there’s the whole zebra question), there really isn’t any kind of horse that hasn’t had a human on its back at some point. The really really big ones can be uncomfortable to sit on, to say the least—try straddling your overstuffed sofa to get a sense of what it’s like, then imagine the sofa as mobile in a number of different directions at once, and sentient on top of that—but in terms of ability to carry the average human, there’s no question that a horse that size can do it.

The other end of the size spectrum is a different matter.

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Double Dystopia in Andre Norton’s The Stars Are Ours!

The Second World War and its aftermath clearly had a profound effect on Andre Norton’s imagination and political philosophy. Her early science fiction is full of endless wars, blasted worlds, and hunted refugees. She saw great danger in religious fanaticism and anti-science movements. And she made it clear that white supremacy would not survive; that the “master race” would kill itself off and leave the world to black and brown people.

The Stars Are Ours! (complete with exclamation point) is both an unsparing condemnation of militarized ignorance and a triumphal celebration of human perseverance.

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In Praise of the Working Equine

This is the time of year in the United States when summer officially ends, school has started just about everywhere, and people celebrate the occasion with barbecues, last-gasp summer fun, and bumper-to-bumper traffic in honor of “Labor,” which is presumed to mean anything from generic work to unionized labor. Because this is the SFF Equine series, aka the Horseblog, I think it’s a good time to celebrate the equines who have worked alongside humans for millennia.

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Marooned on the Last Planet: Andre Norton’s Star Rangers

Star Rangers, first published in 1953 as The Last Planet, is one of Andre Norton’s earliest science fiction novels, but in terms of the chronology of her various universes, it’s one of the last. It’s a novel of the end of empire, a theme that she came back to again and again through the Fifties, and revisited in different ways through the rest of her career. It’s also a novel about human diaspora and lost Earth, and perhaps most timely of all for 2019, it’s a novel about refugees and racism.

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