As with just about anything else in our culture, when it comes to the myth and lore of horses, stallions persistently get top billing. From Shadowfax to the Black Stallion to Secretariat to the Dancing White Stallions of Vienna, it’s boys, boys, boys. Mares get the standard range of sexism: gentle lady’s mare, saggy old broodmare, too slow to keep up with the boys in a race, too weak to dance the dance of the equestrian manege.
This more or less standalone novel first appeared in 1959, which puts it right in the middle of Andre Norton’s Golden Age science-fiction adventures. It seems to be written more for adults than for younger readers: the first viewpoint character we meet is an injured space pilot, and we travel along with him for a while before the narrator shifts to a person of young-adult age. The edition I have is an Ace Double with an abridged version of Norton’s The Beast Master, but at least one commenter has mentioned another Double-ing up with Voodoo Planet.
Either one works as a pairing. Star Hunter shares with Beast Master the somewhat older character whose service—military or quasi-military—appears to be over, and like Voodoo Planet, it depicts a young orphan with few prospects, dealing with danger and adventure on an alien world.
One of the most interesting developments in recent animal science, for me, has been the ongoing discovery that humans are not the only sentients on this planet, and that animals are much more intelligent than humans used to believe. So many of the traits that used to be cited as uniquely human are turning out be present in animals as well, sometimes on levels that we used to think not possible for any creature but a human. Octopuses, anyone?
Horses are definitely not octopuses—for one thing they don’t have the kind of limbs that can manipulate objects with that much dexterity—but the old view of them as not very bright loses more traction with every study of equine cognition. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sent variations on the famous horse-blanket study. And that’s a variation itself on the idea that horses can interpret written symbols.
I’m a little sad that Voodoo Planet is the last of Norton’s Solar Queen novels. It’s quite short and feels like a coda after Sargasso of Space and Plague Ship—kind of “What We Did On Our Summer Vacation,” in between the wild ride from Sargol to Terra and the presumably uneventful postal run for which the ship is preparing when Captain Jellico and his very abbreviated crew are invited to take a quick break on a resort planet.
These books are so charming and so unabashedly all-in with the genre of the boy’s adventure. Zero girls, lots of excitement, and plenty of chances to get muddy and stay muddy.
I do a lot of thinking about horse intelligence, where it comes from and how it works. Part of it is personal interest, and a good part is practicality. I spend hours every day in the company of horses. I have to understand how they think, and why, or I’ll be a wet spot on the barn floor.
On my expeditions through the internets in search of new information, I’ve come across frequent references to the fact that when humans domesticate animals, the animals are “dumbed down.” Their brains get smaller and they lose the capabilities that kept them alive in the wild. Humans breed for tractability first, and then for specific uses that aren’t necessarily related to the animal’s original function.
The second installment in the Solar Queen series reads as straightforward young-male-adult adventure, vintage 1956. It’s got all the elements: Rocket ships with fins and shiny hulls. Weird alien planets with equally weird alien life. Desperate crisis that only the kids can solve. Plenty of action and derring-do.
Plague Ship is one of the most tightly plotted Norton novels I’ve reread so far. It canters along at a good clip, each action and reversal following in logical fashion. It’s clear how it will end, but it’s great fun along the way.
I’ve always been fascinated by very, very old things. Fossils. Prehistoric artifacts. Cave paintings and petroglyphs. It’s like reaching out across the expanse of time and touching something that was alive long before what we call history—i.e., our written past.
One of my favorite Twitter feeds is The Ice Age, curated by Jamie Woodward. It’s a succession of images and links and bits of fact, always interesting, and sometimes weirdly apposite to my life in general and this series in particular.
Last September, Prof. Woodward posted an image that made me sit up sharply.
This Andre Norton novel is a complete blank in my memory, except for the title. As far as I can recall, I might even have found it up the library shelf a bit, under its original byline, Andrew North. I wouldn’t have cared if Norton and North were the same person, nor did I know the author was a woman. Library-strafing early-teen me was a complete omnivore when it came to books with rockets on their spines.
By the time I would have discovered it, Sargasso was a few years old: I was a newborn the year it was published, in 1955. I’m sure I enjoyed it, because on the reread—which was effectively a first read—I had a grand time.
As usual when I bounce off on a commenter-inspired tangent, I find that one article isn’t nearly enough to cover the subject—in this case, horses and telepathy. Last time I focused mainly on personal and subjective experience, and a little worldbuilding-style speculation. But there’s a whole lot more to it, as I was gently but persuasively reminded.
So this week I went a-googling, and was fascinated to confirm my recollection that research into telepathy is not solely the province of the arcane and the pseudoscientific.
In light of some of the comments on previous entries in this reread, I think I should clarify what this series is about.
It’s a reread of books I loved as a child and a teen. That means it’s subjective. It’s about how I reacted then, and whether that reaction is the same now, or whether my feelings have changed. It is not a scholarly study. And yes, I do know how to do one. That’s just not what I’m doing here.
The early Nortons especially are of their time, as commenters have been diligent in informing me. And I understand that. I make a point of saying so, in so many words. But I’m reading them now, in 2018. And sometimes that means that what Norton thought she was doing well or knowledgeably has not stood up to the changes in our culture and understanding. Regardless of what she tried to do, the results are sometimes problematical.
With The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder, she tried very hard to portray a non-white, non-mainstream character.
A couple of posts ago, one of our dedicated commenters happened to apprise us of a discussion over at the Vorkosigan reread. There, host Ellen MCM opined,
I would be very surprised if my unicorn was telepathic. And if it could read minds, I think it would be unlikely to act on the information in a way that humans would consider useful.
I think it begs the question: if one did have a telepathic equine, how would it react to hearing our thoughts? Or how would a human telepath perceive an equine mind?
Well now. To answer these questions, we’re going to have to suspend some modern Western disbelief, and enter into the fantasy novel that is many horse people’s daily existence.
The Beast Master, published in 1959, is one of Norton’s most openly subversive novels. It’s well ahead of its time. Its protagonist is Native American, he’s deeply imbued with his culture, and it’s his resort to that culture which resolves the major conflict of the novel.
And it has me tangled up in knots. I can see why this was one of my all-time favorite Norton novels, right up there with Moon of Three Rings and The Crystal Gryphon. I loved it in the reread, too. And yet—and yet—
Last week in my other twice-monthly column I reread Andre Norton’s postapocalyptic novel, Daybreak—2250 A.D., published in 1952 under the title Star Man’s Son. Among the various and—for the period—diverse cultures in the book are tribes of white people appropriating the horse culture of the Plains Indians. The protagonist at one point manages to capture, tame, and ride one of the tribes’ mares.
Around the time my reread post went live, one of my horse-world colleagues on facebook posted a historical video featuring Lipizzan horses. It so happens that the video dated from 1952, and was an excerpt from a science-fiction film, 1 April 2000. Synchronicity!
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.
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