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Judith Tarr

Echo and Hommage in Andre Norton and Sasha Miller’s To the King a Daughter

I had never heard of this book, first of an eventual five-volume series, before I found it in the Andre Norton bibliography. It’s a collaboration with Sasha Miller, author of several fantasy novels of her own, and it came out quite late in Norton’s life, with the later volumes published posthumously. It’s essentially a Witch World hommage, not quite fanfic in that it’s supposedly set in a secondary world of its own, but the settings, characters, and world are clearly based on Norton’s iconic series.

There’s a medievalzoid realm ruled by four families—a la the Mantles of Arvon. There are Sea Rovers who are Sulcarmen with the serial numbers still clearly visible. There’s a huge, deadly Bog inhabited by a wide range of monsters and assorted clans and tribes of ugly, misshapen, barbaric people. There’s a tradition of Wisewomen, represented by the mysterious Zazar. There are ancient ruined cities everywhere, and in the first volume there’s a strong suggestion that the world is being invaded by aliens from another world or dimension.

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Writing Horses: Sketching “The Mind Horse”

Recently on Twitter, one of the artists I’ve followed for years—since Livejournal, in fact—joined a thread of other artists, all sharing a phenomenon that is apparently common in the visual arts. It’s called “the mind horse.” The challenge is to draw without a reference, and the principle is that every artist has a horse in their mind, that they will revert to when asked to draw a horse. The kicker is that that horse almost never resembles the real thing.

Or does it?

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Mixing It Up in Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie’s Beast Master’s Circus

I’ve always been fond of the Beast Master series. Hosteen Storm is one of Norton’s more memorable characters, and of course there’s that essential and classic Norton theme, the bond between human and animal. Storm’s universe is one of her darker ones, with a relentless and utterly inhuman alien enemy, a terrible and destructive war, and the final destruction of Terra itself.

But as with all Norton series, however bleak the world may be, there is still and always hope. Good people of all species undergo terrible trials, which they not only survive but triumph. And always, in the process, they find family.

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Writing Horses: Horses in Winter

Even if I hadn’t already decided to answer commenter Acyn’s question and talk about horses in winter, the universe would have made sure I will do exactly that. First as I was avoiding work—er, noodling on twitter, I came across this delightful thread, not about horses but about emus in winter. And then as I pulled myself back to the blank page, an email came in with a link to an equine nutritionist’s article on—yes, horses in winter.

Dr. Thunes offers a concise checklist for horsekeepers in a colder climate, specifically the UK or the northern tiers of North America. She happens to have migrated south, to a city just a couple of hours’ drive from my horse farm outside of Tucson, Arizona. It’s a good checklist, aimed at the experienced horse owner, but worth a look for what it has to say about what horses need as the season changes from warm to cold.

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A Little Alien Adventure: Andre Norton and Michael Gilbert’s The Day of the Ness

This is a nice little a palate cleanser after a series of long and intricate adult novels. It’s short and concise, tightly plotted and narrowly focused, but in a good way. As middle-grade books go, it’s solid.

What’s interesting about it is that the co-author, Michael Gilbert, was (is?) an artist. The illustrations are his. Mostly they’re fairly timeless, though young Hal’s father has a classic Seventies mustache, which is appropriate enough for a book published in 1975. There’s no way he could have known that 2021 would call it a “porn ’stache” and see a distinct resemblance to Freddie Mercury.

The story is set sometime after 1975. Lasers are a fully developed form of weaponry, and there are flying cars. Flying cars were The Future in 1975. Instead we have supercomputers in our pockets. I suppose it’s a worthy tradeoff.

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Writing Horses: Saddles and Styles of Riding

My post on Saddles 101 gave rise to a whole sequence of reader questions. I love reader questions. Here I’m going to answer one particular set, which is best summed up in Troyce’s comment:

An interesting addendum to this essay would be one about the style of riding and how the rider sits.

As I noted in my post, a saddle is a structure designed to serve as an interface between the rider’s seat and legs and the horse’s back. It can be as basic as a piece of leather or other flexible, breathable material (fabric, synthetic) shaped to the horse, with some form of attachment that holds it in place—again, most basically, a strap around the horse’s barrel. There may be additional straps to stabilize it fore (a breast collar) and/or aft (a crupper). (And maybe a second girth or cinch in a Western saddle.)

But here we’re talking about how the structure of the saddle determines where and how the rider sits on the horse’s back. Some of that is style, i.e. form, and some is function. The definition of what “looks good on a horse” has a lot to do with style, but it’s also related to the optimal way to stay on board when the horse does whatever the style of riding is about.

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Weaving Worlds and Words in Andre Norton and Susan Shwartz’s Imperial Lady

It’s been a long time since I read Imperial Lady. Long enough that I’ve forgotten the book itself, the details of plot and character. But I do remember that I read it, and I remember how much sheer gleeful fun its co-authors had in the plotting and researching and writing of it.

That fun still shows, all these years later. And so does the research, and the writing skills of both authors. Norton of course was her own and justly famous self, in 1989 as in the last days of 2021. Susan Shwartz was and is a talented writer in her own right.

It’s a good mix. The story of Lady Silver Snow in the Han Dynasty of ancient China draws extensively on what history is known of the period, as of the late 1980s. Silver Snow is the daughter of a disgraced general; she can ride and hunt and shoot a bow, which is most unlike an aristocratic lady. When summoned by the Emperor to be one of five hundred candidates for imperial concubine, she dares to hope that she may chosen to be empress, and thereby restore her father’s fortunes and her family’s honor.

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Writing Horses: Saddles 101

I’ll do a post another time about the history of saddles, and historical saddles. That’s quite a bit of fun and great for designing fantasy horse gear. Here, I’ll cover the basic principles and the standard types and styles of the here and now—in short, the kinds of saddles you’ll find in a tack shop near you.

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Essaying the Epic in Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey’s The Elvenbane

Andre Norton’s collaborative novels of elves and humans and elf-human hybrids (and dragons) with Mercedes Lackey seem to have been a commercial success. Of the four they planned to write together, three were published before Norton’s death. That’s a good run, and there’s certainly enough story there to support a series.

The depth and breadth of the story is the greatest strength of the first volume. There is a Lot of worldbuilding there, and a lot of backstory, and a lot of plot on a number of fronts. Each species—humans, elves, hybrids, and dragons—gets its share of attention, with excursions into history and politics, as well as analyses of the different cultures and the ways in which they affect the emotional lives of the characters.

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Writing Horses: Death on a Pale Horse

I am working on a post about saddles, and it will happen, I promise. But I’m caught up here in the dark of my ancestral year, a little too literally in a few too many ways, to the extent that I am calling this Deathtober, and as for 2021, my word for that is not even printable. Because I live in a fantasy novel, with a herd of fantasy horses, I am aware every day of the Powers that reside in the white horse.

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Alternate Historical Fantasy Done Right in The Shadow of Albion

I will say right up front that this, of all the Norton collaborations I’ve read so far, is my favorite. I love novels of the Napoleonic Wars, both real-world historicals and alternate-world fantasies. I like spy novels. I like fish-out-of-water adventures: characters thrust out of their own worlds or times. Add a strong dose of Faerie and a dollop of portal fantasy, and I’m there.

What’s fun about this is that it’s absolutely a Norton novel, with a whole range of her favorite things to do and not do, and yet Rosemary Edghill’s hand is visible in the smoother prose, the deft characterization, and the range and variety of historical and sartorial detail. It’s Norton, but more. As a collaboration, it’s just about seamless, and for me at least, it works.

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Horses and Star Trek: Considering Captain Picard’s Saddle

It’s question time here at SFF Equines, and commenter Jazzlet has a good one:

Could you tell those of us who have only ridden other people’s horses a bit about saddles? I’ve seen mention of people with their own saddle, if I remember rightly one TNG Star Trek starts with the Enterprise being completely vacated, but Picard goes back for his saddle and so the story. Anyway that and other mentions made me wonder about saddles, it’s obvious that no one saddle will fit all horses and ponies, but that’s as far as I get.

I was surprised to discover on searching my past articles that I have never actually devoted one to the subject of saddles. I’ve mentioned them in passing here and there, but never done a whole post. That’s a pretty big omission. I will remedy that in the very near future.

In the meantime, I’m captivated by the idea of Captain Picard’s saddle. Here on this very site, a few years ago, Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer wrote about the horsekid side of Star Trek, with special reference to the episode Jazzlet mentioned, “Starship Mine” (The Next Generation, S6 E18). It’s kind of a tragic post. I’m going to mercifully forget that part, and just think about the Captain’s saddle.

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A Shadow of Things to Come: Andre Norton’s Huon of the Horn

Between Huon of the Horn (1951) and Rogue Reynard (1947), I almost wonder if Andre Norton had some thought of making a career, or at least part of one, translating or adapting medieval texts. The two are very close in structure, style, and storyline. Huon seems a little less stiff and a little more comfortable with its yea-verily-and-forsooth prose, but it’s still a fair plod to get through.

The two texts (I won’t call them novels) share quite a few elements. Rulers with anger-management issues holding councils and demanding the presence of nobles who have stayed home for Reasons—bad ones for Reynard, justifiable for Huon. Royal favorites murdered both accidentally and intentionally. Royal messengers subjected to a range of adventures and tortures, and sometimes a combination of both. Impossible demands and impossible quests, and wicked villains scheming to destroy the moral and the good.

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Dreaming of Wild Horses

The worlds of fantasy are rich with horses and horselike creatures. Kelpies, Pucas, Pegasi. Unicorns. Companions, horned Khentor horses, Mearas. And that doesn’t even include the more common or garden-variety horses and ponies who populate favorite novels and series (it never fails when I put up a post like this; someone is sure to mention Bela).

In our own world, certain breeds have achieved near-fantasy status. The Arabian—oldest breed in the world, its enthusiasts will tell you. The “Romantic” breeds: the horses of Iberia, the Lipizzan, the Vanner, the Friesian. The magically shimmering coat of the Akhal-Teke. The great warhorses, from the Great Horse of the Western knights to the small, tough, indestructible Mongol horse. The Marwari with its unique ears that meet at the tips. The tiny and incredibly long-lived Falabella, and the huge Shire horse, and the Clydesdale of beer-wagon fame. And many a USian child’s potentially achievable dream, the Chincoteague pony.

But even more than these, and maybe before any of them for many horsekids, the wild horse is the horse of dreams. The horse who can never be tamed. The epitome of freedom.

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Tripping the Light Fantastic in Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith’s Derelict for Trade

After the earnestness of Atlantis Endgame, this entry in the Solar Queen series is quite a lot of fun. Norton’s own solo works in the series feature a somewhat raffish, somewhat beat-up spaceship with a crew of Free Traders and a tendency to fall into the worst kinds of bad luck. “What’s the worst that can happen?” isn’t a rhetorical question for the Queen. Not only does it happen, the crew has to go through complicated contortions to get back out of the mess—and just about every time, they fall right back into a new mess.

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