content by

Judith Tarr

SFF Horse Breeds: Paso and Paso

Sometimes with animal breeds, people get confused. Two breeds will have very similar names and come from similar parts of the world, but aficionados will tell you that they really are not alike at all.

In dogs, that happens with Corgis. A Corgi is, in Welsh, a dwarf dog. The Pembroke is much better known—the Queen’s dogs, after all. The Cardigan is much rarer and less famous, and mostly it’s known as “the one with the tail.” They’re both short, up-eared Welsh herding dogs, but they’re separate breeds. Not related that closely at all.

In horse breeds, a similar thing happens with the Paso Fino and the Peruvian Paso. They’re both descended from Spanish imports into the Americas. They’re both smallish horses, they’re both lively and full of brio but also calm and cooperative, and most distinctive of all, they’re both gaited. [Read more]

All Too Timely: Andre Norton’s Star Guard

It’s an interesting experience to go back fifty years in the timeline of Norton publications, from her last solo publication to one of her first science-fiction novels. Star Guard was published in 1955, and it’s purest Golden Age military SF. There is not one single female character, and just one lonely reference to women at all, at the very end. The universe is male from end to end.

And you know, I had fun reading this classic boys’ adventure. Probably rereading it, but I don’t remember it at all.

[Read more]

SFF Horse Breeds: The Saddle Seat Continuum

While the Morgan horse was the star of the equine show in northern New England, and just a little before the Quarter Horse went West, the American South was producing its own type of horse and its own style of riding. What we now call Saddle Seat has strong proponents in the Morgan show world, and it’s a significant part of Arabian showing as well. But the horses bred and designed for it came out of Kentucky and Tennessee and the rest of the Southern states.

[Read more]

Celebrating the Sixth Sense: Andre Norton’s Three Hands for Scorpio

One of the commentators on my reread of the Five Senses series suggested this title as a sort of companion volume to that series. Just as the other volumes revolve around one of the five bodily senses, Three Hands for Scorpio focuses on the sixth sense: the powers of the mind. Now that I’ve read it, I agree. This is part of the series, and not just in the nature of its magic.

[Read more]

SFF Horse Breeds: Justin Morgan’s Horse

Most horse breeds start within a geographical area, from stock that evolved for the conditions of that region. People breed what’s available nearby—the mare up the hill, the stallion down the road. Over time, the local horses take on a particular look and shared characteristics, as breeders gravitate toward specific types and functions.

Hence the Arabian, evolved in and for the desert and prized for its beauty, its speed and stamina, its fire. The Belgian draft horse, big and tremendously strong, famed for its pulling power. The Icelandic horse, bred in isolation for a thousand years, with its full-bore adaptation to the climate and terrain of Iceland.

Other breeds evolve out of a need or a fashion, and serve a specific function. The American Quarter Horse, originally a quarter-mile racer. The Thoroughbred, the king of the middle-distance race. The Standardbred, bred to meet a minimum standard of trotting speed.

Rarest of all is the breed that traces back to a single individual.

[Read more]

Heartless: Andre Norton’s Dread Companion

It’s been a while since I remembered any elements of a Norton novel in this reread, but Dread Companion definitely rang some bells. I remembered the names of the children, Oomark and Bartare, and the weird landscape of geometrical shapes in which the protagonist finds herself. I also recognized the scary hairy beast-man when he appeared, though I didn’t recall much of who he was or how he got there.

What I had forgotten, or maybe just didn’t notice, was how dark and ultimately heartless the book is.

[Read more]

SFF Horse Breeds: America’s All-Purpose Horse

Many breeds of horses are specialists. Individuals may excel in a variety of disciplines, and if the structure of the animal is sound, it can do whatever it’s asked to do. But the breed itself will be designed for a particular skill or set of skills.

[Read more]

Surviving an Apocalypse: Andre Norton’s Dark Piper

The more of Andre Norton’s novels I read and reread, the clearer it seems to me that she was at the peak of her powers between 1965 and 1975. She’d been a published writer for some thirty years and would continue for another forty—which is a truly remarkable career—but during that decade she published some of my all-time favorites, including Moon of Three Rings (1966) and The Crystal Gryphon (1972).

I wouldn’t list Dark Piper (1968) as a favorite, but it’s the work of a strong and confident writer who knows her fictional universe well.

[Read more]

Worldbuilding Your Horse Breeds

In my other regular column for, I happened to be reading a novel that demonstrated the difference between research and experience when it comes to horses. One of the things that made the point for me was the way the author referred to different breeds and types, but without seeming to get the distinction, or to have realized that horse breeds would be different in a secondary-world fantasy.

Horse people get this. Mercedes Lackey is a horse person par excellence. You won’t see Arabians or Quarter Horses or Vanners in her Valdemar books, but you will learn quite a bit about Shin’a’in horses.

There’s a reason for this.

[Read more]

Swan Song: Andre Norton’s A Taste of Magic

The introduction to A Taste of Magic presents it as the last novel with which Andre Norton was directly involved. She made notes on it and attempted to write it at the end of her life, when, according to the introduction, she had finally escaped the difficulties and betrayals of her later years. But her health was failing and she despaired, until she was able to share her concept for the book with one of her dear friends and collaborators, writer and editor Jean Rabe.

It’s a poignant story, heartbreaking at times, and it makes reading and reviewing the novel difficult. How can I criticize it when she struggled so hard to bring it out into the world?

[Read more]

SFF Horse Breeds: The Heavy Horse

Horseman’s wisdom teaches that there are two distinct types of horses, the light horse and the heavy horse, with a wide range of breeds and types in between. In the old days the light horse was called a hotblood and the heavy one, aptly enough, a coldblood. The “hot” type was represented by the Iberian and later by the Arabian and its descendant the Thoroughbred, the “cold” by the numerous breeds of draft horses including the Shire, the Belgian, the Clydesdale, and the Percheron. Various degrees of crosses led to the “Warmblood” breeds and types, which are mainly Thoroughbred crosses on native European agricultural stock.

With all the romance that attaches to the war horse, the racehorse, and the ancient chariot horse, for plain and simple daily use and ongoing value to human cultures before the industrial age, there’s little to compare with the old-fashioned heavy horse. That’s the plow horse, the steady puller, the strong and patient workhorse whose labor keeps the farm afloat. He’s big, he’s sturdy. He’s calm and cooperative. He doesn’t have a lot of speed, but he can go on all day, day after day.

[Read more]

Amping Up the Weird in Andre Norton’s Wind in the Stone

Wind in the Stone is a strange, dark, uncomfortable book. The plot turns on torture, slavery, and sexual violence, and every twist and reversal is telegraphed well before it happens. In many ways it’s the antidote to The Scent of Magic with its strong, proactive characters and its clear focus on the sense of smell.

Supposedly the sense here is that of hearing, but Norton seems unable to focus on it. The Wind of the title is one of the power-McGuffins, but it doesn’t operate so much through sound as through touch or physical force. Once in a while she seems to remember what the sense is supposed to be, and briefly deafens or blunts a character’s hearing, but she quickly shifts back to other forms of magic. There is the magic Wind, dualistic forces of Light and Dark, book magic, crystal magic, stone magic, demons and portals to hell, a faceless green Lady of the eco-powers, and a whole tribe of Sasquatch. There’s everything here including the kitchen sink (literally, in the dun), but hearing gets barely a mention.

[Read more]

SFF Horse Breeds: The Friesian Horse

It’s 1985. There’s a new film out with an almost too twee title, Ladyhawke. Supposedly it’s based on a medieval legend, but really it’s a secondary-world fantasy with fairytale overtones. It’s lush and romantic and blessed with beautiful faces—Michelle Pfeiffer, Rutger Hauer, young and luminous. It’s full of fantasy tropes: the thief who makes good, the lovers tragically sundered, evil aristocrats and wicked clerics, curses and shapeshifters.

All of which is pure joy for the fantasy fan, and while the graduate medievalist has many reservations about the accuracy of the setting or the provenance of the story, it’s so very, very pretty. Prettiest of all—even prettier than young Rutger with his ice-carved cheekbones—is Rutger’s horse, who is a character in his own right.

[Read more]

Tracking Evil in Andre Norton’s The Scent of Magic

After the manifold frustrations of Mirror of Destiny, this sequel is, as the saying goes, a breath of fresh air. It’s the work of a mature and confident author who has mastered her personal formula and still managed to keep it from getting stale.

The third of the magical senses in this series is the sense of smell, and magic here is contained in a full range of scents both good and bad. Our main protagonist is the traditional Norton orphan, in this case a survivor of plague, Willadene, who has a most remarkable nose—it’s very nearly as keen as a hound’s. Willadene has a hard life at the beginning of the novel, indentured to her horrid relative Jacoba, who runs a dirtbag tavern frequented by thieves and scoundrels.

[Read more]

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.