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Judith Tarr

Horses and Horsemen in C.J. Cherryh’s Gate of Ivrel

When writers ask me how to tell whether a writer (of any genre) knows horses, I’ve tended to fumble around for examples, any examples, help me, wonky memory, you are my only hope.

Not any more. I finally reread Gate of Ivrel after quite a few years, and now all I need to do is point. “Read this. See what it does. Do likewise.” [Read more]

Taking Back the World: Andre Norton’s Victory on Janus

The title of Victory on Janus is a pretty big spoiler, but the fun of reading a Norton adventure novel is in seeing how her characters navigate the plot to the inevitable (and usually abrupt) conclusion. Here as well, we’re joining characters we’ve met before, so we’re rooting for them from the first page.

The opening gives us a nice little bit of worldbuilding and a touch of surprise: Naill Renfro, now Ayyar of the Iftin, has been hibernating through the winter, along with the rest of his small band of changelings. They’re aroused early and suddenly by imminent disaster: the offworld colonists are destroying the forest, and the destruction is approaching the tree-city.

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Horse of Bronze, Pony of Earth: Joy Chant’s Red Moon and Black Mountain

Of all the books that shaped my youth as a writer, Red Moon and Black Mountain has to be in the top five. The prose, the characters, the plotting—they sank into my bones. And they’re still there, many years later.

A lot of years. When I pulled the book off the shelf and checked the copyright page, I was startled to see “First Printing.” Omigod, dare I even crack this precious and much-read volume? But there was a deadline, and there is no ebook, and hard copies are not terribly difficult to find but they take a while to travel to my hinterland. So I read with care, and I read, this time, for the horses.

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Going Green: Andre Norton’s Judgment on Janus

I had an odd reaction to this entry in the Norton canon. It starts off with a fridging—killing off the protagonist’s mom to get the plot in gear—and then, to make things just plain weird, he turns into the Green Goblin. But then I started to kind of like Naill Renfro, and when Ashla showed up, I realized I was enjoying the ride. By the time I got to the end, I was eager to move on to the sequel (and next time I will).

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White Horse in the Moonlight: Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground

If you ask a Lipizzan enthusiast in the US how they first became enamored of the breed, there’s a very short list of books and films that comes up immediately. Prominent on that list is the Disney film, “The Miracle of the White Stallions,” and Mary Stewart’s 1965 suspense novel, Airs Above the Ground.

Stewart was not, as far as I know, a horse person, and the book is not a horse book. It’s about a young woman searching for her husband in the Austrian countryside, and international drug smuggling, and, incidentally, one of Austria’s greatest treasures, the Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. In the mid-Sixties, between the film and the Spanish Riding School’s 1964 tour of the US, the Dancing White Horses of Vienna were very much in the news, and Stewart seems to have caught the bug along with many others. Being Mary Stewart, superb writer of romantic suspense, she did her homework thoroughly, and built a thriller plot around the magical white horses.

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Surprisingly Timely: Rereading Andre Norton’s Night of Masks

Most of the Andre Norton novels I’ve read and reread so far have had issues with being, as we say here, “of their time.” Even when they try very hard to be diverse and inclusive, they’re dated, sometimes in unfortunate ways.

Night of Masks feels amazingly modern. It’s vintage 1964 in its technology (records are kept on tapes, starships are rockets with fins), and there’s only one human female in the book, whose name is a patented Norton misfire: Gyna. But at least she’s a top-flight plastic surgeon, and she performs in accordance with her pay grade; nor is there any reference to her being a second-class human.

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Dancing Before Kings: Marguerite Henry’s White Stallion of Lipizza

As much as King of the Wind filled my tween heart and soul, this other Marguerite Henry classic came to mean more to me when I grew out of tween and teenhood. I could dream of owning (or being owned by) an Arabian someday, but the white horses of Vienna, the fabled Lipizzans, were not for the mere and mortal likes of me. They were and are state treasures of Austria. I could worship them from afar. I might even be able to ride the movements they made famous, but on other breeds of horses. If I had a dream in that direction, it was to ride a Lipizzaner once, and then, I told myself, I would be content.

The universe always laughs at us. Sometimes even in a good way.

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Worlds Beside Themselves: Andre Norton’s Star Gate

Long before McGyver ran through a big rattly circle into strange worlds in the beloved TV series with an almost-identical title, in 1957, Andre Norton had a go at gates between worlds—in this case, parallel worlds. My copy happens to have been slapped together with Sea Siege, but it’s not immediately obvious why. Star Gate is a different kind of story in every way. All it has in common with Sea Siege is a set of late and passing hints that the Star Lords came from Earth. The two books are completely different in voice, style, setting, and characterization. They are literally not even in the same universe.

If I were going to put Norton books together in sets, I would hook up this one with The Jargoon Pard or possibly The Crystal Gryphon. Star Gate reads like proto-Witch World. It has the odd, archaic style and the low-tech setting with hints of higher tech: medieval-like cultures clashing with and invaded by aliens with machines that allow them to travel not only through space but between universes. [Read more]

King of the Horse Books: Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind

This book. Oh, this book. Horse-crazy tween me loved it with all my heart. I borrowed it from the library over and over, read and reread it. It was the most perfect book I had ever read.

It had everything. Far-away settings. Exciting adventures. Actual real history. Characters I could see and hear in my head. And, of course, horses. Perfect books always had horses.

When I embarked on the SFF Equines Summer Reading Adventure, I knew King of the Wind had to be on the top of the list. Somewhat ironically, I never owned a copy. These days I tend to prefer ebooks for ease and convenience and because my book storage runneth over, but in this very special case, I had to have the physical book. That meant the original edition with the Wesley Dennis illustrations and the lovely cover with its head of an Arabian at full gallop, mane and tassels streaming. [Read more]

Surviving the Nuclear Holocaust: Andre Norton’s Sea Siege

For the first time in my reading and rereading of Andre Norton’s novels, I’ve found one that happens during the atomic holocaust. Especially in the Fifties, she referred to it constantly, taking as a given that Earth would nuke itself. But her stories nearly always take place in the aftermath, sometimes very long after—Plague Ship, for example, or Daybreak/Star Man’s Son.

In Sea Siege, the big blow comes midway in the book.

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When Aliens Join Your Horse Fantasy: Walter Farley’s The Island Stallion Races

When I was writing the last SFF Equines post, between the research I was doing for the post and the many recommendations in the comments, I was possessed of a powerful urge to read horse books. Old favorites. Other people’s favorites that I never heard of, or never got to. Horse books! And, as we’ve achieved both the Celtic version of northern summer (having passed the feast of Beltane) and the US Southwestern version (with icebreak on the Santa Cruz River in Tucson), it’s the perfect time for a Summer Reading Adventure.

So, over the next few months, I’m going to read horse books—in genre as much as I can, but a few old favorites as well. I’m taking recommendations, so feel free to make suggestions in comments.

For now, I have an actual science-fiction horse novel in front of me, and it was one of my very most favorites when I was a tween: Walter Farley’s The Island Stallion Races.

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Special Delivery: Andre Norton’s Postmarked the Stars

Thanks to James Nicoll and fellow commenters, I am very happy to have found this late entry in the Solar Queen series. Postmarked the Stars was published in 1969. In the years between it and Voodoo Planet, the Sixties happened—including “Star Trek” and, in Norton’s own personal world, the first few volumes of the Witch World series plus my beloved Moon of Three Rings. A whole lot had changed, and the science-fiction genre was a different place.

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Why Are There So Few Female Horses in Speculative Fiction?

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.

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Ticking Off the Boxes: Andre Norton’s Star Hunter

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.

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How Smart Can a Horse Be?

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.

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