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Judith Tarr

SFF Equines 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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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