Book Review: Andre Norton’s The Stars Are Ours!
Any book with an exclamation point in the title instantly earns points with me.
Anyway, about a month ago, a copy of The Stars Are Ours! randomly showed up in my mailbox. A bit of querying later, and I found out that one of my uncles sent me a copy, since Andre Norton was one of his and my dad’s favorite authors when they were kids. Neat!
Andre Norton is another golden-age SF author who I’m pretty sure I’ve read before, way back when, but I’ve never reviewed any of her work for this blog, so let’s hear it for filling in more gaps in my Sci-Fi education. Fun fact: Andre Norton’s birth name was Alice Mary Norton– but she wrote under the Andre Norton pseudonym because it was the 50’s and people didn’t think women could write sci-fi. Norton’s work then became so popular that she legally changed her name to Andre Alice Norton. Crazy stuff!
Anyway, The Stars Are Ours! was first published in 1954. It’s a textbook example of “Juvie SF–” basically what we’d call Young Adult today (or “YA” if you wanna be acronym-tastic). Which is to say, it’s a rollicking sci-fi adventure starring a generically teenaged protagonist. However, Norton does a lot to distinguish The Stars Are Ours! from other gee-whiz adventures.
See, the gimmick to the book is that, after a terrible war in the far future, there’s a surge of anti-intellectual sentiment. It’s to the point where being a scientist is a crime, and the ruling class of “Peacemen” pride themselves on their ignorance. Let’s hear it for disturbingly prescient sci-fi, folks!
Anyway, the book centers on the hilariously named Dard Nordis, a teenaged kid from a scientist family. He ekes out a miserable, nigh-medieval life with his brother and his precocious niece Dessie … until the science-hating Peacemen find out their scientist heritage, and come down to murderize them. Dard’s brother dies, and Dard (I seriously can’t stop snickering at that name) is forced to flee into a frigid winter wilderness with Dessie in tow. Good news is, Dard soon stumbles across the smart-people resistance, who are building a spaceship to escape the Stupid-People Dystopia!
Dard helps the Smart People Resistance with some espionage-type stuff, and then helps them fight a battle, and then piles onto the smart-people rocket to jet off and colonize a distant alien planet. And this all in like the first half of a novel that’s under 200 pages. Norton doesn’t mess around. Seriously, there’s the making of a whole modern-YA trilogy in this book. Just add some cheesy romance (as this book is unsurprisingly asexual), and you’re set.
Dard jets off to spaaaaace, at which point he spends the rest of the novel exploring the strange new alien planet the Smart People Resistance has landed on. This is where the dated-ness of a 1950’s sci-fi novel shines through, as apparently the Smart People Spaceship doesn’t have much in the way of sensors or cameras or anything, so most of the exploration has to be done more or less on foot. Dard and Co. discover the remnants of a strange alien civilization, get chased around by horrible reptile aliens, and finally make first contact with a race of amphibious sentient alien creatures. There’s even a ‘Thanksgiving in spaaaaaace!’ kind of scene that makes me wish I’d read this book about two weeks earlier. Ah well! Oh, and at Space-Thanksgiving, Dard learns there’s an evil race of aliens that held the space-merpeople-Indians as slaves, and may still be out there somewhere. But none of this is ever resolved, and the book just sort of ends. Huh.
Norton crams a lot into The Stars Are Ours! Arguably, too much. I mean, the novels goes from a terrible anti-intellectual dystopia to space exploration and colonization to poking at strange alien ruins to making first contact with another species– any one of these ideas could make for a full novel (or even a trilogy!) of their own. Dard just sort of goes from one thing to another, and very few of the plot threads are ever really resolved. Wikipedia tells me Norton wrote a sequel called Star Born in 1957, though that book is set several generations after The Stars Are Ours! Huh.
Another thing that struck me about The Stars Are Ours! is the fact that it’s pretty violent, especially for a Juvie SF novel. The book never verges on splatterpunk or anything like that, but there’s certainly a lot more ray-gunning than you’d get from the likes of Clarke or Asimov. Hell, just a couple chapters in, Dard kills a dude with a throwing knife, which is pretty hardcore when you think about it. Which, I imagine, held a lot of appeal to my dad and my uncle, way back when. Because who doesn’t love a cool space adventure?
While I haven’t read much Andre Norton, I kind of get the feeling The Stars Are Ours! wasn’t her best book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not BAD, so much as underdeveloped. I’m looking forward to the chance to track down some of her other work, however, to see how that compares to this book. And heck, maybe even my uncle will send me some more suggestions sometime.