Ancient interstellar civilizations and lost technology. Archaeologists, tomb raiders, historians. Thieves and psions and traders. Alternate universes and subtle magic. Evil scientists, power-mad kings, mind-stealing aliens. Unspeakably terrible rodents.
N is for Andre Norton.
I read one of Andre Norton’s novels for the first time when I was around twelve years old. I don’t recall which one — I read so many, in so short a time, that the order has become blurred. Ones that made a particular impression on me (in no particular order) include Breed to Come, Here Abide Monsters, The Crystal Gryphon, Moon of Three Rings… If I tried to list every novel of hers that I read, and how some of those influenced my own writing, this blog post would be a few thousand words long, at the least.
Andre Norton’s novels, whether science fiction or fantasy (and good luck trying to tell which is which, sometimes, even if you believe there is a clear line between these genres) are often filled with ruins from older — much older — civilizations, sometimes not human, that are sources or hiding places of great power. Sometimes that power comes in the form of magic; sometimes it is the residual psionic/mental energy of people who lived there long ago. Sometimes it is alien technology, or technology from a time before civilization fell (often due to the use of said technology). In Norton’s science fiction, humans are — despite having an old and thriving spacefaring civilization of their own — fairly recent newcomers, and the universe is a dangerous place for the unwary. In her fantasy novels, the “Old Ones,” the people who lived before humans, though dead or sleeping or moved on, are never entirely gone, and they sometimes interfere in human affairs to their own ends.
Another element that appears frequently in Andre Norton’s novels is the character with psionic abilities. (For readers not familiar with the term, think ESP, telepathy/empathy, precognition, etc.) The ability to form mental bonds with animals is a staple in Norton’s fiction. So is the ability to “read” objects by touching them — although this is often dangerous, since touching an object that once belonged to another, more powerful mind can open the character up to a sort of possession.
And then there are the rats… I could tell after reading just a few of Andre Norton’s novels that she had serious rodent fear. In Breed to Come, the Rattons are oversized, intelligent rats descended from lab rats used in various experiments; they claim that their ancestors were assistants to the mad scientists who made Earth uninhabitable for humans. In other stories, similar creatures are called Beast Things, etc., and they’re just as scary and dangerous as you’d expect giant intelligent mutant rats with a hatred for humans to be.
Just a few blog posts ago, I mentioned a science fiction novel titled The Remnant. It hasn’t been released yet, but there are perks to being a freelance editor… like getting to be one of the first to read a good story with a few somewhat “Norton-esque” elements: an archaeological expedition to an alien planet, an ancient civilization and forgotten technology… And oh yes, the protagonist is a psion. (The author of The Remnant is an archaeologist as well as a fellow fan of Andre Norton’s fiction.) All this in a military science fiction novel, no less. To the best of my recollection, though, there are no rats in The Remnant, mutant or otherwise. 🙂