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Book Review – Star Soldiers by Andre Norton

StarSoldiersTitle: Star Soldiers
Author: Andre Norton
Publisher: Baen
First Published:
Baen Edition – 2001
Genre:
Science Fiction/Fantasy (Space Opera)

I read several Andre Norton books when I was a kid. She wrote well over a hundred, mostly pulp space operas that were just what kids in the ‘space age’ wanted. Her tales of human space exploration, discovering other worlds, and meeting with strange aliens were simple but inspirational. We expected such tales to become a reality in the Twenty-First Century. Alas, things did not turn out so.

This Baen edition contains two of her earlier works: Star Guard (1955) and Star Rangers (1953).

Star Guard follows a platoon of “Archs,” human soldiers who serve as mercenaries in low-tech conflicts. They are hired to serve in a “police action” on a distant planet, which turns out to be much different than they expected, and they uncover secrets about humanity’s relationship with other galactic species and about human expansion to other worlds.

In Star Rangers (AKA The Last Planet), the multi-planet human empire is declining. Earth (Terra) is just a legend, its location forgotten. One of the last remaining Stellar Patrol ships crash lands on an unknown planet, and the survivors discover other castaways and the remnants of a lost civilization.

Although both stories were written over half a century ago, they stand up well. Some of the ‘high tech’ might seem antiquated to us now, but the characters remain believable and their adventures are still captivating (although serendipitous events do stretch one’s ability to suspend disbelief at times). With just a little rewriting, these would equal or surpass most of the popular science fiction adventure stories being published today.

What I tend to like about Norton’s books is that they often focus more on discovery than conflict, and they provide hopeful endings. These two stories do. Yes, things are bad, but there is hope for the future, and people can go on to do great things.

This is how many of us felt about the real world when these were written. The threat of nuclear annihilation hung over us, pollution clouded the skies of major cities, and there were fears of overpopulation and exhausting natural resources, but somehow we expected we’d overcome these challenges and go to the stars. Maybe we still will.

This free Baen edition for Kindle has some pretty sloppy editing, though. Both books have formatting issues and I noticed about half a dozen typos. There are so many well-written and well-edited free and low cost eBooks from indie authors, I find myself appalled when a traditional publisher cannot produce something with equally high quality.

Still, the stories are good, and I would recommend this compilation for all space opera fans. If you want to read more of Andre Norton’s books, several are available free from Project Gutenberg.

Book Review – Spell of the Witch World by Andre Norton

This is an anthology of three short stories, Dragon Scale Silver, Dream Smith, and Amber out of Quayth. I read many Andre Norton books years ago when I was in high school, so when I saw the free Kindle promotion for this one, I grabbed a copy.

These are typical sword and sorcery stories, and, quite honestly, they were just all right. I remember staying up late into the night reading Andre Norton books as a teenager, but the stories here did not tempt me to do that. I don’t think it’s the stories, though. I’m quite sure my tastes have changed.

The stories are predictable, the prose adequate, and the characters unexceptional. The Kindle version of this book appears to have been hastily assembled. I found several typos caused, I suspect, from relying on an optical character reader to digitize the book and inadequate proofreading.

As a freebie, this collection is a fine introduction to Andre Norton’s fantasy books, but I cannot recommend spending $2.99 for it. There are several better novels and short story collections available for Kindle in that price range from both old favorites and new authors.

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