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.