Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Random Thought - Ten Years Without Andre Norton
It is hard to believe that she has been gone for ten years. If one were to go back in time and talk to my ten year old self, I probably would not have believed that she could die, because she seemed almost like an unstoppable force of nature to me. She was the first author who I not only remembered by name, but whose books I sought out specifically because she wrote them. To ten year old me, the person who created such a vast array of science fiction works had to be on a level above us mere mortals.
Of course, she wasn't. Norton was just as human as anyone else. She worked as a librarian, loved books and reading and cats, and happened to be someone with the dedication and skill needed to craft the myriad of science fiction novels that would enthrall a young boy. The telepathic bond between a young space trader and his accidental almost cat companion in The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars. The trader transformed into a wolf-like alien creature in Moon of 3 Rings. The young man forced into working as a mercenary on an alien planet because humans aren't considered fit for any other job in Star Guard. The indentured servant on an alien world who became an alien and helped save the world in Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus. And on and on and on. Norton's work defined much of what science fiction meant to me. Other people of my generation found their way into the world of science fiction via Heinlein's juveniles, or Burroughs' Barsoom novels, or any number of other routes. My route was through Norton's novels.
When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot, which I suppose is the natural consequence of being the son of a graduate student who later became a foreign service officer. Every year or two my family would move and I would find myself at a new school. When I spent three years in the same high school, that was the longest period of time that I spent at a single school up to that point in my life. And every time I moved to a new school, one of the first things I would do was go to the school library and find all of the Andre Norton books they had. And then I would proceed to check out and read all of her books that I had not already read.
No matter where we moved - Virginia, Tanzania, Zaire, Nigeria - the school library always had some Andre Norton books. Not only that, the school library always had at least some Andre Norton books that I had never read before. Through all of the moves, she was one constant I could always rely upon. I don't remember what my first Andre Norton book was: I inhaled them so quickly that my memories of them are all mixed together and impossible to specifically identify now. Because I read most of her books after getting them from the library, there are many of her books that I read that I can loosely remember the plot and the characters, but have no recollection of what the specific titles were. I didn't own an Andre Norton book until I was well into my teens (Trey of Swords, which I still own), but I read dozens of them.
My father did, and still does, enjoy science fiction, so I grew up in a household where there were science fiction and fantasy novels to read. The first time I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I read his copies. I found and read his copies of Danny Dunn novels that he still had from his childhood. I still remember reading Samuel R. Delany's Nova from our family library when we lived in Tanzania. Some of the earliest gifts I remember getting from my parents were science fiction books aimed at young readers, such as the Roger Elwood edited collection Children of Infinity. But as far as I know, my father was never an Andre Norton reader, so the personal library of books that our family carted around the world didn't have any of her works. She was my discovery - she was the first novelist of note that I found that was not the result of merely following along in his footsteps. Science fiction was a genre we both loved, but Norton was all mine, and mine alone. She showed me, through her books, the vast array of things that one could imagine.
I regret that I never actually met Andre Norton. I would have liked to tell her how much her work meant to me. That she was one of the few constants in my childhood. That she had been the primary gateway into the world of genre fiction for me. I know people who did, and the stories they tell of her reveal her to be as good a person as one would hope their childhood idol to have been. But knowing that after she is gone is kind of bittersweet. We still have her books, and every time I read one by her, I fall in love with science fiction again.
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