August 13, 2005

Time Traders, by Andre Norton

Two things happened almost simultaneously a couple of months ago. The first was that my brother pointed out that I hadn't read any Andre Norton in years, judging by my published reviews, and that I should do something about that, especially since a number of her books were come back in print just now. And then Ian Hamet reviewed The Time Traders on his weblog, and that was the final nudge.

I did read quite a few of Norton's books many, many years ago, most of them while I was in my teens. Some of them I liked, some I didn't; her "Witchworld" series was famous, for example, but I was never able to get through the first book. And over the years, I gradually got to thinking that I'd outgrown her. But with two folks pushing me from two different directions, I decided to give her another chance.

Time Traders is actually two complete novels, The Time Traders and Galactic Derelict; both were written in the late 1950's. A lot of the Norton re-prints currently in the stores are similar, packaging two or three of Norton's classic novels, so be warned.

The Time Traders is quite good; indeed, it's surprisingly good. It concerns a street kid and small-time criminal named Ross Murdock who's caught and given a second chance, working as a volunteer on a top-secret government project called Operation Retrograde. It seems that the Russians have found the secret of time travel, and have somehow found a source of superlatively high-tech gadgetry somewhere in the past; the Feds are resolved to find it and acquire the gadgetry for themselves. They've got a time machine, but they need agents to go back in time and hunt for the Russians. The agents need to be highly mobile, but they also need to fit in; in short, they need to masquerade as traders, in whatever form trade takes in that era.

It's good, old-fashioned science fiction; and if it isn't as rich in detail and setting as the science-fiction being written today is, it's pretty darn good for the late 1950's. And as Ian points out in his review, Norton predicts the break-up of the Soviet Union with surprising accuracy.

Galactic Derelict is a sequel of sorts; Ross Murdock and his boss are present, but the viewpoint character is different. It seems that the Feds have discovered a derelict spacecraft in the remote past. It's abandoned, but as our heroes discover it's still in working order, and they get taken on an unexpected tour of the galaxy. Of course the derelict was found in the distant past, and it commenced its journey shortly after it was brought forward to the present day, so the galaxy is a little different than when the ship was built....

I didn't like this one as well. It lacks the depth of its predecessor; and though the places they visit have a certain "gosh, wow" quality at first, they aren't all that interesting in the long run. I don't feel I wasted my time, on it though, and the book's worth buying for The Time Traders anyway.

Posted by Will Duquette at August 13, 2005 04:45 PM