August 13, 2005

Gods and Androids, by Andre Norton

Like Time Traders, Gods and Androids is an omnibus of two novels, Android at Arms and Wraiths of Time. In this case, though, the two novels share a theme rather than a narrative thread. The theme is a common one in Norton's work: a person stumbles into another world, a world very different from his own, where in order to survive he must take the place and identity of someone who has just died. Of the two, Wraiths of Time is the better tale; it's also one I remember reading and enjoying when I was kid. Android at Arms has the feel of a failed experiment--the plot flails around in odd ways, and doesn't deliver on all of its promises. Neither of them are particularly deep, but the writing was pretty good; in places, Android at Arms reminds me strongly of Jack Vance

The poorly named Android at Arms is the tale of Andas, the heir to the throne of the planet of Inyanga. He wakes to find himself in a cell in a strange prison. The power fails due to a lightning strike, and with it the lock on his cell. He finds that he has been incarcerated with half a dozen other people, all of them notables on their respective planets, all apparently captured (no one knows by who) at a pivotal moment in their planet's history.

And though it seems like yesterday to each of them that they were last at home, the last date each remembers are many decades apart. Clearly, some of them have been on ice for a very long time.

A supply ship comes eventually, and Andas and the others manage to take the ship and escape. Naturally they each wish to return to their home planets, and Andas does manage to make his way back to Inyanga--where decades have indeed gone by, and a man with his name and face is on the throne. Who is he? Is he an android, put in place after the real Andas was captured? Or is our Andas, he who escaped from prison, is he an android, part of a plot that never came to fruition?

It's at this point that the plot takes a dramatic right turn, and while the denouement is entertaining enough, we never do find out where the other Andas came from.

Wraiths of Time is more satisfying than Android at Arms; the characterizations and settings have a depth and solidity and Andas' tale lacks.

Our heroine is Egyptologist Tallahassee Mitford, who is asked to identify an ancient African artifact that's recently been discovered. It's not quite like anything found before; on top of that, it's quite radioactive. Tallahassee tentatively ascribes it to the ancient Empire of MeroŽ, a Nubian offshoot of the civilization of Egypt. Peculiar events ensue, and Tallahassee finds herself in another world, in (unsurprisingly) the Empire of MeroŽ--but a MeroŽ not of the distant past but of the present day, a world in which ancient MeroŽ was nearly destroyed but was reborn and is now one of the dominant world powers. She has been brought there by accident, and the act has proved fatal to the one who brought her, a priestess/princess named Ashake. Fortuitously, Tallahassee, who is black as any Nubian, is Ashake's double, Ashake as she was in our world. She can touch the ancient artifact, a thing of great power, just as Ashake could--for Ashake died to bring the artifact back to her world.

Politically, Ashake must not be dead; Tallahassee is compelled to take her place.

All in all, not a bad book; I rather enjoyed making Tallahassee's acquaintance once again.

Posted by Will Duquette at August 13, 2005 09:37 PM