Star Born, Andre Norton (1957)
Review by Carl Vincent
Star Born packs quite a lot of storytelling punch in its brief 187 pages. Andre Norton’s 1957 story examines such issues as slavery, racial prejudice, apocalyptic warfare and governmental oppression and wraps it all up in the kind of adventure-filled story that was a pleasure to read as and adult and would have had me gazing heavenward as a child. Star Born is an example of fine world-building and classic space adventure that remains accessible and surprisingly relevant 55 years after its release.
At the beginning of Norton’s novel we are introduced to Dalgard, the progeny of members of a generation ship who escaped an oppressive government on Earth (Terra) and fled to the planet Astra in hopes to make a new start. Dalgard is traveling with Sssuri, a member of a sea-born race affectionately referred to as mermen, and merwomen. Dalgard and Sssuri are traveling together, examining the ruins of a race of beings who at one time brought destructive warfare to Astra and who are rumored to be returning to reclaim the advanced technology that would once again make them a formidable enemy. Through the buddy story of Dalgard and Sssuri the reader learns much of the history of both Terra and Astra as well as learning about the culture of the people indigenous to Astra and that of the colonists who long ago landed there.
Alternately the reader is treated to the story of Raf, a Terran pilot who is a member of a larger party of explorers sent out to explore the stars to see if they could discover any remnants of those long-ago missions now that the oppressive Pax government was dead. Through Raf’s eyes the reader is able to experience Astra as if we too were landing on a strange planet for the first time. The excitement and fear of the unknown is an interesting contrast to the journey that Dalgard and Sssuri are undertaking and Norton’s story alternates back and forth between these two viewpoints. In so doing the reader gets a picture of the mysterious Others who are the alleged warmongers of Astra.
While reading Star Born I really appreciated the cleverness of Andre Norton. In reading classic science fiction stories like this there is always a chance that the story will not only feel dated but that the storytelling choices that were perhaps brilliant at the time will have a ‘been there, done that’ feel because of the decades of stories they have inspired since their release. Certainly some of the outcomes of Star Born were a foregone conclusion, but the manner in which Norton gets the story there and the surprising amount of social and political relevance for today allows Star Born to feel fresh despite the now well-worn tropes. In particular the examination of the Terran government’s views on racial prejudice and how that informs the actions of the space travelers as their adventure unfolds gave me pause as I thought about what goes on in our world today coupled with the imminent election of our President here in the United States.
But lest you think political and social commentary make for a boring work of fiction, let me assure you that Andre Norton keeps the story moving with the kind of action, suspense and sense of wonder that makes science fiction such a pleasure to read. Star Born ratchets up the tension right to the very end. Despite being well past my bed time I could not stop turning the pages as I was alternately curious about how the story would end and also how it could be possible for Norton to come to a satisfying end given the rapid disappearance of pages left to read. Without spoiling anything I will say that this reader was particularly satisfied with her execution and the choices she made as an author. She truly knew her audience and she delivered.
Star Born contains a nice mixture of Lost World fantasy and space-faring science fiction and Andre Norton manages to compare and contrast the two worlds without passing judgment on either. Critics could point out that the science is beyond iffy in Norton’s book. Unlike some of the Heinlein juveniles to which Star Born could and should be favourably compared, there is little attempt at explaining anything from the telepathic ability of the mermen and colonists to the advanced technology of the Others. The emphasis is firmly placed on the examination of the way in which mankind, or various intelligent species in this case, treats one another and given the time period in which this was written could and would have applicability across a wide range of historical events.
In the end I enjoyed Star Born because it was fun. Some of my favorite classic science fiction reading experiences have been thanks to the efforts of authors aiming science fiction at young people, providing them exciting adventures of space exploration while not talking down to them with his writing. Andre Norton too refuses to talk down to her readers, examining with maturity subject matter that is important to get a handle on early in life while at the same time providing the kid of page-turning adventure that recalls the novels that hooked me as a young adult. I am glad that I chose this as my first experience with Andre Norton. It will be the first of many, I assure you.
This review originally appeared on Stainless Steel Droppings.