Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Star Born

Okay, so confession time. I've never been a big fan of Andre Norton. I know this makes me some sort of heretic in SF fandom, but there it is. I tried to read Witch World a few years ago and found it to be filled with overblown language and confusing sentences, so impenetrable that I just set it aside and never tried again. And up until recently, there was plenty of SF for me to read so that while the breadth of my reading may have been lacking, the depth wasn't. However, I've been downloading e-texts from the Gutenburg Project and reading them in my spare time, like at lunch. Using this process, I finished my first Andre Norton book a few weeks ago (pre-blog) and now I have just finished my second, Star Born.

The first thing to note is that Star Born is the second book in a series (of two books as it turns out). Not having read the first book, I can't say with perfect certainty that reading the first book is required, but it certainly didn't feel like it to me. Perhaps there are some accents that would be highlighted had I a knowledge of what happened in the first book, but as best I can detemine this book takes place several generations after the first, and anywhere I might have been confused by mentions to previous circumstances, the reference was handled adroitly and with enough background information that I could figure it out.

Plotwise, the book seems to use a number of tropes that have been repeated a number of times in SF: a "lost" colony of humans making do without interaction from Earth, an alien race threatening the colony, and a new group of humans arriving and exploring the same planet without knowledge of the existence of the first colony. Norton uses the plot structure of chapters alternating between the viewpoint of two characters, whose relationship is revealed over the course of the novel. That relationship had me guessing for a while, but Norton falls upon Occam's razor and keeps it simple when that mystery is eventually resolved.

The language of the novel is simple, as is the story. The characterization is flat. In what feels like an attempt to create a great resonance as the novel concludes, there is a moment of apparent sacrifice and promises of a brighter future, but this sort of emotional quality does not exist in the rest of the book (fortunately). Humans are represented as universally good in Star Born, making it easy to figure out who the bad guys are before they actually start acting bad.

Ultimately, Star Born feels like a juvenile novel to me: straightforward storytelling involving a fairly simple plot with little emotional or intellectual depth, enough to engage a reader for a quick distraction, or to pick up on various occasions without hving to remember what was happening when the book was left off. There's a niche for this kind of writing and Star Born fills it nicely. It makes me also wonder about Witch World and if I was in the right place for it emotionally and/or intellectually. It's enough to make me want to find some more of Norton's writing for spare moments.

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