Like James Tiptree Jr, Andre Norton was one of science fiction’s false men. Only her pseudonym wasn’t much of a secret, and “Andre” (or Andrew, or Allan, her other noms de plume) was definitely not as acerbic, depressive, epistolary, or gender-forward as Tiptree. Rather, Andre Norton wrote real golden age yarns, the kind of books read by eight-year-old boys in the 1950s. Radio Flyer sci-fi, if you will. It’s innocent speculation: escapades to exotic planets, explorations of alien ruins, laser battles, stories where the Darkness is shuttered off somewhere safe, in the personage of a roundly evil alien overlord, for example, defeated by wholesome space men.
In a word, boring. Boring and insanely prolific: the shelves in the Andre Norton section of your local bookstore are literally sagging with soggy space operas, some three hundred novels. There is a crotchety little essentialist inside of me that yearns to be snarky about this. If you are going to use a male pseudonym, do you really have to write boring adventure stories? Do you really have to write like a man?
I am going to get in trouble for that. Also, Andre Norton (Alice, really) was a nice old librarian who wrote adventure stories and history books for kids. Not everything has to be troubled.
Sargasso of Space is about a rag-tag team of space merchants (“Free Traders”) who buy plundering rights to a distant, third-tier planet at auction. The planet, Limbo, turns out to be the titular Sargasso, a decrepit vortex of crashed spaceships. Limbo is tricked out with ancient alien technology that is being exploited by crummy, evil space pirates; our good Traders dispatch them with strength and strategy.
Can I be done writing about this yet?
NEXT BOOK: OCTAVIA BUTLER’S PARABLE OF THE SOWER