by Timothy Doyle

#39, 28 March 2005

Andre Norton
An Appreciation

Collecting Science Fiction

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"I've seen a complete collection of Andre Norton's books and it haunts me to this day, sort of like the sight of an unscalable Everest." --C.J. Cherryh

Andre Norton, known with great affection as the Grand Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy, died at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on March 17th, 2005 - and we are the poorer for her passing. Norton's fantasy and SF career spanned more than a half century and included approximately 150 novels with her full or co-authorship as well as numerous anthologies and short stories. She was a pioneer, succeeding as a female writer in a genre dominated by men, though she found it necessary to legally change her name from Alice Mary to the more masculine Andre.

Norton wrote conventional SF and fantasy. There was plenty of action and adventure, aliens and monsters, ray guns and rockets. But what makes a Norton tale live and breathe are her portrayals of friendship and loyalty, of commitment, and of willingness to sacrifice for a greater good. She brought a depth and maturity of character and personal relationships to a genre more noted for its gizmos and alien monsters.

But there is little I can add to the many descriptions of Andre Norton's contributions to the modern genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction or her legacy, so I will content myself with a more personal reflection on what her books meant to me.

I was a voracious reader of SF as a child in the 1960s, and some of my finest reading memories from that time are of books by Andre Norton. In fact, upon examining these memories I am struck by something odd. While there are many books by other SF authors that I know I read during those years, my memory of them is mainly limited to the elements of plot. But with Norton's books, I remember plot and character, scenes and snatches of dialog, even images of what I thought a particular character or place looked like. I have clear memories of what the book itself looked like, and the surroundings in which I read the book. For example, I read a big chunk of Storm Over Warlock on a long, hot summer afternoon in the Easton, Maryland public library, probably in 1968. It was a yellow hardback with a striking DJ illustration of a spaceman carrying a ray gun and a fierce wolverine with a needle-nosed rocket ship and insect-like alien in the medium background.

Another Norton title I remember vividly is Daybreak: 2250 AD (originally Star Man's Son), which I read in the Ace paperback edition, featuring one of my all-time favorite SF cover illustrations. As a kid, it really bothered me when the cover illustration bore no relationship to or actually conflicted with the story - still does to a degree, as with the Warner edition of Octavia Butler's Dawn in which the black female main character is shown in the cover art as a white woman. But I remember thinking the cover for the Ace PB edition of Daybreak 2250 AD was a perfect representation of Fors and the great hunting cat Lura as they raft across a river, the shattered ruins of the lost city in the background. I have re-read this book (literally, since I still have that same copy that I read as a child) at least six times over the years, and just thinking about it now makes me want to pull it off the shelf for yet another read.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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