Friday, July 29, 2011

Adventure classics -- Going back to find the future

The Time Traders

by Andre Norton


The Time Traders,  published in 1958, alludes to the flights in late 1957 of USSR satellites Sputnik and Muttnik. (The last was a derogatory US nickname for a satellite that carried a cute little dog called Laika into orbit.) Anyone unfamiliar with the prodigious output of the author whose original name was Alice Mary Norton might think she made a hurried effort to get out a book with topical references. Except that the science fiction novel about a Cold War-era space race carried on by time traveling secret agents was her second for the year.

In fact, 1958 was something of a slow year for Norton. While some authors dread having to present even one book a year to their publishers, for much of her career Norton published three, four or more yearly. And this was before turning to co-authors in her later decades.

No matter how many books she wrote, fans like me couldn’t get enough. For a few years in junior high and high school, my sister and I and our like-minded friend Steve checked Norton’s volumes out of the library as fast as they came in. Then I went to college with a roommate who read James Joyce, and liking Andre Norton seemed suddenly immature.

I’m not the only one who disrespected her. Despite Norton’s tremendous output, despite her likeable characters, thrilling adventures and clean prose, she never got the critical acclaim she deserved. Fan Ed McLuckie -- and lucky he was to have visited Norton before her death in 2005 -- speculated on the causes in the October 1996 issue of Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine. Was it because she was considered a children’s author before middle grade and young adult were cool genres? Was it the ill health that limited her self-promotion? Was she just too good to take seriously?

I’d add -- was it the cats? Norton never married and had no children but she loved cats and wrote many of her books about them. I wasn’t crazy about the cat novels. But then, I’m a horse person.

The Time Traders opens “in this last quarter of the twentieth century,” in a world of Red scares, Sputnik and the Cold War. But in a twenty-first century world with its own boogeyman, in a time of extraordinary renditions when extreme heroism coexists with dark government secrets, it still feels fresh. As fresh as its rebellious young protagonist Ross Murdock and as ripe for adventure.

For a list of Norton’s works, see See for back issues of Firsts, including the issue with McLuckie’s article and a list of Norton works and approximate values at that time.

(Next month: Adventure classics explores the watery part of the world, beginning with a book that spans both science fiction and oceanic adventures -- Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.)


Another writing contest!  The deadline for the FenCon short story contest has been extended to August 6.  FenCon is a Dallas science fiction and fantasy convention, held this year Sept. 23-25.  Contest details at


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