Genre Science Fiction Publisher Ace Year Published 1958 Review Posted on 4/24/2008 Reviewer Rating
7 out of 10
Star Gate, by Andre Norton
Reviewed by Edward McKeown
If you've read this book, why not
Long before anyone has the idea for SG1 and Stargate series, a writer used the title and idea of gates through time and space. Andre Norton (1912-2005) is a writer whose work should be better known by a new generation of readers. She wrote over 200 works of science fiction and fantasy from the 40s to the end of the century, frequently blending the two in a unique way. You might wonder what a writer of that time would have to say to 21st century audience, but Norton can reach across generations, as there is a timeless quality to her writing. This timelessness arises out of very basic themes. Andre Norton's protagonists are often young people, alienated or disadvantaged on some basic level from the society that they are in, hunting for belonging and meaning in their worlds, living often on the edge of poverty or disaster.
Star Gate was a gate for me in a personal way as it was the first book of science fiction that I ever read and began my life long love affair with the genre. As with any other first love I may not be totally objective about it.
In Star Gate we meet a young alien, Kincar s'Rud on the world of Gorth. Kincar is small humanoid, heir to an isolated mountain fortress. His life is that of a medieval warrior, hunting and bearing a sword in his guardian's service. He has always known that he is somehow apart from his fellow Gorthians This lonely existence has drawn him to his closest friends, a mord (fearsome combination of a hawk and a lizard) named Vorken and his larng a six legged, horse-like creature.
His world is in turmoil. Five centuries ago Terrans landed in their great ships. While it was they (called the Star Lords by the Gorthrians) who raised the native people from primitive savages, they have begun to realize that the native culture will never develop as it should while the Star Lords remain. They are withdrawing in their ships to launch off in hope of finding an uninhabited world.
Kincar learns to his surprise that he is a half-breed child of a Star Lord and a Gorthian woman. He has no place on Gorth and must leave with the others of his kind. Caught on the border between cultures and species he is literally a man without a world and is turned out of his uncle's keep. He is torn between a fascination with the star-faring Terrans and the powers native to his own world. As a parting legacy from his uncle, Kincar bears a talisman of that Gorthian power, called a Tie, it's an amulet from the prehistory of his species and in that odd blend of fantasy and SF that Norton practiced, it possesses real power. Whether this power is purely of magic or of some earlier technology from another race lost in time, we do not learn. Andre Norton's loosely shared story-galaxy was once home to great and mysterious aliens referred to as the Forerunners, now vanished from the spaceways but whose implements sometimes survive in the lost corners of the universe. That history is absent from this story but the Tie is real and it is antithetical to the powers of the Star Lords.
But such a decision is never unanimous and factions break into open war as the Star Lords launch into space. Power abhors a vacuum and the Gorthians are drawn in as a rebel faction of Star Lords seek to retain power on Gorth. There is a second group that Kincar falls in with, who have a different objective. These Star Lords have grown to love Gorth and its world, following native ways and religions. They understand the need to leave their present Gorth to develop in its own way. This group of Star Lords and other "Halflings" like Kincar will seek another Gorth in an alternate dimension in the multiverse where intelligent life did not develop.
Pursued by enemies, Kincar's little band fights their way to an installation in the waste lands. A desperate holding action buys time while the gate between dimensions is prepared. The fight is carried even to the opening of the Stargate and the evil Starlord Herk dies under beamfire as Kincar's party flees.
But the haste of their departure and firefight at the gate disrupt the interdimensional transit. They arrive in a Gorth very different from their own but not uninhabited. Perhaps it is a karmic demand of the universe but their new home is one where a native culture had arisen to greater heights than on Kincar's birth world but fell to a greater depth when the Star lords of this universe attacked, enslaving the Gorthians and setting up a helot state.
Kincar's allies are dismayed to find different versions of themselves as the warlords and oppressors and quickly are drawn into a rebellion. Given strength by the Tie Kincar befriends the locals and penetrates the Star Lord fortress, to face his enemies in a test of will and power.
The Pros: Kincar sS'Rud is us as a teenager, struggling to fit in, uncertain of himself and his world. He is alone, hoping for friendship and acceptance but afraid to try for it. His struggles are the outward aspect of our own at his age. Gradually by belief (in his heritage through the Tie) and by courage he moves from a swept-up refugee to a leader among the travelers. Andre Norton's particular magic is to bring us to a universe of genuine danger and struggle in the company of people who we would face that danger and struggle with. In small and unexpected moments that are my favorite part of her writing she shows how even in the danger and the dark there are moments of beauty, perhaps made more so by that contrast.
The Cons: Andre Norton wrote for a young adult audience, though she did not do so in a condescending manner. The characters face death. This is not Hogwarts. Kincar's ordeal in the arena of the evil Starlords is harrowing and could have taken place in a concentration camp. Norton is always circumspect about sex, and it is largely absent from this book. Generally in her work, sex is romantic, abstract and handled off-stage. So if you are looking for a book with a hot-blooded alien bounty hunter reminiscing about her last three way with a bargirl and a shapeshifter you can pass on Norton.
She has a tendency to hang an "er" on any bit of machinery: blaster, flitter, reader etc. This can get a little annoying at times. Kincar being a primitive has no idea how any of this works and as a na´ve narrator can't explain any of it to us. CJ Cherryh used the same device in Jewel of Ivrel with Morgaine and Vanye. To Vanye, the native swordsman, Morgaine is a witch, her sword magical, the gates she passes through, are demonic. But Morgaine is a scientist, she carriers a laser, the gates are mechanical transports through time and space and the sword possesses a gate opening in its tip. Fantasy or SF? It may be a matter of whose eyes you see it through.
In about the only passage where I found my suspension of disbelief, waning. Kincar and other native take over the repair of a downed flitter from Star Lords Dillan and Bard. While I suspect Amercian Airlines might do something similar, the idea of a couple of medieval swordsmen making repairs to a 737 is just a bit much.
In sum, Star Gate is a sound adventure novel with a young man you will feel for and perhaps recognize.
I fell in love with Andre Norton's 'The Beast Master' as a child and of course was devastated by the Hollywood disaster they called a movie. I loved both TBM and the sequel, 'Lord Of Thunder', and then went on to love her 'Janus' books, and was equally disgusted with Cameron's plagiarism in the form of 'Avatar'. Some books should not be used for movies, they are too precious. I haven't read 'Star Gate', I must have missed it over the years. I read 'Star Guard' 'Star Rangers' etc. Thank you for a great review, I will be reading this as soon as I can get my hands on it. As to your pros and cons - Norton's handling of sex in her novels is fine with me. I love the avoidance of it, and it makes the novels stand apart from most others. One of the things I loved about 'The Beast Master' was the complete lack of females twisting their ankles and tempting the hero. Hence my fury at such a twisted handling of the film. (Incidentally, I am a female) I just love guy's SciFi adventures without all that nonsense entanglement. I did't like the additions to "The Beast Master' series after the first two sensational books. I'm reading all your reviews, and I have rambled on, so thank you again.