Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Defiant Agents - Andre Norton

1962; 222 pages.  Book #3 of the Time Traders series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : 50's Science Fiction.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    There is something important - something powerful - on the distant planet Topaz, the records of the ancient star-travelers say so.  We need to find it and take possesion of it fast, before the Russians do.  But conditions on Topaz are harsh and geeky scientists and technicians have poor survival skills.  So let's Apachify them before shipping them out.

    Alas, the Russkies got there first, and their crew has been Mongolized.  Spirit of Cochise, meet Spirit of Genghis Khan!

What's To Like...
    The "Apachifying" process is a unique twist, which Andre Norton calls "the Redax".  Basically, it's the imprinting of 1800's Apache knowledge and instincts into  modern-day brains.  You end up a little bit schizophrenic, but you can live off the land and are one heckuva fighter.  Two coyotes are also given the Redax treatment, making them beastmaster kewl.

    It seems Norton did a lot of research in prepping for this book - the Apache gods, phrases, and culture are convincing.  There's space-travel instead of time-travel,  and we get lots of action, an alien planet to explore, some nasty otherworldly fauna, and a good ending.  The characters aren't deep (this is 50's Sci-Fi, after all), but the two opposing sides are complex, with neither one being all-good or all-bad.

Kewlest New Word...
    Kumiss : a drink common among the Mongols, made from fermented mare's milk.

    (T)he male coyote went into action.  Days ago he had managed to work loose the lower end of the mesh which fronted his cage, but his mind had told him that a sortie inside the ship was valueless.  The odd rapport he'd had with the human brains, unknown to them, had operated to keep him to the old role of cunning deception, which in the past had saved countless of his species from sudden and violent death.  Now with teeth and paws he went diligently to work, urged on by the whines of his mate, that tantalizing smell of an outside world tickling their nostrils - a wild world, lacking the taint of man-places.  (loc. 249)

    They thrust her out into the circle of waiting men and she planted her feet firmly apart, glaring at them all indiscriminately until she sighted Travis.  Then her anger became hotter and more deadly.
    "Pig!  Rooter in the dirt!  Diseased camel -" she shouted at him in English and then reverted to her own tongue, her voice riding up and down the scale.  Her hands were tied behind her back, but there were no bonds on her tongue.
    "This is one who can speak thunders, and shoot lightnings from her mouth," Buck commented in Apache.  "Put her well away from the wood, lest she set it aflame."  (loc. 1934)

Kindle Details...
    You can pay anything from $0.00 to $3.99 for the Kindle version of The Defiant Agents.  Needless to say, I opted for the freebie.  It looks like a number of Andre Norton books are now public domain, although only a few have been Kindle-ized so far.

Was the enemy always on the other side of the world?  Or could he wear the same uniform, even share the same goals?  (loc. 102)
    The Defiant Agents was published in 1962, which is important for two reasons.  First, it means the target audience was young, teen-age boys.  As such, there's no sex, no cussing, a straighforward plotline, and only a hint of romance.  Second, this was at the height of the Cold War.  Russia was The Enemy, and prudent people built fall-out shelters in their backyards.

    Given that mind-set, Andre Norton sneaks some powerful-yet-subtle messages into her story.  First, we may be the good guys, but we're not much different from the bad guys.  Second, our leaders can fool us, just like the Russian leaders fool their people.  Third, you really can't trust anybody with the possession of WMD's.

    7½ Stars.  Because it will entertain young minds while also giving them lots to think about.

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