Sunday, February 10, 2013

Key Out Of Time - Andre Norton

    1963; 178 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : 50’s Sci Fi.  Book #4 of the Time Traders  series.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    Hawaika – according to a cosmic tape, it should be a lush, tropical, thriving planet.  Instead, the Time Traders found it almost entirely ocean-covered, with only a few spits of lifeless land jutting above the sea.  What happened?

    Fortunately, the Time Traders have a device they call a peep-probe, which can see how a selected place looked like in the past.  And 10,000 years ago Hawaika looked like what was seen on the tape.  A mere 500 years later, the planet was barren.  Could Hawaika’s fate be changed if the time travelers hop back to before “the big event”?  More importantly, should they interfere with history?   

What’s To Like...
    This is classic Science Fiction.  The target audience is teenage boys, who were only ones reading it in the early 60’s.  So Key Out Of Time has no cussing, no sex, and above all, no romance.  There is some killing and bloodshed, but the gore is kept to a minimum.

     The storyline is vintage Andre (Alice) Norton.  She loved to use time-travel themes, which is how I got hooked on her books as a boy.  But there are some remarkably forward-looking themes here too.  For instance, one of the protagonists is a girl, another is a croipple, and two others are dolphins.  Norton makes it a point to show they all are just as important on the mission as the white males.  Indeed, our main hero, Ross, sometimes feels like the backward one.

    Norton also takes a couple subtle pokes at the “Better dead than Red” mindset of the 1960’s.  Heady stuff for something published at the height of the Cold War.

    The story moves at a crisp pace.  We don’t really move around a lot in the alien world (that’s also vintage Norton), but she does throw a bunch of fascinating people, animals, gadgets, and magic at us to keep us entertained.  And Norton postulates the Prime Directive here, years before Star Trek employed it.  Maybe this is where Gene Roddenberry got the idea for it.

Kewlest New Word...
    Immure (verb)  : To enclose or confine someone against their will.

    “Suppose” – Ross rolled over on his stomach, pillowed his head on his arms – “we could uncover some of that knowledge –“
    The twitch was back at Ashe’s lips. “That’s the risk we have to run now.”
    “Would you give a child one of those hand weapons we found in the derelict?”
    “Naturally not!” Ross snapped and then saw the point.  “You mean – we aren’t to be trusted?”
    The answer was plain to read in Ashe’s expression.  (loc. 139 )

    Rule One: Conserve native life to the fullest extent.  Humanoid form may not be the only evidence of intelligence.
    There were the dolphins to prove that point right on Terra.  But did Rule One mean that you had to let a monster nibble at you because it might just be a high type of alien intelligence?  Let Karara spout Rule One while backed into a crevice under water with that horn stabbing at her mid-section!  (loc. 270)

Kindle Details...
    Key Out Of Time is a free download at Amazon, as are the first three books in this series.  The copyrights on a bunch of Andre Norton’s early works have expired, meaning anyone can publish them.  A lot of these are also available as free downloads.  You can tell them quickly at Amazon; none of them have a “real” book cover.  I’m guessing the artwork is still copyrighted.

“Ross, where are we?”  “Better say – when are we?” he replied.”  (loc. 529)
    FWIW, the fundamental question – what happened to civilization on Hawaika – is never answered.  Maybe that’s dealt with in the three sequels to KooT, but they were written 30 years afterward.  Maybe we’re supposed to ponder whether the Time Traders’ visit to Hawaika changed its history.  It’s hard to say.

    Science Fiction has come a long way since its Golden Age of the 1950’s/60’s.  Storylines are more complex, the books and series are longer, alien planets are much more detailed, and the physics of galactic travel is now an art in itself.  Sci Fi is no longer just for adolescent boys.

    Still, I enjoy reading classic Sci Fi on occasion, and Andre Norton is often what I reach for first.  7½ Stars.

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