This review was originally written for In the Mouth of Dorkness, some time ago. I was diving back into classic science fiction after a fair stretch of not reading much fiction at all.
Andre Norton (aka Alice Mary Norton) is among the great Golden Age Science Fiction writers. Though her later work transitioned into a sort of Cat Fancy/Fantasy thread, her early work is essential stuff. This tale is of a young-seeming man with a shrouded past, working in a gambling hall. When things go wrong, he ends up shanghaied and forced into labor on an ice planet. From there, conflict, adventure, political intrigue, and galactic revelations.
Going back and reading books from this era (used to be my bread and butter, but I don’t read nearly as much anymore), I’m often taken aback by how modern they feel. In large part, I think this is because movies are always so far behind books, and they’re the cultural output I’m more used to consuming. Settings and styles of books written in the 40s and 50s would not see depiction in film until the 80s, or even 2010s.
I enjoyed the heck out of the book, but it feels like part of a larger whole. The universe feels so fleshed out that when the book is done, I wish to read more stories. Yet, as with many other Golden Age sci-fi books, there is no more. It’s a testament to the skills of the writers, but it’s frustrating, nonetheless. It could be said that a lot of Norton’s science fiction of this era might just take place in a larger, shared universe. But the connections are unclear to me.
For fans of science fiction, Andre Norton is a must and this would be a good introduction.