Andre Norton

So a new fight has erupted in science fiction over the fact there have only been 4 women given the Grand Master award by SFWA.  One should keep in mind that there have only been 30  given thus far.  You can find a list here Grand Masters.  (Apologies for it being a Wiki entry, the entry over at the SFWA site is out of date.)    In addition the recipient has to be alive to receive it and have had a major impact on the field.  When this award was first instituted it was understandable that the SFWA presidents wanted to honor writers in our field who were elderly when the award began in 1975.  It was natural that the first awards would go to Heinlein, Clark, Asimov, Williamson.  Also, SFWA was a bit of a boys club back in the day.  I expect we will see more women being awarded this honor in the future.  The point of all this is that the kurfluffle inspired me to pull out one of my old paperback novels by Andre Norton who was made a Grand Master in 1984.  This particular book was CATSEYE.

Norton is very dear to my heart.  My journey into science fiction began with Burroughs, next I discovered Norton and then the Heinlein juveniles.  So rather than think about this latest tempest in a tea pot I sat down to recapture a bit of my childhood.  The first thing I noted was how slim was the volume.  189 pages for a paperback.  Next was her ability to immerse me immediately in the sense of loss and longing of the protagonist — a young man who had lost his world, lost his family, lost all status and was fighting to regain at least a modicum of respect.  Yes the technology as described seems quaint by todays standards, but it didn’t matter.  Once again I was swept away exploring the underground city built and abandoned by aliens centuries before.  My companions were  two foxes, two cats and a kinkajou, and I loved it.  So often Norton wrote about the outsider which spoke strongly to me.  I was a nerd before the word was coined, a geek before it was cool.  I was the outsider — a fairly brainy girl who loved science fiction and hated dolls.  Who dreamed of having adventures on distant planets.

Her other gift was an ability to rocket a story along (pardon me, I couldn’t resist).  I sometimes think that in our effort to win respect and legitimacy from the literary types (which we never will) we forget the core strength of science fiction — actually of any genre book whether it be S.F., mystery or romance — that we tell rollicking good stories.  We’re not afraid of plot and action.

So I guess I should thank the latest furor.  It got me back reading Norton, and I think it’s time to re-read a few more of her books — The Time Trader series, Witch World.  She was a great writer.  A Grand Master.  And well worth a read even today.  Now that I think about it Citizen of the Galaxy and The Star Beast (both Heinlein books) are also beckoning.

6 Responses to Andre Norton

  • Georgino Ludwig says:

    Honestly I haven’t read Andre Norton in more than 20 years. It makes me wonder how my daughter would respond to it. Like you there are works from my past that I treasure, such as the Wild Card novels my older brother lent me way back when.

    In recognizing the value of previous generations of authors how can parents, teachers (working on being one), and anyone else really encourage new readers to explore these past masters?

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      Depends on their age, Georgino. If they are young enough you could read one of the old masters with them, and talk about what they got right in terms of technology and what they got wrong. For example Gibson completely missed wireless internet in his cyberpunk books. That makes it kind of fun. Maybe try to show how those older stories inspired an entire generation of scientists. If they’re older you point out to them that science fiction has always been about a conversation between writers of different generations. Star Ship Troopers began The Forever War and then we circled back with Old Man’s War. If you find a technique let me know.

      • Georgino Ludwig says:

        so far the best method I’ve found in introducing the past masters of writing has been to first establish a love of reading. in the case of my daughter I always made books available to her. For a while sadly school seemed to do it’s best to ruin reading for her. This last December she rediscovered reading thanks to one of her friends who introduced her to Divergent. Not a great read in my eyes, but a wonderful book as far as I’m concerned because it reawakened in her the passion for reading. In the months since she has been exploring new authors and looking at what influenced them. This has lead to Asimov and Bradbury and her asking about them.

        • Melinda Snodgrass says:

          That’s how I feel about the Harry Potter books. Now I really liked them — I had quibbles but I liked them — and I especially love them because they got millions of kids to start reading. Some of those kids are going to go on reading.

  • Walt Fisher says:

    I have always thought the Time Trader series would make a few good action films.

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