Thursday, May 4, 2017
Read/Watch 'em In Order #79
Andre Norton returned to the crew of the interstellar freighter Solar Queen for the 3rd time in 1959, with the short novel Voodoo Planet. Though this time, the Queen and most of the crew aren't involved.
While the ship is being refitted for the mail run it was given at the end of the last novel, Captain Jellicoe and Tau, the ship's medic, are invited to the planet Khatka, a planet that was settled by humans of African descent some centuries earlier. The colonists had been fleeing an atomic race war and had stumbled across a planet on which the flora and fauna parallels Africa.
Dane Thorson--our point-of-view character in the series--also comes along. But its Medic Tau who takes the lead in this story. He's an expert in "magic"--the often ceremonial powers wielded by priests and witch-doctors on many planets.
This is a science fiction novel, not a fantasy, so its made clear that Magic is the term given for things that are done through a combination of cultural conditioning and mass hypnosis. On Khatka, one of the leaders (Chief Ranger Asaki) is concerned that the witch doctor Lumbrilo has dramatically increased his ability to perform magic and might have plans to stage a coup.
Soon after arriving, though, the three merchants, along with Asaki and another Ranger, are in an air ship accident that leaves them stranded in the jungle without a working radio. Now they must face both the natural dangers of the jungle and the so-real-they-can-kill illusions of Lumbrilo in order to get back to safety. Along the way, they run into an off-world gang of poachers, making their journey even more interesting.
Voodoo Planet is essentially a traditional jungle adventure given a science fiction slant, which is fine with me because it is a really fun jungle adventure, full of dangerous treks through deadly swamps, unique monsters to fight and a criminal conspiracy to unravel.
It feels a little bit like a "time-out" from the rest of the series, since the action takes place away from the Solar Queen and doesn't involve their usual business as traders and merchants. But that's okay to, not just because it is a fun adventure and because it gives Dane yet more experience in dealing with odd situations. In fact, though Tau gets to do the awesome hero stuff, Dane handles himself well and this is the first of the Solar Queen adventures where he doesn't make a serious mistake because of inexperience. That is significant.
These first three Queen novels were the ones easily available as ebooks. The fourth one--the last written entirely by Andre Norton--is winging its way to me in the form of a used paperback, so we will revisit the crew at least one more time. The remaining three in the series were co-written by other authors and my understanding is that Norton's input was limited. Fan reactions to these later novels were mixed. I'm enjoying the series enough to where I will read these as well, but I will wait until I do to decide whether to include them in the "In Order" series or move on to something else after the next one.