Star Flight

Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 17, 2010

Star Flight by Andre Norton

Thirteen people attended this discussion at the Milwood library, and another submitted comments by email.  Our topic was Star Flight by Andre Norton. This book is an omnibus of two planetary colonization novels, The Stars are Ours (1954) and Star Born (1957).  Eleven of us had read Norton before. All of us started the book. Eleven finished the first novel, and six finished both.

Our group had been interested in reading Norton’s work for years, but her work had been largely out of print for a while. The publisher Baen has recently started reprinting her books, and some Norton fans in our group recommended the Star Flight omnibus as a representative example.

One reader noted that Andre Norton was the first sf/f author she’d read. She felt the action scenes in Star Flight held up well, and the description of suspended animation (here called “cold sleep”) was so quaint that it was cute.

Another reader liked the book. He commented that was well-written but felt dated. He noted the book’s use of telepathy, which he said is a recurring theme in Norton’s work.

Yet another said that he read the book when he was young, and it feels contemporary to him now.  He appreciated how the book forecast technology, including computers and lasers. He thought it was clever of the author to have viewpoint characters who don’t understand much technology, so the technical aspects of the story don’t feel dated. He felt the use of a big powerful computer in the story was realistic.

One member found a lot to like in the book. He appreciated the use of a song as a mnemonic device to help remember a chemical formula. He liked the “Ad Astra” phrase. He thought that this was one of the first planetary colonization novels published. He thought the language of the narrative was good and had vivid imagery, but the dialog felt dated.

Another commented that the first novel’s political setup was absurd and hand-wavy. And he had trouble with the second novel’s notion that knowledge of science could almost completely disappear in only a couple of generations. He noted that these were among the first sf novels that did not come from the pulp tradition.

One reader said that this was his first time reading Norton. He enjoyed the story, but was puzzled why a female author would write a book where all the female characters were minor and in the background. Others commented that this was simply the practice at the time the book was written.

A couple of people who’d started reading Norton in elementary school felt that the work did not hold up as well as they hoped. They still thought the action scenes worked, but suggested that they be considered in the context of juveniles like those of Heinlein or Asimov.

One of our younger readers did not feel that this story was science fiction at all. She felt that, much like Anne McCaffery, the author was simply using the scenery of science fiction to tell an adventure story.

Another reader appreciated the author’s themes (suspense, paranoia, religious/political oppression, scientists as heroes) but just said the story did not sweep her away. She also did not like this book’s mixing of sf and the paranormal.

Many of us noted huge numbers of typographical errors in this book, even in the names of characters and in the chapter titles. We decided that since this is a reprint edition, the publisher must have used Optical Character Recognition to scan an earlier edition of the novel into electronic form – and then did little or no proofreading. While we applaud Baen for bringing the book back into print at all, we would have appreciate a little more care being taken in production of this book.

Overall we had a good discussion, and we enjoyed visiting (or revisiting) the work of a classic author. After the meeting, many of us had a nice dinner at Culver’s.

–A.T. Campbell, III