Doc Savage: The Secret of the Su and the Spook of Grandpa Eben

As a comics fan, pitting Doc Savage against Dr. Light in THE SECRET OF THE SU makes me laugh in a way the original readers wouldn’t have. It’s a good adventure marred by an anticlimactic McGuffin.

The story opens with a Florida doctor, Wilson, attempting to reach Doc Savage. Years ago, Wilson saved the lives of some Native Americans in the Everglades. In gratitude one of them, nicknamed Slow John, has been the doctor’s faithful sidekick ever since (this ages just as poorly as one would expect). Now Slow John (who isn’t slow; like the Native American in The Goblins he’s extremely smart) has revealed an incredible secret. Well, two secrets. One is that Slow John’s tribe are not Seminole but Su, a lost race dating back to ancient Atlantis. The other is that they have a McGuffin, something so amazing only Doc Savage can handle it.

Enter Dr. Light, AKA Dr. Licht. A German immigrant, Light was approached by Axis agents a couple of years before the story started. He still had relatives in Germany; if he wasn’t willing to work as a spy, bad things would happen to them. Light’s response was to laugh — kill them all, it’s not like he’ll care! However, if he discovers something of interest to the Reich and they can meet his price, he’ll be in touch. He’s a complete bastard, and that’s appealing in a villain. And the secret of the Su generates a lot interest; Light’s price for giving it to them is a cool $3 mill.

What follows is a lot of doublecrossing as Light’s team and some more dedicated Nazis race Doc’s crew to the lost land of the Su, somewhere deep in the Everglades. Dent makes good use of the Everglades, a vast junglelike world nowhere near as drained and tamed as it is now. The Su, of course, are not happy with visitors, and willing to set trained hawks on them (hence the cover).

Unfortunately the secret is a letdown. The Su have a wonder drug for treating infection, better than sulfa antibiotics. It could save thousands of soldiers on whichever side controls it. Which is perfectly true, but it’s not very dramatic. Even at the time, I wonder if fans felt that was satisfactory.

THE SPOOK OF GRANDPA EBEN opens in a small Western town where Billy Riggs, a likeable ex-con, is humiliated by Copeland, a local big shot businessman. Copeland is a grasping miser who sent Billy to jail for a theft he didn’t commit, and has hounded him ever since, demanding employers fire him, that sort of thing. Ezra Strong, another young man (usually I think of anyone named Ezra as a grizzled oldster) suggests Billy use his grandfather’s supposedly magical charm to wish a curse on Copeland.  To Billy’s surprise, Ezra’s amusement and Copeland’s horror, an invisible Something blocks Copeland’s path.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Copeland’s also got Doc Savage on his back. Copeland’s a crooked military contractor so Monk and Ham are investigating him; Monk’s checking the quality of Copeland’s chemicals, Ham’s going over his records for legal issues (one of the few times Ham got to do any actual law work in the series). The spook keeps returning, something or someone kills Copeland and before dying, he puts the blame on Doc. Once again, Doc has to go on the run from the cops while investigating the spook. And the bad guys who really killed Copeland are trying to take out Doc and

It turns out that Ezra has invented a force-field device, although they don’t call it that. It’s not effective enough to be of use in the war, but it might be effective in crime. When a local bad guy learned about it from Ezra’s dimwit girlfriend, he set all the events in motion. Doc, of course, clears everything up and takes the crooks down

Overall, this was a minor one.

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Too much of a good thing? Constance Verity Saves the World

What if Kim Possible’s crazy life didn’t get any less crazy by time she hit thirty? is how I’d sum up CONSTANCE VERITY SAVES THE WORLD by A. Lee Martinez. Martinez usually loves playing with genre tropes for humor, usually successfully, and overall I liked this one (second in a series)

The premise — well, my opening line pretty much covers it. Constance routinely battles mad scientists, crime cabals, monsters, alien invaders, occult threats, to the point where her reaction verges on the blasé. No matter how scary it is, her reaction tends to “meh.” It’s not like she hasn’t seen it before, no matter what “it” is.

Getting a life, though? That’s a little frightening. Constance has an accountant boyfriend, Byron, and it’s hard for her to figure out how much of her experiences to share with him. It’s also difficult for Constance to reset her reflexes so that the presence of an ET or a possibly dangerous robot doesn’t trigger a fight in their new condo. I did like that Byron really is thoroughly ordinary; he’s the Lois or Pepper to Constance’ superhero, and that’s a nice change from the usual.

I’m reviewing this one as an Is Our Writer’s Learning? book because I did learn a couple of things from it. Most notably, that original takes are few and far between. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished has a similar concept in Jennifer being afflicted with a life of constant peril and strife, though my handling it is quite different. The Astro City series frequently goes into the same territory, and it was the whole premise of the Gerard Jones/Will Jacobs The Trouble With Girls (reviewed here and here): Lester Girls wants a normal life but destiny keeps throwing him into a world of danger, sex and excitement. It’s the execution that makes it work, or not.

The second point I learned is that there’s a limit to how far some premises will stretch. Trouble With Girls kept the laugh balls in the air for two TPBs; Martinez manages it for the length of a novel, but it’s a near thing. We know pretty much how any of Constance’s scenes will go, the same way the last one did. It’s a one-joke premise, which is not a bad thing if the joke works, but it almost doesn’t. I don’t feel any urge to read the first volume or V3 when it comes out. But I did enjoy this one, more than several other superhero riffs along the same line. Martinez has a good feel for the tropes he’s parodying, and not everyone does.

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The not-so-wonderful WASPs

Five years ago, I wrote about how columnists David Brooks and Joseph Epstein thought we were better off under a hereditary WASP elite (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) than under our current meritocracy. Now Ross Douthat uses Bush I’s funeral to thump the same nostalgic drum (not a direct link): we’re mourning Bush (“a longing for something America used to have and doesn’t really any more — a ruling class that was widely (not universally, but more widely than today) deemed legitimate, and that inspired various kinds of trust (intergenerational, institutional) conspicuously absent in our society today.

Put simply, Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs — because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.” Like Epstein and Brooks, Douthat thinks the WASP noblesse oblige made them more dedicated to public service. They were traveled and experienced enough to understand foreign cultures “better than some of today’s shallow multiculturists,” and to function as great statesmen on the world stage. Their fatal mistake was giving up and letting meritocracy take over when they should have “admitted more blacks, Jews, Catholics and Hispanics (and more women) to its ranks … but it would have done so as a self-consciously elite-crafting strategy, rather than under the pseudo-democratic auspices of the SAT and the high school resume and the dubious ideal of ‘merit.'”

Roy Edroso suggests Douthat’s just positioning himself for the post-Trump era. I’m more inclined to agree with NMMNB at the link, Douthat’s interest seems to lie in a continued WASPocracy being more religious, more conservative and probably a lot more restrictive about sex (he’s not sex-positive). And given Douthat thinks conservatives aren’t reactionary enough, it’s not surprising he’d like to return to an older order dominated by a more authoritarian elite. But regardless of his motives his column, as usual, is an incoherent mess of untruth.

As NMMNB points out, if we miss WASPs so much, why is it we’ve elected so few of them since WW II? Just Bush I, who lost his re-election bid, and Bush II, who positioned himself as a plainspoken Texas farmer rather than a Yalie? Do we really miss them at all? Do we even miss Bush I that much? Douthat argues one of the WASPs’ virtues was sending their sons to war alongside the poor and working class, but Bush II dodged the draft by going into the National Guard, after family friends pulled strings to get him in (there’s no proof W personally asked for this).

As I pointed out in my original column, WASP’s noblesse oblige didn’t express itself in, say, fighting lynching or opening the doors to Jewish immigrants fleeing the rise of the Axis. They were perfectly happy setting quotas that kept out Jews and non-whites (and women) from their Ivy League schools or from their neighborhoods. Douthat argues that the current meritocracy can be exclusionary too, which is a fair point, but the solution is to fight against that, not simply decide “well elites are always elitist so what’s the point?” They had mistresses. They drank during Prohibition. They may not have been more corrupt than today’s elites, but they were certainly no less. As for their international statesmanship, these are the people who gave Guatemala, Panama and El Salvador brutal dictatorships that lasted for decades.  Some statesmanship!

And Douthat’s alt.history is ludicrous. WASPs were racist, sexist and anti-Semitic (David Brooks admits that much, at least). They probably considered themselves perfectly meritocratic, it’s just that they knew merit resided in white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant men. Asking “what if they’d accepted women and non-WASPs?” answers itself; it’s like asking “what if Southern whites had made segregation better by treating talented black as equals?” Not gonna happen.

That’s more thought than anything by Douthat deserves, but he got it anyway.

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Spider-Girl, vampire hunters, a musical and a fantasy gone dark

Fair warning, my review of Kingdom the Wicked below gives away a major spoiler.

SPIDER-GIRL: Duty Calls and Secret Lives by Tom DeFalco and Pat Oliffe are the eighth and ninth paperback collections of May Parker, fighting crime in an alt.world where Marvel heroes are about 20 years older (I read Duty Calls a while back but forgot to list it). In the first volume, a looming gang war leads “Mayday” to bring together a new version of Marvel’s New Warriors, Peter decides to get back into action and May makes a catastrophic mistake due to her determination to save everyone, even the bad guys. Secret Lives has the clone Kaine return, Normy find romance, May angst even more, and we learn how this timeline branched off from the regular MU (Earth-616) when Kaine returned the Parkers’ kidnapped baby to them. Great stuff; there’s a reason May and the “M2” setting remain much beloved by fans.

SAVAGE by R.A. Jones and Ted Slampyak is a by-the numbers vampire-hunter graphic novel in which the eponymous protagonist recounts how he came by his profession and battled a vampire king who was tied to him more closely than he thought. A couple of good ideas don’t redeem this formulaic stuff.

SHE LOVES ME was the latest production from Playmakers, a musical adaptation of the film The Shop Around the Corner (making it one of the first screen-to-stage adaptations). Georg and Amalia work at a parfumerie in Budapest and they cannot stand each other; every night, they relieve their feelings by going home and pouring out their hearts to “dear friend,” a stranger they met through a lonely hearts club (the snail mail equivalent of Match.com) and have yet to connect with in person. Why that’s right, Georg and Amalia are each other’s dear friend — so what will Georg do when he finds out and Amalia doesn’t? I’ve seen this before, but not done as well; a real charmer. “I’m nervous and upset /because this girl I’ve never met/I get to meet, tonight at eight/I know I’ll drop the silverware/but will I spill my drink/upon her plate, tonight at eight?”

The first chapter of the graphic novel KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Ian Edgington and D’Israeli has children’s author Christopher Grahame discover his beloved fantasy world, Castrovalva, is doomed, as a mysterious evil boy leads the monsters from The Land Under The Bed to conquer it. I was intrigued, but commented to a friend that “I just hope it doesn’t turn out this is all taking place in his head.”

Oops. It was. And that’s a stupid twist, and it’s handled poorly to boot: we get a long scene of Chris and the evil one talking in Chris’s mindscape supposedly made scary because in the real world Chris is undergoing a life or death brain operation … Mr. Edgington, it’s been done, and better (the Canadian TV series The Odyssey did the same thing with more flair). I’m baffled why this got good reviews from people whose judgment I respect.

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Let us sample some Christmas treacle

As anyone who’s been reading this blog for more than a year knows, I love immersing myself in Christmas movies. I spent about a decade of Christmas mornings alone before moving up here (family scattered all over the map) so I compensated by watching a mix of old classics and new TV movies until I was stuffed with Christmas cheer. Normally I’d have started right after Thanksgiving but with the weeklong stretch before December, it didn’t feel quite right.

As a result I caught FAME (1980), in which aspiring musicians, actors and dancers struggle to graduate from a performing arts school while also coping with family, teen angst, career struggles, insecurity and love.While I enjoyed the TV-series spinoff, I’d never seen the movie before; pleasant enough, and I absolutely loved one twist when a rejected dancer appears to be contemplating suicide. “Who cares if it wasn’t ready? They liked it!”

Next comes some new-to-me Christmas stuff, but even by my low standards it was disappointing. A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS (2017), for instance, plays like a TV spinoff special jacked up to a feature film. Original Bad Moms Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis struggle to stay afloat under the demands of being a Mom At Christmas, an effort made worse by their various mothers (wild child Susan Sarandon, overbearing diva Christine Baranski and insufferably perky Cheryl Hines) all showing up for a long stay. Despite some amusing moments (Hahn as the raunchiest mom has a lot of those), the themes about Christmas have been done before, and better.  “You should never have to watch your mom lick your boyfriend’s nipples!”

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS (2013) is sufficiently Christian that I was surprised the Wise Handyman who helps everyone out didn’t turn out to be Jesus.  Eric Roberts and Vivica A. Fox are the parents watching their kids cope with drugs, sex and petty theft before discovering Jesus and Christmas Pageants Are the Answer. Forgettable. “You’re going to write the script. We need seventeen speaking parts.”

I fear my iPad is finally expiring, which may be why CHRISTMAS CRUSH (2012) kept crashing when I streamed it. Fortunately a movie abouta twenty-something returning home for her high school reunion where she’s surrounded by her far more successful old friends, gets a shot at reuniting with her high school crush and fails to notice her male bestie still has eyes only for her probably isn’t going to surprise me any. Not that I require rom-coms surprise me (as I’ve said before, love is a cliché) but it didn’t interest me much either.

I think I may stick with the tried and true for the rest of the month. Because even fluff like 12 Dates of Christmas is better than that troika of treacle above.

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Will my reach exceed my grasp? Stay tuned!

As of today, Southern Discomfort is at almost 44,000 words. That leaves me with roughly 50,000 more to get through by New Year’s Eve to finish. That’s doable, but not a slam dunk. If I run into problems with some of my later scenes, or I get sick for a couple of days, I may be SOL.

I added 11,000 words to the book this week, which is definitely not enough if I keep going at the same speed. However I have only one more week of Leaf articles; after that, I’ll be free to work on the novel and nothing else. And this week I was sidelined Tuesday by having an opthalmologist appointment with eye dilation. As a result, I wasn’t able to use the computer for two or three hours after getting home. We’d taken the dogs in for grooming the same morning so I figured I could do some cleaning and giftwrapping while they were gone, as that doesn’t require the same level of fine eye focus. Nope, they were ready much sooner than I’d expected, so I had to push the cleaning to later in the week.

So it’s still doable. I shall stretch like Plastic Man until I achieve my glorious triumph! Or so I hope.

As my writing this week was just the novel and Leaf articles, I don’t have much else to say. Although I did have some more entertaining Leaf articles than usual, such as “Duties of a NASA Mission Specialist.”

I must admit I’ll be glad when I’m done with Southern Discomfort but if it comes to a choice between “get it done” and “make it good,” I’ll go with option B. But I’ll spend the rest of this month trying to avoid that choice.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Cole, all rights remain with current holder. I picked it to fit the “reach” theme, but also because it’s just cool.

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The Ages of Our Lives

A couple of months back, one of my college friends mentioned she’s retiring from her law-enforcement job, having put twenty or thirty years in. Another friend, who retired some time back, is looking forward to touring the country with her husband now that her mother-in-law has passed and no longer needs them to care for her.

A number of other friends my age have retired and either started new careers or settled down to travel and visit the kids and grandkids a lot. All of which got me thinking about how the idea that we pass through clearly mapped out stages in life doesn’t have much relationship to actual life.

I remember an article some years back in which the writer said that when he was a kid in the 1950s (I think he must have been about ten years older than me), the stages had been clearly marked. First you were a kid, then a teenager, and that phase was all about fun. Then you became a man and put away childish things, and were serious. As the title put it, “Ozzie Nelson Never Owned a Dirt Bike” (Ozzie being the star and patriarch of hit sitcom Ozzie and Harriet). But the writer, even though he’d hit forty, still used his.

Even in my own youth, the sense was that when you got old — i.e., the age I am now — you stopped doing stuff. You retired sat in a rocking chair or a hammock, watched TV, lived quietly.You didn’t keep working. You didn’t start second careers.

I’m 60, but I’m still working. Even though my work isn’t physical it’s possible the deterioration of age will sideline me long before I want to be, but until that point, I’m happy to keep writing. And TYG is a good deal younger, which changes the calculus too. Even I hung up my spurs, we wouldn’t start traveling the world or anything like that (quite aside from not wanting to leave the dogs for too long). And of course, I don’t have kids, and didn’t marry until I was 53. My path has always been a little off the theoretical norm.

I’m not suggesting I’ve found the one true path to living as an old person. Some people, like my traveling friend, do just want to relax, and that’s cool (I know how hard she and her husband worked when they had jobs. She’s earned it). Lots of people don’t have the physical ability to keep doing what they’re doing; for them, sixty is the new sixty.

But even knowing that, noticing how my path deviates from the expected still gives me pause.

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The little things: Georgia O’Keefe and Sherlock Holmes quotes

“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” — Georgia O’Keefe (creator of the painting illustrated here, The White Flower).

“The little things are infinitely the most important.” — Sherlock Holmes

Any writers reading this know detail is a big part of what we do. Which ones we need to include. Which ones we have to include. Which ones we should leave out.

Detail can make or break a story. Details can bring a character to life — the scars on their back from fighting dinosaurs, their passion for playing chess by mail (yes, that used to be a thing), their freaky tattoo or being nitpicky about other people’s grammar. They can also bring settings to life: the smells, the flavors, the music. The minor details of alternate timelines, such as Leslie Howard and JFK still being alive in the film Quest for Love. Or the slightly different wording of the song “Teen Angel” in my Atoms for Peace (“That fateful night the saucers came/We were caught in their attack.”). For historical fiction or fantasy, the fine points of slang, culture, attitudes and politics can make the period vividly real.

Or take the throwaway line in Monty Python’s crunchy frog skit where a chocolatier points out the repellent ingredients in his chocs are all listed on the label — lark vomit comes “right after monosodium glutamate.” It makes the grotesque premise (there really is a small dead frog in “crunchy frog chocolate”) that much more vivid.

But as O’Keefe points out, details can also distract and confuse us. The classic example is dialogue. Real human speech is full of pauses, mumbling, distractions and repeated words (one of my friends used to use “like” in sentences as a punctuation mark). Even when quoting people as a reporter, I trimmed that stuff out.

Too much visual detail can bore or frustrate readers (it’s TYG’s biggest complaint about the Game of Thrones novels) as much as a lack of any detail. Some people love the nitty-gritty details of how magic systems work. I usually find them boring as all get-out (as long as the magic feels right and stays consistent, I’m fine with not knowing the details). Errors in factual details can make readers stop taking a book seriously. For example, a nonfiction work I read some years back that mentioned in passing that research into identical twins has proven our personality is 100 percent shaped by our genes. Um, NO.

Of course some readers or viewers will treat any inaccuracy or error as a fatal flaw that ruins the entire work. When Stage Crafters did A Glass Menagerie, we got a note from the audience that the pillows had those “do not remove this tag” tag on them even though they weren’t around at the time of the story (late 1940s). How could we make such an utterly incompetent error? Given that Tom, the protagonist, specifically states at the beginning this is a subjective story and not a literal retelling, that seems really pointless nitpicking. But for some people, the nits wreck the story.

So that’s part of the challenge. What some people see as a distracting detail, others are going to find fascinating and fundamental. There’s no perfect level of detail that works for every writer, every story, every reader.

But hey, nobody ever said our gig was easy.

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Giving us the bush leaguers: Gerry Conway’s Detroit Justice League

Gerry Conway’s creation of the “Detroit League” after seven years as writer of Justice League of America is often treated as one of the worst creative calls in comics. Rereading it over the past year, I don’t disagree, but what struck me is how Conway writes his new team as if even he didn’t think they were worthy heirs to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Conway wanted to shake up the series by changing out the membership. He’d have more control as the characters wouldn’t be obligated to other series. And they wouldn’t come with the baggage and expectations that established DC characters did. While most of the League is fighting a menace off-world, J’Onn J’Onzz’ people arrive on a mission of conquest. The JLA wins but without the big guns. A furious Aquaman decides that if the other members can’t commit to a full-time life in the JLA, they should quit, so he invokes a convenient clause in the League charter that empowers him to dissolve and rebuild the team. Superman, Batman and most of the others are out; Zatanna, J’Onn, Aquaman and Elongated Man stay; and newbies Vibe, Gypsy, Steel and Vixen sign up (all put to much better use in the CWverse later). Steel’s family offers them a fortified HQ in Detroit and their new adventures begin.

Conway says his template was the Silver Age Avengers story where Stan wrote out Thor, Giant Man, the Wasp and Iron Man and brought in Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver under Captain America. Teen Titans also did it successfully when Marv Wolfman and George Perez rebooted them with a mostly new membership in the 1980s. The Detroit League didn’t do so well.

Part of the problem was relocating them to Detroit. I like the idea of local, neighborhood-protecting heroes, like Wonder Woman during her depowered period. And the scenes of the League interacting with the locals are fun bits. But a local feel doesn’t really work for a team that has a history of protecting the entire US, not to mention the world.

A bigger problem is that even Conway didn’t seem to feel his creations were up to the task. In the first few issues, Stan Lee’s “Kooky Quartet” of Avengers took on established foes (Attuma, the Enchantress, the Mole Man) and new ones (the Commissar, Power Man, the Swordsman). Lee constantly emphasized that the foursome didn’t have the raw power of the earlier team, but he showed they had the skill and guts to triumph nonetheless.

The Detroit League? They defeat their first foe, the alien Overmaster, when J’Onn figures out it’s just an imposter and wakes up the real Overmaster. The League faces the team’s old foe, Amazo, but even though his mind has been switched for a drunken bum’s, it takes J’Onn to stop him.

In #238, the villain defeats the classic League, which would seem a perfect opportunity for the new kids to prove themselves. But no, they go down too; it takes the villain’s brother to save the day by shooting him.

The Detroit League doesn’t get into serious heroic mode until it takes on Despero (an old JLA foe, heavily buffed up) in a multi-issue arc. There, they prove themselves, but it was too late. As Conway says in the interview link above, sales had dropped, so he concluded the experiment hadn’t worked. The higher-ups thought he was the problem, not the cast (and even before Detroit his stories hadn’t been up to his best work); he got to wrap up this incarnation of the League (Steel and Vibe die, Gypsy and Vixen quit, the JLA dissolves) and left the book.

While a few writers since have looked back at the era and tried to show that it was cool (Gypsy, for some unfathomable reason, keeps cropping up), it never really was.

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The Arcana and a Beastmaster; two reviews leftover from last week

THE LAST SUN: The Tarot Sequence Book One by KD Edwards gets points for an unusual urban setting, the colony that Atlantis erected on Nantucket Island (apparently the continent’s sinking took place a lot later in this mythos) by transporting pieces of mundane cities to build it together, creating a rather eclectic layout. Protagonist Rune is the last of the Sun house (Atlantean aristocracy being modeled on the Major Arcana), a private investigator tricked into guarding the heir to The Lovers until he reaches age while also being hired to find a missing child of House Justice, all of which, of course, turns out more sinister than anticipated.

 

I enjoyed this, and would probably have liked it more if I were more of an urban fantasy fan. It’s competently plotted, and I liked that it had a gay protagonist. However I could have done without a tragic gang rape as part of his backstory. And given that Arcana heads seem to reflect the nature of their cards, why is Lord Tower relatively normal when that card is an ominous card of doom?

I’m a lot less fond of space Westerns than I am urban fantasy, but Andre Norton’s THE BEAST MASTER is a very good space Western. Protagonist Hosteen Storm is a Navajo veteran in te war with the alien Xik; humanity won, but Earth got blown to smithereens (fortunately we were already out in the stars). Storm, slightly PTSDed, shows up on the planet of Arzor, nominally to use his skills and his telepathic link with his beasts (eagle, meerkats, dune cat) on the frontier but secretly to avenge an old wrong. Much to his surprise and annoyance, he finds himself bonding with the colonists, even the man he’s out for revenge on. He also likes the native Norbies, who respect him as a warrior. Then he discovers a hidden Xik base on Arzor, from which the aliens are stirring up a Norbie/human war. It’s his chance to settle the score with the Xik — if he can.

Norton making her hero Native American was a radical step at the time, and Storm is indeed a hero, not a sidekick. He’s extremely capable and respected by everyone, though as Judith Tarr points out, Norton’s portrayal has problems. It’s an all-male cast, which surprisingly didn’t bother me as much as it usually does. My biggest problem is the handling of the aliens. The Norbies are very noble savage, the Xiks are pure evil, apparently willing to whip up a war just for kicks.

This might be Norton’s most successful work, in that it inspired the Marc Singer Beastmaster movies, which are fantasy and only carry over the idea of a hero with telepathic animal partners (as does the much less entertaining TV series). I was actually surprised how little role that aspect plays in the book; the animals need as much conventional training as they do telepathic guidance. The telepathy could probably have been dropped altogether.

Regardless, it really is a great book, if the flaws are not deal-breakers for you.

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