In rediscovering my love of Andre Norton, I got particularly interested in her “Forerunner” series, a set of novels sharing a ‘future history,’ like Alan Dean Foster’s “Humanx Commonwealth,” or Larry Niven’s “N-Space.” However, things get a bit challenging. That I’ve found so far, there is little scholarly work on Norton, and no definitive guide to the Forerunner stories. Ice Crown, the book I’ve just read is not listed on several sites I’ve found as being part of it, yet it is clearly set in the same universe, building on some of the same ideas.
Set on a restricted world where local humans live in a medieval style society, it features Roane, a young woman in the Service who has come to the world to investigate the possibility of Forerunner technology. Instead, she gets tangled up in local power struggles, breaks the Service’s rules about interference, and stumbles upon something from a dark time in Human space exploration, the time of the Psychocrats. This book is the first time I remember hearing references to this era of rule by mind-control masters. I’ll be curious to see if they feature in other stories.
On the one hand, I like that Norton gets more into character development in this book than in some of her earlier work. On the other, I find Roane to be a bit dull. There is a story reason, perhaps, for her being a bit of a void. I suppose. But considering the book does start to drag, in spite of its barely over 200 page length, I think, perhaps the character development wasn’t so great.
Norton churned out a ton of novels in her day, and maybe not all of them are winners. This one is OK. If they ever turned her Forerunner stories into a TV series, this would probably serve well as the basis of an episode. Beyond that? Eh.
-Matthew J. Constantine