Monday, July 4, 2016

Heinlein & Norton

Craving some light summer reading, I opted for a couple of books by Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton. I have very fond memories of their YA titles, which I devoured as a kid. 

These two are among their earliest, Red Planet being published in 1949 and Star Man's Son 2250 AD in 1952.

In both books two young men clash with authorities and undertake a perilous journey to escape pursuit. There are alien creatures in each book, as well as a bond between one of the young men and a non-human character.

  Red Planet                      Star Man's Son
The hardcover editions had illustrations that made the books extra special for me. Those in Red Planet were done by Clifford Geary, in Star Man's Son by Nicolas Mordvinoff. In each there was one that made such an impression that it became inseparable from my enjoyment of the book.

To my knowledge, the above illustration from Red Planet is the one of the very few that made it into the paperback editions, but with a little searching you can find most of the others on the web. (I have taken some liberties by cropping the Mordvinoff drawing, as it was originally done as a two-page spread.)

Red Planet

Red Planet takes place on a Mars with canals, indigenous flora and fauna, and three-legged Martians who live in ancient cities. Humans inhabit several bubble settlements and work for a company engaged in an atmosphere project. The canals ice over in winter and provide an escape route for the two boys when they put on skates to flee. One of them has a Martian “roundhead” or “bouncer” as a sort of pet.

When outdoors, people must wear respirators, one of which is portrayed in the Clifford Geary illustration and used as a frontispiece in my Ace paperback edition. The zebra stripes are personal decoration.

After finishing the book, I made a surprising discovery. The version I read had been so mangled by an editor that Heinlein considered removing his name from it. Not until 1992 was a restored edition published by Del Rey.

In Imagining Mars, Robert Crossley devotes a few pages to Red Planet, saying, “Heinlein insists that Red Plant be read as an allegory, with Earth as the exemplification of Law and Mars of Freedom.”

Heinlein re-used some of the ideas he developed in Red Planet for his later best-seller, Stranger in a Strange Land. Though I have enjoyed a few of his adult books, my favourites are all YA titles, especially The Rolling Stones, Tunnel in the Sky, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Have Space Suit Will Travel.

Daybreak 2250 AD

Star Man's Son (reissued in paperback as Daybreak) takes place on Earth after the “Big Blowup” has caused mutations in people and animals, and rendered some areas uninhabitable due to radiation.

Fors has white hair which plainly marks him as a mutant and turns him into an outcast. But he also has superior hearing and night vision, and a non-verbal form of communication with a mountain lion – a vague sort of telepathy – that enables them to work as a team when hunting or battling foes.

Leaving his mountain home, he arrives on the plains and rescues a stranger named Arskane. They are put to flight by rat-like “Beast Things,” which were once confined to abandoned cities but are now venturing into the countryside.

To meet this threat Fors helps unite three suspicious groups of people, and it is here that Daybreak, like Red Planet, offers a moral. The groups are mountain-dwelling knowledge-seekers (Whites), plains people on horseback (native Americans) and drum-beating newcomers (Blacks) who have been displaced by a natural disaster. It's a well-intentioned but somewhat clumsy device.

Donald Wollheim, an influential editor at Ace Books, estimated that by 1971 a million copies of Daybreak had been sold.

As with Heinlein, my other favourite Nortons all came early in her SF period: Star Born, Galactic Derelict, The Last Planet, and Star Guard.