Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Defiant Agents

Andre Norton The Defiant Agents (1962)

This was poking out from a pile of old but otherwise unremarkable titles at a used book store in Fredericksberg. It seemed like it needed a home, plus I was curious at being unable to recall my ever having read anything by Andre Norton, and most importantly, the premise of the novel seemed so unashamedly ludicrous that I just couldn't walk away.

A distant, Earthlike but otherwise uninhabited planet is colonised by a group of pioneers who, by means of futuristic Redax technology, have been reverted to their pseudo-ancestral state as Apache warriors, the idea being that this will better enable them to survive in the wilderness, what with Amerindians being more in touch with nature and that. They are aided by a small pack of coyotes who, due to exposure to radiation during an atom bomb test in Colorado or Nevada or one of those places, have become sort of telepathic. Unfortunately, the Reds - rather hard not to think of them as Soviet Commies despite what the internet may have to say on the subject - have had the same idea and are attempting to settle a group of their own on this planet, specifically Mongol tribesmen reverted to the sort of guys with which Genghis Khan used to share the occasional pie and pint. This would not in itself be a problem but for said Mongol tribesmen being for the most part under the thrall of the Soviet brain control machine.

A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals that Andre Norton really churned them out, mostly science-fiction and fantasy but some crime, romance and so on. I'm not sure quite how many novels she wrote in total, but it was a lot. I gather a number of these were aimed at teenagers, and whilst The Defiant Agents is still better than your average Terrance Dicks, it does suffer from the consistency of novels hammered out on a production line. In its favour, there are some pleasingly insane ideas, not least of which is the back story of humanity discovering the ruined remains of a technologically advanced galactic empire as told in a series of novels, of which The Defiant Agents is the third; and Apache culture is referenced with just enough attention to detail to suggest that Norton did at least some of her homework, and so her characters are possibly not quite so hokey as they might have been.

Unfortunately, none of this really ameliorates the sad fact of The Defiant Agents making for a surprisingly boring read, quite a feat given the premise; but even assessed with - as a last resort - kitsch-tinted spectacles, it still jogs along at its own non-committal pace, focusing on details no-one could possibly care about, stubbornly refusing to do anything interesting as its cast stand around describing their surroundings in the sort of humourless Tontospeak promised by the cover.

Perhaps many men have read these words, and perhaps it is true that many men have read these words with happiness upon their faces, but regrettably, like the coyote, I have found myself treading a different path in this respect.

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