‘Beast Master’s Planet’ contains two novels: ‘Beast Master’ and ‘Lord of Thunder’.
Meerkats! Nowadays these cute little critters are used to sell insurance comparison websites in England and everybody loves them. Back in 1959 when ‘The Beast Master’ was written they were not so well known, I bet.
The meerkats, an African black eagle and a large specially bred cat named Surra are the beast companions of Hosteen Storm, once a Galactic Commando with the Terran military, now a man without a home. Earth, the mother planet of the Confederacy, has been reduced to a radioactive cinder by the Xik in a war just finished and the Terrans who were not there have to be re-homed. At the start of ‘The Beast Master’, Storm is in a Separation Centre set up to restore the mental health of traumatised Terrans before moving them to other worlds. Hosteen Storm has chosen Arzor, a frontier planet where his Navajo skills may prove useful. There, giant beasts called Frawns roam the plains and are hunted for their waterproof skins and delicious meat. Humans co-exist with the native Norbies, brilliant horsemen, primitive and not unlike Amerindians in days of yore. It’s a natural home for Storm.
On landing at Arzor, he gets a job herding horses across country, his Beast Master skills obviously useful in taming the wilder ones. Soon he hears about Brad Quade, a big shot around those parts and the main reason he came to this planet. Hosteen Storm has a blood debt to pay with Quade, a man he has never met, as the result of an old family feud. The plot thickens nicely.
It’s all quite logical. Machines, parts and fuel would have to be expensively imported to frontier worlds so they do better using their own resources. So space westerns make sense and the genre is good fun, from Heinlein’s ‘Dora’ segment in ‘Time Enough For Love’ to the television cult classic series ‘Firefly’ which featured a few episodes of this ilk.
‘Beast Master’ starts off as mostly a western but soon develops into Science Fiction as other elements are added to the story. Westerns tell familiar yarns with familiar themes but the classics of the genre have a more interesting characters and a bit more depth. Andre Norton wrote a classic space western in 1959 and it has withstood the test of time.
‘Lord Of Thunder’ is essentially more of the same. The briefest mention of the plot acts as a bit of a spoiler for the first book but sophisticated readers aged over four will realise that the hero probably survived that adventure. In ‘Lord Of Thunder’, there is trouble afoot with the native Norbies. They are having a gathering of the clans and retreating to the mountains to make ‘medicine’. The withdrawal of their labour will make life tough for the ranchers in the dry season. The plot gets complicated when Hosteen Storm is introduced to a very wealthy man called Gentle Homo Lass Widders. Gentle Homo, it seems, is the title given to a civilised chap from the inner worlds. If you called a British bloke ‘Gentle Homo’ thirty years ago you would have got a dirty look at best and possibly a punch in the nose. American slang may have been different. Anyway, the son of Widders was on a spaceship that hit an old mine from the late Xik war and managed to get aboard a lifeboat that crashed into the Blue, an area of Arzor where no man dare go due to bands of wild roaming cannibal Norbies. The Gentle Homo wants Hosteen Storm to go and rescue his son.
‘Lord Of Thunder’ wasn’t quite as enjoyable for me as the first book but it was perfectly good. It’s nice to get two novels in one volume. The double helping come about because adventure novels were shorter fifty years ago. The late Andre Norton states, in an interview on her website, that back then she would write eighteen chapters of ten pages each and have a book of sixty-five thousand words which was perfectly acceptable to the boys on the business end. Nowadays, for economic reasons, publishers won’t settle for less than a hundred thousand words. We are poorer for this but electronic publishing is changing it slowly. Hurrah! The other good news is that Andre Norton’s estate was settled a while back and disputes over rights cleared up so more of her old classics are up for publication again. Hurrah! For a few of my teen-age years I was mad for Norton’s works and look forward to revisiting more in time to come. Judging by this pair, they are still good reads. The occasional leavening of exclamation marks merely adds to their pulpish charm.