RogerBW's Blog

Judgment on Janus, Andre Norton 27 November 2015

1963 children's SF. Naill Renfro sells himself into servitude to get drugs to make his mother's dying easier. After that, things improve slightly. Well, they'd have to, wouldn't they?

This is another book that feels more like fantasy than like SF, even though it has plenty of SF tropes: cold-sleep, planetary colonisation, and so on. Naill travels in cold-sleep to a frontier world (being steaded by members of the Church of No Redeeming Virtues, who don't allow converts but somehow haven't died out), gets affected by an alien device, passes through a deadly infection, and finds that he's been transformed into an alien being, with memories and personality that are a hybrid of his old self and a specific member of that alien race. After which the original storyline is basically discarded.

Which would be perfectly science-fictional if it were written that way (some words like "nanotechnology" wouldn't hurt, though it wouldn't be coined for another eleven years), but there's a lack of enquiry about the whole business which makes it feel much more like magic (I know, sufficiently advanced technology) no matter how many blasters, space suits, and body-controlling rays get thrown in.

The adventure is a bit insipid. There's lots of flight from various threats, from the farmers to the ancient evil that destroyed the alien civilisation in the first place. There's actually a female character this time, though after she gets transformed her first concern is about her appearance, and she's the priestess/healer to Niall's warrior/leader. (And none of that icky romantic stuff.) The climax is mostly a matter of being in the right place for the Ancient Alien Artefact to do its stuff.

I couldn't help feeling there was a missing scene at the port. The garth-holder: "Natives are sneaking out of the forest and stealing the people we've left out to die of plague. Lend us flamethrowers to burn down the forest." The bloke at the port: "Hang on, we have rules about the treatment of intelligent natives." The garth-holder: "Ah, but the plot requires it." The bloke at the port: "Oh, right you are then."

It's escapism, sure, and not terrible escapism, but it doesn't offer much else.

Followed by Victory on Janus.

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  1. Posted by Chris Bell at 01:16pm on 27 November 2015

    "(being steaded by members of the Church of No Redeeming Virtues, who don't allow converts but somehow haven't died out)"

    They own the planet, children are members of the Church from birth, and nobody is allowed to leave the church except by being thrown out to die. (Not many people seem to be being thrown out to die; it is very much a last resort, and seems only to be done if they get an illness which is going to "kill" them anyhow.) I doubt if these people use contraception much, not when they are replenishing the earth and all! The early American settlers didn't die out; why should this bunch of nasty religious fanatics either?

    The hero's first concern after he is transformed and has stopped being extremely ill is his appearance; he doesn't much like being hairless and green any more than the female does. That he is no longer human is realised second; being green is what he notices first, after his hair comes away in his hand when he runs his hand through it. She had already been very ill, was running away from enemies, and had lost all her hair to the undergrowth before she realised what had happened to her body and went into shock; he found out in rather less, erm, fraught circumstances. The viewpoint character is the male in this book, so we don't get someone else watching him go a bit mad when he realised he had been changed into something alien, nor someone else tying him up for his own protection when he did.

    I see no problem with their having had different jobs in their previous lives; with all deference, in most societies women were generally not warriors (if they could avoid it, and they tended to have more sense -- grin) because as a rule, the female is less suited to a role requiring brawn than the male is. In any case, given the option of priestess (taught interesting things, fed without having to till the soil or cook, treated with respect, doing jobs which were not generally hard labour) or warrior (liable to sudden and unpleasant death, fed, doing physical work all the time to keep my sword-skills honed) I know which I would have chosen as a career-path.

    I don't think I ever read Norton except for escapism; she doesn't go in for anything much in the way of philosophy or Teaching Me About Life or Deep Stuff like that, does she? If so, I missed it.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:22pm on 27 November 2015

    None of these things is blatantly wrong, but they do seem awfully easy and generic. I know, I know, Norton was relatively early in the development of vaguely realistic SF, but whenever there's a choice to be made she seems to go for the bog-standard one. Are there good people in the church? We'll never know. Are there people who have enough imagination to be snared by the aliens but aren't Good Guys? Fat chance.

    We don't really have enough information (e.g. the population of the planet) to be sure, but I suspect the women would die too quickly (of childbearing, constant work, or imagination) to provide a replenishment level of population. I'll grant that's not certain, but a group that refuses to recruit generally doesn't grow quickly. Of course they don't have any competition, because nobody else wants to come to the planet.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:17pm on 27 November 2015

    The Parsis in India refuse to recruit (part of their deal for being given sanctuary in India) and they are dying out. Admittedly some of that is due to a Parsi marrying a non Parsi, which wouldn't apply to this colony.

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