Storm Over Warlock

Storm Over Warlock
Andre Norton

Getting into Vintage SF Month, I find myself behind and in need of quick, vintage reads. It just so happens that I have access to a small supply of sketchily narrated and produced audiobooks that were taken from the Gutenberg library. Among them is Andre Norton’s Storm Over Warlock, which appears to be in the public domain. I have read five Norton novels in the last few years, with the same result each time. I generally enjoy the books while I’m reading them (less so for The Zero Stone), but none of them have left much of an impression. This may be because the majority of her books read like YA fiction to me, though I’m not sure if that was the intention. It is no coincidence, I suppose, that the most adult of her novels was the most enjoyable. (That would be Witch World.)

I listened to this at work, so I wasn’t always paying complete attention. The quality of the recording was also pretty low, so there’s going to be parts that I missed and nuance that I didn’t understand. I am taking this into account for my review. Storm covers much of the same ground as the other Norton novels I’m familiar with: young protagonist on an exotic world facing some sort of peril, having adventures, and growing into an adult. Animal sidekicks make frequent appearances in her books, and this is no exception. Shann (our erstwhile hero) is accompanied by Taggy and Togi, the genetically boosted wolverines.

Things start with a bang, as Shann finds himself the only fortunate survivor of an attack on the lone Terran base camp on the planet Warlock. The evil alien Throgs have blown everything up, so the rest of the book is spent following Shann as he tries to put life back together. Like the other Norton books I am familiar with, this is a rural and/or frontier-type story, free of large cities or complex societies. The cast is small, with the whole of the story focused on Shann, the animals, and a couple of other minor characters. Finally, Warlock is naturally full of secrets that will slowly make their way to the fore. It is to Norton’s credit that Shann is not a child of destiny or other such nonsense. He is resourceful and strong, but not some sort of golden child.

Warlock ages well. The survival story keeps technology to a minimum and advanced civilization on the sidelines, which avoids any sort of obsolescence pitfalls. The pacing and length are artifacts of a day gone by, as are the psi powers that make an appearance. Still, nothing about Norton’s writing is cringe-inducing. In fact, the way that the story unfolds into something larger over just a couple of hundred pages is probably the clearest indication of its age; most writers now take all the time they are given yet somehow manage to say less.

Of my five finished Norton books, this one comes in at #2, behind Witch World. It was fun and engaging, though not anything that will leave a mark. It’s the kind of story I could give to someone who wanted an easy SF primer, or maybe to one of my kids in a few years. I can’t really recommend it to a serious SF grognard who demands increasingly esoteric and exotic stories to tickle a grizzled palette, but that was probably never the author’s intent. We’ll all just agree on wholesome, family fun for this one.

Rating: Many a reader may have thought I’d given up on vaguely related football segues, but they are sorely mistaken. In proper homage to Vintage SF, let’s pull some vintage English footy out of the ether and enjoy highlights from a 1972 match between Leeds and Manchester United. (A pox on both their houses.)