Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Zero Stone by Andre Norton

I'm fairly certain that everything that possibly could be said about this book has already been said at one point in time or another, since it was written by one of the early lights of SF back in the sixties. I loved Norton's works when I was just beginning to read SF, and this book and its sequel were two of my favorites, and when I was looking for a quick light read the other night, I knew rereading them would be a treat.

So, what can I say except that The Zero Stone has it all. There are espers and mutants and alien races both current and ancient, with civilizations living and fallen. There is murder and betrayal and a birthright usurped, with thieves guilds and free traders and the Space Patrol thrown in. Blackouts at blastoff and crashes with castaways. No sex and drugs and rock and roll, but young adult novels back in those days were pretty tame, so we can't fault Norton for that.

Murdoc Jern is an apprentice to a master gem trader as the story begins. His father, whose past was somewhat shady, arranged this training for him so that he could take over the family pawn shop some day, perhaps. When an offplanet death cult selects his master for their sacrifice, he flees for his life, and after seeking sanctuary in the temple of another god, he manages to buy passage for himself offworld with a ship of Free Traders. He apparently contracts a virulent plague and is quarantined, but the traders decide to space him, instead of putting him off ship somewhere isolated, so he flees with an unlikely ally, a mutant named Eet.

After being marooned on a jungle  planet where their commandeered landing boat crashes, they encounter primitive and hungry aliens, whom they manage to evade. Then they are chased and captured by the Guild, who believe that Murdoc posseses (and indeed he does) an artifact made by the Forerunners which is the key to great power for those who unlock its secrets. Then a space patrolman lands to investigate Guild activities in the area, and is captured as well. Eet and Murdoc find a way to escape, and take the patrolman along, too.

All the way, just great out of the frying pan into the fire action. Not deep, not philosophical, just fun.

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