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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/25/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: Time Traders"

Time Traders
A two-part sci-fi novel by Andre Norton
Published by Baen Books, 2001

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Every now and then, I get nostalgic for an old-fashioned science fiction story written during the classic period (1930-1950). But that wasn't my intention when I saw Andre Norton's name on the cover of this novel. I first became familiar with her works when I was in high school, back in the 70's. I'm more familiar with her Witch World series, which featured strong, independent female heroes, as befitted the era of the dawning Women's Liberation Movement, of which I was an ardent member. So I was genuinely surprised to find that Time Traders was originally published as two stories; "The Time Traders" in 1958 and "Galactic Derelict", in 1959, both by the World Publishing Company. As was customary in those days, the protagonist and all the main characters are male, with scarcely any mention of women in general. There is one outstanding female supporting character in part one, Time Traders; Cassca, a priestess of the Great Mother, who assists the disguised time travelers. But the cast of characters is predominantly male, who conventionally fall back upon force of arms rather than diplomacy when conflict arises.

Despite the dated format, this was a surprisingly good read. I'd recommend it for nostalgic readers who enjoy a good old-fashioned action novel set in time and space. The protagonist in part one, Ross Murdock, is a petty criminal who gets recruited into an underground government project as part of a plea bargain agreement because he possesses the traits most valued in a secret agent; a man of action who doesn't always follow the rules, who can adapt to circumstances at a moment's notice, and is ruthless enough to fight or kill anybody who gets in the way. Such men played a big part in founding this nation and on the Western frontier, but would be out of place in peaceful, civilized society because of the very ruthlessness that helped them to survive in war.

Fortunately, there's still a place for such men in covert government organizations like the CIA, where their skills are valued because they help protect our country and our way of life. So it is with Operation Retrograde, which uses technology salvaged from an alien ship first discovered by the Russians, now competing with our all-American heroes for the chance to change history. The Cold War mentality is very much in evidence throughout this book; there's no doubt in anybody's mind who the enemy is, which can be refreshing in this politically correct era, where everybody has to be so careful not to say or write anything offensive about any ethnic or political group, because today's ally was yesterday's enemy or vice-versa.

Speaking of minorities, the protagonist in part two, "Galactic Derelict", is a Native American, an Apache rancher named Travis Fox, who stumbles upon the time travelers by accident while they're investigating an anachronism in the desert adjoining his brother's land; ancient arrowheads and spear-tips found in a burial mound that resemble traditional Native American weaponry of the prehistoric era, but which turns out to be of modern manufacture. Ms. Norton was definitely ahead of her time, making a nonwhite male a lead character back in the 50's. Small wonder that she was able to make the transition to strong female characters by the 70's. One can forgive her for writing such formulaic science fiction, especially when the story moves as fast as this one does. It moves through time and space with incredible speed, with enough historic detail and alien intervention along the way to make your head spin!

This novel is definitely a page-turner; you won't be able to put it down. I highly recommend it for escapist reading. Just try not to get huffy over the absence of female and minority characters, aside from Travis. Remember that a book should be judged by the standards of the period in which it was written, as well as by the more enlightened standards of the 21stt Century. (The same "enlightened" standards which cast women as scientists [Star Trek: Enterprise] and archeologists [Tomb Raider], only to dress them seductively and have them fall back upon a man for assistance? Just wondering how far we've really come from the good old days...)

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