Plague Ship (1956) is the second installment in Andre Norton’s so-called DANE THORSON (SOLAR QUEEN) series, and is a direct continuation of the previous volume, Sargasso of Space. (A reading of that earlier novel is highly recommended before going into this one.) Plague Ship does everything that a good sci-fi sequel should: It expands on the possibilities of the previous book, deepens the characters, increases the action and leaves us wanting still more. It’s a very fast-moving and suspenseful tale, full of unusual detail and unexpected turns.
There are several highlights that make Plague Ship really shine, such as the gorp hunt early in the story. (And when I say “gorp,” I’m not talking about high-energy nut-and-raisin trail mix, but rather reptilian, crablike monsters!) This gorp hunt takes place at sunset on the reefs of an oily sea, and is a highly atmospheric and exciting segment. Other great sections include a raid on an asteroid’s emergency station; a landing in the Big Burn… and the viewing of the mutant life-forms therein; and the battle… near the book’s end, where our heroes make a desperate bid to make their plea for justice to the citizens of the solar system. Like I said, this is a slam-bang sequel that will leave few readers unsatisfied.
That having been said, I need to also mention that there are a few inconsistencies in the book. At one point, Norton tells us that Dane has been in the trading service for a few months; somewhere else, she says that it has been a full year. Huh? And I feel that I must chastise Ace Books for the deplorable job with which its paperback version has been put together. Now don’t get me wrong: I LOVE these little Ace paperbacks from the 1950s, especially those 2-in-1 Ace doubles. But there are so many typos — not to mention punctuational and grammatical errors — in this book that the reading thereof is made a labor. Should we blame Norton or the publishers for a sentence such as this: “His hands, blundering within the metallic claws of the gloves, Dane buckled two safety belts about him.” How could any copy editor or proofreader let such an egregious line such as this get through, when just the simple deletion of that first comma would have made all the difference?! Apparently, these little Ace books were never proofed or edited. They’re wonderful volumes, with marvelously pulpy covers, but sadly, the contents were not given their due.
But enough about Ace’s carelessness. Plague Ship, despite the occasional blunder, is still a marvelous entertainment, and I do highly recommend it.