Judgment on Janus: A good introduction to classic SF for an MG or YA audience

Judgment on Janus by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsJudgment on Janus by Andre Norton

Judgment on Janus by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNaill Renfro lives in The Dipple, a ghetto on the pleasure planet of Korwar (same setting as in Catseye). He and his mother arrived there years ago as refugees when their home was destroyed by a space war. Now his mother is dying and she’s in a lot of pain and anguish. To purchase a final gift and a peaceful death for his mother, Naill sells himself into indentured servitude on a frontier planet called Janus.

When Naill arrives on Janus, he is put to work in the fields where the citizens seem to be battling the forest. They are chopping down trees as fast as they can.

Naill and the other servants are warned not to touch any artifacts they find as they work. These items are called “treasures” and they’re destroyed as soon as they’re found because they’re cursed. According to the overseers, they make people get sick and die.

Naill wonders where the treasures came from because, as far as he knows, humans are the first sentient beings on the planet. He doesn’t believe the artifacts are cursed, so he wonders why these beautiful treasures must be destroyed.

When Naill tries to keep a treasure he found, he does, indeed, get sick. His supervisors, who consider this to be punishment for his sin, leave him out in the forest to die.

But Naill doesn’t die and, when he recovers, he has been changed. His skin is green and he seems to have acquired the memories of a man who was a warrior long ago for an ancient tribe that used to live in the forest on Janus.

As Naill struggles to keep the two halves of himself separate, they instead begin to fuse. Then Naill feels compelled to find others like him and take back the planet from the people who are destroying it.

Judgment on Janus by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsJudgment on Janus (1963) is the first novel in Andre Norton’s JANUS duology. The two novels, Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus (1966) have been published together in an omnibus edition called JANUS (Baen, 2002) which has been released in audiobook format by Tantor Audio (2021). I really like the narration by Gabriel Vaughan.

Judgment on Janus isn’t one of Norton’s best works, but it’s not one of her worst either. It’s fairly entertaining and would be a good introduction to classic science fiction for middle grade kids or young adults. I don’t think the books were originally targeted toward younger folks, but I suspect that most adults who are science fiction fans will find them, though entertaining, lacking in complexity and challenge.

It’s easy to feel an immediate connection with Naill, a homeless refugee whose mother is dying. There’s also an agreeable, strong, and smart female character (not particularly common in science fiction novels published in the early 1960s). Mind-speaking with animals (a common Norton trope) is another feature of Judgment on Janus that kids are likely to appreciate. I’ll be reviewing the sequel, Victory on Janus, very soon.

Published in 1963 (print), 2002 (omnibus), 2021 (audiobook). The two faces of Naill Renfro. Impoverished and without hope, Naill Renfro sells himself into indentured servitude and is transported across the galaxy to the far-off jungle world of Janus. Naill hopes to work off his debt and begin his life again. But the harsh masters of Janus are destroying the priceless treasures of the planet’s ancient culture – and when Naill, entranced by the beauty of an alien artifact, is caught trying to hide it, he is exiled and left to die in the jungle. But Naill inexplicably begins to remember another life, in another time – a time when he was not human, but something else: a native of this world, in the days before its civilization fell. And he is not the only one…embarking on a quest to find his alien heritage, Naill will discover the mysterious source of his strange new memory, and the fate of the others of his kind. And when he does, he will defend his newfound people against the human and alien invaders despoiling their world.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. I remember reading this when I was in middle school (which we called junior high). I really liked it. I was captivated when he assumed the memories of the warrior.

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