Star Rangers: One of Norton’s best

Star Rangers by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsStar Rangers by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsStar Rangers by Andre Norton

Star Rangers (1953) (aka The Last Planet) is the second of Andre Norton’s stand-alone novels included in Star Soldiers, an omnibus released in print by Baen Books in 2001 and in audiobook format by Tantor Media in March 2021. Star Soldiers also includes the novel Star Guard (1955). These two novels are collectively known as the CENTRAL CONTROL stories and, as I mentioned in my review of Star Guard, “I’ve read more than 20 Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most by teenagers, especially those new to science fiction.” You don’t need to read Star Guard first, but it will add some helpful background if you do.

It’s 8054 AD and the first Galactic Empire is breaking up, just like the Roman Empire did. They had a good run, about 3000 years, but now things are falling apart and a dark age, where all knowledge of spaceflight may be lost, is likely upon them.

A small group of humans (and a few aliens) still cling to the code of honor instilled by the Stellar Patrol. In a desperate attempt to preserve the ideals they cherish, they send out their few remaining ships to look for forgotten planets where they can, if they’re lucky, set up new societies.

We follow the crew of one of these ships (Starfire) which has crash-landed on an unknown, but fortunately habitable, planet. Their rocky start is followed by contentious issues related to the group’s chain-of-command, classism, and prejudice against the alien crewmembers.

Things get even more interesting when they discover remnants of what looks like a high-tech humanoid civilization. Could there be other humans on this uncharted planet? If so, how did they get there? And will they be friendly?

Like Star Guard, Star Rangers is an exciting story with lots of high-stakes action, likable characters, several heart-warming scenes, and a dramatic twist that gave me goosebumps. It’s a memorable and emotional story that will stick with me and would be an especially good read for middle grade or young adult readers.

One huge plot problem was the Patrol’s neglect to send female humans or aliens on this mission. They were looking for habitable planets and did not expect to return home. With no females, they guarantee the end of the human and alien races. (We learn later that there are females in the Patrol, but they seem to be mostly relegated to roles involving domestic duties like making beds, feeding people, and watching the children. Ugh.)

But still, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and endorse it as one of Norton’s best adventures. I recommend the audio version by Tantor Audio. It’s narrated by Eric Michael Summerer who gives another great performance. The entire audiobook version (contains Star Guard and Star Rangers) is 14.5 hours long.Star Rangers by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

~Kat Hooper


Star Rangers by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSo I was just going to piggyback a paragraph onto Kat’s review here because Andre Norton was a touchstone author in my young life, and Star Rangers was, along with Star Guard and The Stars Are Ours, one of my absolute favorites by her. If you checked the library card (look it up kids) on any of those three in both our school and local libraries, you’d have seen my name on multiple lines, often with no other readers in between.

And things haven’t changed much; I rarely go more than three years without rereading them all. And while nostalgia is certainly part of it, they still give me the shivery moments. So yeah, I thought I’d pop in with a brief, “Yep, Kat’s right — this is a great old read” paragraph. And just to make sure I got the names right, I pulled Star Rangers off my Shelf-of-Nos-Tal-Gia (you have to read it in reverb mode) and refreshed my memory of its opening, then read a bit more, then a bit more, and now (you can see where this is going, can’t you?) here I am, 280 pages later having just finished it. Again. With all the shivers. Again. Man, I love this book.

There’s just so much to revel in here. The decaying remnants of a dying Galactic Empire. A lone ship stranded on an unknown, off-the-charts planet. Multiple alien species. A Galactic Patrol. Psi powers. Street battles. Xenophobia. Hierarchy tension. An ancient city somehow still preserved in working mode. Space pirates. Blasters, Disruptors, and Flamers, oh my! A monomaniacal villain. Desperate last stands. Robots. Mind control. Exploration. Ambushes. Suicide missions. Norton literally even threw in the kitchen sink. Well, OK, it’s a bathtub, but still, pretty darn close. And it all works.

Throw in a major anti-bigotry theme, the age-old question of what humanity gave up by becoming a mostly urban species, characters who are humble, engaging, and above all else decent, and then add in at the end not one, not two, but three killer scenes. One, a twist, the seeds of which are wonderfully planted throughout the novel, another a tautly tense chase scene, and the last a moment of idealism and self-sacrifice. And they get me every time. It’s the sort of ending where knowing what’s coming doesn’t “spoil” it, but instead enhances it, because now instead of just reacting in the moment of reading, I get those extra few moments of anticipating what’s coming.

Star Rangers is as near a flawless adventure sci-fi as you can get. Kat’s right in that women are relegated to lesser roles and ones often associated with taking care of children, a definite problem. But even here Norton isn’t wholly awful. The female Patrol person we see is a sergeant, and though her role is in logistics/supplies, it’s made clear she didn’t shy away from the recent battle, and the female Zacathan (Norton’s reptilian alien species) is clearly an equal partner in her relationship and is presented as independent, tough, thoughtful, and well matched to their hard-scrabble situation despite being a wealthy noble in her normal life.

So yes, the novel is dated in some expected ways. But still. I’ve been reading it now for roughly 40 years and long ago lost track of just how many reads it’s been. And yet, here I was, picking it up yet again and not putting it down for nearly 300 pages. And I didn’t skim any pages, skip any lines. And won’t next time I read it either.

~Bill Capossere

Published in 1953 (audio in 2021). The galactic civilization is collapsing, and the underfunded crew of an exploration starship is forced to set down on an uncharted planet: a mysterious, abandoned world that is achingly beautiful – and hauntingly familiar. Ranger Sergeant Kartr, telepath and stellar Patrolman, searches with his crewmates for the source of a beacon which may mean escape for them all. What he finds is far stranger: the first clue to what may become the greatest revelation in galactic history!

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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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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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