" The things that make us happy make us wise" John Crowley, Little Big

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Defiant Agents by Andre Norton

The Defiant Agents by Andre Norton, The World Publishing Company, 1962, 
Cover by Ed Emshwiller

The Defiant Agents the third book in Andre Norton’s Time Trader series is the story of Project Cochise where the Apache Travis Fox leads a group of Apache colonists to the planet Topaz.

At the end of the Galactic Derelect the team of time agents Dr. Gordon Ashe, Ross Murdoch, the Apache Travis Fox and a technician Case Renfry have made a successful round trip on one of the recovered alien space craft. They also returned with navigation tapes for a number of other planets. While the tapes have been shared among Earth governments various factions have assembled teams to be the first to claim the planets for which they have tapes. Ashe and Colonel Kelgarries have assembled “ Three teams of recruits-the Eskimos (Inuit) from Point Barren, the Apaches, and the Islanders (Polynesians) - all picked because their people had a high survival rating in the past” (18) who will be sent to the planet whose climatic conditions most closely resembles that of their naive homelands on earth. 

Because of a security breach, Russia and the Cold War are still a major focus of the series, the US tape has been copied. Despite Ashe’s objections, he feels more training is required, 40 young Apache men and women under the leadership of Travis Fox are sent to Topaz. With them are a pair of mutant coyotes created by the US nuclear tests in the southwest. Upon arrival it is discovered that the Russia have not only arrived first but they have set up an air defence system and the Apache ship is shot down. A number of the Apache travelling in cold sleep are killed as well as the entire ship’s crew. An added wrinkle is that in a attempt to speed up the acculturation of the "modern" Apache to the new planet they have been subjected to the machine called the Redax which has awaked ancestral memories. The result is the survivors are subjected to confusing mixtures of memories of the American culture they left and memories stemming from their culture's history. This was done without their permission and the Apache realize they have been betrayed by the government yet again in the name of expediency. This also places Fox, who brought them into the project, at odds with the rest of the group. Fox’s main allies are the coyotes with whom he discovers a telepathic link. And he will need all the help he can get since he quickly discovers that the Russians using a similar technology have planted a very tightly controlled group of colonists who believe they are part of the Mongolian Golden Horde. 

I want to look at several aspects of the novel overall. We have a number of Norton themes here human animal communication, Native American characters, alienated characters or groups, mutants, a distrust of technology, a distrust of government agencies,  the cold war and shifting alliances between groups of characters.

What I find particularly interesting is what we are to take away from the concept of Project Cochise, does Norton really believe that this is a logical method of colonizing other planets. I don’t think so, I think instead Norton wants to look at the subject of racial stereotyping and racism in general.  Norton has introduced minority populations into her SF novels since her first SF work, Star Man's Son (1952) where the migrating black sheep herders are the first group to accept the mutant Fors as an equal. Fox originally abandons his university studies when a rich patron refuses to donate money for archeological projects employing Native Americans. While the time agents of the first two books train to be Folsom hunters or Funnel Beaker traders they do this only so they can move among the native populations of the eras they travel to. 

It is interesting that when a number of the Apache men, we meet none of the women, discuss their ancestral lives, the experiences are specific not generic they name specific Apache war leaders they rode with Black Knife, Cochise, Victorio, and Magnus Colorado all of whom were betrayed, captured, tortured and or killed by the governments of Mexico and the United States. So I suspect this is deliberate on Norton’s part, she wrote historical novels and westerns and was known for her research. I think that these specific figures were named to underscore the theme of betrayal that has been the lot of Native Americans by the governments of North and South America since contact and that continues into the era of this novel and indeed the present day. 

Ace 14231 cover by Ed Emshwiller

  Another thing I found interesting is that we are clearly told that this is an attempt to establish a colony but while the Apache rescue supplies from the crashed ship they have no modern weapons they have to revert to bows and arrows. The Apache leaders I mentioned fought mainly through the 1860’s to 1880’s their warriors would have had ample experience using guns. At one point when they are attempting to set a trap in the crashed ship the Apache tasked with rigging the systems points out to Fax that he graduated from MIT. So he retained his technical knowledge. Is the lack of modern weapons stereotyping or a method to control the Apache colonists. 

I found Norton’s treatment of Fox interesting, while he eventually convinces the other Apache to help him, leadership is shared. Normally in SF novels even in Norton’s you have one character who assumes the role of hero, saves the girl, defuses the bomb whatever needs to be done while the other characters hold their coat etc. Here in part due to an injury to Fox but also because other members of the group are better suited to certain tasks Fox ends up having to stand aside, to be told how things went by other Apache rather than always participate. I thought this interesting because my reading of the history of the Native Americans of Western Canada tells me this is how they operated. They had a chief for war, a chief for peace, specialists for other tasks and decisions were often made and carried out by smaller groups (societies), subsets of the larger tribe. I wonder if Norton was trying to convey this aspect of Native American society through her treatment of Fox in this novel. 

In The Book Of Andre Norton,  Daw Books 1974 in the section "Andre Norton: A Loss of Faith" by Rick Brooks, he questions whether in books like “Dread Companion(1970) and The Dark Piper(1968) that gives the feeling at the conclusion that it is better not to see what lies ahead.” (187) Norton had come to lose the optimism of her earlier work. I would say that this is not the case, racism, nuclear destruction, class warfare, refugee populations are common in her novels throughout her career, her works are considered juveniles but the optimism of Heinlein’s Space Cadet or Farmer in the Sky is often missing. Brooks seems to agree he goes on to say, “the optimism of Galactic Derelict, where the universe and its wonders had been opened to man, have in its sequel turned to dread of the weapons of the earlier galactic empire in human hands.” (189)

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