Monday, January 19, 2009

Pulp Fantasy Library: Star Man's Son

Yes, I know this cover bears a different title than the one in the header of this post. There's two reasons for that, one practical and one historical. The practical reason is that I simply couldn't find a good image of the original 1952 hardcover release of this Andre Norton novel. The historical reason is that, in the 1954 Ace Double edition (which it shared with Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's Beyond Earth's Gates) bearing the title Daybreak - 2250 A.D., the novel went on to sell over 1 million copies, thereby ensuring that a large number of sci-fi and fantasy fans would read its story, including Gary Gygax, who cites it in Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, and James Ward, who considered it a seminal influence on his own Gamma World.

Star Man's Son
tells the story of a silver-haired mutant named Fors, who lives in a post-apocalyptic North America some centuries in the future. Because of his genetic background, he is distrusted and feared by the Puma clan of which he is a part. He is tolerated primarily because his father, Langdon, is a star man -- a scout and explorer who aids his people by traveling widely in search of knowledge and ancient technology. Fors dreams of one day following in his father's footsteps, a dream made even more urgent when his father disappears in the lands of the Beast Things, mutants who may or may not be degenerate humans. Eventually, Fors realizes that the other star men will never accept him as one of their number and so sets off, in the company of a mutant wildcat with whom he can communicate telepathically, in search of a lost city that was supposedly left intact amidst the devastation that destroyed human civilization.

Star Man's Son is a fun and inspiring novel, one of my favorites by Norton. There's no question in my mind why it exerted such an influence over not only Gygax and Ward, but a host of science fiction and fantasy writers since it was first published. The story -- an outcast on a quest to prove his worth, both to others and to himself -- is an old one, but it's one with which most people, espcially young men, can empathize. Add to that the terror and mystery of a world destroyed by man's own folly and you have the recipe for a classic adventure tale. If you haven't read it, I heartily recommend you do so, if only to see the wellspring of what would eventually become science fantasy clich├ęs. But Andre Norton wrote these things first and, in my opinion, best and deserves to be given her due.

9 comments:

  1. This is like a missing puzzle piece filled in, James. I've been half-remembering this book ever since your Pulp Fantasy Library series began! I had only the "science fantasy cliche:" a vague notion of a mutant outcast traveling through a dangerous wilderness. Now I know what to go looking for. Thanks.

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  2. Sounds like a good source of inspiration for Mutant Future. :)

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  3. Never read it, well before me and not anything I'm likely to have come across. However, the description does jive well with the spirit of classic D&D doesn't it?

    "You don't fit in, so you go adventure." Simple.

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  4. Ah, Star Man's Son was one of my absolute favorite books in my middle-school years (the same time I started playing Gamma World and D&D). I even wrote "fan-fic" of sorts for it for my English class, as I recall.

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  5. Right on. I just ordered a copy on EBay. I look forward to the read. I've cut way back on my TV watching and am amazed at how much reading and writing I can get done. ;)

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  6. Thank for the book review. I'm also a big Gamma World fan! And that pulp-styled book cover is awesome!

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  7. Ya'know, this little tome is one of the few I have been searching high and low (save online) for, the past year or so.

    I swear I just can't find the darn thing in any local and (not so local) used bookshops. I've turned up some real beauties, but this little beast eludes me so!

    Nice reference though, thanks for the reminder to keep on looking.

    Of course I could saddle over to ebay, but where the fun in that? ;>

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  8. I'm sure I've seen a very similar image used in Jack Kirby's Kamandi comics. Given the similarity of the setting, I wonder if this served as inspiration for Kirby as well as Gygax?

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  9. The original novel was published in 1952, the year before I was born, and I first read it in 1962. It had the same cover that you display and was titled "Star Man's Son, 2250 A.D." I lived in a new development surrounded by woods that had been home to Bohemian artists forty years before, and I explored old moldering abandoned buildings inspired by Norton's novel. Ah, nostalgia!

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