Monday, May 30, 2011

Pulp Fantasy Library: No Night Without Stars

One look at this cover and you can tell that Andre Norton's post-apocalyptic novel, No Night Without Stars, was published in the 1970s -- 1975, to be exact. Though not set in the same world as her earlier Star Man's Son, Norton deals with many of the same situations and themes as that novel, such as outcast protagonists and the search for knowledge from the world before. Also like Star Man's Son, No Night Without Stars is fundamentally optimistic, as evidenced by its title, which is a paraphrase of something a character says toward the end of the novel.
... we have tried long to live upon the remnants of the Before Time, ever looking backward. But why should we? There is no night without a star, so the blackness of our night can be lighted by our own efforts. We are ourselves, not the Before Ones. Therefore, we must learn for ourselves, not try to revive what was known by those we might not even want to call kin were we to meet them.
Where No Night Without Stars differs from its predecessor, I think, can be seen in the text quote above too. It'd be an exaggeration to say that this is an "angry" novel; I'm not sure Andre Norton had it within her to write in that way. Nevertheless, there's a much greater sense in No Night Without Stars that the path forward for post-apocalyptic humanity lies not in rebuilding the past or in cleaving to the social structures created in the wake of Armageddon, but in challenging them and seeking something genuinely new.

This should come as no surprise, since the novel tells the story of Sander, an apprentice smith generally regarded by his people, rather unsubtly called "the Mob," as being of little worth. Their estimation of his abilities comes from the fact that Sander dreams of mastering "the Old Learning," so that he might work metal in ways superior to that of his benighted kin. Rather than abandon this dream, Sander chooses self-exile -- "go-forth rights" -- to travel outside the boundaries of Jak's Mob into distant lands where he believed he might find the secrets that he sought. Along the way, he meets a mysterious woman named Fanyi, who claims to talk with spirits. Like him, Fanyi seeks the knowledge of "the Before Men," although for very different reasons. She agrees to accompany him and form a temporary partnership for mutual gain, but, of course, events soon take on a life of their own.

No Night Without Stars isn't one of Norton's best stories. I certainly prefer Star Man's Son to it in most respects, but it's still a quick, enjoyable read. Compared to most contemporary sci-fi, it's extremely short and straightforward, providing the reader with very digressions or sub-plots. Likewise, the novel's setting is largely undeveloped, giving us only the briefest glimpses of its features and inhabitants, let alone its history. I can't say this bothered me particularly, since, as ought to be well known by now, I find such thing too often become excuses for authorial self-indulgence, but I won't deny that I'd have appreciated at least a little more detail in No Night Without Stars. As it is, it feels more like a sketch than a complete novel, which likely affected my final estimation of it.

3 comments:

  1. thanks for posting this! This was the first Andre Norton book I read, and has long been a favorite. However, I had forgotten what the name was (and for some reason had it confused with Star Born).

    I'm going to find a copy of this and reread it!

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  2. I remember the book fondly from my teenage years (I have a copy with that cover somewhere - probably in storage since the Great Flood of '05); I'll have to re-read it next time I come across it.

    BTW James, talking about post-apocalyptic fiction, have you read Stephen Vincent Benét's 1937 short story "By the Waters of Babylon"?

    I came across it myself last week when I was looking for a short story to serve as a make-up assignment for one of my students. I normally use Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains," but I needed a "back-up" story and just happened to come across Benét's story online. I found it quite interesting, both as a model for later post-apocalyptic fiction and because it involves a pre-nuclear apocalypse.

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  3. BTW James, talking about post-apocalyptic fiction, have you read Stephen Vincent Benét's 1937 short story "By the Waters of Babylon"?

    I have read it and I was planning to talk about it at some point, once I get through a bunch of other stories I have lined up.

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