Having read way-too-much politics and history lately, I needed a break and felt the urge for some classic science fiction. Andre Norton’s “The Star Born” fit the bill nicely.
Norton’s story begins as the tale of Dalgarth, a human teen on his coming-of-age trip with his “merman” (think large, humanoid otter) friend Ssuri. Humans are not native to this world, having come here centuries before after escaping a tyrannical government on Earth. Lacking what they needed to maintain their civilization, the “colonists” have retrogressed to a roughly Iron Age technology, but they do recall where they came from and why. On their new world, “Astra,” they made friends with the mermen, who communicate largely through telepathy. And, over the course of generations, humans began to develop similar abilities.
Problems arise for Dalgarth from two sources: first, he and Ssuri discover that the cruel “Those Others,” the former humanoid masters of Astra who destroyed their civilization in a global war and who genetically engineered the mermen and other races and used them for sport, have recovered on another continent and come to Dalgarth’s to reclaim their ancient and deadly technology. As Ssuri tells him, this could mean death for everyone else, including the humans.
The other problem comes from the arrival of a ship from Earth. The oppressive government was overthrown over a century before, but the war to do it was so devastating that Earth is only now recovered and re-entering space. The focus character here is the pilot, Raf Kurbi, who becomes our second main character.
The story lies not only in the defeat of “Those Others,” but also in the realization on both Dalgarth and Raf’s part that the humans of Astra and their cousins from Terra are no longer really the same people, that they are along different paths of development, and need to let time pass before they are again ready to meet.
I enjoyed this book, which I would rate for teens and young adults. The tech is by no means up-to-date (It was written in the early-mid 50s), but the themes are evergreen: exploration, friendship, and choices that have consequences. For gamers, Norton’s “Astra” makes a nice change from the standard pseudo-medieval worlds common in fantasy roleplaying games and is closer to the hobby’s actual literary roots.
Recommended as a pleasant diversion.