The Stars are Ours by Andre Norton
This is one of a series of review of old favorites of mine that started me on my path to being an author and of books that I believe can still charm and inspire.
The Star are Ours is one of the first Norton books I read. It’s set in a post apocalyptic world, where a terrorist incident has damaged the world in a number of ways. Scientists rather than politicians were blamed for the disaster and became hunted. This novel is set in what appears to be the northern middle states of the US near the Rocky Mountains. Here that lingering strain of anti-intellectualism has given rise to the pernicious philosophy of Pax. People are divided into Peacemen, peasantry and slaves (former scientists, teachers and anyone who disagrees with the Peacemen.)
Struggling in poverty in a small cabin are Dard Nordis, who grew up in this fallen world with practical woodsmen skills, his brother Lars a scientist and Dessie, the youngest sister and a gifted child in the most meaningful way. Dessie has an empathic gift that allows her to communicate on at least a basic level with most animals, less communication than a way to use her feelings to encourage trust.
Lars, a cripple is in secret communication with the last Free Scientists hidden in their mountain fortress. He is too ill to be taken there but he is essential to their plan, to escape the current Dark Age of Earth on the last starship, a sleeper ship. Lars finishes his work on the plan just as the world comes crashing in on them in the form of the long dreaded Pax raid. Lars dies but not before entrusting Dard and Dessie with the coded information. A contact picks them up in the frozen woods and takes them to the mountain fortress. Dard can only try to demonstrate his value to the Scientists, volunteering to a raid into Pax HQ to access the computer that the Peacemen have raised, in an unintentional irony, to the status of an oracle. The raid is successful but brings a swift reprisal as Paxers follow them to the mountain fortress. Dard fights with the rearguard to allow the ship to escape but the battle while successful is costly. There is now room on the starship for him. In perhaps the best scene of this type that I have read, the ship and Dard escape. He falls into the cold sleep never knowing if he will awaken.
He does and here is where the book goes into glorious overdrive. Ad Astra “to the stars” we go. The exhausted and now ancient ship finds a livable world after perhaps a century or more of travel. A small group is awakened, Dard among them as the ship lands, on the world they name Astra. They must land, they ship can carry them no further.
Astra is a fascinating world; they land in an isolated headland near a beach to begin their discovery of their new home. Soon they learn that the world is not untouched, a great civilization of apparently ruthless power from its ruins.
While Dessie fits in with the scientific community, short as it is on children. Dard is restless not having the education to help the community, until he is recruited for the scouting party, other soldiers and hunters who will learn the world’s secrets. Traps and monsters await them among the ruins, as well as unexpected treasures. Finally it is Dessie who makes contact with the mer-people, former slaves of the master race who ruled and ruined the planet, determined to remain free of “Those Others” a species so alien that it may be that there can be no communication between them and others save with weapons.
So the scientists have fled one war-wracked world for another but with the help of their new found friends they hope to make a safe home on this ancient world.
The strength of the piece is Dard, the alienated teen, old before his years with the weight of suffering and woe, who none-the –less finds ways and places to fit in and contribute in a world he thought had no use for him. Who among us has not felt this way?
The book as is usual for Norton is without romance but considering the POV of its main character and his harsh and narrow world. Still this is a YA and sexuality was something Norton was always oblique about. Some may find the language simple but there is strength to this basic clear writing. Enjoy