Monday, April 8, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- The Beast Master

Today I'm looking to introduce new readers to Andre Norton's 1959 sci-fi novel The Beast Master (not to be confused with the 1982 movie of the same name or the TV show based on said movie).

The plot centers around Hosteen Storm, a Navajo soldier of the Planetary Confederation. He is a Beast Master, a warrior capable of psychically communicating with his animal team: Baku the eagle, Surra the dune cat, and meercats Ho and Hing. Storm and his furry companions relocate to the frontier planet Arzor (think a planet-wide Arizona) following an interstellar war which left Earth uninhabitable. Officially, Storm has chosen Arzor because of its resemblance to the American Southwest where he is from, but in actuality he has come to kill one Brad Quade. Who is Quade, and why is Storm so intent on his death? To find out, you'll have to read the book (or look it up online, ya lazy bums). Needless to say, not everything goes as planned. Storm is forced to deal with hostile Terrans, hostile natives, and the hostile Xik (the aliens who wrecked Earth). Through it all, he must come to terms with his personal demons and decide what kind of man he really is.

The Beast Master was way ahead of its time. Not only did it feature a minority protagonist, but the hero for the most part forsakes traditional sci-fi weapons like ray guns. Instead, he relies on his mastery of hand-to-hand combat and the efficiency of his animal team, making him a refreshing lead character. Norton did a great job fleshing out this character, making him flawed yet likable. She also paid careful attention to the native Norbies, resulting in deep, believable alien characters.

Bottom line: every serious science fiction fan should read The Beast Master.

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