Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Little Remembered YA SF Novel: Raiders from the Rings, by Alan E. Nourse

A Little Remembered YA SF Novel: Raiders from the Rings, by Alan E. Nourse

a review by Rich Horton

Alan E. Nourse was born 11 August 1928 (he died in 1992), so I thought it might be a good time to resurrect this brief review of one of his YA novels, that I wrote for SFF Net a long time ago.

Alan E. Nourse was one of the SF writers whose juveniles introduced me to the field.  The Universe Between is the book I specifically remember: I was very impressed back in 1972 or whenever I read it.  I also read The Mercy Men and The Bladerunner.  (He got some money for the use of his title when the film came out, even though it had nothing to do with his book.)  His career mostly covered about 1951 to the early '70s, though he had a story in F&SF as late as 1990.  He died in 1992.  (He was an M.D., and his last name was pronounced "Nurse".)

A lot of his early work was for the regular SF magazines in the early '50s, then was revised into Young Adult novels later on: many of his YA books are from the '60s.  For instance, The Universe Between (1968) is an expansion/revision of two short stories from 1951 issues of Astounding.

(Cover by Jack Gaughan)
Raiders from the Rings comes from 1962. It too is based on an older story from Astounding, but oddly enough the story is not by Nourse. It is "The Mauki Chant", by J. A. Meyer, from the June 1951 Astounding. Meyer was a friend of Nourse, and the two collaborated on a novel (The Invaders are Coming!, aka The Sign of the Tiger (which was the title of the 1958 Amazing story that the novel was based on).) Mayer also had three stories in Astounding, all in 1951.

Raiders from the Rings is a decent but not great YA SF novel -- which in the end describes much of his work.  He was no Heinlein, certainly, and not quite Andre Norton either (though apparently people used to mistake "Alan Nourse" for yet another Alice Mary Norton pseudonym, along with Andre Norton and Andrew North). He was much better than, say, the Silverberg of Revolt on Alpha C (possibly the first SF novel I read), or most of the "Winston" writers, and at least a bit better than Isaac Asimov writing as Paul French.  This novel posits a future solar system with fierce conflict between Earthman and Spacers -- a familiar subject.  Earthmen hate Spacers for some bad reasons -- they refused to join in the Atomic War that nearly wrecked Earth, thus they were traitors to one side or the other.  (The book's hero, Ben Trefon, is later revealed to be actually named Trefonovich -- which in 1962 was I'm sure supposed to be a shocking revelation -- The Good Guy is a COMMIE!)  They also have good reason to hate them -- Spacers periodically raid Earth and kidnap their women.  Spacers hate Earthmen, conversely, because they won't negotiate, and because they commit horrible atrocities whenever they happen to catch a Spacer ship.

It turns out there's a reason for the Spacer actions, and it also turns out that some Spacer fear of Earthmen, as well as most Earth fear of Spacers, is misguided, which is of course the message of the book.  The book begins with Ben participating in a raid on Earth, by mistake kidnapping not just a girl but her brother.  However, when Ben gets back to his home on Mars, he finds that the sneaky Earthmen have sent a suicide fleet and have blasted the Spacer homes to smithereens, killing Ben's father as well as many other Spacers.  He heads to "Asteroid Central" to join the doomed defense effort, but on the way he encounters a mysterious ship -- which seems to herd him to a strange asteroid.  There Ben and the two Earth kids learn a strange secret about the destiny of Earth, and they, having finally learned to trust each other, must find a a way to make the war stop, and to bring mutual trust between all Spacers and Earthmen.

As I said, it's decent but not great.  The science is actually not bad, and the plot, though it does turn on rather a deus ex machina, is still different enough to interest.  I could have used a bit more sexual tension -- but it was a YA book after all. And indeed any added sexual tension would have required a fuller portrayal of the women in the book, and a fuller engagement with the icky "wife kidnapping" theme.

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