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Close To My Heart

Many of us have made simple decisions which changed our lives. It could be as simple as turning right instead of left at an intersection or saying "Yes" rather than "No" to an invitiation. For many of us, that change happened after reading a book. Things weren't quite the same. We saw things differently, we found ourselves wondering different thoughts, we made decisions for different reasons. We were imbued with a sense of wonder. This series takes a look at the books that had such an impact.

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other titles in the Close To My Heart series.

Moon of Three Rings
Andre Norton
Ace (1966)
Andre Norton
Moon of Three Rings
Moon of Three Rings
Alice Mary Norton (1912-2005) was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She worked for much of her adult life as a librarian, but also once owned a bookstore. She became a full-time writer in 1958. Her fiction began to be published in 1934 with The Prince Commands, and her first published genre story was "The People of the Crater" in Fantasy Book (1947), using the byline Andrew North. Later, she legally changed her name to the one by which SF readers knew her best.

Probably the most popular series she wrote was the Witch World novels, not only her own but those by other writers as well. Her early genre career was mostly in science fiction, and after 1970 she began to publish more fantasy than SF, perhaps due to the popularity of the Witch World novels. She published over a hundred novels altogether, preferring that length to short fiction.

Several writers, including Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey, Sasha Miller, Lyn McConchie, and Robert Adams either collaborated with Norton on novels set in worlds she created, or were authorized to write their own novels set in those worlds.

Norton died of congestive heart failure on March 17, 2005 at home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; she was 92.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Shadow of Albion
SF Site Review: The Scent of Magic
SF Site Review: A Mind for Trade

A review by J.G. Stinson

The first edition of Moon of Three Rings (and in some later editions, Moon of 3 Rings) was published by Ace Books in 1966, with a cover by Jack Gaughan. The edition that resides in my permanent library is the paperback fifth printing from 1978. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993) lists four books in what John Clute calls the Moon Singer sequence (Exiles of the Stars, 1971; Flight in Yiktor, 1986, and Dare to Go A-Hunting, 1990).

It's often been said that the golden age of science fiction is 12, referring to the age at which many readers first discovered it. SF came into my life in junior high school, in the 8th grade, when I found two books. One was an anthology that contained Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination," and the other was Andre Norton's story about a woman who could summon magic and a spacer who was transformed.

Last year, I took this book from my shelves and revisited it for the first time in more than 35 years. With books of this age (and older), there's always the chance that they won't stand the test of time, that their story lines or characters will be stale or so far surpassed by reality as to make their what-if points unbelievable.

Moon of Three Rings doesn't have this problem. Norton was smart enough to set this story of changes -- physical, emotional, cultural -- in a science fictional universe which contains a planet whose humanoid populations are either caught in or returned to a feudal existence comparable to that which Earth's Europeans once knew. Though she also peppers the novel with convenient devices which avoid technical explanations -- mind-lock to prevent spacers from revealing advanced technology, and other psychological barriers to keep those on port call out of trouble, along with "beamers" and a distinct lack of description of shipboard life -- these devices are also now part of the generally accepted canon of science fictional elements. Some folks now call them tropes; I have a semantic problem with that word which doesn't require explication here.

In this novel, there are the Free Traders and the Combines, once at odds and now tolerating each other as they go about their commercial enterprises. On the planet Yiktor, assistant cargomaster Krip Vorlund and a shipmate check out the "beast show" offered by a Thassa woman, a Singer called Maelen. As with all complex (and therefore interesting) characters, Krip and Maelen have their own geas to fulfill, and a joined path which takes them both to unexpected places and events.

Maelen, as a Thassa, is capable of using the Yiktoran moon Sotrath in its sometimes tri-ringed state to draw power down and perform body swaps. The Thassa are also capable of mind-reading and thought transference, but their culture and religion restricts their use of these powers on moral grounds. Vorlund falls into a trap that's part of an off-world plot, and Maelen feels bound to help him because he assisted her in rescuing an animal -- a barsk -- from a cruel beast-seller.

The barsk is the closest alien creature to an Earth wolf that I've come across in any novel (apart from Norton's Beast Master series). It has the same intelligence and general physical attributes as a wolf, but doesn't appear to live or hunt in packs. Norton makes the barsk come alive for the reader in the easiest way possible -- by having Vorlund inhabit its body -- but not as a game. She complicates the story at nearly every turn, and that's what keeps the pages flipping. Any writer just starting out could learn a lot from dissecting this novel; heck, any experienced writer could probably learn from it as well.

What drives this novel, apart from the political machinations, is the relationship between Vorlund and Maelen, and Vorlund's exploration of Yiktor after his transformation. It's an ingenious method of getting background into the story without it carrying a huge "This Is The Back Story, Stupid" sign around its neck. The reader experiences not only the taking on of another life-form, but how that life-form experiences a place of which the human protagonist has little experience.

When I was a kid, Moon of Three Rings was a really cool story. After reading it with adult eyes and 30 years of experience reading SF, it enriches my appreciation of the book and makes me glad I found Ms. Norton's books so early in life.

This article appeared in slightly different form in Peregrine Nations.

Copyright © 2006 J.G. Stinson

J.G. Stinson has been reading science fiction, fantasy and horror for more than 35 years. Her reviews, essays and critical commentary have appeared in The New York Review of Science Fiction, the Internet Review of Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other publications, including The Cherryh Odyssey (Wildside Press, 2004, edited by Edward Carmien). When she's not reading or writing, she attempts to avoid both by playing computer games.

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