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A Mind for Trade
Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith
Tor Books, 254 pages

Mind For Trade
Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith

Andre Norton is the Grand Dame of Science Fiction, with an enormous number of SF and Fantasy books to her credit, including the classic Witchworld saga. Sherwood Smith has authored and co-authored a number of fine fantasy and SF novels, including the Wren trilogy and Crown Duel.

Sherwood Smith Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith join forces again in A Mind for Trade, the latest in the Solar Queen series.

In the previous adventure, Derelict for Trade, Captain Jellico of the Solar Queen and his Free Trader crew salvaged an abandoned vessel, only to be menaced by a pirate conspiracy to hijack lone ships and seize their trade contracts. Now, joined by the salvaged ship, renamed the North Star, the crew heads for Hesprid IV, a planet wracked by violent weather systems and strong electromagnetic forces. They have a contract to mine cielanite, a rare mineral that in addition to its legal uses can be employed to build colloid blasters, powerful space weapons favored by outlaws.

Upon arrival in Hesprid space, Jellico and his crew discover three ships already in orbit, possibly pirates intending to seize the Solar Queen once she has completed her mining mission. On the surface, things aren't much safer: the Traders must cope with violent storms, an unexpected group of unidentified humanoids, and strange floating lifeforms whose touch is death. The humanoids turn out to be marooned Traders, willing to share their mining and survival techniques; the Floaters turn out to be not mindless monsters, but sentient beings, able to communicate through the psi powers four of the crew members have begun to develop as a result of a previous incident. Meanwhile, electromagnetic activity in the planet's atmosphere is building to a deadly peak, threatening the Floaters with extinction--and through them, all life on Hesprid IV.

In A Mind for Trade, Norton and Sherwood have created a convincing tale in the classic spacefaring mode. It's a seamless collaboration that showcases both authors' skills. The characters, most of whom will be familiar to readers of the earlier books, are complex and sympathetic, and there are many of the believable aliens that populate so much of Norton's fiction (including one of her trademark feline beings). There are plenty of interesting technical details, and the crew's struggle with a new and often hostile environment is convincingly rendered. The subplot involving the psi powers has a bit of the feel of a plot device--it's awfully convenient that the crew members possess, just by chance, exactly the ability needed to communicate with previously unknown lifeforms--but this is only a minor quibble in what is overall a solid, entertaining read.

Sixth in a series, A Mind for Trade also works well as a stand-alone novel. It makes few concessions to catch-up storytelling, however, and new readers may feel they lack context. Hopefully this will encourage a search for the other Solar Queen books -- all of them well worth reading.

Copyright © 1997 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. For an excerpt of her Avon Eos novel, The Arm of the Stone, visit her Web site.

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