Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Time Traders (Time Traders/Ross Murdock #1) (omnibus:The Time Traders & Galactic Derelict), by Andre Norton

Baen Books, January 2013 (original publication January 1958)

This book is an omnibus of Norton's first two Time Traders books, The Time Traders, and Galactic Derelict.

In The Time Traders, Ross Murdock, a young man and a minor criminal, who has taken some advantage of the services offered by the New York Public Library, is caught one more time. This time, he gets a judge with a reputation for harsh sentences. He has a little talk with a Major Kelgarries, and is offered a choice between "rehab," and joining the Major's project, which is not explained. "Rehab" isn't explained, either, but Murdock knows about it, and quickly decides that the unknown project is a better bet.

He's not quite so sure when he's loaded into a very unusual aircraft, and taken to the arctic.

The artic isn't the final destination, though. He's going someplace else, once he gets some training. Well, a lot of training. Self-defense, including the use of bronze knives, boy and arrow, spears. Languages he's never heard of.  Bronze Age people called the Beaker People. He's going to travel through time, looking for high tech the Russians have apparently found by traveling into the past. But how could Earth have had a civilization, so deep in the past that no trace of it has been found yet, that's so far ahead of 21st century Earth? (I will note here that what we do see of Norton's 21st century, concocted in the 1950s, doesn't in fact clash much with our 21st century.)

In Galactic Derelict, Ross is now an experienced time agent, and he's found the answers to some of the questions about where that ancient high tech came from. Yes, it came from alien ships that crashed on Earth--twelve to fifteen thousand years ago. They need to find at least one in American territory--and maybe they have. It's in the American west, and the evidence they have says that yes, it crashed at the time the Folsom people were hunting mammoths and giant sloths. Ross Murdock, his guide and partner from his trip to the Bronze Age, Gordon Ashe, are preparing to go back and look.

While they're preparing, Travis Fox, a young Apache man with an interest in archaeology and now working on his brother's ranch, accidentally wanders into their staging area. He's seen too much to just let go, but a quick check into his background reveals he might be a good recruit. Travis decides to take the chance, though he doesn't entirely believe what they're telling him.

They go back, encounter scary animals, successfully avoid actual contact with the Folsom people, and find the derelict ship they're looking for--except it's not a derelict. It's intact, but the crew are all dead, for no obvious reason. They don't have Russians to cope with here, and they set to work preparing to move the ship to the 21s century. A major volcanic eruption starts when they're just about ready--and the eruption and accompanying earthquake trigger the ship's engines, That happens at just about the same moment the time transfer is started. They may have made it to the 21st century, but they're also headed for whatever destination the dead pilot had logged into the ship's computer.

They're headed into hyperspace, and they don't know what their destination is. The involuntary crew is Ashe, Fox, Murdock, and a tech named Renfry, who has been working on figuring out the controls of the ship. He hasn't gotten far, and they have no idea where they'd be if they exited hyperspace before reaching their destination. They're in for quite an adventure, with no idea whether they'll be able to get home afterward. And while it seems unlikely that the civilization that made the ship they're on still exists, they can't know for sure.

I was a little worried when I started reading, because I remember these books with great fondness, and too many fondly remembered books from that era don't stand up well to rereading. I was surprised, relieved, delighted. At this point, Norton was still avoiding certain issues by not including women as major characters, but the ones we do meet, in the Bronze Age, are intelligent, strong, respected members of their tribes. That the USSR collapsed and then eventually Russia started getting aggressively expansionist with its neighbors, is almost a throwaway, and yet surprisingly accurate. 

The characterization is good, and satisfying. I don't know if Native Americans would find Travis Fox and what he has to say about his own culture to be really satisfying, but it did at least feel respectful. Good plotting, good pacing, and thoroughly enjoyable.


I bought this book.

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