Key Out of Time is the fourth book in Andre Norton’s TIME TRADERS series. Ross Murdock is once again the hero (he was not present in the previous book). This time he’s on the planet Hawaika which is being settled by the United States. Ross is accompanied by Gordon Ashe and, because this planet has a lot of ocean, Karara, a Polynesian girl who has telepathic dolphin companions.
When Hawaika turns out to be different from what they expected, Ross, Ashe and Karara begin to investigate. What happened to the people who used to live there? Could the enigmatic aliens they call the “Baldies” have anything to do with their disappearance? The trio decides to go back in time to learn about the planet’s history, but when the time gate is destroyed in a storm, they end up in the past with no way to get back. There they get split up, have separate adventures, get caught in the middle of a war between the two native races, meet some witches who are a lot like the witches in Norton’s WITCH WORLD series, and discover that the Baldies have been tampering with the planet. Will the Time Traders find each other again? Can they help defeat the Baldies? Can they get back to their own time?
I’ve always found it fascinating that Alice Mary Norton’s young adult science fiction adventures, which she wrote in the 1960s under the name Andre Norton, were so clearly written for young men, the main target audience for young adult science fiction at the time. In fact, I’ve heard several men who loved these books when they were teenagers say they would never have picked one up if the name “Alice” had been on the cover. They report that they were quite surprised when they found out years later that Andre Norton was a woman. Perhaps that’s because Norton mostly conforms to expectations — most of her protagonists are young men and men are always in leadership positions. But, unlike many of the male authors of her age, Norton’s female characters are strong and competent, even if they don’t break out of normative gender roles. Here she gives us Karara, a talented young woman who, despite Ross Murdock’s concerns, is perfectly capable of being a Time Trader.
After recently reading a couple of the previous books in the TIME TRADERS series, Key Out of Time feels a little redundant. Though it’s a new setting, so many of the same elements are used — two primitive races on a deserted planet being manipulated by the aliens, telepathic animals helping the modern humans, scary wild animals to fight, Time Traders getting separated by some sort of disaster, Time Traders getting captured by people who may or may not be enemies…. However, Key Out of Time still makes an appealing adventure story for young adults and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who likes old young adult science fiction adventures. Karara and her dolphins are a nice addition, and this is classic Andre Norton.
I enjoyed the audio version read by Mark F. Smith. You can purchase the Kindle version for free (it’s in the public domain) and then add the narration for $2.99. Quite a bargain!
The Time Traders — (1958-2002) Series started by Andre Norton. Last two novels co-authored by Sherwood Smith. Publisher: DRAFTED INTO THE ARMY OF TIME. Intelligence agents have uncovered something which seems beyond belief, but the evidence is incontrovertible: the USA’s greatest adversary on the world stage is sending its agents back through time! And someone or something unknown to our history is presenting them with technologies — and weapons — far beyond our most advanced science. We have only one option: create time-transfer technology ourselves, find the opposition’s ancient source… and take it down. When small-time criminal Ross Murdock and Apache rancher Travis Fox stumble separately onto America’s secret time travel project, Operation Retrograde, they are faced with a challenge greater than either could have imagined possible. Their mere presence means that they know too much to go free. But Murdock and Fox have a thirst for adventure, and Operation Retrograde offers that in spades. Both men will become time agents, finding reserves of inner heroism they had never expected. Their journeys will take the battle to the enemy, from ancient Britain to prehistoric America, and finally to the farthest reaches of interstellar space….