Sargasso of Space is the opening novel in Andre Norton’s so-called DANE THORSON (SOLAR QUEEN) series, and is a fine introduction to the books that follow. In this first volume we meet Dane Thorson, a young cargo-apprentice who is assigned (by mechanical Psycho selection) to the trader ship Solar Queen. The crew of the Queen pools its earnings and wins an entire planet, sight unseen, at auction. (Perhaps Ebay will be conducting auctions such as this in 50 or so years!) The crew then explores this strange planet, called Limbo, and discovers the remnants of a lost civilization, as well as globular natives, space pirates, mysterious artifacts and so on.
Ostensibly written for juveniles and “young adults,” this novel has a strong appeal for “grown-ups” as well. Not for nothing has Ms. Norton become one of the most popular of all SFF writers, selling kajillions of books and endearing herself to the hearts of millions. She writes simply but directly, and her characters are always sharply drawn and easy to identify with. Her early science fiction works (this one was written in 1955) are in the true Golden Age pulp spirit, with no symbolism or literary tricks to gussy up the pleasure of an exciting story well told. By the end of this short but exciting novel, we feel that we know a lot about the 12 crewmembers of the Solar Queen, yet want to know more. In that, the book is an unqualified success.
As a matter of fact, I only had one small problem with this Norton novel. At one point in the story, our trader heroes set out to explore some alien ruins located around 20 miles from their ship. They walk to the ruins in a heavy fog, look around, and then decide to walk back! Now, I don’t care how tough these guys are (and truth to tell, they seem more like average Joes than Stallone-type action figures, to the author’s credit)… nobody walks 40 miles in a day — not even the Marines — on a gravity-normal planet! But beyond this stretching of credulity, Sargasso of Space is a marvelous entertainment that I do recommend highly to all lovers of old-fashioned sci-fi fun.