Over four decades ago somewhere in elementary school, I think around 4th grade (give or take), I stumbled through the school library looking for something new to read. I had always been a good reader, but never really had a passion for it. Reading was interesting, but not fun.
I pulled out a book called “The Stars Are Ours” by Andre Norton. It sounded interesting so I checked it out. Until then I never had a particular love of Science Fiction, though I had enjoyed somewhat things like the Encyclopedia Brown stories. Well, that was about to change.
“The Stars Are Ours” was to this elementary school student a riveting story. This was my staying up late with the flashlight in the bed story.
500 years in Earth’s future and a war has killed many. Arising from the ruins an organization called “Pax” blames science and scientists for the devastation. Science is outlawed and scientists are hunted to be placed in concentration camps (Pax is obviously inspired by the Nazi treatment of Jews).
At a hidden refuge a group of scientists are building a starship, that with future colonists in suspended hibernation, will take the last free scientists to a planet around another star. But first a heroic family with one scientist, holding the secret to the suspended animation technique, must make their way their through Pax to that last refuge of scientists on Earth.
In the second half of the book the family awakens with the colonists struggling to adapt to a new world. They discover they are not alone. Shy and distrusting telepathic amphibious aliens (sentient but low tech) who escaped their own persecutors share the world. Somewhere on the planet remains those technologically advanced persecutors known to their former slaves only as “Those Others.”
The book has a sequel called “Star Born” set several generations in the future. The colonists, now friends of the “mermen” must deal with the resurgence of “Those Others” and the arrival on the planet of a spaceship from Earth. In the hundreds of years since the scientists fled Earth, Pax has fallen and science on Earth was reborn. Eventually they built starships and stumble on this planet.
These two books had a huge impact on my life. The stories fascinated me and the smoldering embers for a love of reading were fanned into a bonfire. After racing through these books I was back at the library reading everything else on the shelf by Andre Norton. Books with titles like “Star Gate” and “Star Man’s Son” followed. I devoured them with an enthusiasm for novels I never had before. I moved on to other Sci Fi authors. Right next to “Norton” on the bookshelf was “Alan Nourse” and I grabbed “Raiders From the Rings,” inhaling its wonderful premise and had to read “Star Surgeon” after that.
Other authors followed as my desperate search for more science fiction moved out of the “Ns” of my little elementary school library. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, and a host of others followed. In short order every Sci Fi book in the library was consumed by me. I just couldn’t get enough. Suddenly I had a true passion for reading, a passion that would carry to adult hood. The Stars Are Ours and Star Born had created a nerd.
The passion for science fiction would spark an interest in science that continues to this day. But my descent into geekdom began with “The Stars Are Ours” with a kid who secretly stayed up late reading because he had to know what would happen next to characters who seemed so real to him.
A few years ago the family was sitting around the dinner table and the subject of books that influenced us came up. So I told how this one book had changed my life. I mentioned in passing that it would be fun to read it again, but I knew it had long since gone out of print.
A few months later my wife and daughter were in Spain for a couple of weeks. They called on Father’s Day and told me to go look in an obscure cabinet. There was a small bag with Father’s Day presents. It contained “The Stars Are Ours” and “Star Born.”
I can’t express how moved I was. Over 40 years later I found the joy of my youth in reading those books again.
I remain a nerd to this day. I still love science fiction from Star Trek to Star Wars. It can’t be accident that I married a woman, who decades after our marriage, would author science fiction books with titles like Starstruck, Starcrossed, Starbound and Starfall. I was the unofficial “science consultant” for her books.
Now my wife receives email, from kids like I was then, telling her how reading her books kindled a love for reading in them. Reading those letters makes me wish I had thought to write Andre Norton, but in the era before email writing letters was harder, and less intuitive for a 4th grader.
So I say it now. Thank you Andre Norton for making my life so much richer. Much of what I am today is because of you.