Sargasso of Space — Andre Norton, as Andrew North (1955)

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Publisher: Ace Books

First Ace Edition, 1957

Cover Art: Ed Emshwiller

Plot Synopsis (of cover): The exploratory away mission began innocuously enough. The ship’s four-wheeled landside scouter navigated the planet’s chiaroscuro landscape with relative ease, piloted by its expert navigator, Lieutenant Sprague. Ensigns Elle and Camp, both science officers, were responsible for relaying external readings and internal communications to their ship in orbit. Commander Lyon, supervising the lot, was confident in the crew’s ability to handle this ostensibly simple recon—no complex life signs had been detected, nor was the atmosphere of the small, cold world conducive to the fostering of such. The mission, then, was altogether routine, and progressing swimmingly to the eyes of those monitoring from the ship. That is, until a strange explosion overtook the audio feed, followed by unintelligible yelling (though the words “dirty motherfucker” were audible) and, shortly thereafter, the hollow static of a communication line gone dead. Pandemonium broke out on the bridge of the orbiting ship as the crew simultaneously raised their captain to his command and attempted to restore the comm line. Some few minutes later, the captain was on the bridge, and the lines of communication were restored, albeit not as expected. Four independent signals were now beaming in from the planet, each from an environmental suit. The crew had left the scouter, but why? Ensign Elle was the first to make contact, though his voice was strained. “Ensign Elle reporting. All crew have exited the scouter and are now in EVS gear. Requesting pick up, please.” The captain addressed the ensign, “Elle, what’s going on? What was that explosion?” Elle’s communicator clicked back on, and he could barely contain his laughter. “Well, sir, as it turns out, Lieutenant Sprague really likes chocolate milk. But he’s lactose-intolerant, and in the small cabin of the scouter…” Lieutenant Sprague’s communicator crackled to life. “Shut up, Elle! I swear, I… oh, God.” The sound that then came over the ship’s speakers broke the discipline of the seasoned bridge crew, whose laughter predominated over the horror in Lieutenant Sprague’s nauseated voice as he whispered through a fog of his own fetid, circulating emission, “Fuck me, I thought it was soy!”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: Well, I’m doing my due diligence. This is the first novel in North/Norton’s Solar Queen series. I read and reviewed its sequel, Plague Ship (as well as the flip side to this Ace Double, The Cosmic Puppets), not long ago, and, once again, felt like a heel for going out of order. On the bright side, Sargasso of Space was just as successful as its sequel in winning my praise—that is, it’s not bad. It’s not great, either. Norton doesn’t take the effort to sail into any uncharted waters, which is fine. The book strikes me as a good boy’s adventure novel, bothering very little with complicated themes beyond its scope. It’s perfectly serviceable, fun, and probably won’t offend anybody—the opposite of your gran in book form. What does upset me about it is that, on the cover, the title is spelled Sargasso of Space, while the spine reads “Sagasso of Space.” This causes me an irrational level of distress. It’s like a popcorn kernel between your back teeth, but you can’t get it out. Forever. I bet some asshole at Ace did this on purpose, just to fuck with me sixty years later. Eat a dick, Aaron Wyn. You know, if you ever stop being dead.

Rating: 8.5 Transparent Sentient Diaphanous Snowmen

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • What kind of Vietnam shit has this guy seen?
  • Since this is the 1950s, does that red light come on to notify the spaceman’s commanding officer when the spaceman has gay thoughts?
  • Is everyone leaving the hideous space car because they realize how ridiculous they looked riding around in it? Follow up: is this the proper reaction for members of modern-day mankind caught in a PT Cruiser?

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