Dark Piper — Andre Norton (1968)


Publisher: ACE Books

First Ace Edition, 1969

Cover Art: Jack Gaughan

Plot Synopsis (of cover): The Piper brought his magical instrument to his lips, and the world erupted. The strangeness of the music that had somehow become tangible through the subtle arts of The Piper filled the world with marvelous visions of spaceships and ghosts, both terrifying and beautiful to behold. Somehow, The Piper wove his fantasies into the fabric of reality, and those who emerged from the mist to looked on marveled and questioned. To one another, they asked, “Do you think that the magic comes from The Piper? Is it some deep spiritualism that he holds within himself, released into our minds and souls by expert composition?” Another would argue, “Surely an accomplished player, but such grandiosity explains not the creation of the shades and specters that swirl about in the mist. It is clear that great technology is at work here.” Still more would cry, “Such majestic contrivance must certainly be an emergent property of the two, a blending of the human spirit and adroit craftsmanship.” The Piper’s companion, an aged lizard, asked The Piper directly, “Good friend, I know you hear them speaking, and I must confess to my own curiosity. Where does the magic in your pipe come from?” Exhaling, The Piper replied, “Me mate in Knowsley’s got the best shite. But if you let on to Old Bill, I’ll box yer ears!”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: This is not my first Norton, nor will it be my last. It isn’t, however, my favorite, despite the fact that it’s ostensibly for young readers while simultaneously featuring an effectively carried-out global genocide. In fact, that’s how the book feels—by-and-large a collection of neat elements treated like a gallery rather than a novel, to be admired briefly and passed over. The plot circles around a group of young people who survive an invasion of their world by refugees who land on their colony planet and ravage their society using weapons of mass destruction (if only they had built some sort of wall). The children are saved by a lone gun nut in the wilderness who invites them come to his house without parental supervision, where he gives them exotic treats and then dies. Fortunately, this extraterrestrial Neverland Ranch is spared the direct effects of terrorist attacks, and the children survive to go on an interminable journey that results in their confirming that, yep, everyone’s dead. It drags in the middle something awful, and, despite what the blurb on the back says, I did not form a bond with the 28 Days Later version of The Boxcar Children. Crap on it as I may, however, it isn’t all bad. Perhaps I expected too much from Norton here, and was let down a bit. Overall, standard effort, but I wanted better.

Rating: 7.4 “Showers of an Unpleasant Nature”

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Is this what you get after you juice Violet Beauregarde?
  • Is this what a C+ in Snake Charming looks like?
  • Where can I pick up a flesh-colored unitard that disguises my genital bulge this effectively?

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