Storm Over Warlock: Norton’s Love Letter to Science Fiction

(by Havilah Vaskeritchin)

I have always loved to read. When I was a toddler, I had a collection of about one hundred beloved Little Golden Books. When I was a little older I fell in love with stories of brave animals (Black Beauty, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi) and intrepid girl detectives (Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden). When I was about nine, my love of horses lead me to the classic westerns of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. Then, in the late sixties and early seventies, I began to discover a whole new universe of books.

The sixties was a time when most of America was becoming more and more interested in space. We had a whole space race going on. I don’t remember the exact Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969 but I remember my Dad, who went to school with Neil Armstrong, taking us over to Armstrong’s parents’ house and I remember the huge party their little hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio threw. I still have a vinyl record of the moon landing that I won at the party. It’s still mint, unopened after all these years.

There were also some intriguing shows on TV in the years between 1964 and 1970 that were beginning to catch my attention. They were TV shows that went places none of my favorite animal stories, girl detectives, and tough guy cowboys had ever gone. Shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and the now classic Star Trek.

All these events and stories percolated in my brain until one day, sometime in 1970 to 1972, I got my aunt to take me to the library. I was on the hunt for the kind of stories I was seeing in the news and on TV, stories of space and strange races. Science Fiction stories. I remember the librarian telling me I could identify Science Fiction books by the cute little rocket ship stickers on their spines. I remember the strange red-headed older kid who saw my books and started talking to me about outer space and space ships and Star Trek. And, even after all these years, I remember the titles of the four books I checked out. The first four Science Fiction books I ever read:

Rocket to Limbo by Alan E. Nourse
Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl
Stadium to the Stars by Stephen Marlowe and Milton Lesser
Storm Over Warlock by Andre Norton.

Storm Over Warlock was the first of the four Science Fiction books that I read and it began a lifelong love of all things Andre Norton. Andre Norton published her first book in 1934 and she wrote nearly 200 books in almost every genre you can image. She wrote pirate stories, Civil War and western stories, books set during Colonial America and ancient Egypt, gothics and adventure. But mostly she wrote Science Fiction and Fantasy. Many of her books were published as “boys’ adventure” books. “Boys’ adventure” and Science Fiction were considered male only realms back then. Only males read these books, only males wrote them. Andre Norton could not write under her real name of Alice Mary because her publishers did not believe readers of “boys’ adventure” or Science Fiction would read anything written by a woman. Yet despite this, Andre Alice Norton would eventually go on to be the first woman to receive the Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy award and the Nebula Grand Master award and to influence a whole generation of girls to dream about space and read and write Science Fiction.

However, when I first read Storm Over Warlock, I had no idea “Andre” was really “Alice Mary.” It never occurred to me that a woman would write Science Fiction. Actually it never even occurred to me that girls (other than me) read Science Fiction. In fact my family was appalled by my reading choice. My Dad once, very seriously, told me that no one would ever hire me for a job if they found out I read “that space shit” (boy did I have fun when Star Wars exploded on the scene just a few years later and started raking in the millions – what do you think of “space shit” now, Dad?).

Science Fiction had a huge impact on my life despite the stigma of the times. I desperately wanted to be an astronaut or an astronomer. I wrote essays on space propulsion, collected and made a book of Sci Fi poems (not easy in the pre-internet days), researched the solar system, built models of the planets (I don’t care what anyone says, Pluto will always be a planet to me), built dozens of model space ships, and even started writing my own Great American Space Opera. And it all started with Storm Over Warlock by Andre Norton.

I just finished rereading Storm Over Warlock for the first time in about fifteen years. I was a bit leery at first. I was afraid my old favorite would be dated or would not live up to my memories. I shouldn’t have worried. Storm Over Warlock is every bit as fresh and exciting as it was when I read it back when I was 10 or 12. Andre Norton throws you immediately into the action on the first page when our hero Shann Lantee is hiding on a rocky ledge watching an alien race destroy the human survey camp. From there it is a non stop race as Shann, his two companion wolverines, and another human survivor, Thorvald, race to avoid the enemy Throgs, confront a mysterious native race, and save an incoming colony ship from the Throgs.

Storm Over Warlock showcases some of the themes that Andre Norton became famous for. Our hero, Shann Lantee, is an isolated youngster from a hard background who has managed to scramble his way onto a survey team but only as an unvalued laborer and animal cage cleaner. Despite that he has managed to bond with the specially bred and trained wolverines. His bond with the animals repeatedly saves his life and helps him survive in harsh conditions. Shann’s meetings with the mysterious native Warlock race and with the enemy Throgs emphasizes other Norton themes of strength of will and determination and the benefits of working together and combining abilities to achieve a common goal.

Storm Over Warlock also manages to be surprisingly modern despite being more than fifty years old. Most of that is due to the fact that most of the action takes place in the countryside of the planet Warlock or in the strange, illusion ridden realm of the native Wyvern race. True, the survey ships appear to be rocket ships, the Throg ships are saucer shaped, and the survey communication equipment seems somewhat primitive but none of that detracts from the story of Shann’s race to survive the Throgs and the Wyverns. The only thing that might really date this book is the complete absence of the kind of emotional love triangle that is so popular in modern books for young people.

Storm Over Warlock is every bit as interesting and exciting as it was when it was written. It’s easy to read, speeds along rapidly, and is filled with tension and suspense as our hero confronts a harsh countryside, the menacingly alien Throgs, and the mysterious illusion spinning Wyverns of Warlock. Now I have to run out and get the sequel, Ordeal in Otherwhere, and see if that book, too, lives up to my memories as well as Storm Over Warlock does.

I read Storm Over Warlock when I was 10 or 12 years old, multiple times during my teens and twenties, and now when I am 52 years old . I highly recommend this book for almost any age. Download the free public domain book or listen to the audio book now. 

7 thoughts on “Storm Over Warlock: Norton’s Love Letter to Science Fiction

  1. Thanks so much for your comments and the warm welcome. I have a confession to make. While Storm Over Warlock was my first Andre Norton book, the hero Shann Lantee is not my favorite Norton character. Oh he was #1 for a short time. But after I read Norton's The Time Traders, poor Shann got booted to the #2 spot. Ross Murdock, the hero of The Time Traders, has been my #1 favorite character ever since. Hey! There's another book I need to reread. 🙂

  2. I have long had an enormous stack of Andre Norton books in paperback, and I am now reading/ rereading and replacing my favorites with hardcover copies. Felt the need to comment when I saw your mention of what your father thought of your reading choices. When I was a kid and started reading SF, my father would say things like, “That stuff will turn you into a daydreamer, and they never get anywhere in life. Nobody could ever get to the MOON! That's just fantasy!” Now I have had a career in art, where I have done illustrations for Galaxy and IF magazines, and covers for Arkham House and Mirage Press. Sold a few stories, too, and in the late 1960s I had a few fellow participants of the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop in my home one Sunday, where, on an old black-and-white TV we finally saw a man walk on …..the MOON! Joe Wehrle Jr.

  3. Wow, I'm so envious. It sounds like you had a great career. Congrats! I'm from a small city so other than one guy I ran into in the library I actually never met anyone who was a SciFi fan until I got in college. Even though my city is only 30 minutes from Neil Armstrong's hometown and Dad went to school with him! One of my greatest regrets is that I never got Andre Norton's autograph while she was still alive.

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