Alice Andre Norton, the Lady of Science Fiction and Fantasy, was the first woman author to be a Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, the first woman author to be a SFWA Grand Master, and the first woman to be inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. She was also one of the first four Science Fiction authors I ever read. She has been one of my all-time favorite authors ever since.
Recently I noticed that several of Alice Andre Norton’s books and short stories are FREE in the Public Domain so I have been re-reading many of my favorite Norton tales. I was very happy to discover that my old favorites are every bit as good now as they were back then I was ten years old. Norton’s books still rocket right along from one thrilling adventure to the next, the heroes and heroines are still the kind of bright but alienated outsiders that I love to root for, and the Fantasy or Science Fiction elements are still detailed and intriguing. Oh, there are some few dated elements, for instance the use of rocket ships, but, after all, Andre Norton had her first book published in 1934. A lot of technology has changed since then. But her stories have remained timeless because she told classic tales of undervalued men and women overcoming adversity and coming into their own.
|Andre Norton 1999|
Alice Mary Norton legally changed her name to Andre in 1934 to “increase marketability since boys were the main audience for Fantasy” (everyone back then was just positive that girls never ever ever read SF & F). Andre spent nearly 20 years working as a librarian for the Cleveland, Ohio Public Library. During that time she also wrote many of her classic stories. She published her first book, an adventure novel titled The Prince Commands, in 1934. Her first Fantasy novel, a retelling of the legend of Huon, Duke of Bordeaux, titled Huon of the Horn was published in 1951. The very next year, she published her first Science Fiction novel, Star Man’s Son, 2250 A.D. All told, Alice Andre Norton published over 300 titles over a 70 year career. She influenced an entire generation of future SF & F authors, many of them women, including Greg Bear, Lois McMaster Bujold, C.J. Cherryh, Tonya Huff, Mercedes Lackey, Charles de Lint, David Weber, and Catherine Asario.
Andre Norton’s short story, All Cats are Gray, was originally published in the August-September issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction magazine. It embodies two of Norton’s favorite motifs: the alienated hero / heroine and highly intelligent animals in important roles. In this story, the alienated heroine is Steena of the spaceways and the intelligent animal is her gray cat Bat. Steena is actually highly valued by the other hard-living spacers. She talks very little but everyone knows that what she has to say can be very valuable. Several spacers owe their new fortunes to Steena’s advice. Yet at the same time, Steena is somewhat mysteriously isolated from her fellow space port workers and freighter captains. The story’s narrator describes Steena as “strictly background stuff”, and Steena and her cat are “the thin gray woman and the big gray tom-cat”. The other protagonist of All Cats are Gray is Cliff Moran. Cliff was “granite inside and out” and had “fought his way up from the back courts of Venaport”. But Cliff Moran has had some trouble and now is in danger of losing his ship. He is desperate and “at the snarling stage” until Steena decides to gift him with some advice: “It’s about time for the Empress of Mars to appear again”. With those few words, Steena and her cat Bat and Cliff Moran embark on an adventure that may change their lives or end them.
All Cats are Gray is a very short story by Andre Norton. It can easily be read in a half an hour, perfect for those times when readers want an excellent story yet just do not have a lot of time to spare. The story rockets along from the beginning when the unnamed narrator sets up the story to the chilling adventure on the mysteriously abandoned pleasure ship, Empress of Mars. Andre Norton is a master storyteller and All Cats are Gray is a classic Norton story with strong characters and a hair-raising adventure. I have vivid and fond memories of this short story and I was ecstatic to discover that All Cats are Gray is still the riveting story it was when I first read it many, many years ago. Andre Norton is still one of my all-time favorite authors.
All Cats are Gray by Andre Norton is FREE in the Public Domain. Readers can read it online or download the story from the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, and Feedbooks. LibreVox has two audio book versions. The first version is story #1 in the Short Science Fiction Collection 019 and is read by Gregg Margarite. The second audio version is story #1 in Short Science Fiction Collection 048 and is read by Lynne Thompson.
Genxpose has other articles on Andre Norton with links to more of her FREE Public Domain books. “Storm Over Warlock: Norton’s Love Letter to Science Fiction” recounts the thrilling adventures of human Shann Lantree on a mysterious planet invaded by deadly aliens. “Time Travel, Aliens, and the Red Menace…” introduces the first book in Andre Norton’s wonderful Ross Murdock series and follows former criminal Murdock as he goes back in time to the Bronze Age and uncovers a secret Soviet base and is threatened by mysterious aliens.