Baldies and Commies and Ashe and Murdock and Fox: Andre Norton’s Time Trader series

One of the highlights of my very earliest voracious reading—I’m thinking third grade here—was the discovery of the concept of sequels! And prequels! And characters appearing in more than one book! (Okay, other than Dick and Jane and their bratty little sister Sally, I mean. And if you don’t get that reference, you’re obviously not as ancient as your Grey Lenswoman: congrats. I guess.)

I discovered the sequel, this glory of civilization, this ultimate joy, by checking out GALACTIC DERELICT (pub. 1959) from my grammar school library one day. I devoured it, as one would expect, and happened to read in the front matter of the book—because I read every word in a book, then and now—the most beautiful of all possible words in any language: Sequel to THE TIME TRADERS (pub. 1958).

Wait, what? How long has this been going on, why did no one tell me, and where do I lay my grubby mitts on THE TIME TRADERS? I did find it, luckily for my perennially delicate sanity, and this series became one of my earliest favorites, right up there with Heinlein’s juveniles and Jules Verne.

Remind me to tell you how much Verne I’ve read sometime. I still have fond memories of my third-grade teacher seeing me reading TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and asking me, with some wonder I recognized later, “Are you enjoying that?” which in my opinion did NOT deserve a reply. I just shrugged and returned to Captain Nemo.

But back to THE TIME TRADERS, first in the series (!!!) by the ever-delightful Andre Norton…who had to change her name from Mary Alice since no boy would ever read a science fiction adventure by a girl, am I right?

Our young hero Ross Murdock has been a bad boy and his judge gives him two choices: go straight to jail or sign up for a superdupersecret government project. Naturally, Ross signs up, hoping to pull a quick runner on the way to the project and disappear into the huge city. But the major in charge fools him, takes him straight from the courtroom to the roof of the building and slaps him in a helicopter…and from it to a supersonic jet of a design he’d never seen. Before Ross can say “This ain’t what I signed up for” he’s at a hidden base in the Arctic. There he meets Dr. Gordon Ashe, archaeologist, and a bunch of other guys dressed in historic attire: there are Mongols and Vikings and guys in furs with bronze knives—all of them speaking pretty much like Ross.

It turns out that the Commies—height of the Cold War, remember?—have retrieved some cool new tech from an ancient alien ship they found buried in a glacier, and much of the tech involves time travel. Our good guys managed to grab some of the tech, at least enough to construct our own portals-to-the-past, but we naturally want to find our own crashed ship on our side of the Iron Curtain to scavenge. Thus, these teams of Vikings/Mongols et al are training to fit into their time periods so they can set up bases there to look for a ship of our own to scavenge.

Ross trains with Dr. Ashe to pass as a Beaker tradesman and it’s off to the past for adventure and danger and everything I love. Run-ins with dastardly Commies and pissed-off aliens ensue.

Book two in the series, GALACTIC DERELICT, move the story to the American West and introduces a new character, Travis Fox, a Native American who was training to become an archaeologist before a run-in with a racist professor. He meets our Ross and Ashe in a canyon, where they discover Travis has an unusual talent: he can tell between an actual Clovis point as opposed to a good copy, just by holding them. Then Ashe hands him a high-tech ray gun. Travis looks confused: how can this obviously advanced tech be older than the Clovis point, used by the original North American tribes to hunt mammoth?

Travis is sworn into the secret and joins Ross and Ashe on an important trip to the past, where a team has found a nearly intact alien scout ship on our side of the world. While setting up a time transport grid around the ship to bring it to the future/their present, thus ensuring no problems with stone age tribe members and woolly mammoths, there’s a convenient volcanic eruption—don’t you hate it when that happens? Our guys tumble into the ship, which gets energized by the time travel transportation, and takes off. Luckily, a science tech happens to be onboard, one who’s been studying what info they have on the ship.

Unluckily, the ship had already come into the present moment before it takes off. Now they have to follow a pre-programmed flight path…to planets fifty-to-a-hundred-thousand years-ish after it was originally built.

Norton wrote two more books in the series herself, THE DEFIANT AGENTS and THE KEY OUT OF TIME, and collaborated on several more in the next decades. But the first two are my favorites, and I’ve been in love with Dr. Gordon Ashe since I was eight.

Time travel AND space travel? Yes, please!