Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thoughts on "The Time Traders"



“The Time Traders” (1958) is the first Andre Norton book I’ve read. I was a little bit surprised that it was a typical 50s science fiction action/adventure story. I mean, I guess I incorrectly thought that since it was written by a woman it would have some sort of feminine touch, but there was only one female character in the entire novel and her part in the story was pretty much insignificant.

The book felt like one of those old movie serials because the hero was constantly getting himself into some sort of cliffhanger moment. I found myself constantly thinking, “How is he going to get himself out of this one?” Through out the course of the novel the hero, Ross Murdock is captured, hit so hard he develops amnesia, tortured, left for dead, shot at, falls into the river, captured again, tortured again, etc.

At the beginning of the story Ross has been found guilty of a crime and is meeting with his judge. The judge tells him that his two options are mental rehabilitation or signing up for a secret government mission. This beginning really reminded me of the beginning of “The Stainless Steel Rat.” I wonder if Harry Harrison ever read “The Time Traders”?

I thought it was neat how at the beginning of the novel Ross doesn’t care about anyone and he just wants to escape, but as the novel progresses this changes. The first change occurs when Ross runs away from the base with a guy that turns out to be a Russian agent. Ross suddenly realizes he does care about America. And then, when he finds out the project concerns time travel, well then Ross is interested because he craves adventure. And as the story progresses Ross forms a friendship with Ashe his mentor and fellow agent.

I really liked the concept of this novel that the Russian and the American in addition to the “space race” were having a “time travel race” and the prize was that somewhere there was advanced technology in the past. It was an intriguing mystery.

I thought the part where Ross has amnesia and thinks he really is a Beaker Trader got to be confusing especially when he’s going through the Russian time machine and ending up who knows when. But, it became less muddled once he got to the alien spaceship and remembered who he was.

I thought it was really cool that Norton didn’t spell everything out. We learn almost nothing about the aliens in the novel. What are they like? Are they evil to the core or, do they just think humans aren’t ready for their technology? And is their civilization still around in the present?

It is also only subtlely implied that Ross has certain mental powers. He says he was such a good criminal because he could read people. Was that undeveloped telepathy or empathy? Then the aliens took a special interest in him. Was that interest really just because he took a pair or their clothing or, was it because they sensed latent mental ability? And then at the end of the book two of the aliens try to invade Ross’s mind and he fights them off with the raw power of his mind. I hope the sequels farther develop this angle.

I’ve already started the next book in the series “The Galactic Derelict” and am excited that it has a Western theme with the point of view character being a “modern day” Apache.  


  1. John, I've read a lot of Andre Norton's books, but not this one, I don't think. There's a whole series of these Time Trader books, but I think I skipped all of them.

    In general, I thought her books were fun, but very light-weight. Of course, that wasn't unusual for classic science fiction.

  2. I think this novel (and hopefully the whole series) had a lot of cool ideas. It's not fine literature, but it's great science fiction.

  3. This is one I look forward to reading. In the midst of other books I'm also reading my first ever Norton, Star Born, and it feels very similar to the way you describe this book. I'm enjoying it very much.

  4. Norton seems to be the type of author where you can start with any of her books. I finished "The Galactic Derelict" some time ago and it was a good read too. Just never got around to writing a review, because I moved onto something else. You know how that goes I'm sure. Hope you enjoy "Star Born"

  5. Yes, I unfortunately do that all too often. It is a shame, but it happens. So far this is giving me a bit of a Heinlein feel (more like his non-juvenile stuff that came out right around the juvenile period) and I'm liking that.