Cover art by Richard Powers.
This science fiction novel by Norton came out in 1955, but somehow I missed it all these years, and have recently read it for the first time. In the far future, Earthmen have joined together as one people after disastrous nuclear wars and achieved space flight to distant stars. When they got there, however, they found a very old and long established government of beings and worlds called Central Control, (Federation, anyone?) which examined Earth and found it too violent and aggressive for full membership. Instead, Earth was assigned the role of providing mercenary soldiers, fighters for hire, for conflicts on distant worlds. There were two types of mercenaries, the Archs for service on primitive worlds, and the Mechs for service on more advance worlds. Weaponry for Archs was limited to not much more than swords and hand-to-hand combat.
Kana Karr is a young man who has just graduated from training as an Arch Swordsman, Third Class. He’s anxious to sign on for a first assignment, and is happy to take the one offered, with Yorke Horde on a police action mission to the planet Fronn. The fact that he’s had X-Tee training (alien first contact) helps him get the job. Once he gets to Fronn and the Horde goes into action, though, things don’t go as planned. They’re supporting a local warlord in a bid for power, but strange rumors abound about another Earth Horde supporting the other side, and it’s Mech. Mech’s are not supposed to be on primitive worlds at all, let alone fighting Archs. Before long things go from bad to worse, and Kana and his Horde find themselves on the run, fugitives among hostile aliens and fauna with very few options.
Great read. Norton does not delve deeply into emotions, but the wartime action is believable and thrilling, and there are plenty of surprises. Recommended.