Another early science fiction novel by Norton that I missed all these years, first published in 1953, and loosely connected to “Star Guard,” reviewed here recently. This book takes place about 4,000 years later as the galactic empire described in the first book is falling apart. The Stellar Patrol, populated by beings from many worlds and serving as a police force, has been falling apart as well, their ships degrading and barely working. One such ship, among many, the Starfire, has been sent to the edge of the galaxy supposedly in search of lost systems and colonies, but in fact as a way to get rid of them. The ship crashes on an Earthlike world, and though the Captain is injured and unable to accept the truth, will never fly again. On board are a group of Star Rangers, the exploration team of the ship, with two human members, and the rest “bemmies,” or non-human aliens, all with powerful mental and physical skills, but treated with suspicion by the rest of the crew.
Human Ranger Sergeant Kartr is the viewpoint character of the book, from a world that has been destroyed in war, and very close to his Ranger team. Together they explore the area, finding plenty of plant and animal life to sustain the small surviving Patrol group. They also discover an ancient city that has been occupied by survivors of another crashed ship, run by a crafty politician, Joyd Cummi, who has seized control by force. Most of the Patrol wants to join this group, but the Rangers are skeptical, especially when it becomes clear their non-humans will be treated as second-class members or worse. Eventually a rebellion breaks out in the city, and Kartr and his team may be the only ones who can stop Cummi from destroying them all.
I enjoyed this. Norton is not a flashy writer, her plots and ideas are not remarkable by science fiction standards, but she tells a good story with memorable, sympathetic characters, and she makes good moral points here. Substitute Muslims or African Americans for the bemmies in the story, and it would become relevant to today. And there is a great plot point that resonates with our own history in the last third of the story that I won’t spoil for you.