Cover illustration by Ed Emshwiller.
After enjoying rereading “The Time Traders” recently, I had to go on to the next book in the series, a favorite of my youth. It begins with a new character, Travis Fox, an Apache rancher out looking for a water source in the back country of his brother’s ranch in the desert southwest of America. He sees a helicopter landing in a canyon, and intrigued, goes in carefully for a look. Not carefully enough, he’s caught and brought into camp by a man with as much tracking skill as himself.
That man is Ross Murdock, the lead character of the first book, and with him is Gordon Ashe, also a Time Trader. They’re part of a secret government project that can travel far back in time to prehistoric days, and they’re in search of alien spacecraft they know can be found there. Murdock was in one before. It had been found by the Russians in a similar time-travel scheme, and Ross’s inadvertent contact with the alien ship’s owners had led to the destruction of the Russian ship and bases. Now Ashe is leading a new project to reach another crashed alien ship in this remote location, but again, far in the past. Travis Fox is fascinated, and agrees to join them. They’ll be in the time of Folsom hunters, named for their distinctive stone spear points, about 9,000 B.C., but the mission is urgent, and there isn’t time for the intense training Murdock and Ashe got for their previous mission.
Back they go, and soon are tangling with fierce local people and dangerous animals. The ship is there, but badly damaged, and surrounded by trouble. Just when their luck is looking bad, it changes. They find another smaller ship that seems undamaged, and isolated. A new plan is quickly developed: to bring this entire ship back to their own time for study. Such a large object has never been transported before, but the machines needed are soon being built around the ship. Then their luck starts to change again when a nearby volcanic eruption threatens to send herds of wildlife crashing through their delicate machinery. Just in time the jump to the present is made with Travis, Ross and Gordon inside the ship, along with a technician, Renfry. They arrive in their own time, but the trip triggers an automatic pilot program in the ship. Before they know it, they are blasting into space! Then the real story begins, as four Earthmen become the first to travel to distant planets on the preset course of the ship. They can’t control or change their course, only go along for the ride. And what will be there when they arrive, thousands of years after the ship originally came to our world?
This book was just as much fun to read as I remembered. The space voyage is full of tension and peril, but also full of unknown wonders, and pretty good ones for 1959, when the book was written. Norton was on a roll, clearly, and letting her imagination free in a way she couldn’t with earth-bound stories, good as those were.