Rating: 3.5* of five
A novella really, and a weird cross between science fiction (space travel, other planets) and fantasy (magic, telepathy). A true old-fashioned one-sitting read.
Dane Thorsen, Free Trader of the ship Solar Queen, returns to your screens as a tag-along to Captain Jellico's eagerly anticipated vacation to Khatka. He has corresponded for some time with Asaki, a Ranger of very high status on Khatka, in his other-hatness of xenobiologist. Asaki has headed up the creation of a no-kill big game reserve on his homeworld, which happens to be in the same system as the Solar Queen's penalty planet of Xencho. (In Plague Ship, the Solar Queen was "sentenced" to spend two years as a mail carrying ship for one of the huge trading corporations, Combine.)
Since space travel takes extended amounts of time, all spacers have hobbies; Jellico, a long-time spacer, has become a renowned xenobiologist due to massive time to study and experiment aboard ship as well as freedom to explore many different planets as a trader. The Khatkans are descended of African Terran roots (they sound like Maasai to me) and happen to land their colony ships on a planet with very African climate and geography. Keep in mind this book was published in 1959 by a white librarian lady. This was some avant garde stuff!
Add in Grand Master Norton's already extant Negro (in the parlance of the times) characters, explicitly stated to be normal members of the Solar Queen and Spacers' Guild crews, and you have jaw-droppingly ahead of her time thinking evident here. Asaki is explicitly stated to be Jellico's equal. He is regularly deferred to by the Queen white and Asian crew members. There are 21st-century authors who don't do as well as Grand Master Norton does in this sixty-year-old tale.
The story, well, the story is the story and it's creaky. No notion of satellite mapping, no personal computing power, etc etc blah blah blah. The plot seems to be a bit, well, slapdash; are we fighting a sorceror, a crafty mind-gamer, an interplanetary smuggling ring, our PoV characters' personal nightmares? Sorta kinda alla the above. In just over 100pp, that is way too much to handle effectively.
But hellfire, y'all, it's not like stuff coming from mighty modern pens is perfect, and this lady was born 106 years ago, so what say we smile for the fun turns of phrase (particularly love her regular use of "Not so!" for the much less sparkly "No.") and the amazing inclusiveness of her vision? Let's carp less and crow's-foot some smile, hmm?