The Zero Stone by Andre Norton
Series: The Zero Stone #1
Published by Ace on 1968
Genres: Sci-Fi Adventure, Science Fiction
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A mysterious stone, born of worlds long extinct, is the key to powers unimaginable to man -- powers that could enable its owners to control the universe. Murdoc Jern, gem trader, finds that possession of the stone has led him to the center of a web of intrigue and murder.
With his companion Eet, an inscrutable feline mutant with phenomenal ESP powers, he is hunted through space, coming finally to a long forgotten planet inhabited by apelike "sniffers." There, facing the predatory sniffers, the antagonistic patrol and the laser-guns of the Thieves' Guild, Murdoc must seek the source of the Zero Stone and bargain for his rights to pursue his destiny as a free man.
The Zero Stone is a magical book for me in some ways.
I first ran into The Zero Stone (and Andre Norton) in elementary school. I was a voracious reader even then and apparently, my elementary school had a fabulous catalog. At the time I read The Zero Stone, I was crazy about mysteries. I read them by the barrel: The Hardy Boys, tons of Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, etc. When I ran out of mysteries…I found myself staring at the science fiction section. IDK why – but knowing me it was probably the cover, lol – I picked up The Zero Stone but I found it fascinating.
The Zero Stone is magical for me because it marks a change in my [reading] life: I suddenly went looking for science fiction instead of trying to re-read my way through the mystery shelves again. The Zero Stone was my first science fiction “adventure” novel and Andre Norton took me on an adventure that I would remember fondly (if vaguely) for the rest of my life. There was Danger! Space! Aliens! and (unbeknownst to me) my very first (and still) favorite author: Andre Norton.
Re-reading The Zero Stone as an adult felt strange. First, I learned that there was very little that I actually remembered from my childhood reads. I remembered Eet and Murdoc, the ring and being in space…but I forgot mostly everything else. I was also surprised at the…complexity of the language. I read this book for the first time in elementary school – and now I’m very impressed with childhood me! This IS a children’s book but there isn’t a large concession to childhood in regard to plotting and verbiage. Or it feels that way, at least, in comparison to the books written for children today. Norton does concede to the “children’s” part by a little first chapter info-dumping. There is a short info-dumping section near the beginning that actually transitioned decently from a simple info-dump into background information. But it was certainly an info-dump.
The Zero Stone also continues Andre Norton’s amazing trend of amazingly catchy intros. The Zero Stone begins in medias res with our hero, Murdoc, already on the run. He is being hunted on an unfamiliar planet in an unfamiliar city by people who have every intention of killing him – having already killed his mentor. Murdoc eventually realizes that he’s being hunted for the Zero Stone: a ring of unknown power and origin that was passed to him by his father.
As the story progresses, Murdoc flounders due to his lack of experience: he doesn’t ask the right questions and he takes people/situations at face value. This all changes when he meets Eet. Eet is (thankfully) smarter and more experienced: Eet suggests that this is one of several lives/reincarnations for it (him). To survive, Eet and Murdoc brave the emptiness of space before eventually crashing on a planet inhabited by primitive humanoids that sniff out their prey (Murdoc dubs them “sniffers”).
While reading The Zero Stone, I noticed that there are moments where I should be emotionally invested. I should feel sad, nervous or fearful for Murdoc…but I don’t. There was certainly an…emotional wall between me and the novel that I think is related to Norton’s matter of fact way of writing. Norton did not delve too deeply into Murdoc’s feelings past a certain point. This lack of emotional connection made the events Murdoc endured not as powerful to me as they could have been.
All in all, I truly enjoyed re-visiting elementary school aged me. The Zero Stone has held up pretty well for a 49-year-old book and I do plan to read the next book in the series, Uncharted Stars.