“Voodoo Planet” by Andre Norton, first published in 1959, is a science fiction adventure that transports readers to a mysterious and dangerous world. The story revolves around the crew of the Free Trader spaceship, Solar Queen, as they encounter strange phenomena and ancient rituals on the planet Khatka, a sister planet to Xecho. The narrative explores themes of survival, cultural clash, and the intersection of science and superstition, set against the backdrop of an exotic and perilous jungle world.

Comprehensive Plot Summary

Talk of heat was nearly unbearable on Xecho, a waterlogged world that combined all the least attractive features of a steam bath. Dane Thorson, acting Cargo-Master of the Free Trader ship Solar Queen, wiped sweat from his chest as he studied the bright sea. Swimming was a deadly prospect, given the minute organisms in the water that could strip a Terran’s skin. Exhausted from a day filled with delays and frustrations, Dane trudged back to the berth of the Solar Queen.

The ship was being refitted to serve as a mail ship, and time was of the essence. Dane had conducted a final inspection before signing off on the rigger’s book and reporting to Captain Jellico, who had sought refuge in his cabin to preserve his temper. As Dane relaxed in the ship’s air-conditioned interior, the ramp buzzer sounded. He was surprised to find not the supervisor-rigger, but Kort Asaki, the Chief Ranger from the planet Khatka.

Asaki was an imposing figure, tall and lean, with dark, bluish-black skin and a commanding presence. He was here to invite Captain Jellico and his crew to Khatka, Xecho’s sister planet. Asaki needed their help to combat mysterious deaths attributed to “killing magic” wielded by Lumbrilo, Khatka’s chief witch doctor. Intrigued and eager for a change of scenery, Jellico agreed to the visit.

On Khatka, the crew marveled at the planet’s wild beauty and sensed an underlying danger. They learned about the Khatkans, descendants of escaped prisoners from Earth who had developed a unique society blending advanced technology and ancient rituals. Asaki explained that Khatka was plagued by mysterious deaths linked to Lumbrilo’s magic, which seemed to blur the lines between reality and illusion.

The crew’s exploration of the Zoboru preserve was cut short when their flitter crashed, leaving them stranded in a remote region. They had to rely on their wits and Asaki’s knowledge to survive. They faced various threats, including deadly wildlife like graz and rock apes, and the jungle itself, which harbored countless dangers.

The crew witnessed Lumbrilo’s power during a ritual involving drums, chants, and a beast that seemed conjured from thin air. Lumbrilo’s magic, deeply rooted in Khatkan culture, posed a real threat. The crew had to blend their scientific understanding with respect for local traditions to navigate the perilous situation.

Dane, Jellico, and Tau, the ship’s medic, realized they needed to confront Lumbrilo directly. Using a combination of technology and the very magic that confounded them, they challenged his dominance. Tau, leveraging his knowledge of medicine and psychology, confronted Lumbrilo’s powers head-on. This showdown tested their resolve and intellect, culminating in a delicate balance of power that allowed them to escape with their lives.

Their journey through Khatka was fraught with danger. They trekked through dense jungle, navigated treacherous terrain, and fought off aggressive wildlife. Each step was a test of endurance and adaptability. At one point, Dane suffered painful sand worm bites, and the group was attacked by rock apes and fire-wasps, each encounter pushing them to their limits.

The crew discovered a poachers’ death pit filled with the carcasses of valuable animals. This gruesome sight revealed the extent of the threat they faced. Poachers, emboldened by their success, were venturing into uncharted territories like the Mygra swamp. Asaki’s determination to stop them was clear, but the path forward was perilous.

As they delved deeper into the jungle, the crew grappled with the eerie and oppressive atmosphere of Khatka. The blend of magic and reality created a surreal experience that challenged their perceptions. They had to trust in each other and their abilities to overcome the unknown forces at play.

The climax of their journey came when they faced Lumbrilo. In a tense standoff, Tau used his understanding of both science and the supernatural to counter Lumbrilo’s magic. The battle of wits and wills was intense, with the crew relying on their ingenuity and determination. In the end, they managed to disrupt Lumbrilo’s influence, weakening his hold over the Khatkans.

With Lumbrilo’s power diminished, the crew helped Asaki stabilize the situation on Khatka. They had to bridge the gap between modern technology and ancient beliefs, finding a way to coexist and respect the planet’s unique heritage. The experience left them with a deeper understanding of the complexities of culture and the power of belief.

As they prepared to leave Khatka, the crew reflected on their journey. They had faced unimaginable dangers and survived by relying on their skills and each other. The planet’s wild beauty and the strength of its people left a lasting impression. They departed with a newfound respect for the delicate balance between science and magic, and the enduring spirit of those who called Khatka home.

Their adventure on Khatka was a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit. The crew of the Solar Queen had navigated a world where the lines between reality and superstition were blurred, emerging stronger and more united. They had not only survived but had also helped to bring a measure of peace to a troubled world.

Main Characters

  • Dane Thorson: Acting Cargo-Master of the Solar Queen. Young, resourceful, and determined, Dane is central to the crew’s survival on Khatka. His quick thinking and adaptability are crucial in navigating the planet’s dangers.

  • Captain Jellico: The experienced and authoritative captain of the Solar Queen. Jellico’s leadership and decision-making skills are tested as he guides his crew through the perils of Khatka.

  • Medic Tau: The ship’s medic, knowledgeable in both science and local lore. Tau plays a key role in understanding and countering Lumbrilo’s magic, blending rationality with an open mind towards the inexplicable.

  • Kort Asaki: Chief Ranger of Khatka, who seeks the crew’s help to combat the mysterious deaths plaguing his world. Asaki is a blend of traditional wisdom and modern leadership, deeply connected to his planet’s heritage.

  • Lumbrilo: The chief witch doctor of Khatka, wielding ancient magic that threatens the balance of power on the planet. Lumbrilo’s enigmatic presence and formidable abilities make him a formidable adversary.

Themes and Motifs

  • Survival and Adaptation: The crew’s journey on Khatka emphasizes the theme of survival against natural and supernatural threats. Their ability to adapt to an alien environment is a testament to human resilience.

  • Science vs. Superstition: The clash between scientific understanding and traditional beliefs is central to the narrative. The crew must navigate a world where both hold sway, learning to respect and integrate these differing perspectives.

  • Cultural Heritage and Identity: Khatka’s history and the unique culture of its inhabitants highlight themes of identity and heritage. The influence of ancestral memories and rituals plays a significant role in the characters’ actions and the unfolding events.

  • Power and Authority: The struggle for power, both political and mystical, drives much of the conflict. The dynamics between Asaki, Lumbrilo, and the off-worlders explore the nature of authority and influence.

Writing Style and Tone

Andre Norton’s writing style in “Voodoo Planet” combines vivid descriptions with a fast-paced narrative. Her prose is rich in sensory detail, bringing the exotic and dangerous world of Khatka to life.

Norton’s tone balances suspense with a sense of wonder, capturing the reader’s imagination while maintaining an undercurrent of tension. The dialogue is sharp and functional, reflecting the characters’ pragmatic approach to the challenges they face. Norton effectively weaves together elements of science fiction and fantasy, creating a seamless blend that enhances the story’s depth and intrigue.

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Categories: Randomness