Sea Siege/Eye of the Monster by Andre Norton. Ace Books F-147, 1962. 176+80 pages, $0.40. Covers by Ed Valigursky/Ed Emshwiller
During the months-long lockdown here in Illinois as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, I know I should be reading the massive TBR pile by my bedside. It’s filled with Nebula award winners, advance proofs of books coming out this fall, and all the new books my friends are talking about. But instead, I want to be reading Ace Doubles.
I blame Rich Horton. Like everyone else, I’m influenced by what I read, and what I’ve been reading recently is Rich Horton’s excellent blog Strange at Ecbatan. Like a superb DJ, Rich knows how to blend the old and the new, and in the past few weeks he’s reviewed The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe (from 2010), Avram Davidson’ acclaimed 2001 collection The Other Nineteenth Century, the brilliant Think Like a Dinosaur and Other Stories by James Patrick Kelly (1997), the overlooked novel The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter (1996), and a Mack Reynolds/A. Bertram Chandler Ace Double from 1967.
That Ace Double piqued my interest, of course. Like Rich, I have an enduring fondness for these peculiarly collectible science from the 1950s and 60s, although I don’t have nearly the reading muscles he does. I’m mostly familiar with the earlier D-Series, and recently I’ve been re-reading some of Rich’s reviews of those older books, especially the ones I first collected. One of the very first was Sea Siege/Eye of the Monster, a pair of Andre Norton novels issued as an Ace Double in 1962, which Rich reviewed on his blog back in 2017.
Two later editions of Sea Siege: Ace Books, 1969 (cover by Jeff Jones) and Del Rey, 1987 (Laurence Schwinger)
Norton published many novels as Ace Doubles, and Ace certainly helped launched her career and make her hugely popular with American SF readers. I honestly don’t remember if the first Andre Nortons I ever purchased were Ace Doubles, but I rather doubt it. Nonetheless, in my mind Norton and Ace Doubles are forever linked, and it’s because of books like this one.
Sea Siege was first published in 1957 by Harcourt, Brace, for the Juvenile market. The 1962 Ace Double is the first paperback edition. (It is one of quite a few Ace Doubles I have seen with covers by “the two Eds”: Emshwiller and Valigursky.) It’s about 65,000 words, quite long for an Ace Double half.
It’s a curious novel. It begins with young Griff Gunston, on San Isidore, a Caribbean Island. He’s frustrated because he’s stuck there with his Dad, an ichthyologist studying a mysterious new Red Plague that is killing fish. Griff wants to be in the Air Force, or something. But odd things are happening — ships are disappearing, octopuses are acting very strangely, and there are rumors of sea monsters. Further complications arise from the U. S. Navy, which is rapidly building a new installation on the island. And the locals are getting a bit restless, including performing some voodoo-like rituals.
Voodoo, sea monsters, and secret navy installations… that’s a great combo in my book.
Fawcett Crest Sea Siege, 1980. 222 pages, $1.95. Cover by Ken Barr
Star Siege was successful enough to have multiple standalone editions from Ace, Fawcett Crest, and Del Rey, and it was in print in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and well into the 80s. I think perhaps that’s because its plot mixed sea monsters with something much more dreaded — nuclear annihilation. Also: huge octopi riding dinosaurs! Here’s Rich again.
Then a true sea monster is found beached. It seems to resemble a plesiosaur. And there are even more dangerous things in the water — perhaps even extra large, intelligent, octopuses. Griff and his father make a dangerous dive, and are threatened by a denizen of the sea … and Dr. Dunston is poisoned and rushed to the mainland.
All seems set for the resolution of a mystery about suddenly changed sea creatures, etc. Then, suddenly, a nuclear exchange happens. The island is completely isolated — radio signals from the mainland are lost. The second half of the book concerns the desperate attempts of the island residents, the Navy folks, and Griff Gunston to survive. Their situation is complicated extremely by the presence of hostile sea creatures all around, so that they cannot venture into the ocean. These creatures include intelligent octopuses… riding and controlling plesiosaurs. Huge octopi, too!
The flip side of the Ace Double was Eye of the Monster, which in many ways is an even more interesting book.
Eye of the Monster (Ace Books 1974, 135 pages, $1.25, cover by Dean Ellis)
Like Sea Siege, Eye of the Monster remained in print for decades after its original appearance as an Ace Double. Here’s Rich.
Eye of the Monster is different… but on its own terms more successful. It is much shorter — perhaps 28,000 words… the book is outrageously colonialist. To the point almost of parody. I was reminded of Jack Vance’s The Gray Prince… Like Vance, Norton stacks the deck — and tells the story from one side only — so that the colonizers (not just humans, but, I guess, members of the “Confederation”) are clearly in the right, against the treacherous — and also very smelly! — crocodile-like locals…
But … on its terms, as I said, it’s really pretty good. It’s told at a breakneck pace, and it’s very exciting. Norton really could write action quite well. It opens with young Rees Naper, stuck on Ishkur with his stupid Uncle Milo… Milo is, in Rees’ view, a muddle-headed fool, convinced that the natives are unthreatening, and that the Patrol’s concerns over their restlessness, and their concomitant evacuation orders, are wrongheaded. Rees returns to their compound, only to find Milo and their guests Mr. and Mrs. Beltz brutally murdered — along with their dog.
Ace released several paperback editions of Eye of the Monster. Here’s the one with my favorite cover. Alas, the artist is uncredited.
Eye of the Monster (Ace Books 1984, 135 pages, $2.50, cover artist unknown)
Back to Rich for the wrap-up.
Rees takes the Beltz’ young son Gordy and immediately sets out in a “Roller” to try to get to another, presumably safer, compound. On the way he rescues a young Salarikan girl (the Salarikans are catlike aliens), whose family has also been butchered by the Ishkurians. Soon they happen across the Salarikan’s mother, a person of very high status… There are a couple of close shaves on the way, and a desperate final confrontation — followed by an interesting offer from the Salarikan woman to Rees…
This is a pretty cool adventure novella. There were good reasons Andre Norton was as successful as she was, and this shows some of them.
Read Rich’s complete reviews here.
When I had a look today, there were 28 copies of the Ace Double edition of Sea Siege/Eye of the Monster offered on eBay, most priced from $2-8. That’s the preferred edition, of course. But if you’re one of those strange readers who likes a more modern edition, you can have that too. Baen books collected much of Norton’s back catalog a few years ago, including both of these novels.
Baen omnibus editions of Andre Norton: From the Sea to the Stars (2007) and
The Game of Stars and Comets (2009). Covers by Bob Eggleton.
I’m not sure how many omnibus volumes Baen produced, and how many are still available, but if you’re an Andre Norton fan they’re a terrific value and well worth tracking down. From The Sea to the Stars contains two long novels, including Sea Siege, and The Game of Stars and Comets has four, including Eye of the Monster. Both are still in print.
From the Sea to the Stars by Andre Norton (Baen 2007, 339 pages, $15 trade/$7.99 paperback/$6 digital, May 2007). Cover by Bob Eggleton.
Star Gate (1958)
Sea Siege (1957)
The Game of Stars and Comets collects four short novels in Norton’s Council/Confederation series. It was published by Bean Books in April 2009. It is 518 pages, priced at $14 trade/$7.99 paperback/$6.99 digital. The cover is by Bob Eggleton.
The Sioux Spaceman (1960)
Eye of the Monster (1962)
The X Factor (1965)
Our previous coverage of Andre Norton includes dozen of articles. You can find them here.