Like Odysseus, the Ift warrior Ayyar spends much of Victory on Janus in long, eventful journeying.
For 48 pages — nearly 20 percent — of Andre Norton’s 1966 science fiction novel, Ayyar is probing deeper and deeper into the stronghold of the immensely powerful, unseen being, known by the Ift, the people of Janus, as THAT WHICH ABIDES, or IT.
Despite surviving many trials, including an Ift femme fatale named Vallylle, the warrior penetrates very close but not close enough, coming up against a dense jagged mass of metal blocking his way.
His return trek, much more difficult, takes up another 21 pages, and, later, with help, his second attempt, this time successful, is covered in another 51 pages.
In all, about half of Victory on Janus involves descriptions of Ayyar’s travels.
I mention this because, it seems to me, Norton’s stories rarely, if ever, feature so many long treks on foot.
Ayyar is on a quest, and it’s a quest for which he gains aid from another immensely but obscurely powerful being known as the Mirror of Thanth, a constructed lake that somehow has a mind of its own. He’s also helped by Illylle, the Sower of the Seed.
Ayyar and Illylle are Ift — but they’re not.
They were born human, he as Naill Renfro who arrived on Janus as a slave laborer and she as Ashla Himmer, the daughter of one of the religious-based farmers, called the Sky People.
As Norton’s previous book Judgment on Janus details, Naill and Ashla, who lived on different farms, called garths, found beautiful artifacts of the Ift, contracted the Green Sick and were thrown out of their human communities into the forest. That’s where they met.
That’s also where they realized that the Green Sick had turned their skin green and their bodies into Ift bodies. It also gave them each a new identify, rooted in the memories and knowledge of an Ift person who had lived a long time earlier.
The striking thing about this is that this new identity is grafted onto their original human identity. So each can operate, as needed, with the human or the Ift side predominating.
This is very much like the experience that any immigrant goes through. However, this sort of transformation, to my knowledge, isn’t a common topic in science fiction. It’s a testament to Norton’s imagination that she could envision such a hybrid.
Much of the first book involved Ayyar and Illylle figuring out who their new selves were and how to keep from being transformed in another way into one of the minions of THAT WHICH ABIDES.
They also discover that they are among perhaps 100 other humans who have been turned into Ifts by the Green Sick and are working to survive and rebuild the race.
Victory on Janus opens about six months later when the tiny Ift community realizes that they are under attack by the forces of THAT WHICH ABIDES which include empty animated space suits, robot Ifts and mesmerized humans.
There is something that IT is doing to these mesmerized people which involves locking them into mirrors and/or putting them into individual vats. I have to admit that I didn’t quite understand what Norton was describing — or, in the end, what she was explaining. There are a lot of complexities in Victory on Janus that confused me although I found Ayyar’s odysseys to be fun reading.
The final pages of the book reveal a secret that’s a nice twist on science fiction stories.
I don’t want to give it away, but I think I can say that the image, at the very end, of Janus losing a whole big chunk of land out into space was interesting to contemplate.
Patrick T. Reardon