Masks of the Outcasts Mass Market Paperback – 26 Jun 2007
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When the War of Two Sectors broke out, the Council evacuated Displaced Persons to centers on several worlds. One of these Dipples was located on Korwar, a playground planet frequented by the rich and powerful from many worlds. The Dipple stood to the south of Tikil, the planetary capital.
Some inhabitants of the Dipple found their way out by working as casual laborers in Tikil. Others volunteered for offplanet labor and were shipped out in frozen sleep. A few bought membership in the Thieves Guild.
In Catseye (1961), the Horans had been evacuated from Norden to the Dipple on Korwar. Range Master Lang had volunteered for military service and did not return. Then his wife died of the Cough, a passing illness that was particularly hard on those from Norden. Their son was the sole survivor of the Horan family.
In this novel, ten year later, Troy Horan has only his wide Range Master belt and a few memories to remind him of Norden. Now he is working as a casual laborer in Tikil. One morning, he is offered a job by the mechnical assigner and accepts it. Today he will escape the Dipple for a few hours.
Troy reports for work at Kyger's, a purveyor of extraordinary pets. On his first day, he frustrates an attempt to steal a pair of Terran cats. Supervisor Zul -- a full-blooded Bushman -- is wounded in the attempt and Kyger offers Troy a seven day contract to fill in for the injured man.
During the incident, Troy receives a warning in mindspeech from the cats. Later, he approaches their cage and exchanges a few thoughts. He conceals these communications from his employer and co-workers since he is not really sure what has happened.
Troy has an affinity for animals and does especially well with the fussel hawk, a hunting bird from Norden. He is asked to accompany a customer into the wild to prove the bird's qualities. He will spend three days in the company of Rerne, a high ranking member of the Hunter Clans.
Before this excursion, Troy is sent to a hillside villa to deliver special food for a pet kinkajou owned by Commander Varan Di. Since the Commander had just been murdered, the patrollers warn off his flitter, but allow him to continue after he explains his errand. As he is approaching the villa, the pet runs away from a patroller carrying it out of the building and leaps into Troy's arms.
The patrollers are upset at finding the pet rummaging through the Commander's papers. Troy points out that the kinkajou is a very imitative animal and his probably copying his master's habitual routine. While he is talking to the patrollers, the kinkajoy is pleading with him in mindspeech to take it away from the estate. Eventually, the patrollers tell him to return the pet to Kyger's shop and they fly away.
In this story, Troy finds that a pair of Terran foxes can also talk to him in mindspeech. He even overhears a conversation between the animals and their master. He begins to suspect Kyger of some form of espionage. Then Kyger is murdered and Zul tries to kill these animals. Troy steals a flitter and flees into the wilderness with the five Terran animals.
In Night of Masks (1964), a decade after the war, Nik Kolherne was one of the unlucky ones who stayed behind in the center. He had been evacuated from his planet on a space freighter that had been forced down by the enemy. Most of the crew and passengers had died in the crash, but Nik had been saved from the wreck.
After the rescue, the Dipple medical staff tried to regrow the torn and burned flesh on his face, but the attempts were unsuccessful. His disfigurements disturbed possible employers, so he cannot find a job on the outside. He even habitually hides his features from his fellow residents.
In this novel, one day Nik is settling down in a warehouse to listen to another fantasy escape tape when he overhears three men discussing an illegal operation. Although he stays as quiet as possible, one detects his presence and lifts him out of his hiding place. Another hits him and knocks him unconscious.
When Nik recovers, he finds himself in the home of Stowar, a man with connections and one of the conspirators. Captain Leeds -- the spacer who had discovered his presence -- recruits Nik for a risky proposition that will entail replacement of his face. Nik will do anything for a new face.
In this story, Nik is inserted onto the villa grounds, appearing to Vandy as a fantasy hero from the child's dreams, and conducts him to a lifeboat that will take them away from Korwar. They travel in stasis and Nik does not recover consciousness until the LB is about to land. Vandy becomes frightened by the pressure and seems to be questioning the Hacon identity, but Nik calms the boy until they have landed.
Dis is a planet of a red dwarf that doesn't emit visible light. The infra-red starshine leaves the world in perpetual darkness. The man who meets them after landing is wearing cin-goggles to transform the IR light to something human eyes can see. Fabic takes them to a set of native ruins that have been converted to human quarters. On the way, he blasts an attacking carnivore out of the sky.
Later, Fabic takes Nik to meet Orkhad, the local veep. Orkhad is a suequ weed smoker, which tends to make the user believe himself capable of any feat. Orkhad doesn't seem to have a high opinion of Leeds, but is willing to let Nik remain just to keep the boy peaceful. During the conversation, Orkhad says several things that contradict the story told by Leeds.
Vandy is very upset with the whole situation and conflicted over his feelings toward Hacon, the fantasy hero. He tries the door and finds it locked. Later he tries the door once again and finds it unlocked. Nik holds him back to plan their actions and then leads the escape.
These stories are typical of the Dipple tales. Some resident of that slum finds a way out and takes it, only to discover that there is a catch. These tales usually involve the Thieves Guild or some other illicit organization, which offers through its agents that which the protagnist most desires.
Highly recommended for Norton fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of strange planets, future cultures, and high adventure.
-Arthur W. Jordin
As with most of these Baen pair-ups, there's a theme here, in this case a common setting. Both novels start on the planet Korwar, a rich resort world on the outskirts of which lies the Dipple, a bitter refugee camp from worlds destroyed or occupied by a recent interplanetary war. Protagonists in both stories start their tales in the Dipple.
While there are references in common with most of Norton's shared universe (the Thieves Guild, stunners, blasters, etc.), if it's meant to be so, it's early on in that continuity, when Terra was still known and alien races like the Zacathans were not yet encountered.
"Catseye" focuses on Troy Horan, exile of a "ranch/plains rider" sort of world. He gets an opportunity to work in an exotic pet store, a temporary escape from the Dipple. But the animals being imported there from Terra are not what they seem, and Horan's unexpected abilities set him in the middle of a power struggle between various factions on Korwar.
This is pretty standard Norton YA fare -- intelligent and telepathic animals, heritage of lost worlds, a down-on-his-luck exile making his own way in the world and establishing an identity that defies both his enemies and those would would use him. The book plays out with few surprises, but is entertaining enough.
"Night of Masks" is far less successful. Nik Kolherne is another Dipple refugee, a rootless orphan, with a hideously disfigured face. He's offered a job -- and a new face -- by the Thieves Guild, but soon discovers the mission is (of course) more than he expected, and he's soon caught in factional fighting as well as pursued by the Patrol, trapped on the nightmare planet of Dis, uncertain who to trust, or who can trust him.
While Nik is like most Norton protagonists -- starting from a serious deficit position -- he is pretty unsympathetic, battered about by fate and motivated by fear and uncertainty. Only very, very late in the game does he start to redeem himself, but it comes so late and happens so fast that it defies plausibility. While the world of Dis is nicely painted, it holds a lot in common with other "nighmare / humid / wasted world, populate by degenerate / slimy / deadly / psychic creatures who lurk amongst mysterious ruins" locales that are a Norton standard.
"NoM" is, due to its protagonist, the most disappointing of the books (I kept rooting for greater danger to Nik, just so that he'd either step up or get killed). "Catseye" is better, but the various plot elements are too cliché especially for Norton, for it to be anything more than pedestrian fare.