Here’s the set-up.
Earth had suffered an atomic war, called the Burn-Off. PAX, a world government had taken over and one of the first things they did was ban space flight. A number of “outlaw” ships had escaped with people wanting a new life. Because of the vast distances between stars, they traveled in cold sleep. After some three hundred years, Pax had been overthrown and space exploration had been resumed. The Overdrive had been invented, cutting down travel time.
One ship had been sent out every five years. RS 3 had blown up inside Mars’ orbit, RS 7 had gone out of control. They got that over radios before the end. Of the rest, none had ever returned. RS 10 was the latest and it had just arrived at the planet Astra, as the inhabitants called it.
There are two main characters here. Dalgard Nordis was a human, descended from the ship that had landed centuries before. Raf Kurbi is a pilot flying the skimmer sent out from RS 10 for exploration.
Two threads run through the book in alternating chapters until they eventually intersect.
Dalgard was on his man-journey, one that every male took between the ages of eighteen and twenty, to earn a place on The Council of Free Men. He’s accompanied by Sssuri, a Merman, one of the amphibious natives of the planet. Short and covered with a fine hair, with claws and fangs, the two had been friends since they were cubs. The Merman were intelligent, using spears and bow/arrow weapons. They communicated by telepathy and the humans had begun to develop those same senses on a limited basis.
The two were headed north into some of the forbidden areas to explore one of the abandoned cities left by “Those Others” in their own nuclear war lng before humans had arrived.
On a trail, they come across tracks of a Devil-Snake and the colony had one rule. It had to be hunted down and killed. For that, they had poisoned arrows that, when shot into the soft underneck, killed in a few minutes.
Dalgard and Sssuri got more than they bargained for when they tracked it to a group of three adults, two halfgrowns, and two newborns. They weren’t hard to kill. Except for one of them. It seemed to know to keep it’s neck close to the ground as it escaped. They also something alarming. Each Devil-Snake wore a metal band around one limb. That told them that Those Others had returned as the beasts weren’t old enough to have been left from the war.
They had no choice but to follow the Devil_Snake deeper into the abandoned city.
Raf Kurbi was piloting the skimmer when the Earthmen made contact with the native species. Somewhat humanoid, their limbs were very thin and they painted designs on their faces. They had a ship and weapons, but didn’t seem to have much technology otherwise. Raf instinctively distrusted them. There was always a soldier nearby with a weapon and he’d witnessed them hosing fire from their ship, wantonly killing a number of beings for no apparent reason.
They convey after a bit that they are there to recover lost science from before their war. The Captain sees them getting part of the technology from aiding them.
The chapters alternate back and forth until the two come together and are suddenly on the run. Those Others, Raf learns, have only one agenda. There’s them and there’s their slaves.
Andre Norton does here what she was very good at conveying. Lost civilizations, humans clawing their way back, communing with nature.
I enjoyed it every bit as much as I remember all those years ago.
For more forgotten books, check out PATTINASE.