Eye of the Spider

With Eye of the Monster, Andre Norton was attempting to do something tricky, but only an extremely clever (or agile) author could have pulled it off. And in my opinion, Norton was neither clever nor nimble during her 60-plus years writing science fiction.

Here, Norton has written a space-age colonization story that pits meddling off-world settlers against marginalized native citizens. That’s right, she’s flipped the script—she’s basically written a novel in which the Aztecs were the monsters and Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors were the victims.

You can see how that would be a knotty narrative to untangle. So what if the Ishkurians were “hostile reptilians with crocodile-like sloping skulls”? Did that give anyone the right to hack their home world? I don’t think so.

It all started when Terrans showed up and introduced their own litigation and judicial procedures. A series of blunders and culturally insensitive decisions eventually led to a native revolt. By mutual consent, the colonists split Ishkur for greener pastures.

But some off-world stragglers remained—that’s when Eye of the Monster begins. Four disparate youngsters must survive a trek through an unforgiving jungle (filled with ghost-wings, skull-rats, progies and air dragons) while avoiding scary Ishkurian crocodile-men.

Norton wasn’t a dummy. Perhaps she thought she was being clever. I dunno. She knew she was turning native freedom fighters into monsters. That didn’t stop her from manipulating the reader’s sympathies in the wrong direction however.

Her hero was Rees Naper, a young man who made money selling indigenous fauna to off-world zoos. At times he seemed to respect the civil rights of the natives. But I wouldn’t exactly call him woke. Throughout the entire novel, he used the word “Crocs” to describe Ishkurians, even though he knew it was a forbidden and derogatory epithet.

The only way Naper and his crüe could survive their dire situation was to outwit the cunning Ishkurians. He subscribed to a theory called “Eye of the Spider”: If you fight a spider, you must attempt to see through its eyes, think with its mental equipment and foresee its attack as it would make one. The spiders in this case were the Ishkur natives and Rees would have to strive to think like a Croc in order to out-think a Croc. “But how?” he thought. “How did one become a Croc?”

In the end, Naper and his cohorts escaped to an orbiting satellite in outer space. Despite a knowing wink to her readers on the last page, Norton doesn’t explicitly give her “heroes” any type of revelation or insight into the situation. In their wake lay corrupt idealism, social upheaval, burned bridges and lots of dead bodies.

[Eye of the Monster / By Andre Norton / First Printing: January 1962 / ISBN: 9780441756957]