Key Out Of Time
Time Traders, Book 4
The Andre Norton books I’ve read over the last couple of years have all been on the action/adventure side of sci-fi, and this is no exception. What I found myself thinking about was how fuzzy, and sometimes arbitrary, the line between science fiction and fantasy really is.
90% of the book takes place on a world with pre-industrial technology. There are two factions with sufficiently-advanced technology that might as well be magic. The Cold War elements of the earlier books are pushed aside by the local conflict on Hawaika, with a handful of stranded humans and dolphins caught in the middle with nothing more high-tech than scuba gear and a convenient translator device. It could easily be a portal fantasy!
While the adventure was entertaining, I started paying more attention to the tropes connecting to the other books and, in some cases, being turned on their heads. Instead of a desert they spend most of their time on the ocean. The pair of empathic coyotes are replaced with a pair of telepathic dolphins. And the rough-and-tumble square-jawed agent finds himself out of his element so much (he has so little telapathic ability that the villains can’t even attack him mentally) that by the end of the book he’s desperately searching for situations where he can do manly things and fight with his hands or physical weapons, while the main battle is waged by women with “magic” and telepathy.
(There was also a floor maze that had to be danced properly to activate some great power, almost a decade before the first of Zelazny’s Amber novels.)