Much of Golden Age science fiction is bound up in the pseudo-scientific, quasi fantastic renderings of heroic frontier stories set in space. The market demanding a large quantity of such stories, sub-genres split off—planetary romance/adventure, lost in space, alien attack, among them. Another branch which sprouted was in the world of merchants and traders of extra-terrestrial goods. It is in this minor vein that Andre Norton published her Solar Queen series. Planetary adventure mixed with the legalities, economies, and rivalries of interstellar trade, the second of these books Plague Ship (1956) is the subject of this review.
Plague Ship is the story of the freighter Solar Queen and the trouble she gets into on the planet Sargol. Part of the Free Traders union, the crew establish initial contact with the clan-like Salariki, and thus claim the right to be the only group allowed to trade for their precious Koros stones and valuable timber. But when a rival merchant illegally butts in, tempers flare. A Salariki family drama playing out simultaneously, dragging the Free Traders and their rivals into a fray, Dane Thorson, Ollie, Rick, and other crew of the Solar Queen are lucky to get off planet with the hold full of the valuable wood. But as crew members start to come down with symptoms of illness and drop into incapacity, it seems their troubles are only beginning.