The Witches of Karres – James H. Schmitz

958830Rated: This is one of the best lightweight but thrilling and enjoyable space opera adventures you will ever find. It’s got the enchantment, the warlords, pirates, fences, spies, officious bureaucrats, battleships, space chases, dogfights, nova guns, hostile planetaries, Worm Weather, mysterious and deadly deep-space Sargassos–and the sheer fun of classic Star Wars. The Venture 7377 and her unorthodox crew could fly comfortably right next to the Millenium Falcon–or the Serenity; their klatha-assisted linguist (The Leewit, age: 6) could snap back insults any officious bureaucrats in the galaxy, from the Feds to the Klingons to the…hm, I’m a bit rusty on space opera empires….David Weber’s Havenites? Anyhow: if someone (cough) were to reboot, revamp, or just, y’know, write, a series in the style of that which The Mouse has defiled, there’s no better author to steal from homage than Schmitz, and no better place to start than Karres.

Plot: Captain Pausert is simply doing his humanitarian duty when he rescues a teenage slave-girl, Maleen, from her enraged and frightened owner. He is simply doing his humanitarian duty when he buys off her two younger siblings, Goth and The Leewit. He wasn’t expecting them to try and repay him by stealing back the cost of their ransom money for him off of their former owners…three different times. He definitely wasn’t expecting to run afoul of the Regulations by consorting with the forbidden witch-people of the planet Karres. And he certainly wasn’t expecting to gain the attention of almost absolutely everybody in the galaxy who wants control of the witches, or at least of the witches’ fabled Sheewash Drive.
And, to make a long story short, Pausert is soon off to make his fortune as the master of a very fast and very well-armed (but also very old) ship, with some cash to spare, an inkling as to what his own powers may become, and his very own witch sidekick, Goth. He’s going to need all of them, because their first port of call is the pirate planet Uldune–and the master of Uldune, Sedmon the Grim, Sedmon of the Six Lives, has a job that needs an almighty good pair of witches to handle.
And this isn’t even mentioning the Worm Weather, the pirate lord, the lady spy, the Sea of Light, or the vatch….

I’m kind of honestly not sure that a character like Pausert would ever be written today. The temptation to make him more bumbling, stupid, and harmless, would be too great. As it is, Pausert walks a complex but seamless path between completely clueless but well-meaning comedy hero, square-jawed and competent spaceman hero, and the out of his depth but still perceptive and occasionally useful type of everyman hero. Pausert isn’t dumb…he’s just honest, somewhat naive, and, at first, has no frame of reference for the assorted witchery, criminality, piracy, and suchlike, that he encounters. So he bumbles along under Goth’s supervision when these things are in play. But he is, throughout the book, learning. And of course, he gets his chance to shine and be very cool in the end.
The other part is, of course, that no one in the world would write a book where a twenty-eight year old man is taking care of/having adventures with a ten year old girl who plans to marry him when she grows up? It just Would Not Be Done.
Continuing on from there: you probably wouldn’t see a character like Goth, either. 2940148524465_p0_v1_s1200x630
Out of the others: Vezzarn the grizzled old spacehand, Sedmon the Grim, and Hulik do Eldel, all are drawn with simple and concrete details–and are very cool characters. If you ever visited a planet of rogues, thieves, and knaves, Sedmon of the Six Lives is who you would want to run it. If you ever found yourself pinned down in the rocks, coolly holding your fire til the enemy is in range, Hulik do Eldel is the best companion you could want. And for chillingly polite and ruthless villainy, no one is going to beat The Agandar–the pirate lord whom even the Imperium walks in fear of.
Even minor characters, like Kambine the financier, or Wansing the jeweler (Goth’s terrified erstwhile owner), are memorable with only a few pages or lines of screentime. Schmitz was really good at this–and I’m realizing why. We get hammered with the maxim, Show Don’t Tell–but really, telling is how the readers get into the correct frame of reference to expect and be enthused about what they are going to be shown.

Blindingly fast, deceptively simple.

Me: out of time.

This book: rated three little witches–out of three. (Four would be too many, and ten would take over the galaxy.)

One thought on “The Witches of Karres – James H. Schmitz

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s