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I desperately love James Schmitz's The Witches of Karres and have since I was very young, but I consistently bounce off his short work. It feels as though it ought to engage me-- it has everything that I usually enjoy in fun action-y fluff-- but it never quite hooks my interest.

Then it occurred to me, hey, he wrote other novels.

And indeed, I liked this much better than any of his shorts I've read, although it is nowhere near as good as The Witches of Karres.

On a water planet with a rather interesting ecology of floating forests, Dr. Nile Etland and her [[ giant talking otters ]]* have become worried about a scientist who hasn't contacted home base for a while. Since he was Dr. Etland's teacher and mentor and is engaged in research that has been both profitable and interesting, they'd kind of like to know what happened to him.

In the meantime, said researcher is frantically conducting psychological warfare against the powerful and psychotic aliens who have secretly invaded his floating forest and kidnapped him, and his only hope is that Nile can pick up on and fabricate adequate proof of his lies.

This is a fast-paced little book, with entertainingly nasty if not terribly original aliens, a nifty ecosystem full of things that are pretty, destructive, and helpful in about equal measure, a real sense that all this takes place in and around the ocean, and [[ giant talking otters ]], sometimes with blowguns. The end is a bit odd and divagates more into infodumps about the Possibilities Of Human Evolution than one might like, but it's a short book and that bit's even shorter; besides which the actual plot winds up satisfactorily. This is not Great Literature or anything, but it provides adequate and enjoyable fluff in a way his short stories just don't for me, and I have to love anybody who consistently wrote competent, intelligent, interesting women a couple of decades earlier than one might really expect that in the pulps.

Also, I may have forgotten to mention the [[ giant talking otters ]], which would be silly of me. Honestly, my principal complaint is that there isn't enough of that.

So I may give other Schmitz novels a shot, if I run into any; this wasn't good enough to cause me to seek any more out in an active way, but I've been having an exhausted last couple of days and it's always good to have a store of things I can manage to put into my brain until it can digest things with real substance again.

* This typographical convention is meant to indicate the approximate degree of reader distraction that occurs every time one of them so much as flips a whisker, because seriously, [[ giant talking otters ]] are one of the most distracting things you can put into a book, the authorial equivalent of carrying around a puppy and randomly handing it to people. You could probably hide just about any plot legerdemain ever under a [[ giant talking otter ]], not that this book does, much. I should remember that for future reference.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I don't remember the first time I read James Schmitz's marvelous The Witches of Karres, because I must have been very young. It was one of the books I grew up with, one of the ones my father considered good for any age (and he was quite right).

My father also had a collection of Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon stories, mostly featuring a giant telepathic invisible cat. I read them, of course, and I could tell they weren't as good, but I also couldn't tell whether it was just that I was too young. It might have been the stories or it might have been me.

So I got this volume, which is short stories all set in the same universe and either featuring Telzey Amberdon, who is a very powerful psychic, and/or Trigger Argee, who shoots things. It was definitely the stories, not me; these are--

hm. They're not terrible. One thing they do very well is that they are about women kicking ass in a nonsexualized manner. Both Telzey and Trigger are competent, intelligent, professional, and not afflicted with obligatory love interests. The society they live in is genuinely egalitarian, and it's really enjoyable to watch that.

But I just was never quite grabbed as much as I wanted to be, maybe because this genre, the adventure-thriller, is not my primary love. These stories feature everything from corporate espionage to beings from another galaxy, with plenty of fast-moving action and color, a sense of humor, solid background worldbuilding, and a real sense of variation between plots; Schmitz is not content merely to repeat himself, and these stories vary in type as well as in surface detail. You get things like a sudden clone of a major character, or a tree that is trying to take over the universe. I just-- can't like them as much as on some level I feel they might even deserve. They register in my brain as mildly fun.

If you read James Bond novels, or Modesty Blaise, or that sort of thing, you probably would like these a lot. ([personal profile] rachelmanija, I am looking at you.) But there's a particular kind of psychological weight that I like in a character, which Schmitz is not interested in doing here (and does not have to be, for the genre he's working in) and the genre is not of sufficient inherent interest to me for me not to find that a problem.

I gather there are four collected volumes of short stories set in this universe, of which the first, Telzey-centered, is probably much of what I had as a kid, and the two after this are more about Trigger; so if you're looking for stories about telepathic chicanery, you want this or the first, and if you want more physical action-adventure, you want this or the later two.

This is where I insert my obligatory mourning about the accidental destruction of the manuscript for the Karres sequel. I hear there's a licensed-by-others one out now written by, as well as about three other people, Mercedes Lackey. The mind boggles. And also winces.

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