James Schmitz and the Federation of the Hub By Theresa Ichino
Once upon a time there was a writer named James Schmitz. and a wondrous writer was he. Fortunately for those who have not read them, some of his works have recently been re-issued in four volumes, collated by editor Eric Flint: Telzey Amberdon, TNT Telzey & Trigger, Trigger and Friends, The Hub: Dangerous Territory. The compilations have been carefully made by Flint, in such a manner that this time around, my re-reading of the stories in the context of the Federation of the Hub is much more meaningful.
In this far future setting, Earth is all but forgotten, and the human-dominated Federation spans a thousand worlds in close proximity (the Hub). Schmitz's stories have strong characters; but in a very real sense, the heart of the stories is the Federation itself. In Schmitz's view, the race as a whole is in competition to survive, in a universe that pays no attention to niceties like fair play, compassion for the weak, or justice for all. The Federation Over-government also understands this, so it maintains a delicate balance: it works to protect the Federation against external or internal threats that would be too great a challenge for any individual planetary government, while interfering as little as possible in local affairs.
As a result, Federation worlds are sometimes dangerous to ordinary citizens who might prefer more attention to protection of individuals. A comfortable organism has no need to compete and evolve. Schmitz's stories focus on the successful survivors who meet and conquer challenges. They are the ones who, by competing successfully, advance the survival of the race (this view of the universe is explained by the character Ticos Cay in Demon Breed, and illustrated by Cay and Nile Eklund as they battle to defeat an invasion force.)
Threats to racial survival come in many forms, external intruders as well as internal challenges. One of the most fascinating is the development of psi powers in a growing minority of the population. An individual with mental powers would be a formidable predator in a world of untalented humans; and in the context of Schmitz's Darwinian universe, how reasonable is it to suppose that such an individual would refrain from using such abilities? As well ask the first primitive ancestor of man to refrain from using his opposable thumbs, or homo sapiens to limit use of his superior intelligence while hunting or being hunted. In this context, Telzey's invasion of defenseless minds becomes understandable even if it strikes an uneasy chord for those of us who respect the rights of the individual.
Telzey herself is what Flint calls an anti-predator, a counter-balance to those who prey on ordinary humans. Essentially, the stars of these stories are intelligent, strong, competent anti-predators - most of them female! Schmitz also includes a couple of elderly heroes, judged by the unperceptive to be 'past it'; but these tough and experienced oldsters can foil assassination attempts and alien invasions. Schmitz's protagonists are far from conventional; similarly his plots have unexpected twists and outcomes.
Telzey Amberdon is the star of Volume I. Intervention by a race of deadly hunters serves as a catalyst for her psi powers, which may explain her extraordinary tough-mindedness, although she is by no means without compassion. On the contrary, her feelings for others bring her to the aid of those in need of her special talents. She is only fifteen years old at the beginning of the stories, and it is fascinating to see how she grows in maturity and power (she is perhaps seventeen at the end of the tales). She teams with Trigger Argee, a special agent of the Federation Over-government, in Volume II. Volume III showcases Trigger and her allies in various adventures that continue to illustrate the diversity and complexity of various Hub worlds.
Volume IV, The Hub: Dangerous Territory, is my favourite since the stories illustrate Schmitz's view that sentients, whatever their form, are part of a larger ecology. In Volume IV he creates richly detailed worlds in which humans and non-humans (including mutated Earth creatures) live in harmony with environments that do not forgive carelessness or stupidity. Flint tells us that Baen Books will continue to reissue Schmitz's masterful tales, good news for old fans and new. However, I regret that no new stories will be written by him - I would love to learn more about the Over-government's enigmatic and powerful Psychology Service.
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