Wednesday 4 February 2009

The Hub: Dangerous Territory, by James H. Schmitz – reviewed

This is volume four of the collected works of James H. Schmitz. I paid fifteen pounds for a battered, dirty copy of this book, to complete my seven-volume set, and it was absolutely worth every penny. If I hadn’t already found that copy, after reading the previous three books I would have paid whatever it took to acquire this one.

The highlights are the two Nile Etland stories: “Trouble Tide” (a novella) and “The Demon Breed” (a novel). Both are tremendously entertaining. Schmitz had a rare knack for combining thrilling action with hard, soft and pseudo science, not to mention a genius for creating strong, independent, intelligent and capable women (of which Etland is yet another example) and believably alien psychologies. Both stories save gently amusing twists for their closing pages, another Schmitz signature.

Having read the other stories quite a while ago (before losing the book for a while), I don’t have much to say about them now. They weren’t quite Schmitz’s best, but they were good. I got stuck on “Balanced Ecology” – and then, weirdly, got stuck on it again in the anthology Bug Eyed Monsters – but after gritting my teeth and forcing myself to focus (it’s a tough one to read late at night) it turned out to be one of the best stories I read all year.

Reading the back of this book, it’s easy to be put off: “thousands of rough, ornery and tough-minded human worlds … when Trouble comes Hubward in large doses, there are an awful lot of armed citizens waiting for it…”

But don’t be put off! It may sound like recommended reading for right-wing libertarians, but Schmitz makes it clear that this is no utopia – there’s a terrible price to pay for that liberty: ordinary, non-violent people are never safe. They are plagued by villains and cut-throats, with no interplanetary police force to come to the rescue. And that’s where Schmitz’s heroes come in!

I very, very rarely think this about books any more, having so many still to read, but I would say it’s a virtual certainty that I’ll be reading this book again.

I’d like to express my immense gratitude to Eric Flint and Guy Gordon for putting this series of collected works together. They’ve done a wonderful service to this reader (and many others I’m sure), but also paid the most perfect tribute to a very special writer.

The Hub: Dangerous Territory, by James H. Schmitz. Baen, pb, 480pp.

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