In the 1960's and early 70's, no list of great science fiction authors was complete without three names: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and James H Schmitz.

Who?

James Henry Schmitz was born in 1911 in Hamburg, Germany to American parents. The family stayed in Germany throughout his childhood, only returning to the United States in 1938. Schmitz, despite his German upbringing, was not at all uncertain where his loyalties lay in the war that was about to start. He joined the US Air Force and served throughout the war.

When the war was over, Schmitz returned to the US and got a job manufacturing farm equipment. At the same time, however, he was writing science fiction short stories. His first published story, "Greenface", appeared in Unknown magazine in 1945. By 1959, he was able to quit his job and write full-time. He continued to make his living as a professional author until his death in 1974.

Almost all of his stories take place in the Federation of the Hub, a society of humans and non-numans living together on multiple planets. It's a peaceful, prosperous society, ruled by an elected Overgovernment. Most of his plots involve outside species trying to harm the Federation, or criminals threatening it from the inside. The writing fits well into the standard Space Opera genere, with a heavy emphasis on psi powers.

His most well-known, and well-drawn, character was Telzey Amberdon. She is the teenaged scion of a wealthy family, with extraordinarily strong psi powers. Over the nine stories involving her, she defeats two alien species trying to covertly invade the Federation, discovers the sentience of another species and gets it to ally itself with the Overgovernment, and defeats at least four human master criminals. The stories are tightly plotted and the challenges almost (but not quite) beyond her ability to overcome. If there is a weakness in the stories, it is that Telzey is never changed by her experiences; she remains essentially the same person throughout.

The thing that makes Schmitz's writing distinctive, particularly for its time, is that many of his protagonists are female, even in action-adventure stories. And his portrayal of women is remarkably modern. While the heroines are feminine (Trigger Argee uses her makeup case to smuggle weapons more than once), they are never weak. They don't faint, or defer to masculine authority, or let their emotions override their intellects. They live in a society where the equality of women is as accepted as universal literacy, as unquestioned as the rule of law.

Because of this, and because he keeps his description of technology vague (no anachronistic slide rule references), his writing has aged well. It has, however, been hard to find at times. I bought my first Telzey Amberdon book on a whim in 1987, from a used bookstore. I had no idea who James H. Schmitz was. It was only when I had finished it, and went looking for more, that I discovered that it was 23 years old and out of print.

Science fiction had moved on, not in terms of plot, but in terms of verbiage. Schmitz wrote over 50 short stories, but only two novels. In an era where even single science fiction books are squeezed out by trilogies, short stories are not fashionable. For a long time, the only ways to get hold of his stories was to find the original Astounding and Analog magazines that published them, or to track down the out of print collections. However, in 2000, Baen Books began re-issuing his stories in a series of five volumes. Now is your chance to read one of science fiction's forgotten masters.

Original collections:

  • Agent of Vega (1960, from stories originally published in 1949)
Tales of the Hub:
  • A Tale if Two Clocks (1962)
    republished in 1979 as Legacy
  • A Nice Day for Screaming and Other Tales of the Hub (1965)
  • The Demon Breed (1968)
    also published as The Tuvela in the same year
  • A Pride of Monsters (1970)
Telzey Amberdon books:
  • The Universe Against Her (1964)
  • The Lion Game (1973, from stories published from 1965 - 1971)
  • The Telzey Toy (1973, from four short stories in Analog that year)

Novels

  • The Witches of Karres (1966)
    Nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel in 1967
  • The Eternal Frontiers (1973)
    This is Schmitz's only work outside the Hub universe, and it is generally considered his worst.

Edited Collection:

  • The Best of James H. Schmitz (1991)
    Edited by Mark L Olson

Recent re-issues:

  • Telzey Amberdon (2000)
  • TNT: Telzey Amberdon and Trigger Artagee] Together (2000)
  • Trigger and Friends (2001)
  • The Hub: Dangerous Territory (2001)
  • Agent of Vega (2001)

Sources:
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
www.baen.com
Schmitz fan sites:
  • harbormist.com/pat/schmitz/schmitz.htm
  • www.ilap.com/wilson/Schmitz/JHS.html

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