Short Reviews – The Witches of Karres, by James H. Schmitz

Friday , 24, August 2018 8 Comments

The Witches of Karres, by James H. Schmitz, appeared in the December 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. An expanded novel-length version was a Hugo Finalist in 1967. The Novelette version can be read here at Archive.org.

What did John Campbell mean by this? 

“This is true science fiction about three real witches who cast curses and perform magic.”

So, depending on how you look at it [and given science fiction fandom’s landscape, it’s a menacing prospect], The Witches of Karres is either like one of those 60s/early 70s Disney family movies, or it’s a loli harem comedy.

Maybe this would be less creepy if Pausert wasn’t drawn with that ‘stache.

Captain Pausert, a merchant spacer, finds himself discomfited on a world where he’s just unloaded his cargo by the sights and sounds of a man menacing a young slave girl. This turns into a scuffle, and both men end up in the hands of the planet’s justice system.

“Bruth the Baker was charged with having struck a citizen of a foreign government on the head with a potentially lethal instrument—produced in evidence. Said citizen had admittedly attempted to interfere as Bruth was attempting to punish his slave Maleen—also produced in evidence—whom he suspected of having added something to a batch of cakes she was working on that afternoon, resulting in illness and complaints from fifty-two of Bruth’s customers.

 

Said foreign citizen had also used insulting language—the captain admitted under pressure to “Fat and Ugly.”

 

Some provocation could be conceded for the action taken by Bruth, but not enough. Bruth paled.

 

Captain Pausert, of the Republic of Nikkeldepain—everybody but the prisoners smiled this time—was charged (a) with said attempted interference, (b) with said insult, (c) with having frequently and severely struck Bruth the Baker in the course of the subsequent dispute.

 

The blow on the head was conceded to have provided a provocation for charge (c)—but not enough.

 

Nobody seemed to be charging the slave Maleen with anything. The judge only looked at her curiously, and shook his head.

 

“As the Court considers this regrettable incident,” he remarked, “it looks like two years for you, Bruth; and about three for you, captain. Too bad!”

 

The captain had an awful sinking feeling. He had seen something and heard a lot of Imperial court methods in the fringe systems. He could probably get out of this three-year rap; but it would be expensive.

 

He realized that the judge was studying him reflectively.

 

“The Court wishes to acknowledge,” the judge continued, “that the captain’s chargeable actions were due largely to a natural feeling of human sympathy for the predicament of the slave Maleen. The Court, therefore, would suggest a settlement as follows—subsequent to which all charges could be dropped:

 

“That Bruth the Baker resell Maleen of Karres—with whose service he appears to be dissatisfied—for a reasonable sum to Captain Pausert of the Republic of Nikkeldepain.”

Bruth sells Maleen for song and boat-load of court fees, collected by the judge, and Pausert is now stuck with a 14-year old slave girl, the purchase of whom being a serious criminal offense on his own world. Pausert intends to take the girl back to whatever world she came from, but Maleen insists that he has to free her little sisters first.

The youngest sister, the Leewit, has the power to cause intense vibrations and shatter objects—naturally, she’s owned by a potter who’s happy to be rid of her. The middle sister, Goth, has the power of minor object teleportation and endlessly vexes her master, a jeweler. Together, the three girls are also able to engage a magic space-drive.

Pausert liberates the girls, they have a series of awkward magic-related incidents [mostly Goth stealing things] as he tries to get them back to Karres. The Leewit is the rambunctious tyke, Goth is the tsundere, and Maleen is the big sis who crushes on Pausert while trying to keep her sisters in line.

Pausert returns the girls, spends some reflective time on Karres, and gets loaded up with nice, but worthless for legal and custom reasons, trade goods that will still leave him deep in the hole as a reward. A tearful Maleen tells Pausert she’ll be of marriageable age soon… He gets back to his homeworld, to find that he’s considered a criminal for all of his adventures [slave-buying, all of Goth’s thefts, carrying contraband, concealing new space drive technology, contact with a forbidden world, etc.] and, to make matters worse, his fiancé has married someone else while he was gone and they’re both part of the party waiting to arrest him.

Well, Goth had stowed away on the ship and uses her powers to help him escape. The fix was in all along. Maleen actually had a boyfriend, but Goth [who is like 9] is gonna be Pausert’s waifu while they find where Karres had been moved [the witches use their magic drive to move the entire planet to escape persecution]. Presumably, they go on to have further space adventures until Goth is of marriageable age as was planned by the wise folk of Karres.

You could go a lot of different directions on this. It would be nice to have a fairly pure reading of the story, and it is a fun story—but I gotta say…

It’s good. But did this get its Hugo Nom because it’s good or because it has lolis?

The novelette is just short enough that it doesn’t manage to wear out its welcome. I haven’t read the novel, but I honestly don’t know that I’d be able to muster enthusiasm for either a book-length expansion of the story here or subsequent acts of the adventures of Pausert and his tsundere magical little girl as they go looking for where Karres ended up.

8 Comments
  • Bruce says:

    I read The Lion Game as a fairly inflammable boy, and remember it as a pretty innocent book- space opera Nancy Drew. It’s a real pity the Delany and Marion Zimmer Bradley legacy poisons this stuff.

  • Mr. Tines says:

    It’s many, many years since I read this, but in the Karres novel they find the planet soon after where the novelette left off. A new plot then starts involving an alien menace out of other dimensions while Pausert discovers his own powers of witchery as it turns out that he has an earlier family connection with Karres (through the distant relative mentioned by his ex-fiancée).

    As far as Schmitz’ other output in the ’60s, I have no hesitation to state that as a teen, Telzey Amberdon was mai waifu.

  • PCBushi says:

    Sounds like Schmitz stirred together some interesting ideas here, and yet…yeah, it feels kinda icky.

  • Terry Sanders says:

    I think that was at least partly deliberate. In both the story and the novel, Pausert also thinks it’s more than a little iffy, and goes out of his way to be as avuncular as possible.

    It’s never spelled out, but one gets the impression the Karres witches tend to think very long-term, and forget (or pretend to forget, just for the lulz) that other people don’t.

  • deuce says:

    Campbell LOVED his psionics.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    I’m a big fan of James Schmitz and I read the Karres novel and the Telzey Amberdon stories before I found out about Delaney and MZB; I remember liking them a lot. Now I look at the Karres novel and I have to wonder.

    I recommend Schmitz’s stories about the Hub, where his Telzey Amberdon and Trigger Argee books take place, they’re quite good. Then perhaps take a look at Karres later, if his work interests you.

  • Ben says:

    Heh.

    I recently bought it on a Kindle sale, but haven’t had the chance to read it yet. Had looked up the synopsis, but nice article on it.

    Sounds like its something that should be given to the Japanese – ahem Earthsea, Lensman… Total Recall was so close to “Cobra” in our government it’d be lawsuit bait, like 2x, 3x what the late Mr Ellison would consider worth it…but the Japanese artist was flattered.

    The Loli Ecchi is a strong genre there and actually mainstream versus their Hentai where yes “Loli” is a strong genre – “Nymphette” a recent one that freaked people out wholesale when it got translated (manga and anime) and they tried to sell it here – but simple comedy there. Kind of glad they didn’t, imagine the bratty kids watching it and thinking its OK to tease teacher like that in today’s landscape… Teachers would have to wear 24/7 bodycams to prove lil Suzy’s behavior was 100% her actions…

    Hey, be a funny “April Fool’s” prank to pay some good Japanese artists to make posters, cel-style images as IF its going to be a real manga with an Anime close in tow… Just to watch the SJW whine brigade scream for a while. Like right now they are trying to ruin the RPG world after the hoopla with shaking down the gaming world for $ over fake ‘sexism’ stuff.

    And the hot air might just generate enough interest to get it made…

    Now, no one throw stuff at me here. I think its a good idea.

    First, yes he’s stuck with “Underage Slave Girls” he could get in the sack or do anything (look up Pixiv) he wants with them… And these scared, desperate girls are trying to act all ‘adult’ but don’t know how… Heh, the “Forbidden Fruit” will attract the screams and customers.

    BUT – he’s a man of the 2550s…whatever year its set in – hence “50s…” with a strong sense of honor, morality, restraint, duty, preserverence… He doesn’t take any foul advantage of them and acts in an honorable manner. Something we don’t see these days. Really, imagine almost any “Male Lead” in any action movie or other movie in that situation… It’d be … illegal to show live action since the early 80s. Like, Tyer Durden, what do you think would happen there…?

    In short – subversive move – use the lure of the modern perversion the Reptiles/Illuminati whatever are trying to ram down our throats – have a few mild ‘ecchi’ scenes that go maybe a fraction as bad as “Nymphette” so the Reptiles won’t know something is up – then all the people watching the movie (save a few freaks) go “I would like to be that kind of man”, “Want to marry that kind of man…”, “That kind of man was like Great-Grandpa when he was young…wow!”

    Just a thought…

    • Albert says:

      The problem with this idea is, anime has trained fans to ignore the protagonist’s restraint as ‘milquetoast’ and write/draw the skeevy porn as fanfic.

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