No, I don’t mean haven, I really do mean heaven. I was reading James Schmitz last night and this morning. One of the things about reading with my tablet is that when I want to read in a dark room, I can. And then when I wake up but don’t have to get right out of bed, I can snuggle and read until my conscience prods me about the homework I have due tomorrow and I drag myself into the office. Where I can set my coffeepot to sing the song of my people, and hit the ‘net to procrasti… er, write this blog.
So, James Schmitz. One of the first stories I can remember reading and knowing it was SF was the story of Telzey Amberdon and Tiktok, her big companion cat. I can remember sneaking Witches of Karres out of the library because Mom was death on anything that smacked of the occult. I’d read enough of it to know it wasn’t, but… Regardless of the history, Schmitz has always been one of my favorite go-to writers. I knew I hadn’t read everything of his, for various reasons, and even though I’m trying really hard not to buy new books until I’ve read down the reading stack a bit more, when someone mentioned a strong female character of Schmidt’s that I hadn’t read, well… I scooted over to Baen and bought The Hub: Dangerous Territory. I also bought a webscription (what is now called a monthly bundle) but that was because the next book in the Bahzell and Brandark series is coming out in a few months (insert fangirl SQUEEEE!!! here).
I realized something this morning as I polished off two short stories (the downside of reading at about 1200 wpm is that you don’t savor stories and make them last. I try, I really do) and that is that if there is a writer heaven, I want more Schmitz. There is so much more that I want from these stories. Whole worlds that are left partly explored. What happened to the young man in Grandpa, who was on the verge of being kicked out of the scout team for being too inquisitive? What became of the remnants of the goyal left germinating in the Pit in The Searcher?
I suspect that Schmitz wrote the stories he had, and didn’t go on to write more because it wasn’t there, at the moment. Or he needed to keep it short. I suspect this because it’s sort of the way my mind works. I’ll get a story, not a whole novel, write it, and then my readers want to know where the rest of it is. That’s all… for the time. However, given enough time, and the irritating sand-grain of an idea for my mind to form a pearl around… I wonder if we gave Schmitz infinite time, what we would get. Hence writer heaven. Where all the ideas flow, and come out as stories, and then the adjoining Reader’s Heaven, where when you want more of a story, it’s waiting. Time isn’t, and the library is endless.
But here on earth, time is fleeting. I read a review of my YA duology this morning, and was both flattered and yearn to make this reader happy. She writes: “noooo! the story can’t stop here….I want to see the final confrontation. Not fair!” I wish I could just give her more. ‘Here, take this… there will be more waiting when you’re done…” but it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes that bit of a story is all I’ve got. I don’t write to press my stories into an outline, they come to life in my head, banging to get out, and I let them out onto paper to get them to shut up.
As for the Children of Myth, there’s another consideration, and I’m certain on that I share with what Schmitz was dealing with. Money. If there is no market, you have trouble justifying the time and trouble of writing for a handful of dedicated fans. Now, I do plan another book in that world. Different main characters. But when I look at the sales numbers, I keep scootching that book (Dierdre the coblyn, Spot kitten, and a very ancient library in deepest Dark Africa) further to the back of the line. Fortunately, barring a sudden accident, I do have time, unlike Schmitz. Unless he’s waiting somewhere with reams of stories for me and others who miss his work badly.
I’d picked up Schmitz’s work this time as I was reminded of his strong women characters. I can remember reading the Witches of Karres as a girl and wanting to be either the delightfully cheeky and confident Leewit, or the self-assured Goth. But not Maleen, who didn’t seem adventurous to a young reader who longed for adventures. Reading the opening tale in the Dangerous Territory collection, I put the book down, stifled my laughter so as not to wake the sleeper next to me, and made a bookmark.
Ï was about to start upstairs when Volcheme and the others left. Then I heard a little commotion in the office and decided you were doing something about Decrain. So I wanted.”
“Bless you, boy!” Danestar said gratefully. “Be with you in a minute.”
She switched off the spy-screen, went out of the office, skirting Decrain’s harshly snoring form on the carpet, and turned left down the quiet hall.”
The Bechdel test is purported to be a test for gender bias in, well, these days everything, although I believe it started out to just be movies. It’s a requirement that somewhere in the tale two women have a conversation about something other than men. Oh, and at least one of the women has to be named. Frankly, my regular readers will already know I consider that hogwash. (pigs stink. I mean really stink. Have you ever been close to one? No? Try visiting a hog farm sometime. If you don’t lose your lunch, come back and talk to me. I rather enjoy a certain faint eau de horse, or even cow. Pigs? I’d rather fall in a septic tank like one of my classmates recently did (he assured me upon seeing the look on my face that it only came up to his knees)) Er, anyway. You can’t apply the Bechdel test to The Searcher. There aren’t two women in it. Just Danestar, who, as you can see from the above snippet, is kicking ass and taking names. Her easy camaraderie with her colleague, who is male, and the first speaker above, is a joy to read. That’s what working with a partner looks like, feels like. None of this hesitancy because he might hurt her widdle fee-feelz. At one point when she is unconscious and half-dead from the attack of a energy alien, he strips her and crams her into a sneaksuit. Catch any man who is willing these days to risk the sexual harassment suit that could bring on, and you’ve got a winner. Most guys would probably rather keep running and be able to say ‘I thought she was dead.’
Because that is the atmosphere we live in. It stinks about as bad as what you wash off those hogs. And good heavens, I have written far more than I ever intended on this post today. I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of another book. But not this long! I’m off to work on school stuff. Let me know what you think in the comments, and I will check in to reply from time to time.
Last note: Baen sells the unexpurgated versions of Schmitz’s work in ebook. I highly recommend these versions, some of the edited books were touched with a rather heavy hand, and they lost the language and feel of the original Schmitz. The man didn’t write so long ago as to make his work unreadable in the originals.