Friday 18 November 2011

Short Stories: Novice by James H Schmitz; The Eyes Have It by Randall Garrett

The Classic Science Fiction discussion group selects one short story a week (from those available free online) to read and discuss, as well as the monthly pair of novels. I don't usually read them because I spend so much time on a computer anyway that I don't like to read fiction on it as well, and I don't have an e-reader because I have so many paper books stacked up awaiting my attention. However, I happened to have the two stories above in paper anthologies, so I re-read them. Both stories were written in the 1960s and both are the first of series: the Telzey Amberdon and Lord Darcy stories respectively.

In Novice, Schmitz's far-future Telzey Amberdon is a teenage girl with very high-status parents who happens to have a genius level intelligence, remarkable maturity and competence, and nascent psi powers. Oh, and she's good-looking too. If this all sounds like someone you would hate, prepare to be surprised - Schmitz makes us like her and you'd need a heart of stone not to be cheering her on by the end of the story. Sent away on holiday with her sweetly poisonous aunt to a strange planet with only her pet giant cat of unknown species, Tick-Tock, as a friendly face, Telzey soon discovers that her aunt has hatched a plot to deprive her of her pet. For Tick-Tock is a native of the planet - a species now believed to be almost extinct - and is therefore subject to confiscation. But Telzey also discovers that the giant cats are far from extinct, and she becomes involved in a dangerous scheme to outwit her aunt and survive the close attention of the ferocious felines.

In complete contrast, the Lord Darcy tales are set on an alternate Earth of vaguely Victorian technology and even earlier social development in which France and the UK are one country, North America is still a colony and the nobility are very much in charge. Oh, and magic works and is openly practiced - provided that it is sanctioned by the church. Lord Darcy is a criminal investigator who puzzles out seemingly impossible crimes with the aid of his assistant, a magician who has all kinds of useful abilities. So these stories are in effect a mixture of Sherlock Holmes, magical fantasy and steampunk. The most famous of them is the full-length novel, Too Many Magicians, but there are also nine short stories, of which The Eyes Have It was the introductory tale, concerning the mysterious murder of a lecherous nobleman. Those interested in these stories should look for the 2002 publication, Lord Darcy, which includes all of the stories as well as the novel.

These two stories may appear to have nothing in common, but that's not the case - they are both huge fun to read, light and entertaining, and were very popular in their day, resulting in several sequels. They date from an altogether more innocent age of SFF, which is an important aspect of their charm.


Bill Garthright said...

It's hard for me to be completely objective about either of these stories, Tony, since I loved the whole series of tales from both authors.

I still think that "Novice" holds up remarkably well. It's my favorite Telzey Amberdon story. As you say, Schmitz really makes us like her.

"The Eyes Have It" is probably not the best of Garrett's stories, but it's the first in this series. And as I say, I loved the series.

Anthony G Williams said...

I agree, Bill. I've long been a fan of Schmitz's work, ever since I was first entranced by 'The Witches of Karres' (in the original short-story version). Garrett is also a great story-teller, in the traditional style.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I haven't read much sci-fi lately but am changing that. Ever since people found out I review books I got inundated by them. Your recommendations seem solid though.