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Scratching Through The Wall

A Pride of Monsters

By James H. Schmitz 

12 May, 2024

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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James H. Schmitz’s 1970 A Pride of Monsters is a science fiction1 collection. The contents all feature monsters… of a sort.

Schmitz was an American science fiction author, one who was, as his ISFDB entry indicates, not born in the US, but rather in Germany in 1911, when Germany was still the German Empire2. Time to do a piece on American SF authors who were born abroad? 

I also have the wrong mental image of Schmitz. I picture the fellow with the blaster

Rather than the regular human author he actually was.

Well, he did write space opera.

Schmitz reliably delivered what readers wanted: interesting action,-capable protagonists, some sufficiently challenging problem to test them, satisfactory outcomes. Lots of golden age authors did that. Schmitz often delivered more and better. This collection provides some stories that highlight the ways in which Schmitz managed to distinguish himself from his contemporaries.

Firstly, women characters frequently appear. When they do, they are not there to be rescued or as rewards. As often as not, they are the ones doing the rescuing. In these stories we meet see career criminal Reetal, investigator Danestar, secretary Rune, and all-around sensible woman Julia.

Secondly, Schmitz’ antagonists often have more depth than one expects to find in a space adventure. They aren’t purely malicious. They have their own agendas and drives (some of which are self-destructive).

Thirdly, Schmitz’ creatures, alien and otherwise, generally are not monsters as such. Each was shaped in a different ecological context. Their needs and goals might be inconvenient for humans, but there is a logic to their behavior beyond invincible ravenousness3. Indeed, some of the creatures are not antagonists at all, despite appearances.

A Pride of Monsters is an entertaining little collection. Too bad this specific collection is long, long out of print.

[Added later due to energetic feedback]

While A Pride of Monsters is out print, some of its contents can be found elsewhere. For example, Lion Loose is on Gutenberg. The Winds of Time is also on Gutenberg.

Introduction (A Pride of Monsters) • (1970) • essay by James H. Schmitz

Once the world was filled with creatures humans had to fear. Now these creatures have proved mythical, been exterminated, or must live in fear of humans. Perhaps alien creatures will be more fortunate or at least more challenging.

Lion Loose • [The Hub] • (1961) • novella by James H. Schmitz

Career criminal Reetal Destone has bad news for the aptly named Bad News” Quillan. The Seventh Star Hotel, the very space hotel in which the pair have crossed paths again, is slated for very illicit, extremely profitable destruction by conspirators amongst whose numbers neither Bad News nor Reetal belong. Twelve thousand people will die with the Seventh Star, and unless the pair think quickly, they will be among the casualties.

Bad News wastes no time deploying glib patter to insert himself into the conspiracy. The plotters are conveniently divided, each faction wary of the others, all keen on finding a way to keep the vast profits for themselves. The crooks prove hilariously vulnerable to a divide and conquer strategy. The alien the schemers brought with them may be a different matter.

This is kind of an anti-heist story. Instead of gathering a diverse assortment of skilled professionals, the orchestrator had to prioritize criminality over prudence, competence, and self-control4. Thus, one of the early casualties is the only guy who could control the alien.

The Searcher • [The Hub] • (1966) • novella by James H. Schmitz

For the functionaries and employers of the University League’s depot on Mezmiali, the depot is a treasure trove to quietly sell off. Investigators Danestar and Wergard are tasked with unraveling the conspiracy and dispatching the miscreants to space-prison. Not an easy task, as the entire workforce is in on the scheme.

Matters take a turn for the deadly. Amongst the depot’s treasures, an enigmatic artifact retrieved from the dark nebula known as the Pit. Desperate to retrieve the device, an intangible alien entirely unfamiliar to human science descends on the depot. The suspects rapidly dwindle in number. Danestar and Wergard may well join the crooks in oblivion.

Schmitz seems to have liked intangible aliens. However, the set-up here is different from that in Lion Loose because this time the gang is competent in every way they need to be, with two exceptions: they lack sufficient subtly to avoid University League notice of their criminal behavior and they do not know how to survive the attention of annoyed space monsters.

The Winds of Time • [The Hub] • (1962) • novelette by James H. Schmitz

Mid-voyage, Gefty Rammer’s starship The Silver Queen is batted out of normspace into an unknown realm. The event is inexplicable. Lacking sufficient information, Gefty will be hard pressed to rescue himself, his current client Mr. Maulbow, or Maulbow’s plucky secretary, Kerim Ruse.

Gefty sold passage to the wrong man. Maulbow is a scheming hijacker who is not as human as he seems. Where the starship is matters less than when it is. There’s also the little matter of Maulbow’s serpentine alien companion, whose interest in Gefty and Ruse is all too culinary.

The Pork Chop Tree” • [The Hub] • (1965) • short story by James H. Schmitz

How could such a useful, positively endearing plant be an existential threat to humanity as we know it?

Greenface • (1943) • novelette by James H. Schmitz

Hogan does not have Julia anymore. He has a drinking problem (thus the lack of Julia) and a broken heart (due to the lack of Julia). He also has a monster problem, one involving a creature as ravenous as it is quick growing. Not a great time for Julia to return… so of course she does.

1: Olden timey spec fic authors generally ranged widely across the genres. In Schmitz’s case, I don’t remember him ever delving into fantasy, leaving aside bullshit psi crap.

2: Like Poul Anderson, Schmitz lived in both the US and Europe (Denmark for Anderson, and Germany in Schmitz’ case). Schmitz left Germany just prior to WWII, which was probably for the best.

3: At least one of the creatures in this volume is very short on the invincible front, being native to a climate very different from the one that is slowly killing it over the course of the tale.

4: I too am reminded of Christopher Brookmyre’s One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, specifically the bit where Conner discovers why he should not have recruited heavily armed men with impulse control issues from both sides of the Troubles.