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The Demon Breed by James H. Schmitz

The Demon Breed (1968)

by James H. Schmitz

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Federation of the Hub (4)

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2961258,553 (3.85)2 / 83



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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Interstellar Invasion!!! the baddies are ugly, and our heroine has to get to the fort to warn the sett.....Federation! An okay potboiler with some echoes of "Beyond Thunder river" by Robert Howard. :-? ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jul 28, 2019 |
Classic sf, very action and problem-solving oriented, but with a difference -- Schmitz's protagonist is a capable young woman who, while she has help from an older scientist (male) and her genetically engineered talking giant otters pretty much saves her home planet from an invasion by a rigidly hierarchical froggy alien race by her wits, skill, and knowledge of the floating forest environment. As with much of the writing of this period though, there is zero character development. In this case it results in, not so much a female protagonist, but a gender-neutral one. You could, with no change in the story, substitute 'he' for 'she'. Even her name Dr. Nile Etland is gender-neutral. (Elsewhere another character near the end is a 'she' named Wyll.) Men tend to have more obviously male names, Dan and so on, but they talk and behave no differently than Nile. That in itself is thought-provoking. You couldn't get away with it if you actually paused and had people interact the way people normally do, sit down and have a meal together and talk about this and that, or whatever. Did I enjoy it? Enough. Was I enthralled? No, it took me longer to read than it should have as there was so much relentless action I had to take breaks -- otherwise I simply stopped paying attention to the details of Niles' strategies. As with all classic sf, worth reading to understand how the genre has developed. Without a doubt Gene Roddenberry, for example, read Schmitz and incorporated ideas from him in the Star Trek series. **** ( )
1 vote sibyx | Jun 26, 2019 |
Rating: 3.5* of five

In 1968, this book's original version appeared as a two-part novella called "The Tuvela" (which title I prefer) in Analog magazine. The author was, at that time, fifty-seven. He had spent most of his early life in Germany, where his American family was based and his father sold International Harvester equipment. He was the very rare optimistic writer of Space Opera, whose characters were thrown into extreme situations; but they came from, and one is left to feel returned to, ordinary and reasonably pleasant lives.

The main thing everyone latches onto, however, is the fact that a Schmitz Hero was as likely to be female as male. And when I capitalize Hero, it is deliberate and thoughtful. A heroine is thrust into a situation where she must Rise Above her femaleness and save the day. Schmitz had no time for suchlike goins-on. Nile Etland, the Hero of this book, starts out as the omnicompetent person she remains; her ascension to Hero status comes from her willingness to overcome her *human* responses to stress and thus save the day:
She was frightened; and knowing that now of all times she couldn't afford to be frightened simply was making it that much worse. For moments her thoughts became a shifting blur of anxieties. She tried to force them back to what she would say to the Everliving, to anticipate questions to which she must have answers. It didn't work too well. But the physical reactions faded gradually again.
She's not a girl making girl-noises as she forces herself to do what needs to be done. She's a human being with human responses and she quells them in order to make the world safe for democracy or humanity or whatever. I was clear that her fight against the enemy was about survival but never really cottoned on to the bigger picture until after the battle.

The battle in question takes place on a water-world that's been colonized by humans. As we know now, water worlds are common as pig tracks in the universe, appearing in many if not most other star systems. Like a Hot Jupiter and a Super-Earth, it's something our own solar system failed to produce or retain, we can't figure out which as of yet. Schmitz, probably all unknowing unless he was a time traveler (an eventuality I do not scorn to entertain, given his attitudes), posited the existence of a water-world with a terrestrial atmosphere:
Nandy-Cline's pelagic floatwood forests, forever on the move about the watery planet where one narrow continent and the polar ice massifs represented the only significant barriers to the circling tides of ocean.
Beneath the surface they were linked by an interlocking net of ponderous roots which held the island sections clamped into a single massive structure.
So more or less they're pelagic mangroves on an Earth-in-Pangaean-times. That was nothing short of prescient in 1968. It's extra impressive given the fact that the man was born in 1911. Isn't that about the time the last plesiosaurs died out? Nandy-Cline is a part of a pan-Galactic human polity, seemingly similar to the colonial world of the Bronze Age Greeks and Phoenicians. The ships of the Overgovernment are like the ships of the Athenian or Carthaginian (aka Phoenician) navies, they fly the homeland's flag and squash the most egregious floutings of the social contract. Of course, being so far removed from the nuts-and-bolts of daily living, the Overgovernment takes a necessarily broad view of what the social contract holds:
The Overgovernment evidently isn't interested in establishing a paradisiac environment for the harmless citizen. Its interest is in the overall quality of the species.
"It's been a long time between wars," Mavig said. "That's part of our problem. How about the overall Hub reaction, Director?"

"We'll let it be a three day sensation," said Sindhis. "Then we'll release a series of canned sensations which should pretty well crowd the Nandy-Cline affair out of the newscasts and keep it out. I foresee no difficulties."
That sounds grimly familiar, doesn't it. Your individual well-being is none of their business, but the functioning of human society as a whole is, and a carefully managed business it is. The plot of this book is, well, direct and pared-down compared to what we're accustomed to in this age of book bloat:
"In brief," Ticos said slowly, "the Great Palach intends to discredit the Tuvela Theory by showing he can torture the Guardian to death and add her to his collection of trophies?"
A very different type of mentality seemed involved. A mentality which systematically tortured human minds and bodies, leaving the victims degraded in death and carefully preserving their degradation, as if that were a goal in itself. . . .
Roles were distributed and the party set off.
We could call that shorthand for much longer and possibly more interesting scenes of character development. Of which there is comparatively little for anyone except Nile. She is notably endowed with powers of observation and analysis in abundances not ascribed to any other person or being on the page. It was a novella when in came out, so this is comprehensible. It's not ideal in today's world, and for once that's a shame because this story is one the modern marketplace would like, with its gender-neutral heroics.

Because this story takes place within Schmitz's shared-worlds universe called "The Hub" there are connections to the broader story of humanity in colonized space. This is dealt with in an end section, I don't think it's exactly considered a chapter, titled: "Conclusions of the Evaluating Committee of the Lords of Sessegur, Chiefs of the Dark Ships—Subject: The Human-Parahuan Engagement of Nandy-Cline". This purports to be the minutes of a governing body's committee charged with the observation and assessment of species' behaviors and their consequences, as they pertain to larger issues of cohabiting the galaxy with the aforementioned Lords. So this short tale assumes larger and more resonant meaning in the Schmitzverse, and therefore illuminates the true nature of all aspects of our existence. We are not alone. As we judge, so we are in turn judged...and the judges aren't always known to us.

Sobering thought, that. ( )
1 vote richardderus | Jun 19, 2019 |
Nile Etland is a hero before her time. Written in the late 1960’s, Nile is a smart, resourceful, physically capable woman – unusual characteristics for female characters in science fiction fifty years ago.

She needs to save researcher Dr Ticos Cay; but she soon discovers that he has been captured by the Parahuans, vicious aliens who are probing the water planet where Nile lives to see if they can once more launch an invasion of the Federation of Planets. Her mission to rescue Cay turns into a mission to thwart the Parahuans on this particular planet and all other planets.

Her only allies are three intelligent mutant otters. Her best weapon is her knowledge of the indigenous plants and wildlife of the water world where she was born and raised and her ability to exploit misconceptions of the Parahuans about what they consider lesser species. She must hold the line of defense until she can alert the planet authorities.

I enjoyed the story and the ending gave an interesting change of focus – from detailing of the action to official reports by those, including the Parahuans, who had taken part. ( )
  streamsong | Jun 15, 2019 |
An interesting mixture of action-adventure and psychological fake-out, in multiple directions. I like Nile, she's smart and capable but not a superwoman - she gets out of her depth but manages to manage it anyway; her knowledge of the world and its creatures is immensely useful. The otters are fascinating, particularly that there's no evidence where they came from (which strikes me as really unlikely, so probably a trick of the Overgovernment...or not). The Parahuans are...actually kind of pathetic, even when they're being utterly foul and nasty. Even the most powerful of them are missing major actions against them, constantly - Ticos has so many plots and plans going while they think he's entirely helpless... The battle is interesting; the way we learn about it is more interesting. I liked the idea of memory recordings. And the analysis by the (other) aliens at the end is excellent - without telling the reader anything more about the Overgovernment or...whatever, we get to see the effect of the actions, short and long-term. I read this as part of the book The Hub: Dangerous Territory, so I'd met Nile in a previous story as well, and seen Schmitz's descriptions of the Federation Overgovernment in some detail. I don't think it added to or subtracted from this story much; it's great in its own right, and fits well with the rest of the stories. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Jun 4, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James H. Schmitzprimary authorall editionscalculated
Adragna, BobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, DianeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, LeoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As the pain haze began to thin out, Ticos Cay was somewhat surprised to find he was still on his feet.
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