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Federation of the Hub

Telzey Amberdon;
T’n’T – Telzey and Trigger Together;
Trigger and Friends;
The Hub: Dangerous Territory
Agent of Vega and Other Stories
all by James H. Schmitz.
Original Publication: (see text)
Current Availability: E-Books, mass-market paperback (Baen)

Shannon Appelcline established a useful goal in his series of reviews that have previously appeared in this section of Critics’ Corner. However, there are only a limited number of books that truly have the sort of direct connection to Traveller that Shannon used in choosing which books to review. I felt that there were more than a few stories that, while having no discernible direct connection with Traveller, nevertheless felt—at least to me—like they could happen in a Traveller universe, even if not the Official one. These books meet that description.

All of these books are collections of stories; the stories originally appeared in various SF magazines at dates ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s. These collections were published by Baen in the early 2000s and are still available as indicated above.

Although I’m reviewing them together, the stories in Agent of Vega and Other Stories are not actually part of the universe of the other four books. Nevertheless, there are common elements which makes it reasonable to include this book with the others, and references to “the Hub” should be assumed to include these stories unless specifically excluded.

The universe of the Hub, like many of its 1950s-1970s contemporaries, is very much libertarian – government is generally minimalist and reactive, rather than heavy-handed and controlling, and ‘ordinary people’ – such as the main characters of these stories – can go armed (handgun or belt-knife or societal equivalent) without provoking comment. In it, the expectation is that people will think for themselves and do for themselves, and not rely on others – especially not the government – to do for them. As a result, virtually all characters that appear are self-reliant, and expect to be able to handle any ‘ordinary’ problems that might come their way.

Most of the principal characters in the stories exhibit self-confidence and self-reliance, but generally have a realistic appraisal of their own capabilities. Perhaps it’s an artifact of the times when Schmitz was writing, but there’s an underlying feel of “American Exceptionalism” to his stories, even if it’s not “in-your-face” “Yanks in Space”. While Schmitz has generally avoided using recognizeable “modern” (to the reader) names, all of the names he has created are easily pronounceable, not obviously ‘inherently’ gendered, and wouldn’t necessarily look out of place in the phone directory of any large US or Canadian city.

Perhaps a better way of describing it is a mild version of Reddit’s r/HFY (“Humanity, F!!! Yeah!”); the vast majority of his characters are human, and even where non-humans appear, they’re generally out-thought by humans (an exception is the Lannai, Pagadan, who is a major character in Agent of Vega).

Schmitz wasn’t afraid to include psionics – mostly telepathy – in his stories, but for the most part it wasn’t the focus of the stories (The stories in the Telzey Amberdon volume are somewhat of an exception; they represent a sort of ‘coming-of-age’ arc for Telzey, except it’s more ‘coming-of-psi’). Characters that do have psionic abilities use them or not as appears appropriate in the situation, and telepathic communication isn’t considered unusual (although it appears that it’s instantaneous over any distance within the telepaths’ range). There is some concern over misuse of psi, but the “overgovernment” doesn’t actually take strong action against such misuse at an individual level; in the stories where such misuse is a factor, it is ultimately up to the characters to address the situation.

Schmitz did not limit psionics to beings that Traveller calls sophonts; there are several examples of animals with psionic abilities. In some cases, the animal is trained to use its psionic abilities at the behest of its owner; in others, it is strictly an ‘animal offense’ or ‘animal defense’ ability. Not all such animal psionics can necessarily affect sophonts; some stories have situations where the effect is only partial or completely ineffective.

There is also psionic technology of several types; some of it can even be used by non-psions.

All of these books are what I call “light reading”: they’re easy to “get into” and don’t require a lot of analysis to keep track of the action or the characters. That’s not to say that the stories themselves are ‘fluff’; they’re not – you’ll always have something to reflect on about human nature or psychology, and there’s enough story action – not necessarily violence, chases, et cetera – that the stories can still be absorbing. If you check between stories, or at scene breaks within the longer stories, you should be able to avoid missing your stop on the bus or train. It can be a near thing, though.

These are definitely not “milfic”; essentially all of the characters are what Traveller would call ‘civilians’; those that aren’t are probably ‘scouts’. That sort of mindset, plus Schmitz’s core libertarianism, means that characters that are in plot trouble think their way out rather than just shooting their way out – though if the latter is indicated as the correct response, they generally won’t hesitate to do so.

Overall, these are definitely good reads, and worth the $7 each for e-books from Baen. If you like taking your recreational reading and turning it into Traveller setting-building, you could easily do worse than choosing these volumes for source material.