[LMB] OT: Agent of Vega
Michael R N Dolbear
m.dolbear at lineone.net
Sat, 29 Nov 2003 14:36:33 -0000
> From: Martin Bonham <mjdb at internet.co.nz>
> Date: 29 November 2003 09:50
> Firstly, I and others got to read all of Schmitz's stories (with
> modifications), and also as a direct consequence, Baen published
> _Digital Knight_ by Ryk E Spoor (yes that is his real name),
> better known electronicaly as Sea Wasp, so that I not only got
> to read his first book, but am looking forwards to his
> subsequent ones.
And quoting Jim Baen Himself last month :-
Oh, btw, I've been re-reading my Schmitz, and I suddenly decided everybody
should read Misty's lovely intro to The Hub: Dangerous Territory. It
belong here? Yes, it does. Just because.
That was an epiphany. . . .
Theres a commercial on cable stations lately that talks about moments of
epiphanymoments when you understand something that changes your life.
Ive had at least one of those momentsand when it was over, my life had
been changed forever.
It was when, when I was eleven or thereabouts, I went looking in the living
room for something to read.
Now, in my house, books were everywhere and there was very little my
and I were forbidden to read. We both had library cards as soon as we got
past Run, Spot, run, and by the time I was nine I was coming home with
armloads of books every week and still running out of things to read before
the week was over. By the time I was ten, I had special permission to take
books out of the adult sectionyes, in those dark days, you needed a
permission slip from your parents to read things that werent in the
Now, the peculiar thing here is that although I read anything that looked
like a fairy-tale and every piece of historical fiction I could find, I
hadnt discovered classic juvenile science fiction. I cant think
whyunless it was because my library didnt have any. It was a very small
branch library, and I hadnt yet learned that you could request anything
that was in the card-catalog for the whole county-wide system. It might
also have been because my branch library had helpfully segregated the
juvenile section into Boys and Girls, and I wasnt brave enough to
cross the invisible line-of-death dividing the two. I do recall reading two
little books called Space Cat and Space Cat Meets Mars and loving themand
also something called City Under the Back Steps about a kid who gets shrunk
and joins an ant colonybut that was in a different library, before we
moved, and perhaps the books hadnt been so helpfully segregated there. Be
that as it may, although I was knee-deep in the historical novels of Anya
Seton and Rosemary Sutcliff by then, I hadnt ventured into the adult
Science Fiction section. I hadnt fallen headfirst into Andre Nortons
myriad worlds, I hadnt joined Heinlein s resourceful heroes, I hadnt
discovered Anderson, Asimov, Clarke, Nourse, Simak. . . .
All that was about to change. Because my father had.
My father was a science fiction reader; in our house, where library books
were everywhere, it was my -father who bought the paperbacks. They were
divided pretty equally in thirdssuspense (including spy-novels), war, and
It was the start of summer vacation, I had already bored through my stack
of nine books, and we werent going back to the library for another two
days. I was desperate. I ventured into the living room, and picked up James
Schmitzs Agent of Vega.
Im not sure why. It certainly wasnt the coverin those days, science
fiction books were sporting rather odd abstract paintingspossibly trying
to divorce themselves from the Bug Eyed Monsters of the pulp covers so that
they could be taken Seriously. That wasnt going to happen, not in the
Sixties, but you couldnt fault the editors for trying. It wasnt the
titleI hadnt a clue what, or who, Vega was, and I wasnt interested in
the James Bond books (yet) that featured the only other agent I knew of.
Perhaps it was just desperation. I asked politely if I could read it, was
granted permission, and trotted away to my room with my prize.
Five minutes later, it was true love.
It was an epiphany.
Here was everything I had been looking forexotic settings, thrills,
adventure, heroines who were just as resourceful and brave as the heroes,
and something more. There was a magic in the words, but there was more than
that. It was imagination.
No one, no one, since my fairy-tales, had written like this. This James
Schmitz fellow seemed as familiar with androids and alien planets as I was
with the ice-cream man and the streets of my home town.
And here, for the first time, I encountered psionics.
Psi! There was even an abbreviation for it! Telepathy! Telekinesis!
Teleportation! Empathy! Precognition!
Oh, these were words to conjure with! Better than the magic of the
fairy-tales, these were scientific which meant that someone, somewhere (oh
let it be me! Me!) might find a way to get one of these powers for himself!
Much has been made of the sense of wonder that science fiction evokes,
believe me, there was nothing to evoke that sense quite like the worlds of
James Schmitz. Especially for someone who had never read anything like this
before. The man had the right stuff; no doubt of it. By the time that I was
done with that book, I was well and truly hooked.
And my life had just taken that irrevocable, epiphanal change.
There was no going back; when we got to the -library, I flew to the science
fiction section, and (once I had cleaned out the Schmitz) proceeded to work
my way down the alphabet. I did the same in the school library (earning
peculiar looks from the librarian, I can tell you, since girls werent
supposed to like science fiction). Shortly after that, I discovered that
there were whole stores devoted just to booksI had always lived in
and back in those days, there werent Malls. There were a fewa very
fewstrip-malls, few of which devoted any space to anything other than
stores with Boutique in the name, and there were no real chain
But we went to Chicago for dental and optometrist appointments, and there
Chicago were bookstores.
And after that, thanks to the helpful little bits in the back of the books
(oh, Ace Doubles! two booksall right, novellasfor the price of one!) I
learned that you could actually order books from the company.
Bliss limited only by my allowance!
But my allowance didnt allow me to buy all the books I craved, nor did the
librarian oblige by ordering nothing but science fiction with the meager
budget allocated to her. So, there was nothing for it.
I had to write my own.
Now, I never would have come to this moment, if not (again) for James
Schmitz. The novels arranged in their imposing hard covers on the library
shelves could not possibly have been written by mere human beings, right? I
couldnt aspire to that. (Even if the dust jackets had actually featured
information about the authors, thus removing them to the realms of mortals,
the librar-ian had helpfully taken them off because they always got torn
and dirty.) But there was lots of information on the paperback coversand
more, much more about those authors in the science fiction magazines I had
discovered in the local drugstore! Why, they even argued with each other in
the letter columns, sounding exactly like myself and my little brother in
the midst of a squabble! Yes indeed, these books were written by human
beings just like me. If they could write books, so could I.
So, thanks to James Schmitz, I became an authorfirst an under-the-bed
author (who hid my notebooks full of illustrated stories under the bed
where my brother wouldnt find them), then turning in my stories to
high-school literary contests, then writing as a hobby in collegethen
writing fanfic and actually getting published (!!!).
And then, finally, actually, making the big leap into Professional Status.
Through it all, the memory of that book, that moment, has stayed with me.
The sense of wonder and excitement has never faded, and never will.
Thank you, James Schmitz, wherever you are.
And thank you, Eric Flint and Jim Baen, for bringing his Right Stuff back
again. Maybe some other kid, desperate for something to read, will have an
epiphany of his or her own.