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cover Falls Afoul of the Usual Perils of Pastichery
The Wizard of Karres
Eric Flint, et al.
I must admit that i approached this book with some trepidation, since i am, shall we say, not particularly impressed with Eric Flint's "editing" (for want of a better word) of the rest of the James Schmitz canon, nor with Lackey's general record lately of not even keeping up with her own series' backstories (see the reviews for Exile's Valor), and because i didn't have any idea who Freer was.

(I have not yet gotten hold of a copy of an un-tampered-with edition of Witches of Karres to see how extensively Flint "edited" that volume; a quick skim of the Baen version showed nothing immediately obviously egregious there, though.}

That out of the way, if this were an original story, i'd probably give it four stars, rather than the three i have -- but if it were an original story, i doubt it would have ever been published; it's a niche story, and without Scmitz's brilliant original to follow up to, the niche wouldn't exist.

As to the story itself: it falls prey to the most common problems writers of pastiche run afoul of -- first of which is often trying to put in references to everything from the original, whether the new story needs them or not. Thus we have references to tinklewood fishing poles and TotiSystem Toys, among other things. And lots and lots of vatches.

Another problem writers of pastiche may trip over is a tendency to retcons ("RETroactive CONtinuity") of the original story, explaining at length things that need no explanation, which can be particularly annoying if the retcon involves background material that wouldn't have been available to the original writer (the explanation given here of the formal name of one character from "Witches" is one such).

But, if those are your worst problems in writing such a work, then you're doing pretty good, and Flint, Lackey and Freer have, indeed, done Pretty Good.

The story is rather complex -- to say the least -- and i wouldn't even try to summarise it, both because such a summary would of necessity be both long and confusing and becuase it would, of necessity, involve at least some amount of spoilers.

They have crested a complex political intrigue out of characters and situations which were basically throw-aways in the first book, and play it out well.

Mostly they succeed in mimicking Schmitz's almost laconic, low-key narrative style, but depart from it in having parallel plots going at various points -- i cannot remember any of Schmitz's own work that do so, unless possibly it's the story that teams Telzey and Trigger -- and in telling parts of the story from other viewpoints than Captain Pausert's.

Their handling of Pausert's continuing discovery of his own abilities at manipulating the mystical klatha energy that the Witches of Karres use nicely mimick and continue Schmitz's handling of similar material in the original, and the continuing development of Pausert and Goth's relationship rings true.

Goth's sister, the Leewit, is along to add to the fun, and old spacer (and burglar/spy/mercenary) Vezzarn and former Imperial agent Hulik do Eldel, now working with Pausert, are well used, although they do tend to fade into the background when not needed stage front.

Pul, the grik dog, is just a bit too too.

The sequence in which the crew of the Venture, fleeing Imperial Security, sinister aliens and the pirates of the Agandar (a pirate lord vanquished by Pausert & Co in the first book) take refuge aboard a circus ship is well-done, though i do question whether the plays of Shakesapparentlypeare would have survived  unchanged in the apparent history that Schmitz set up in the first book, with Earth a virtual legend of the distant past, so far off that even the name has become "Yarthe".

In the end, all comes out well and right -- though with hints of possibly another volume in the offing, and echoes of Prisoner of Zenda (or perhaps Heinlein's Double Star).

I do feel as if there are some inconsistencies in continuity -- mainly that though i have the impression that Pausert & Co were again running under the forged ship's papers and identities created for them by the Daal's document specialists on Uldune, people who shouldn't have the faintest idea that Captain Aron of the Evening Bird out of Mulm and his niece Dani are actually Pausert of the Venture, out of Nikkeldepain, and Goth, a possible Karres witch, keep calling him "Pausert"...

One assertion i've noticed in a couple of reviews of this book is that Schmitz never wrote a sequel; i understand that the situation is a bit different -- that he did, indeed, write one, but that the manuscript was lost and he never got around to reconstructing it. However, the fact that H. Beam Piper's third Little Fuzzy novel, long thought lost, finally did materialise, gives me some faint hope.

(And, while Schmitz had a fondness for odd-ball names -- i still treasure "Gefty Rammer" -- somehow, "Vonard Kleesp" seems to me a bit over the top...)