The Witches of Karres

James H. Schmitz
The Witches of Karres Cover

The Witches of Karres -- F or SF? Fun either way

Tar Daddoo

What is the Science Fiction Premise?

The first thing to note about the Witches of Karres is that it is difficult to decide whether it is Science Fiction or Fantasy. On the one hand the book discusses magical powers with only minimal explanation of their scientific nature, while on the other it asks us to treat the magical powers as bounded and attributable to factors that are comprehensible to accomplished practitioners, if not to the protagonist, Captain Pausert. In the end, I settled on Science Fiction out of the belief that the author wants us to think of the magic as scientifically comprehensible.

Is the science of the premise explored?

We are offered several examples of magical capabilities. The theory behind this is klatha, a force that practitioners can draw upon. More compelling than the theory is the practice. Each magical capability is reasonably specific and its limitations are discussed.

Is the impact of the premise on an individual explored?

At the outset of the story, Captain Pausert is a space-faring trader trying to take his cargo back home so that he may marry his betrothed. His adventures begin when he picks up three young sisters who have been enslaved on one of his stopover planets. These children possess magical capabilities that lead Captain Pausert into a wide-ranging change of plans as he travels into the galactic empire and beyond. Needless to say, Pausert will never be the same.

Is the impact of the premise on society explored?

The young sisters are from the planet Karres, where magical capabilities are common. Karres is different from other planets as a result.

In addition to Karres, we also get to see how most people react to magical capabilities. Mostly, they are frightened, but some hope to gain advantage through its control.

How well written is the story?

This book is easy to read. The story is something of an odyssey with many strange happenings, but they do not seem random. Each step forward seems like the next logical one.

I should also note that the prose was mildly humorous. I offer as example the name of Captain Pausert's home planet, Nikkeldepain. Perhaps it will strike you differently, but I found the name difficult to say repeatedly without eventually beginning to smile.

Can I recommend the book?

The Witches of Karres was a lot of fun to read. It is mostly Space Opera with all the trappings of high adventure in a galactic empire. The main reason I say mostly is that the portrayal of klatha and magical capabilities is a touchstone to which the story constantly returns. This gives it the spark of originality that makes it more than just an adventure story in space.

Tar Daddoo