James H Schmitz’s “The Witches of Karres”


James H Schmitz originally wrote “The Witches of Karres” in 1949 as a novelette.  He expanded it into a novel in 1966. (Schmitz died in 1981.)

The series has been continued, with “The Wizard of Karres” (2004), written by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer,  “The Sorceress of Karres” (2010), written by Eric Flint and Dave Freer, and “The Shaman of Karres” (2020), written by Eric Flint and Dave Freer.

The series is an old-fashioned space opera series, with elements of the paranormal.  It follows the adventures of a spaceship captain, Pausert, who buys three young girls out of slavery. These girls turn out to be from the planet Karres, whose inhabitants have strange paranormal powers, and are therefore known as witches. The witches of Karres can do this through the use of a cosmic energy called klatha.

After returning the girls to their home planet, Pausert himself is drawn into Karres society, and finds that he too has paranormal powers. Subsequently he has adventures in space, usually accompanied by two of the girls, all using their paranormal powers to defeat their enemies.

The later authors have kept the flavour of the original novel, keeping the same characters and universe setting.

“The Witches of Karres” (1966) by James H Schmitz

Pausert, merchant captain of the spaceship Venture, has been travelling through space belonging to the Empire. On the planet Porlumma, he buys three young girls out of slavery.  These girls – Maleen (aged about 14), Goth (about 9 or 10) and the Leewit (about 5 or 6), who are sisters  – turn out to be from the planet Karres, whose inhabitants have strange paranormal powers, and are therefore known as witches.

The girls’ powers are:

  • Maleen: premonitions, and giving people stomach-aches
  • Goth: teleporting small objects
  • The Leewit: whistling, which causes things to break; and understanding and speaking any language.

Goth causes trouble for Pausert by using her teleportation powers to steal jewellery from her old master, teleporting it into Pausert’s spaceship.  Her intention is to repay Pausert for freeing them. But the Porlumma authorities give chase, so the three girls use their powers to engage what they call the Sheewash Drive, making the ship fly much faster than normal. (The Sheewash Drive is not a drive in the normal sense, consisting of a collection of twisted wires, which shows an orange flame above it when in operation. The operators power it with their paranormal powers. And they can’t use the Drive for long, as it takes energy out of the operators, making them exhausted.)

Goth performs a similar theft later, but Pausert arranges that both sets of valuables are returned.

Arriving at the planet Karres, Pausert delivers the girls to their mother Toll’s home. (The girls’ father is away on business.) He stays a while at their home on Karres, and when he leaves, the people of Karres reward him with lots of valuable merchandise.

Pausert arrives back at his home planet Nikkeldepain. (Nikkeldepain is a republic, independent of the Empire.) But the authorities attempt to arrest him – for buying slaves, for the thefts, and for landing on the planet Karres and interacting with its people.  What Pausert hadn’t realised was that the Nikkeldepain Regulations classed Karres as a prohibited planet.  And to make things worse, his fiancée Illyla has married someone else.  But then he realises that what the authorities really want is the Sheewash Drive.  Pausert makes his escape and leaves the planet in the Venture.

At this point, Pausert discovers that Goth has stowed away on board.  She engages the Sheewash Drive again to take them away from the Nikkeldepain authorities.

Goth explains that the planet Karres has been moved to a new location, using something similar to the Sheewash Drive, and she doesn’t know where it is.  But before Pausert had left Karres, the people of Karres had expected that Pausert would become part of their society, and were considering who he might marry.  Goth had made her claim (despite being too young to marry him yet), and they permitted her to leave on Pausert’s ship.  She also tells him that the people of Karres get their powers from a cosmic energy called klatha.  Her people had detected that Pausert himself was capable of using klatha – he just hadn’t learnt how yet. In fact, the girls’ father is Pausert’s great-uncle Threbus!

The Sheewash Drive takes them to a far part of the galaxy, and they land at the planet Uldune, to get their ship repaired and refitted, to get false identities, and to sell the merchandise from Karres. Uldune, being a former pirate planet, permits a lot of things which are considered illegal elsewhere. Its ruler, the Daal, is Sedmon the Sixth.

Pausert’s new identity is Captain Aron of Mulm, Goth is now his niece Dani, and the ship’s new name is Evening Bird.  They take up residence in Uldune’s city of Zergandol, while they wait for their ship to be rebuilt, their merchandise to be sold, and their finances sorted out.  The ship is being rebuilt at the shipyards of a firm called Sunnat, Bazim & Filish.

Review to be continued.

“The Wizard of Karres” (2004), by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer

“The Sorceress of Karres” (2010), by Eric Flint and Dave Freer

“The Shaman of Karres” (2020), by Eric Flint and Dave Freer