The Worlds of James Schmitz

Science fiction is an important genre. Not only can it speculate on what might be, but often it holds a mirror up to what is. Being imaginative people, I suspect many of my readers enjoy a good sci-fi. Various names will spring to mind, but one that many of you may not think of is James Schmitz. That is a shame, since he is well worth a read. I have enjoyed his stories. His most well-known works are set in a community of planets called the Hub Worlds. The Hub Worlds grew from a long period of strife called “the War Centuries”. While Schmitz never states it directly, it is probable the Earth was one of the worlds lost during the conflict. A couple of stories mention characters from Earth, but this thread seems to have been dropped.

The structure of the Hub Worlds is not described in great depth. One gets the impression that planets or regions are allowed to administer themselves, provided certain statutes and laws are observed. An establishment called the Overgovernment exists, and presumably has jurisdiction over interstellar matters, such as exploration, colonization and peacekeeping. The Overgovernment seems to be concerned with strategy for the Hub Worlds and the humans within it. One instrument of the Overgovernment that features in many stories is the “Psychology Service”. The title itself is misdirection, since one of the Psychology Service’s primary concerns is the regulation and control of human psis.
Psi-powers have an unusual status in the Hub Worlds. Machines that use psionic abilities are well-known, being used in the judicial process or for spaceport security. It also seems to be accepted that certain animals and aliens have psi-powers. Devices such as mind shields are worn by some. Officially, human psi-powers do not exist, however. One of the functions of the Psychology Service is to ensure that humans who do have psi-powers do abuse them or their fellow citizens.
Refreshingly, Schmitz does not make the Psychology Service the usual two-dimensional Gestapo-witchhunters. Often we see the Psychology Service using prudent and subtle measures. As noted in the essay “The Psychology Service: Immune System of the Hub” by Guy Gordon, “The Psychology Service is not out to protect society by eliminating psis. Quite the contrary. They will protect the Federation by immunization. To eliminate psis would leave the Federation defenseless against external threats (such as the Elaigar), and internal threats such as undetected psis…instead controlling a serious problem as nondestructively as possible. More than that, they are trying to turn this serious problem into a strength…also pushing the use of psionic machines in the Federation. People with no psi talent of their own will be empowered to deal with psis. Mind shields are available for defense, and powerful mind-reading machines, such as the ones at the Orado City Space Terminal or Transcluster Finance, will provide the advantages of psi to ordinary people.”
Gordon also notes: “This attitude pervades the top level of the Federation Overgovernment. They treat the human species as an evolving animal and the Federation as an ecology. They aren’t out to create perfection. If survival is a good enough goal for nature, it’s good enough for the Federation and the Psychology Service.”
Unlike some authors, Schmitz does not delve deeply into the nuts and bolts of his scenarios. Many of the themes are thought-provoking, however.  An interesting discussion of the Overgovernment occurs in the story “The Demon Breed”:

The nearest thing to a war the Hub’s known for a long time is when some sub-government decides it’s big enough for autonomy and tries to take on the Federation. And they’re always squelched so- quickly you can hardly call it a fight.”
“So they are,” Ticos agreed. “What do you think of the Federation’s Overgovernment?”
She hesitated. One of the least desirable after effects of a nerve gun charge that failed to kill could be gradually developing mental incoherence. If it wasn’t given prompt attention, it could result in permanent derangement. She suspected Ticos might be now on the verge of rambling. If so, she’d better keep him talking about realities of one kind or another until he was worked safely past that point. She said, “That’s a rather general question, isn’t it? I’d say I simply don’t think about the Overgovernment much.”
“Why not?”
“Well, why should I? It doesn’t bother me and it seems able to do its job—as witness those squelched rebellious subgovernments.”
“It maintains the structure of the Federation,” Ticos said, “because we learned finally that such a structure was absolutely necessary. Tampering with it isn’t tolerated. Even the suggestion of civil war above the planetary level isn’t tolerated. The Overgovernment admittedly does that kind of thing well. But otherwise you do hear a great many complaints. A recurrent one is that it doesn’t do nearly enough to control the criminal elements of the population.”
Nile shook her head. “I don’t agree! I’ve worked with the Federation’s anticrime agencies here. They’re efficient enough. Of course they can’t handle everything. But I don’t think the Overgovernment could accomplish much more along those lines without developing an oppressive bureaucratic structure—which I certainly wouldn’t want.”
“You feel crime control should be left up to the local citizenry?”
“Of course it should, when it’s a local problem. Criminals aren’t basically different from other problems we have around. We can deal with them. We do it regularly.”
Ticos grunted. “Now that,” he remarked, “is an attitude almost no Palach would be able to understand! And it seems typical of our present civilization.” He paused. “You’ll recall I used to wonder why the Federation takes so little obvious interest in longevity programs, eugenics projects and the like.
She gave him a quick glance. Not rambling, after all? “You see a connection?”
“A definite one. When it comes to criminals, the Overgovernment doesn’t actually encourage them. But it maintains a situation in which the private citizen is invited to handle the problems they create. The evident result is that criminality remains a constant threat but is kept within tolerable limits. Which is merely a small part of the overall picture. Our society fosters aggressive competitiveness on almost all levels of activity; and the Overgovernment rarely seems too concerned about the absolute legality of methods used in competition. The limits imposed usually are imposed by agreements among citizen organizations, which also enforce them.”
“You feel all this is a kind of substitute for warfare?”
“It’s really more than a substitute,” Ticos said. “A society under serious war stresses tends to grow rigidly controlled and the scope of the average individual is correspondingly reduced. In the kind of balanced anarchy in which we live now, the individual’s scope is almost as wide as he wants to make it or his peers will tolerate. For the large class of nonaggressive citizens who’d prefer simply to be allowed to go about their business and keep out of trouble, that’s a non-optimum situation. They’re presented with many unpleasant problems they don’t want, are endangered and occasionally harassed or destroyed by human predators. But in the long run the problems never really seem to get out of hand. Because we also have highly aggressive antipredators. Typically, they don’t prey on the harmless citizen. But their hackles go up when they meet their mirror image, the predator—from whom they can be distinguished mainly by their goals. When there are no official restraints on them, they appear to be as a class more than a match for the predators. As you say, you handle your criminals here on Nandy-Cline. Wherever the citizenry is making a real effort, they seem to be similarly handled. On the whole our civilization flourishes.” He added, “There are shadings and variations to all this, of course.
The harmless citizen, the predator and the anti-predator are ideal concepts. But the pattern exists and is being maintained.”
“So what’s the point?” Nile asked. “If it’s maintained deliberately, it seems rather cruel.”
“It has abominably cruel aspects, as a matter of fact. However, as a species,” said Ticos, “man evolved as a very tough, alert and adaptable creature, well qualified to look out for what he considered his interests. The War Centuries honed those qualities. They’re being even more effectively honed today. I think it’s done deliberately. The Overgovernment evidently isn’t interested in establishing a paradisiacal environment for the harmless citizen. Its interest is in the overall quality of the species. And man as a species remains an eminently dangerous creature. The Overgovernment restricts it no more than necessity indicates. So it doesn’t support the search for immortality—immortality would change the creature. In what way, no one can really say. Eugenics should change it, so eugenics projects aren’t really favored, though they aren’t interfered with. I think the Over-government prefers the species to continue to evolve in its own way. On the record, it’s done well. They don’t want to risk eliminating genetic possibilities which may be required eventually to keep it from encountering some competitive species as an inferior.”

The societal template that Schmitz seems to be suggesting the Federation has is interesting when viewed alongside the problems for utopian societies that Appleseed raises. A friend suggested that sport might serve as surrogate warfare, but historically this has proved partially effective at best, and has often provided opportunities for crime. Major warfare is obviously undesirable, yet utopia is likely unattainable, and possibly undesirable. Does human nature mean the “simmering pot” is the best we can realistically hope for? Is criminal and anti-social behavior the price of personal freedom? In the introduction to “Crash Combat” I noted that most modern conflicts tend to be varieties of low-intensity warfare, local vendettas, guerrilla uprisings, terrorism, sabotage and civil disturbance. This may be the normal condition of humanity! Whatever way you interpret this, some individuals will potentially suffer, and those may be your loved ones or yourself. Prudence suggest preparation!

Crash Combat now in Second Edition!

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that the cover of “Crash Combat” recently has acquired the addition “Second Edition”. The epub copy and book was actually updated in late May, but there were a few tweaks and things I wanted to triple check with the print copy so I chose to wait until I got the second proof copy before I made the launch official. This has cost me a bit more but I want readers to get the best quality product that I can provide them with via these mediums.

Crash Combat has gotten even better! Over a thousand words of additional text. New techniques and an extra illustration. Most of the additions are in the first part of the program, but I have gone through the rest of the book and polished a few spots.
There has never been a better time to add Crash Combat to your self-defence library.

Combat Carry: The Hippy Configuration.

A friend of mine commented that Canadian troops were wedded to the idea of carrying at least six to seven magazines. Recently, I was reminded that many water-bottle pouches can hold five or six 30-round magazines. I also came across a comment pointing out that you do not want your magazine pouches where most troops actually carry them, at the front on the waist. Lousy to crawl with them at the front, worse to fall on. Not so comfortable if you have to sit down, and many armies now have more drivers than infantry. That is not necessarily a bad thing! A small force, well-supported, can achieve more than a large, poorly supported one. This is how many guerilla, terrorist and clandestine forces operate. There are relatively few “trigger-pullers” and a much larger number of support and intelligence-gatherers. Put the right person, in the right place, at the right time with the right tools.
Load-bearing equipment (LBE) tends to be designed with the infantry in mind, but most of its users will be signalers, engineers, gunners and drivers.

Thinking further, most troops reload with their weak-side hand. (It might be different for some bullpups, but seems true for the M16, AKM and their relatives). It makes sense to have most of the ammo where the weak hand can easily reach it? Why not have a water-bottle/ utility pouch of magazines on the weak side of the belt, at the side? If you read my blog on chest-rigs you may recall the four-magazine pouches for the AK issued by some armies. Someone will object that all the magazines could get tipped out at once, so alternately, a pair of ALICE-type magazine “cases” that hold three magazines each. These would tend to sit at eight and ten “o’clock” on the belt (for right-handers), which may be more comfortable. Most rifle-magazine pouches available nowadays hold two magazines, and a pair of these will be less bulky. Additional magazines can be carried in chest or sleeve pockets or other locations.
Some experimentation will be prudent. Pouches for three mags usually sit with the spines of the magazines towards the body. Side-on may be better. Pouches might be more accessible orientated obliquely or laid horizontally. And we need to remember the soldier may need to reload while prone.
The above arrangement puts 4 to 6 lbs on one side of your belt or harness, but there is a logical way to balance this. The soldier will use his grenades in his strong hand, so on the strong-side of the belt we put a pouch or pouches holding several grenades. When throwing prone, you lay on your weak-side, so it is logical to have your primary source of grenades on the strong-side. Perhaps some frags at two o’clock, pouches for one or two cylindrical grenades such as smoke bombs at four. Actual grenade load-out will depend on combat role and mission. Alternately, a smoke grenade pouch can carry a 500ml water-bottle.
So far we have one pouch or pouches on one side of the belt, another set on the other. Our soldier is well-armed, yet front and back areas of the belt region are relatively clear, allowing our soldier to comfortably sit in a vehicle or crawl if someone is shooting at him or he doesn’t want to be seen. No bulky butt-pack or kidney-pouches at the back that hinder him (or her) carrying a rucksack, or wave at the enemy as they crawl.

The front of the belt can be used for relatively small, low bulk items, such as a compass pouch and some shell-dressings. With a number of small pouches the front of the belt could end up looking like an old Garand ammo belt! (above) For non-infantry the front of the belt will probably end up carrying small specialist tools and items. For some personnel the grenades and magazines at the side may be replaced by larger utility pouches.
The back of the belt is clear so far. This clearly contributes to comfort when seated in a vehicle or carrying a long pack. Here I am going to revive my “camelbum” concept and suggest a second belt, mounting two pouches. One pouch (clearly marked, and marked with blood group) contains an IFAK (Immediate First Aid Kit) for the soldier. The other is the same model of pouch containing a two-litre water-bladder dimensioned to fit inside. Having their own belt allows these to be worn rather like a bumbag. They can be added when in high readiness and shunted round the front or to a more convenient position when the soldier is seated or carrying a pack.

An entrenching tool or other tools can be shoved through the belt when needed, carried on the backpack when not. As I have discussed elsewhere, carrying cases for such tools are superfluous, and have no place on the primary LBE. A small, fixed-blade utility knife of about 25cm loa. should be mounted over the weak-side pectorial muscle where it can be reached with either hand. See my books Survival Weapons and Crash Combat for more on this. If a bayonet is carried, the logical place for it is on the weak-side of the belt, possibly mounted on the side of a magazine pouch in the manner of the British 58 webbing. A larger survival knife such as a machete or kukri should probably be attached to the trouser belt, so it remains on-person should the LBE need to be discarded in an emergency. The same is true of a handgun, which will likely be carried on the opposite side of the trouser belt. Field jackets and other garments should be modified/ redesigned so that tools and weapons carried in this manner are accessible. This arrangement places the survival knife in the space between the magazine pouch(es) and the trouser belt, and the handgun behind/ between the grenade pouches.
I have described this equipment configuration as mounted on a conventional LBE belt, but the basic concept should work with other carry systems. Rather than on the waist, those weak-side magazine pouches might be mounted in the area under the arm, and this gives some possible alternate configurations. For example, three dual-magazine pouches mounted horizontally or obliquely.
One currently fashionable item I have not mentioned above is the “dump-pouch” for empty magazines. What to do you do with those empty magazines? If fitted with a cord pull-loop (as described in Survival Weapons) you can clip them onto a snap-link on your LBE or rucksack strap, although this may admittedly be a challenge while most of your attention is understandably on more pressing concerns. Back in the day you might drop them down the front of your smock or jacket, but is difficult with modern combat wear and armour. The current solution is to fumble for a belt-mounted “dump pouch”, but the LBE belt is fairly crowded already and there may be more useful things that could use that space. There is an easier, simpler, more efficient and cheaper option.
Take a sandbag and cut off the bottom foot or so. Save the rest for making textilage. Hem the new top edge of the bag. You may choose to add a drawcord here at this step, although the cord is not needed for the dump-sack role. Put a ring or loop at each top corner of the cord so you can tie or snap-link a strap or two to it. Straps should be easily adjustable for length, so should have some form of buckle. You may like to add a length of cord to each lower corner of the bag.
A sandbag is good because they are often readily available and the light tan colour is good for most environments. You can, however, make these bags out of any suitably coloured piece of cloth, including discarded or damaged combat wear and old tee-shirts. If you have access to a sewing machine, even a little cheap one, you can knock these out in minutes.
You will have to disguise the basic rectangular shape of the bag, so regardless of what you made it from, add some scraps of cloth and sandbag as textilage. Don’t forget the straps. Some bold blobs of any suitably coloured and contrasting paint you have handy can be added too.
Adjust your strap so the bag hangs from your neck, at about chest level. Use the lower cords to keep it in place if you wish. When you change magazines you can drop the empty into the open mouth of your neck bag. The bag also helps camouflage your chest area. Since this area is subject to body-shading it helps that the basic colour of the bag is light. The neck bag will fit over a “reasonably-size” chest-rig while still allowing access to magazines.
The neck bag is a handy place to quickly stow anything else you come across during an operation. Bunch of materials or possessions that might provide intelligence? Drop them down your neck bag and examine them later. When not in use a bag easily rolls up and can be kept rolled by tying one of the corner cords into a slippery hitch. A quick tug and the bag can be unrolled. Such simple bags will provide useful for lots of other purposes. They are useful for foraging or supplying extra ammunition to crew-served weapons. Add a pair of snap-on straps, or use one “Veshmeshok”-style and use as a simple rucksack.