The Worlds of James Schmitz

Version 1.1
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 not abuse them nor 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 introduced 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.”

This is complemented by a passage in “Glory Day”:
In certain confidential Overgovernment files, Askanam was listed among the Hub's experimental worlds. Officially, it was a world which retained a number of unusual privileges in return for acknowledging the Federation's basic authority and accepting a few balancing restrictions. Most of its surface was taken up by the balaks of the ruling Askabs, ranging in size from something not much larger than a township to great states with teeming populations. It was a colorful world of pomp and splendor, romance, violence, superstition and individualism. The traditionally warlike activities of the Askabs were limited by Federation regulations, which kept Askanam pretty much as it was though individual balaks not infrequently changed hands. Otherwise Federation law didn't extend to the balaks. Hub citizens applying for entry were advised that they were going into areas where they would receive no Federation protection.
Telzey was aware that the arrangement served several purposes for the Overgovernment. Askanam was populated largely by people who liked that kind of life, since nothing prevented them from leaving. They were attracted to it, in fact, from all over the Hub. Since they were a kind of people whose romantic notions could cause problems otherwise, the Overgovernment was glad to see them there. Askanam was one of its laboratories, and its population's ways were more closely studied than they knew.
For individuals, of course, that romantic setup could turn into a dangerous trap.
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!