The Demon Breed
by James H. Schmitz
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
serialized as The Tuvela
Analog Science Fiction, September & October 1968

Macdonald: London, 1969
157 pages
  

collected in —
The Hub: Dangerous Territory

January 2002

  
In the floatwood drift

The Demon Breed by James H. Schmitz is a lovely novel. A sensuous, subtle, and high-paced adventure with an engaging heroine and a wealth of interesting creatures in a small space. The novel takes place almost entirely upon a floating atoll on the ocean world of Nandy-Cline: a floatwood drift with its green-shadowed tree-boles and vines and great nests and rookeries; in the sea around the atoll and the sheltered reedy lagoon encircled by the floatwood.

An elderly man, Ticos Cay, has been doing pharmaceutical research alone on this floatwood island. He is expecting research scientist Nile Etland to arrive shortly. But before she arrives, Ticos Cay is captured by an advance invasion force of the alien, amphibian Parahuans which has moved secretly into the vast ocean of Nandy-Cline.

The Demon Breed opens with Ticos Cay being interrogated by Koll, a Parahuan holding the high rank and condensed physiology of a Great Palach, one of the Everliving: doll-sized, smart, and murderously vicious. Koll is second in command of the Voice of Action in the secret invasion force. He states:

"You predicted that one of the so-called Tuvelas would attempt to contact you here."

Ticos hesitated, said, "The term Tuvela is yours. The person to whom you refer is known to me as a Guardian."

"Apparently the same class of creature," said Koll. "A creature assumed by some to possess abnormal qualities. Among them the quality of being invincible. ..."
  

The Tuvela Theory

An attack years earlier into human space, the vast but diffuse Federation of the Hub, had ended in defeat for the Parahuans. To explain and justify this surprising and unwarranted defeat, the aliens had developed the Tuvela Theory: that humanity is ruled by a secret race of super-humans who intervene when necessary, tipping the odds decisively. The current Parahuan probe onto Nandy-Cline would prove or disprove the theory; if ordinary humanity were led and backed by super-human undefeatable Tuvelas, the Parahuans would withdraw discreetly; if not, then Nandy-Cline would fall easily, and Parahuans and their allies would confidently begin full-scale war to destroy the Federation of the Hub.

Despite pain and threats in his interrogation, Ticos Cay fences verbally, creating a defense for himself and Nile Etland, for Nandy-Cline and even for the Federation of the Hub, from the only materials at hand: the Parahuans' Tuvela Theory and the expected arrival of Nile Etland. He strives to convince the Parahuans that their Tuvela Theory is true and that Nile Etland is herself a dangerous Tuvela, unfathomable by ordinary beings:

Ticos said warily, "I have been quite careful not to lie to you, Great Palach."

"Have you? I'm not at all certain of it. ... The Guardian Etland supervises your training?"

"Yes."

"You describe her as a young female," said Koll.

"I said she appears young," Ticos corrected him. "I don't know her age."

"You say that these Guardians or Tuvelas have developed a form of longevity which provides even the appearance of their species' youth...."
  

The two controlling factions or parties within the Parahuan nation are the Voice of Action and the Voice of Caution; the moderate middle is the Balance. All these factions are represented also in the invasion force. They have different analyses of the Tuvela Theory and what should be done if it proves true — and how much risk to take in finding out.

The Parahuans will see what this supposed Tuvela, Nile Etland, does when her aircar appears at the floatwood island. For a first test, the Parahuans will shoot her down. Killing her on arrival should settle quickly their worries about invincible Tuvelas.
  

Nile Etland

The Hub - Dangerous Territory - Eggleton cover (Baen) Into this deadly trap comes Nile Etland, a young woman, native of Nandy-Cline, educated in science in the Hub, now a research biologist back again on her home planet. Being a James Schmitz heroine, she is intelligent, balanced, competent, and dangerous when provoked. She was introduced in a separate novelet, the excellent "Trouble Tide", also taking place in Nandy-Cline's ocean, but unrelated in plot. "Trouble Tide" is set in Schmitz's Federation of the Hub benchmark year of 3500 A.D., and The Demon Breed shortly after.

Nile Etland has for her only companion when she arrives at the island a mutant hunting otter, intelligent and able to converse. Nile is intelligent, but can she figure out the unannounced challenge before the Parahuans kill her? She is competent among the floatwood forest on the island, and in the ocean of her native planet, but Parahuans are comfortable in ocean waters too. She is facing many armed aliens with their submerged space warships.

Quite a challenge! The suspense is leavened, if you can call it that, only by a number of surprising turns in the plot.
  

Nandy-Cline

Nandy-Cline is an attractive and interesting name for a planet. I've wondered where Schmitz found it, or how he assembled it. Finally I happened across a mention of the Nandi bear: a cryptozoid or doubtful creature of East Africa. Willy Ley in the essay "A Treasury of New Animals" in his collection Another Look at Atlantis, mentions the Nandi as:

probably not a bear but a man-killing mammal ...
or perhaps:
a river- or lake-dwelling killer of hippopotami ...

This near proximity of man-killing mammal and water-dweller gave me the connection to Nandy-Cline. That it is a water world with hippos — see "Trouble Tide" for the hippos — confirmed it for me. Bernard Heuvelmans has a chapter on the Nandi bear in On the Track of Unknown Animals. The Heuvelmans book was translated into English in 1958; the Ley was a column in Galaxy, February 1958.
  

What about Cline? Well, that has a spectrum of pertinent associations.

Thermocline is "a layer within a body of water or air where the temperature changes rapidly with depth."

Cline in population genetics is "a gradual change of a character or feature (phenotype) in a species over a geographical area." Similarly, cultural cline is "a gradual change of a cultural characteristic or feature over a geographical area."

Thus we derive the Parahuans' Tuvela Theory; and Nile Etland, the cryptic Tuvela of watery Nandy-Cline.
  

Ecology and psychology

While The Demon Breed is part of the wide-ranging Federation of the Hub series, it stands alone nicely. The novel has a great cast of Nile Etland and Ticos Cay, Koll and the other Parahuans, and an assortment of exotic creatures. Ecology is important, how all the characters function more or less well in this often deadly forest afloat. Schmitz has one of his most evocative settings in the floatwood island. And as usual in a Schmitz story, psychology is a major factor, whether amidst the toothy creatures of the local ecology, among his embattled characters, or beyond in the larger reaches of the galaxy.

A lot of power in a natural, elegant package here.

  

© 2002 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
Guy Gordon reproduces Analog editor John W. Campbell's letter to James H. Schmitz in which Campbell accepts The Tuvela for publication, analyzes the story, and suggests how some of the subtleties can be brought out more sharply. Warning: please do not read Campbell's letter until you've read the novel, or recently re-read it — this is too good a story to spoil its surprises; then read the letter, and see science fiction's legendary editor at work.
  


  
The Demon Breed has been printed as a separate book several times; and is included with Nile Etland's debut in "Trouble Tide" and other Hub stories in the collection —

The Hub: Dangerous Territory

Bob Eggleton's cover for this collection (shown above) shows Nile Etland and her mutant otters in a quite attractive and reasonable rendering. Apparently this is a difficult combination; most illustrations over the years have been inaccurate, incompetent, or both.
  


  
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