The Searcher
by James H. Schmitz
 

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
Analog, February 1966

collected in —

The Hub: Dangerous Territory June 2002

 

The Searcher - Analog, February 1966 - Kelly Freas A sharp whistling rose simultaneously from the two radiation indicators. Pale fire surged out of the ground beneath the scooters, curved over them, enclosing the men and their vehicles. For a moment, the figures of the watchmen moved convulsively in a shifting purple glow; then they appeared to melt, and vanished. The fire sank back to the ground, flowed down into it. The piercing clamor of the radiation indicators faded quickly to a whisper and ended.

The scooters hung in the air, motionless, apparently undamaged. But the watchmen were gone.

Eighty yards underground, the goyal lay quiet while the section it had detached to assimilate the two humans who had observed it as it left the ship returned and again became a part of it. It was a composite of billions of units, an entity now energy, now matter, vastly extensible and mobile in space, comparatively limited in the heavy mediums of a planet. At the moment, it was close to its densest material form, a sheet of unseen luminescence in the ground, sensor groups probing the spaceport area to make sure there had been no other witnesses to its arrival on Mezmiali.

There appeared to have been none. The goyal began to drift underground toward a point on the surface of the planet about a thousand miles away from the spaceport. ...


  

"The Searcher" is a stunning novella: a fast adventure, written with a striking combination of stark background and sensuous detail. It is part of Schmitz's Federation of the Hub series. Among Schmitz's huge cast of strange and formidable aliens and villains, the goyal surely is one of the most formidable, and one of the most alien.

Continuing the above excerpt —

And, about a thousand miles away, in the direction the goyal was heading, Danestar Gems raked dark-green fingernails through her matching dark-green hair, and swore nervously at the little spy-screen she'd been manipulating.

Danestar was alone at the moment, in a small room of the University League's Unclassified Specimens Depot on Mezmiali. The Depot was composed of a group of large, heavily structured, rather ugly buildings, covering about the area of an average village, which stood in the countryside far from any major residential sections. The buildings were over three centuries old and enclosed as a unit by a permanent energy barrier, presenting to the world outside the appearance of a somewhat flattened black dome which completely concealed the structures.
  

Since the Depot occupies the obsolete fortress with its massive energy barrier, it's a safe place to store galactic flotsam and jetsam that the University League hasn't disposed of yet, or figured out yet. Inside the Depot, checking on its personnel and security, are Danestar Gems and her partner Corvin Wergard, both employees of the Kyth Interstellar Detective Agency (important in Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon series).

The Depot is being looted, and the University League has hired the Kyth operatives to go in undercover, investigate, and pick up evidence to stop the criminals. Danestar Gems, an instrument and communications expert with her "cobwebby miniatures" to spy on the interior of the Depot, is one of Schmitz's attractive and no-nonsense competent heroines. But neither the looters nor the Kyth detectives had expected the goyal with its coruscating energy to come snooping into the Depot.

Other authors tackling this setup might have padded "The Searcher" into a separately-publishable novel, spreading out the taut scenes with miscellaneous subplots, but this novella is a tight, perfect story. "The Searcher" powerfully opens the James Schmitz collection, The Hub: Dangerous Territory. Kelly Freas' evocative Analog cover for "The Searcher" beautifully and accurately conveys the setting, main characters, and mood, as the Kyth detectives try to out-think and survive the goyal.

  

© 2002 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
Analog February 1966 cover
by Frank Kelly Freas
  


 

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