The Second Night of Summer
by James H. Schmitz

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
Galaxy, December 1950

collected with related stories in —
Agent of Vega

Agent of Vega & Other Stories

April 2005

On the night after the day that brought summer officially to the land of Wend, on the planet of Noorhut, the shining lights were seen again in the big hollow at the east end of Grimp's father's farm.

Grimp watched them for more than an hour from his upstairs room. The house was dark, but an occasional murmur of voices floated up to him through the windows below. Everyone in the farmhouse was looking at the lights.

"The Second Night of Summer" is a novelet in James H. Schmitz's Agent of Vega series. If you have not yet read the review of the first story, "Agent of Vega", please read that review before this one.

This is a story of imminent alien invasion, opposed on the ground only by a Zone Agent and her assistant, and some members of the local, rural population on the threatened planet.

First a note on sequencing, then on the series background, then a bit about the characters:

The editors of Agent of Vega & Other Stories place this story third, preceding "The Truth about Cushgar"; a better placing than fourth in the Gnome Press edition and reprintings of that. (Gnome similarly munged the story order in Henry Kuttner's Robots Have No Tails.)

Does "The Second Night of Summer" stand alone, can you read it first if you possess for instance The Best of James H. Schmitz but neither of the Agent of Vega series collections? Sure. My recommendation though is to read it third in sequence in Agent of Vega & Other Stories.

Don't expect the wider background here. "The Second Night of Summer" is the odd-man-out, the non-synoptic Agent of Vega story, the only one in Galaxy while the other three are from Astounding. It was the cover story for Galaxy's third issue, has a much simpler plot with virtually no background of the Confederacy of Vega or its Department of Galactic Zones. It presents a colorful, happy-and-easy environment in which the conflict is down-played and resolution almost inevitable. The planet-at-risk situation is certainly scary enough, though understated in Schmitz's usual manner.

Of course, James Schmitz never neglects human interest (or alien interest where appropriate) in his stories. There are several memorable characters in "The Second night of Summer", especially the active boy Grimp, with his slingshot; the Zone Agent, Grandma Wannattel, with her patent-medicine business run out of her house-trailer; and Grandma's trailer-pulling assistant, the enormous and intelligent rhinocerine "pony".

Among the series, and even among Schmitz's work generally, "The Second Night of Summer" packs a wallop in greater contrast to the typical Schmitz understated surface — in this case a deliberately bucolic and almost-gentle surface — than almost any other story of his. There is far more at stake on the planet of Noorhut than most of the characters realize.

Not as intricate nor as subtle as the other Agent of Vega stories, but quite enjoyable.


© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson


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