The Witches of Karres by James Schmitz
“It was around the hub of the evening on the planet of Porlumma when Captain Pausert, commercial traveler from the Republic of Nikkeldepain, met the first of the witches of Karres.”
The library in my hometown of Grande Prairie had two floors. The main floor housed the grown-up books and the lower floor was the kids’ section. The librarian took her job very seriously. She would not let you take books from the shelves on the main floor until she judged you were old enough. I know this for a fact because I tried. I wanted to read those grown-up books so badly. I wanted to know what was in them that I wasn’t supposed to read.
I forget what book it was I brought to her counter from the adult section, but she asked me how old I was and then told me to go put it back. She had a deep, loud voice, unusual for a librarian. Her words carried through the library. Defeated, I put the book back and descended once more to the floor for children.
Then one day I found this book. The Witches of Karres, by James Schmitz. I think now that it had been relegated to the kids’ section by mistake. Not that it was particularly adult in theme or content, but it wasn’t really a book for kids, either. I got it past the librarian without incident, and I read it and kind of liked it, even though I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in it.
That’s probably the reason the book has stuck with me all these years when so many other books haven’t. Because it was so unlike most of the other books I was allowed to read by our vigilant librarian. I’m not sure but I think Witches was probably the very first science fiction novel I ever encountered. This was before Star Wars. There wasn’t a lot out there for me to compare the book to back then. Interestingly, Witches and Star Wars share some similarities of plot and theme, not to mention a penchant for funny, memorable names for all things alien. Sheewash drive, Yango, the Chaladoor, klatha energy…. I wonder how well George Lucas knew this novel.