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Trigger and Friends by James H. Schmitz

Edited by Eric Flint

Cover art by Bob Eggleton

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

In T'n'T: Telzey and Trigger, the second volume of the reissued stories of James H. Schmitz, Eric Flint introduced us to Trigger Argee through her acquaintance with Telzey Amberdon, the eponymous protagonist of the first of these volumes. However, those stories were not the first stories about Trigger: she was clearly an accomplished professional, a seasoned veteran in her line of work, and thus particularly suited to becoming a mentor for young Telzey.

More than a few of those stories made reference to earlier adventures in ways that suggested those adventures had already been written and published. In this volume we come to those adventures of Trigger Argee before she met Telzey Amberdon and get to see just what happened in the adventures that were obliquely referred to in some of the other stories.

In these stories we get to meet several recurring characters associated with Trigger, but peripheral to Telzey's story. Some of them had minor appearances in earlier volumes, but only now get more fully developed into major characters. Others, such as Holati Tate, the "on-again off-again husband" to whom Trigger refers in her stories with Telzey, have previously been only names, or not even mentioned at all.

The first story, "Harvest Time," takes us to the distant world of Manon, where the upper atmosphere is filled with alien plankton, aerophytes that drift in high-altitude winds and multiply until they color the sky. However, giant machines known as plasmoids cruise through it, looking almost like flying whales as they harvest the sky plankton and carry it off somewhere. Because there is a serious question about whether they will pose a threat to human settlements, Trigger and Tate are trying to find out just how they work, and what controls them.

In "Lion Loose" we get our first introduction to Heslet Quillan, as he tries to pierce a mystery in the luxurious Seventh Star Hotel. It's a sort of inverted mystery, since we're given one of the key pieces of information in the very beginning of the story, namely that some people are going to destroy this tourist-destination space station and whoever should happen to be aboard it, presumably to collect the insurance money. Thus when we discover along with the protagonist that something is very wrong with one of two rest cubicles (a fascinating technology by which some of the extremely wealthy cope with the psychological effects of FTL travel, which we only glimpse in a couple of stories), we assume that whoever or whatever disappeared from one of them is going to be instrumental in that planned act of destruction.

The creature is known as a Hlat, a word that roughly means "rock lion" in an obscure dialect on the world of the discoverer of the species. It seems that a Hlat can somehow phase through solid matter, a talent it uses for burying itself in shoreline rocks in order to await prey. The Hlat is also surprisingly intelligent, such that it is very difficult to cage them. It appears that the person transporting them thought that the electromagnetic impulses of a rest cubicle, which puts humans into a pleasant sleeplike state, will make it impossible for the Hlat to use its peculiar talent. Alas, it's not so simple, and it seems that one Hlat has escaped and is running loose aboard the Seventh Star.

There's some moments of body horror, particularly when one of its victims is found lodged halfway through a wall as a result of the Hlat being caught by surprise and having to abandon its prey in the middle of the process. (Presumably the victim was killed relatively quickly, although no further details are given). But in time it turns out that the Hlats are in fact a distraction, and the would-be saboteurs intend to accomplish the destruction of the Seventh Star by a far more mundane method, which Quillan then must foil

We originally met Professor Mantelish in "Compulsion," one of the stories of T'n'T: Telzey and Trigger, in which he joined Trigger in studying the mysterious Siren vine (which turned out to be a disguised alien whose species had survived a disastrous war and had developed a "soft weapon" against the return of their vicious enemies. In "Aura of Immortality" he has to deal with some criminals who wish to steal from him the elixir of immortality that has been developed by the mysterious Tang people of a distant world. He saves himself with some cunning misdirection in regards to a deadly weapon (to whom, or what, one should ask). Oh, and that elixir of immortality they stole -- it seems it has a nasty little sting in it, of a sort that will make it quite easy to find the thieves. This is one of those stories in which half the fun's seeing exactly how the bad guys manage to outwit themselves and learn a hard lesson about how crime does not pay.

"Forget It" is another story about Heslet Quillan (although according to Eric Flint's Afterword, it didn't start that way), in which he's exploring an alien planet. He's rather puzzled to discover that he's got a gap in his memory. And he's not alone, because there's agents from a Restricted World known as Imperial Rala poking their noses around. Except that some of the local fauna have a very interesting way of defending themselves -- which is suggested in the title and the very first scene. Yet again we have a story in which the villains prove their own undoing, and the biggest twist of the story is precisely how they accomplish it.

The centerpiece of the collection is "Legacy," a lengthy novella in which Trigger confronts the strange secrets of the mysterious Old Galactics (which we met earlier in "Compulsion" in T'n'T: Telzey and Trigger) -- and of the humans who would seek to steal it. It is a followon to "Harvest Time," returning to the Harvest Moon of Manon and its ancient plasmoids. It seems that ever since the equipment of the Harvest Moon was shut down, the plasmoids have been strangely inert and resistant to all human efforts to probe their inner workings. Human duplicates seem to fall apart within weeks, although the originals show no signs whatsoever of decay.

Except there is one particular plasmoid, numbered 112-113, that seems to be composed of two parts. And one of them has been stolen and replaced by a duplicate. So our heroes must try not only to find out what has become of the original plasmoid 113, but what function it may have had. Especially since the thieves seem to have had some success in reactivating 112 -- but without the original 113, they may not be able to get it to work as it was supposed to.

The final story, "Sour Note on Palayata," concerns a newly discovered world whose indigenous inhabitants appear superficially human, but who are uncannily unlike humans in their behavior and social organization. So much so that at least some humans become increasingly disturbed by prolonged association with them, to the point of becoming convinced that these entities are in fact deliberate impostors who are simulating human appearances for sinister reasons.

Pilch, who will one day become a close associate of Trigger, is one of the people trying to figure out just what is going on with the people of Palayata. They present as being rather dull, with an IQ of about seventy to eighty, yet they have developed a surprisingly sophisticated civilization that is pretty much uniform around their world. A world they refuse to leave, no matter how they're urged or coaxed. They seem to take interest in things only by fits and starts -- for instance, there are no comprehensive works of history, only those historical documents that were produced by someone interested in a particular period of history.

Increasingly, Pilch and the other Psychology Service workers are becoming convinced that there is some unseen controlling factor at work -- call it X. This X factor is able to use the seemingly dull and lifeless Palayatans for its own purposes, but only exerts itself from time to time, otherwise letting them bumble along doing well enough that they don't die out. And the Psychology Service has very real cause for concern, because it is known that a certain kind of untrained telepath can gain control of an entire world's noosphere and bend it to his or her will, eventually magnifying the flaws in the controlling mind until the entire society goes mad.

As it happens, the situation is somewhat different -- but to explain exactly what is going on would be to give away the entire point of the story. You'll have to read it yourself to find out.

The volume concludes with three brief essays by the editors (the third is found only in the later editions, particularly the electronic edition found on some of the Baen CD's). In his Afterword, Eric Flint discusses the relationships between the various major and minor characters of the Hub universe stories.

"The Psychology Service: Immune System of the Hub," Guy Gordon's study of the Psychology Service illuminates some of the philosophy of the society of the Hub -- and suggests why Baen is interested in republishing it. His metaphor of the Psychology Service as immune system to the body politic is not unique to him -- I've seen many writers use that metaphor for various law enforcement organizations -- but exactly how he ties it to the underlying philosophical principles that inform the methods of the Psychology Service is.

Finally, in the e-book-only essay Eric Flint discusses and defends his methods in editing the stories for their reissue, and particularly his extensive editing of "Legacy," which he argues quite convincingly was not properly edited for publication the first time around. Apparently when this volume first came out, it came under some pretty heavy fire from purists who felt that it had been butchered in the process of editing.

Table of Contents

  • Harvest Time
  • Lion Loose
  • Aura of Immortality
  • Forget It
  • Legacy
  • Sour Note on Palayata
  • Afterword by Eric Flint
  • The Psychology Service: Immune System of the Hub by Guy Gordon
  • The Hub Series by Eric Flint

Review posted December 22, 2011.

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