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Literature / The Witches of Karres

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The Witches of Karres began as a Science Fiction novelette published in the December 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction by James H. Schmitz. He expanded it to novel-length in 1966, incorporating more adventure & comedy elements.

When Captain Pausert buys three children out of slavery, he finds himself in a universe of trouble. The sisters Maleen, Goth, and the Leewit are psychics from the mysterious planet Karres, and every other planet in the galaxy (including, as he soon discovers, the planet he had hitherto called home) either shuns them or wants to capture them for their powers.

And then there's the vatch.

Half a century later, it spawned three sequels published by Baen Books: The Wizard of Karres by Eric Flint, Dave Freer, and Mercedes Lackey; The Sorceress of Karres by Flint and Freer; and The Shaman of Karres by Flint and Freer.

The Witches of Karres provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Captain Pausert became a trader to impress a girl he was keen on; when he gets back from his first trading expedition she's married to his rival.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Goth (nine or ten) informs Captain Pausert (twenty-eight) she's going to marry him when she grows up. The Captain later explains to Goth's father that while he's fond of her, he has no intention of taking her seriously. Goth's father indulgently replies that he didn't take his wife's declaration of intent to marry him seriously, either.
  • The Captain: Captain Pausert is the viewpoint character of the novel, as well as the owner and commander of the requisite Venture 3777.
  • Captain's Log: Parodied. Pausert makes a laconic entry about battling space pirates to explain a bit of unauthorized target practice.
  • Circus Episode: The first sequel is largely set in a circus (which travels IN SPACE!).
  • City of Spies: Uldune is this on a planetary scale: every named character on Uldune turns out to have their own agenda and/or be working for a faction that does.
  • Competence Zone: Averted. Goth is incredibly competent, and Karres children are apparently expected to take care of themselves, but the captain very quickly pulls ahead as he develops his powers.
  • Cool Starship: Pausert's ship, the Venture, an elderly but very fast and well-armed starship.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Sedmon of Uldune practices a very swift, permanent form of justice whenever anyone breaks the law (AKA, crosses him.) No one wants to come to his attention, ever.
    • The Agandar is a pirate lord who has sacked planets. Pausert has an Oh, Crap! reaction when he finds The Agandar is on his ship.
    • Worm Weather and Manarek, as well, made worse by the fact that they can hear you if you so much as think about them...
  • The Empire: Alluded to by name. No one likes the Empire (which apparently has legalized slavery and slave-taking raids), but the specifics of their political situation are never explained.
  • Enfant Terrible: The Leewit's Establishing Character Moment is being threatened with an axe by an equal-parts enraged and terrified shopkeeper, who is going to summon a holy man in the morning to exorcise her.
  • Free-Range Children: The titular witches can and do travel between planets on their own. At the ages of five, eight, and twelve.
  • Functional Magic: The "Klatha", by which the witches of Karres manipulate the underlying forces of the universe.
  • Great Gazoo: The vatch Pausert nicknames "Big Windy", which first makes its presence known through little pranks like moving Pausert's tools when he's not looking, before working up to something more serious.
  • Here We Go Again!: The trope is name-dropped word for word as the Captain leaves to sort out a vatch tormenting The Leewit.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: The Egger Route, a scary hyperspace which results in a brief period of gibbering madness followed almost complete amnesia right after you come out of it. All someone remembers after going through the Egger Route is that it was absolutely terrifying, but no details as to why — which is one of the creepiest things about it.
  • In the Blood: Pausert had to listen to Councilor Onswud saying he'd known Pausert would go bad (as Onswud saw it), "Just like his great-uncle Threbus! It's in the blood, I always say!" And then Threbus' daughter told Pausert her father had predicted Pausert would break with his home planet — and he said it was in the blood.
  • Lady of War: Hulik do Eldel, who remains classy, ladylike, and calm even while she's methodically firing blaster bolts into an enemy.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Goth (aged nine or ten) announces that she is going to marry Pausert (twenty-eight) when she grows up. It is noted by several characters that he very much resembles her father. ( They're distant cousins.)
  • Little Miss Badass: The two youngest witches, Goth and The Leewit, are two cute little girls, ages ten and seven. Little Goth can make your gun explode in your hand and pick your pocket from across the room. Little Leewit will burst your eardrums with an ultrasonic whistle and chew on your leg while you're distracted.
  • Made a Slave: The three sisters at the beginning of the story. Pausert's trouble starts when he tries to set them free...
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: The Leewit's whistles are magically-enhanced and can break whatever she likes — glass, crystal, eardrums...
  • Mama Bear: Toll, who chases after Energy Being of tremendous and unknown power when it takes her daughter, and very nearly tears it to pieces.
  • Planet of Hats:
    • Karres is the planet of witches.
    • Uldune is a world-sized City of Spies.
  • Planet Spaceship: The so-called witches use their "Sheewash drive" to move the entire planet of Karres around when they need to.
  • Read the Freaking Manual: Pausert's troubles begin when he rescues three children from slavery and takes them back to their home planet of Karres. When he returns to his own home planet, he finds that he's now considered a criminal for breaking a strong prohibition against having any dealings with Karres; when he protests that he was unaware of the prohibition, it's pointed out that the prohibition was clearly stated in the enormous manual of procedures he was given when he registered as a space trader, and which he's never bothered to read.
  • Space Pirates: There are several, from the roving space-bandit types which Pausert is able to outfight in his elderly ship, to the large and organized fleet led by The Agandar.
  • Space Trucker: Captain Pausert, whose ship is an armed freighter and whose income source is the goods he transports and sells.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Leewit is definitely "the Leewit", not just "Leewit", and will hurt you if necessary to drive the point home. It is later explained that the Leewit was named according to a tradition restricting the name to one living person, and that the name is a descriptive word. It then turns out that the Leewit is the originator of this tradition, and that the word Leewit means "like the Leewit".
  • Took a Level in Badass: The captain learns, part-way through the novel, that he actually does have Klatha powers, too. Eventually he learns to control at least some of his powers and promptly puts the hooks onto Big Windy, forcing it to undo some of the damage it's done.
  • Traveling Landmass: The planet Karres has never been located...because it physically moves from solar system to solar system, via the Sheewash Drive.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Goth is eleven, but not only teaches the adult hero magic, but advises him on political and economic moves.