Fifteen year old Telzey Amberdon of the planet Orado is the daughter of a relatively rich and well connected family. A law student on the fast track to follow in her parents footsteps and active in her world’s politics, she is also certifiable genius. Smart enough to be a serious contender in planetwide chess tournaments, in fact.
When she and her family are on vacation on the planet Jontarou, however, she inadvertently unlocks dormant psionic powers (and xenopsionic at that) that she has had since birth. The nature of her psionic powers is rather unusual — xenotelepathy, the ability to communicate with sentient aliens of all kinds. Take, for example, her 200 pound crest cat pet Tick-Tock, whom she did not even know or expect was as intelligent as any human being. And addition to the rarity of her powers, Telzey is now probably one of the strong psychics in all of human space. Powerful enough to be able to rewrite aspects of someone’s personality, even.
A fifteen year old xenopsionic, especially a genius powerful one, is in much demand in the Psychology Service of the Federation, and while Telzey has the same problems, hopes and dreams of a fifteen year old girl, she quickly gets wrapped up in much bigger matters as she takes her place in this “new” world and grows into her abilities and her role. On her own terms, of course.
The Federation, however, is never going to be the same when it gets to meet Telzey.
While James Schmitz is probably best known for his Witches of Karres, equally as good, if not better, are his stories set in the Federation of the Hub, particularly those stories focusing on Telzey Amberdon.
The Federation of the Hub is a set of short novels and stories set an indeterminate number of years in the future. In many respects, it’s a typical galactic polity of the future written in the period. Space travel is common. Aliens, corporations, secret societies, over-grasping government bureaus, and a very loose Federation in terms of its actual political power over its citizens. There is also even a primitive (by our standards) Galactic Internet called the “Com-Web”. None of this is painted with a heavy hand or presented in a particularly overwhelming manner. It’s a relatively light and breezy space-opera universe.
Telzey is the real secret sauce, however. With a young female protagonist and the light tone of the series in general, the stories of Telzey, if written today, would be quickly (and possibly rightly) branded as YA. And the stories work for readers of YA age as well as they do for adult readers of genre. For all of the lightness of tone of the series in general, however, Telzey is a strong character and no pushover. In Lion Game, being followed by two miscreants with trouble on their minds, she mentally gives them the illusion of apparent success, while robbing them herself in the process. In another story, she takes on a serial killer with psionic powers of his own.
And of course, being friends with beings like Tick-Tock provides her with muscle when muscle is needed.
Schmitz wrote a passel of additional stories set in the Federation of the Hub besides the Telzey stories. Many of them have female characters, and a large proportion of these stories involve another strong female character, Trigger Argee. Trigger Argee is from much more humble beginnings, but is no less awesome and competent. While Trigger does not have the psionic powers of Telzey, she is a crack shot, pretty well rated while operating a suit of powered armor, and a far more impetuous and impulsive character than the coldly calculating Telzey. Being somewhat older than Telzey (in her mid 20’s), Schmitz also has expanded relationships for Trigger, including some romantic entanglements. Both young women are competent, intelligent, dangerous…and well rounded and well-written. They aren’t clones of each other, men with breasts or any other such nonsense.
Accusations that men in science fiction cannot write believable, living, breathing female characters fall apart when looking at the Federation of the Hub stories (one female writer I know, a fan of the author’s work, fittingly has a pet cat named Telzey). They have agency, goals, strengths, and weaknesses, and come alive off the page. Several of the stories and short novels, some of the best of Schmitz’s entire oeuvre, have Telzey and Trigger teaming up against mutual enemies. The last story in the cycle, frustratingly, ends on a cliffhanger, as Telzey and Trigger face their biggest threat of the series.
The Baen collections of Schmitz’s stories, have their problems, especially in regards to story order and, worse, some of the editing of the stories. However, they are probably the easiest way for readers to get into Telzey’s world and get a chance to read these wonderful stories of one of the best and most memorable characters in science fiction of any gender.