Aug 17, 2019

contriVance 2019

Here in August of 2019 I have been celebrating the stories of Jack Vance. Back in 2016, I created a new banner for this blog that included a small image of Jack Vance. At that time, I imagined that I might again be ready for a change of banners after another three years, and we have now reached that point in time.

August 2015
One of Vance's amusing literary creations was the contest run by Kirth Gersen in The Book of Dreams. Gersen used the magazine Extant to publish a photograph showing a banquet at which Howard Treesong murdered all of the other guests. I've long wished that some artist would create an illustration of that event with good depictions of the members of the Institute's Dexad along with the Institute members of rank 99 who were present.

Short of that, I've been imagining that it might be fun to depict a 360 degree view of Grean's workshop. I imagine that "her" workshop would have equipment for 1) Viewing Realities, 2) teleportation and 3) traveling through time.
A 360 degree view of Gran's workshop, inside the Hierion Domain. Far left: Grean in the role of Zal, sent back into the PAST, to the year 1895. In the teleportation chamber: Grean's special agent, Wendy, being sent on a special mission to the distant planet that was known as "Smade's Planet" in the Asimov Reality. Center, back to the camera: Grean in the year 1972, close to the point in Time when the Huaoshy put an end to all further time travel. Far right: Grean in the FUTURE, in the year 1981, with a copy of Star King.

Grean is not human. As a Kac'hin, Grean has some physical features that are not commonly found among we humans here on Earth. Upon casual observation, Grean appears to be a woman with large eyes, elf-like ears and pointy teeth, but "she" is a Kac'hin hermaphrodite.

Shown above is a first draft of a new banner for the wikifiction blog. I would like to make a few modifications of this image before placing at the top of every webpage in this blog. I might add a floating holographic display screen close to the center of the image with a larger view of the cover of Vance's novel, Star King. The book cover in the current draft of the banner is too small to see the title.

I recently mentioned that Smade's Tavern is a place imagined by Jack Vance and included in his novel, Star King. Also, I recently wrote about an Interventionist agent named Wendy, who was involved in fine-tuning the Final Reality. Below, find a short story about Wendy and her mission to Smade's Tavern.

Reality Simulation
Inside Grean's workshop.
Wendy Viewing the future.
Wendy had completed her mission to the Moon and she arrived back in the teleportation chamber inside Grean's workshop. Grean watched Wendy beam in and then said, "Clean yourself off, you are a mess."

Wendy asked, "Would you really mind a bit of Moon dust drifting around your workshop?" She activated the cleaning routine of her nanites and watched the Moon dust fall off of her legs and feet. While walking on the moon, she had used a special nanite-generated foot prosthesis so that her foot prints would precisely match those that had been left behind by Harrison Schmitt. Wendy now deactivated that special mission-specific nanite program and the shape of her feet returned to normal.

Grean impatiently activated the shower feature in the chamber. A deluge of water fell onto Wendy and was sucked out of the bottom vents of the teleportation chamber. After a minute, the flow of water stopped and the door of the chamber popped open. Wendy stepped out of the chamber, her nanites still working to dry her off.

Grean said, "Moon dust isn't bad, but I sometimes have to deal with microbes from exoplanets, so I routinely follow a strict decontamination protocol."

Wendy walked a few step over to where Grean stood beside her Omniviewer. She looked into the scene being generated by the Viewer and saw deep space with a bright blue planet drifting off to one side. Wendy reactivated her respiration subroutine and took several deep breaths. While on the Moon, she had not bothered breathing. "What world is that?"

Grean nodded towards the blue planet, "This is a planet from a past Reality. It is a world that only existed in that particular Reality. It was called 'Smade's Planet' by the people who made it their home.

Wendy was familiar with the fact that Grean could View possible future Realities, but she was startled by the idea that Grean could also observe past Realities. Wendy asked, "We are looking at a recording from a past Reality?"

Reality simulation
Grean shrugged. "You could call it a recording. I prefer to say that this is a simulation of a past Reality. It is possible to enter into the simulation and so we can call it a type of virtual reality system."

Wendy asked, "Why am I only now hearing about this technology for simulating Realities?"

Grean placed a hand on Wendy's shoulder, "Take no offense, my dear. You are a valued field agent, but when you were first deployed, you were at risk of being captured and interrogated by the positronic robots of Earth. During your training, you were only told about technologies that you would be making use of during your missions on Earth. There was no need to tell you about Reality Simulation technology and so you were told nothing about it."

Wendy was still concerned about the success of her previous mission. She walked past Grean and on over to another Viewer that allowed examination of the future. This was one one of the two time travel portals in Grean's workshop, the one that could send you into the future. The future-focused Viewer showed a mission to the Moon during which the Apollo 17 landing site in Taurus–Littrow valley would be re-visited in order to collect a cosmic ray detector that had been placed on the Moon by Harrison Schmitt. The detector was small, containing a photolithographically constructed microchip composed of a special layered material designed to preserve structural defects produced by the impact of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. The chip had been created as part of a secret military program aimed at studying the disruption of microelectronic devices inside military satellite systems caused by cosmic ray damage.

Analysis of the cosmic ray detector chip following its retrieval from the Moon would lead to the discovery by Earthly scientists of a high-mass hierion. That discovery would set off a chain of events leading to the premature development of hierion physics on Earth and a severe disruption of Earth's future.

Earth's Reality Chain
Wendy's mission on the Moon had involved moving the detector about six inches, which was enough to avoid it being hit by a rare, super-high energy cosmic ray. Wendy and Grean watched the future and saw the chip being collected from the detector by an astronaut. Grean then shifted their view of the future further along the timeline and they quickly confirmed that in this newly created Reality, human knowledge of the existence of hierions had been successfully delayed. Grean said, "Good work, Wendy. Another problem averted."

Wendy mused, "Amazing that the chance detection of a single cosmic ray could disrupt all future human cultural development on Earth."

Green nodded. "This can be viewed as a great example of the butterfly effect. A billion years ago, a hierion particle near a black hole decayed into a set of high energy protons, one of which happened to hit a detector. As your mission to the Moon showed, simply moving the detector's position a few inches to the side averted the crisis, allowing the human species to avoid stumbling into a technological catastrophe."

Wendy said, "I don't understand how you were able to solve the problem of Humanity's extinction so easily."

"You need not worry about that. I have access to a vast quantum computational capacity that exists within the Sedronic Domain. With access to that advanced Huaoshy technology, it was simple to plan your mission to the Moon and avert the hierion physics crisis."

Wendy suggested, "You could have carried out this mission yourself."

Grean shook her head. "It was much easier for you. Since I am biological, I would have had to wear a spacesuit while on the Moon. Further, it would have been nearly impossible for me to leave behind foot prints that would be mistakenly assumed to be those of Schmitt. However, since you are an artificial life form, you easily survived on the Moon without a spacesuit and your nanite foot prosthetic successfully simulated Schmitt's distinctive footfalls. You were the perfect choice to carry out this Reality Change."

Wendy turned her attention back to Smade's Planet. "And since I have proven myself to be such a great astronaut, now you want to send me to this planet? I was only trained for missions on Earth." She pointed towards the image of the blue water world being displayed by the Omniviewer and told Grean, "It looks like you would not need a spacesuit on this planet. Maybe a swimsuit. Is there no land?"

Grean explained, "Smade's Planet is Earth-like, but there is a deep ocean and little land. When you visit Smade's Tavern, you can pretend that you are on Earth."

Wendy asked, "Smade's Tavern?"

"Smade's Tavern is the only building on Smade's Planet. There is only one small landmass on the planet that might be called a continent... most of Smade's Planet is covered by its ocean." Grean made an adjustment to the Omniviewer. Smade's Planet turned half a rotation and now a small land mass could be seen, right on the equator.

Looking at the star field, Wendy observed, "Smade's Planet is not in the Galactic Core."

"No, it is out here in the periphery, not too far from Earth. It will be reached not too many centuries after humans begin traveling to the stars."

Wendy asked, "Why do you want me to visit this planet?"

"There is a part of the history of Smade's Planet that is not understood. I want you to observe what happens when a man named Lugo Teehalt visits Smade's Planet. You will then return here and report your observations. It is a simple mission."

"You want me to simply observe, and not change anything?"

"Don't even worry that you might change something. Remember, I am sending you into a simulation of this past Reality."

Wendy asked, "Why is Lugo Teehalt so important?"

"During the time when you will visit Smade's Planet, Lugo Teehalt is the only human who knows the position of a newly-discovered planet. Most importantly, that knowledge most not fall into the hands of an alien creature named Malagate." Grean used the Omniviewer to show Wendy an image of Malagate as she would know him, his skin artificially shaded to a dark black.

Grean continued, "But do not worry about those details. Simply find out where Mr. Teehalt lands his spaceship when he visits Smade's Tavern. That is the puzzle."

"Very well. It seems like a simple puzzle to solve. There is no cloaking technology available to Teehalt?"

"I don't know. It is possible that he was simply clever about hiding his space ship. Maybe he sank it into the ocean? Find out. I will be tracking your actions while you are inside the simulation and I will pull you out after you have completed your mission."

"Exactly where will I be during this mission? Physically speaking."

"You will be in a special compartment of the Hierion Domain."

"Isn't this workshop in the Hierion Domain?"

"Yes, but trust me. My workshop is no simulation. You will notice that your perceptions are abnormal during the time that you spend in the Reality simulation. On Smade's Planet, there was only low-resolution data capture. You may notice that sometimes there are 'blank spots' within the simulation. If that happens, ignore it. I suggest that you stay close to Smade's wife, a woman named Úna Nybröm. She may have helped Teehalt avoid revealing the location of the newly discovered world to Malagate." Grean shifted the Viewer in order to show Wendy an image of Úna. "That's Úna."

Úna and Wendy at a Smade family meal,
served outdoors by the Smade Ocean.
Wendy said, "Hey, that's me!"

Grean nodded. "I've previously sent you into the AR Simulation. I had to erase your memories of that previous visit to Smade's Tavern."

"Why, did something go wrong?"

"If you must know, Úna killed you."

"I can die while inside the simulation?"

"In a sense. Such a death is also a simulation."

"Why did she kill me?"

"Somehow she suspected you of being a spy. I believe I have now found a solution to that sort of problem. On this trip to Smade's Planet, you will have a form of telepathic communication linking you to Úna's mind. You should be able to convince her that you are no danger and only visiting the Tavern in an attempt to gather information. You can tell her about your mission."

"She won't freak out if she is told that she is inside a simulation?"

"I think not. Most humans, when told that they are living as a simulated person, simply laugh off the suggestion."

"Why not provide me with a cover story? A mundane reason for being at the Tavern. That would be safer than telling Úna the truth about my mission."

"No. Let's try it my way. Anyhow, your nominal 'cover story' is that you are a locator, stopping by at Smade's Tavern for a bit of rest and recreation. You don't need a more sophisticated cover story."

"Whatever you say. You are the boss."

"If something goes wrong, we can always restart the simulation and try again."

As an artificial life form, Wendy had been carefully programmed so as to have a strong instinct for personal survival. She muttered quietly, "I'd rather not die needlessly."

Smade at the Tavern in the year 1497
of the Space Age in the Asimov Reality.
Grean showed Wendy an image of Smade. "Smade was born on Earth, so he carried the nanites that collected most of the information used to create this simulation of Smade's Tavern. Sadly, since Smade's Planet was an artificial world, it did not have the usual pek system for inserting zeptite endosymbionts into people. Smade's children, like his daughter Araminta, only had a Phari endosymbiont. Until I played around with this Reality simulation, I did not even know that was possible."

Wendy suggested, "Maybe the pek and their Overseers were not active in this Reality, allowing humans to develop space travel and spread outward from Earth to the stars."

Grean nodded slowly. "I allowed a shift in the balance of power in the Asimov Reality. Under the terms of the Trysta Truce, the ancient struggle between Interventionists and Overseers was relaxed. Humans were given the secret to interstellar space travel and the human populations on distant planets were used for genetic experimentation. I went 'on vacation' during that Reality myself, spending some of my time on Tar'tron. I allowed the positronic robots of Earth to perform their human genetics experiments."

Wendy said, "I never learned much about the Asimov Reality when I was doing my training, but it always seemed like an interesting Reality... creating a kind of 'wild West' setting for human space travel."

"Yes, and you are going into that frontier: the Beyond. At the time of your visit, Smade's Planet is still in the Beyond and has not yet come to be within the safe confines of the expanding human interstellar civilization. There was a police force, the IPCC and its special services unit, the IPX, but the worlds of the Beyond were mostly beyond the range of law enforcement."

"Interesting." Wendy thought about conditions of life in the Beyond. "I suppose there was never an Overseer for Smade's Planet."

"I don't really know much about the world in its early days. Eventually, after a few thousand years, Smade's Planet became a resort world, populated by thousands of immigrants, including Earthlings who carried zeptite endosymbionts... the later history of Smade's planet is well-documented. Little is known about Smade's time except for events that took place in his immediate presence. I do know that Úna was a secret IPX agent working on Smade's Planet and it is likely that she can help you solve the mystery of how Teehalt's spaceship was hidden from Malagate. The other people you will see at the Tavern were not born on Earth and so they could not contribute useful data for the simulation."

Wendy asked, "What is IPX?"

"Don't worry about that. The IPX was a special projects branch of the police in this Reality. As an agent of the IPX, Úna may have had access to advanced technologies and she may have helped Teehalt hide his ship from the alien, Malagate. We don't know. You need to find out."

"Fine, however I suspect you know much more than you have told me."

"Yes, that is true. What I need from you is an open mind and open eyes. I don't want your observations of Smade's Planet to be influenced by any preconceived notions. Somehow I am missing something... some detail about Teehalt and his spaceship... probably something simple and probably because I'm making a bad assumption. Just go into this with an open mind and see what you discover."

"I'll do my best."

"Now, before I insert you into the AR simulator, do you have any more questions?"

"Yes, one last question, boss. You implied that Smade's Planet does not exist in our current Reality. How is that possible?"

"In this past Reality, an alien species called the Phari was allowed to construct quite a few artificial planets, including Smade's Planet. In our Reality, the Phari were better contained by the pek and Smade's Planet was never constructed."

"Are you joking? How can you make a planet?"

in the Ekcolir Reality:
an alien Kerub from Yerophet
"It is no joke, but you need not worry about it. The Phari had advanced technology that allowed them to be planetary engineers. Their greatest creation was Alastor Cluster, home to thousands of Earth-like worlds, but they are also famous for having made a couple dozen Earth-like planets and placed them in orbit around Rigel."

Wendy asked, "For what purpose was Smade's Planet made by the Phari?"

Grean shrugged. "Listen, Wendy, there are many mysteries... many questions that you could ask. Don't allow yourself to be distracted from your mission by your curiosity."

"Why not send an automated nanite probe to Smade's Planet? Or, even better, why not just look in detail into the AR Simulator and observe for yourself what happened on Smade's Planet?"

"No, that is not possible. There is a lock on this simulation, so it is not easy to make use of the simulator. You carry a special nanite key inside you that will allow you to enter the simulator. Access to the simulator is restricted to humans only."

Wendy was an artificial life form. She reminded Grean, "I'm not a human."

"You are an artificial life form that simulates a human being, so you can enter the simulation. As a Kac'hin, I cannot enter. I am also limited by the fact that there are so few details about Smade's Planet in the data-banks that generate the AR Simulation. I need someone who can live at the Tavern, at least for a few days and get into the rhythm of the planet. Get in tune with Úna, she may be the key to the entire mystery. So, my dear, please accept the facts: you must be the one to visit Smade's Planet." Grean quickly provided Wendy with some suggestions for how to adjust her physical appearance for this mission.

Wendy complained, "I don't understand. If this is a virtual reality system, then can't you simply use the AR simulator to provide me with an optimal physical form for my mission?"

"I only have limited control over the AR Simulator. The Reality simulator will scan your physical structure when you step into the simulation and use data from that scan to create your simulated body during the entire time when you are in the simulation." Now Grean handed Wendy two props to take with her into the simulation and she said, "Set your clothing nanites for a dull space-gray and take these."

Wendy looked skeptically at the two items she now held. One looked like a small overnight travel bag and the other was a piece of equipment which she held up and about which she inquired of Grean, "What is this?"

"That is a data recorder for a spaceship navigation system. It automatically records information about a ship's flight path and any planetary landings that might be made. In the jargon of the Reality you are going to visit, it is simply called a 'monitor'.

Wendy arrives at Smade's Tavern.
The monitor was very heavy, but with Wendy's artificial body components, she had no difficulty carrying it. Wendy asked, "How do I get into the simulation?"

Grean made one more adjustment to the Onmiviewer, shifting from the orbital view of Smade's Planet to the planet's surface. Wendy could now see the lights of Smade's Tavern glowing in the distance. "All you need to do is step into the simulation. Your body will be scanned automatically as you enter into the simulation."

Wendy shrugged and took a stride into the displayed scene. She exited from Grean's workshop and found herself on Smade's Planet. The darkness of the night was oppressive, and thunder rumbled in the distance. THe moist night air was full of rich plant odors. She walked briskly towards the lights of the Tavern and soon came to a stone wall. Following along the wall, she soon came to a gate and entered into the grassy area that immediately surrounded the Tavern.

Wendy reached a glowing doorway and pushed a shoulder against half of the door which smothly swung open; she stepped inside the Tavern. Immediately in front of Wendy was a lounge area with comfortable chairs and a fire burning in a large fireplace. To the right, an archway opened into a dimly lit room where tables and a bar were visible. Someone was there, behind the bar. Wendy approached the bar and set her travel bag and the monitor on the polished hardwood floor.

Behind the bar was a teenage girl who was writing in a notebook. As usual, Wendy had nanite probes deployed and she could easily read what the girl was writing: Who might she be and how had she arrived? An IPCC agent? Her spaceship had not activated the proximity detectors. The mysterious traveler wordlessly approached the bar and let go of her two bags; the heavy monitor thumped on the wooden floor. She was a contradiction... pretty but tough, dressed like a boy in dull space traveler's gray.

Wendy laughed. "The monitor is not really very heavy."

The girl looked up from her notebook and stopped writing and said to Wendy, "Welcome to Smade's Tavern."

Wendy nodded. "Thank you. My name is Wendy Larson."

The girl asked, "I'm pleased to meet you, Wendy. Are you hungry? Tired?" She paused. Wendy said nothing and was looking carefully around the interior of the Tavern. "We have food and rooms and welcome all space travelers."

Finally Wendy's eyes returned to the girl and she said, "Let's trade. I'll answer your questions if you will answer mine. What is your name?"

"Araminta Smade."

"Ah, then your mother is Úna Nybröm. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Araminta." Wendy reached out and tapped a finger on the girl's notebook. "Maybe you can read me some of your stories before I depart." Wendy looked at the many bottles that were on display behind the bar. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a 20 SVU note. She tossed the money on the bar and said, "I'll have a pint of your home brew."

Araminta placed a heavy glass mug and a bottle of Smade's Own Ale on the bar in front of Wendy. Wendy pulled out a retractable seat and sat herself at the bar. "I'll need a room. I plan to stay a few days." She drank some of the ale directly out of the bottle then poured the rest into the mug.

Araminta put her notebook and pen under the bar and picked up Wendy's money. The girl said, "I don't remember you visiting us previously." Araminta looked over Wendy's shoulder towards the entrance.

Wendy looked over her shoulder and saw Araminta's father approaching. "I've heard many stories about Smade's Tavern. Around the stars you'll hear strange tales of adventure, some of the oddest taking place here on this lonely world."

Araminta complained, whispering to Wendy, "Adventure? I'm usually bored out of my mind."

Smade moved around behind the bar. He said to Araminta, "If you are bored, go help your brother fill up the moss shed, then get to bed. It is late."

Araminta picked up her notebook and departed. Smade asked Wendy, "Do you care to eat, Miss Larson?"

Wendy shook her head. "No, thank you Mr. Smade. Don't let me keep you awake. I'll be up for a while yet, I'm not running on your planet's local time."

Smade leaned against the bar. "I don't mind attending to my guests, even if it is late. We've been quiet here the past week. It is good to have a guest."

Wendy asked, "I hope to meet Mr. Teehalt here."

Poor Pallis.
Smade was reluctant to discuss the affairs of his guests, but he felt a strange connection to Wendy. Something whispered to Smade: this girl is a friend of Lugo. Smade asked, "Are you from Alphanor?"

Wendy replied. "No. I'd love to see the Rigel worlds before-" She stopped herself. No sense in bothering Smade with knowledge of her origins, unless in doing so she might attract the attention of his wife Úna. "I'm here from Earth."

Smade smiled. "Really? We don't get many Earth folk out here in the Beyond. Where on Earth? I can't place your accent... but then it has been many years since I was on Earth."

Wendy drank some more of the ale and changed the subject. For a time they discussed brewing. Wendy commented, "I suppose you are a jack of all trades, Mr. Smade."

"Nothing pleases me more than to be independent of the other worlds." He gestured towards the bottles on the shelves behind the bar. "Few trade ships stop here, so we need to take care of ourselves. I hire a freighter to come by twice a year with fresh drinks. Can't have a descent Tavern without a selection of fine drink."

Wendy reached down and grabbed the monitor. She set the device on the bar. Wendy asked, "Do you have tools for opening a monitor?"

Smade chuckled. "Many a locator had asked me that. My advice: don't try to cheat your sponsor by opening the monitor and taking out the data strip." Then he winked at Wendy, "The tools are all downstairs, in my workshop." He pointed a finger towards the floor.

After chatting with Smade for close to an hour, Wendy got the lock code for a room and she went upstairs. She unpacked her overnight bag and set the monitor in a closet. Wendy returned to the bar and sat for a while, looking into the fire that burned at the end of the room. Smade was gone, and except for thunder and falling rain, nothing could be heard.

Wendy got to her feet, quickly went to her room and got the monitor and then went back to the entrance where she had come into the Tavern. Going on past the door and along a short corridor, she passed threw a narrow interior door that led to a steep stairway leading down to the basement of the Tavern. Cautiously and quietly, Wendy went down the stairs. She could sense, via a strange type of telepathy, that Úna was down on the basement level. Wendy went past Smade's workshop where a small red lamp glowed and on down a hallway. She set the monitor just inside the door of the workshop then continued down the hallway. Wendy stopped at a door, then knocked. After thirty seconds, Wendy knocked again.

The door opened, revealing Úna, who rising from her bed had pulled a blanket around her shoulders. Úna looked at Wendy and said, "It is you."

"I'm Wendy Larsen."

"Yes, I know. You have been inside my dreams." Blinking into the light, Úna looked up and down the hallway. "Come in. I don't want to have to explain this to Smade."

Wendy stepped into Úna's suite of rooms. The lights came up slightly. Wendy could see that unlike the rest of the Tavern, Úna's rooms had contemporary Earth-style decor. Úna tossed the blanket on her bed and then pulled on a short skirt. "I've never really believed in telepathy, but somehow I'm hearing your thoughts."

Wendy continued sending her verbal thoughts to Úna: Some people are sensitive to my thoughts. I'm always surprised when strangers tell me that they can 'hear' my thoughts. I wish I had that ability.

Úna asked, "Then you cannot listen to my thoughts?"

I feel that we are connected telepathically, but I can't 'see' into your mind."

Úna put on a tight fitting shirt. She gestured towards a chair. Wendy sat in the chair and then Úna sat on the end of her bed. "What do you want with Lugo Teehalt? He's nothing but a lonely locator. We get them out here by the hundred."

Not trusting herself to keep sending thoughts to Úna, Wendy switched back to spoken words. "I'm doing historical research. I'm out doing a stint as a locator myself, just to familiarize myself with the profession."

Úna laughed. "The only thing at all professional about locators is their greed. Sadly, unless you find an Earth-like planet you are not likely to make much money as a locator. Millions of planets have been found... most of them are worthless."

Wendy asked, "What if I did find such a world? Why should I report my discovery to my sponsor?"

Úna leaned back into a pile of pillows. "Most locators are sent out on a pre-programmed route, part of the Master Galactic Exploration Program. Sometimes they try to keep a newly discovered world secret, but usually they are discovered. A locator is better off collecting the rather large finder's fee if an Earth-like world is found."

Wendy suggested, "I suppose some locators are gamblers."

Úna asked, "Is that your game? Gambling?"

"No." Wendy got out of the chair and joined Úna on the bed. "I'm a researcher, studying the culture of the Beyond. Most Earthlings enjoy fantasizing about the great freedoms that come from being on the frontier, living out here in the Beyond."

Úna laughed. "If you want to learn about freedom, let Smade catch you in here. His first rule is that there are no personal relationships between the members of his family and guests at the Tavern. I'm breaking one of Smade's rules just by letting you in my room."

Wendy put a hand on Úna's leg, "It seems unfair. Surely Smade can't keep three wives entertained all the time. I'd guess no more than every third night."

"For a fact, Smade is not a frisky as he once was, but I did not marry him and come here to live on this quiet little world because of Smade's skills as a lover."

"You're still young and beautiful. You must get lonely living on this planet." Wendy let her hand work its way along the length of Úna's taught thigh.

Úna asked, "What do you want from me? Why are you here?"

"I want us to be friends. I need your help with my research."

Úna took hold of Wendy's hand and pulled it up under her skirt. "Anything is possible to those who are able to pay the fees."

Wendy stroked the silky wetness between Úna's legs. "I don't carry much cash. Maybe we can work as partners."

An hour later, Wendy sat on the edge of the bed and put on her gray shirt and pants. Úna asked, "Where are you going?"

Wendy leaned over and kissed Úna. "I'll be back, when it is safe. I don't want Smade to be jealous."

Úna giggled. "There's really no problem. If he caught you making love to me then you'd just have to become his fourth wife."

Wendy got to her feet and moved towards the door. "I don't plan to be here all that long and I'm not interested in marriage." Her hand on the door, she turned back towards Úna. Thinking about the unusual anatomy of Úna that Wendy had discovered during their rambunctious tussle in the bed, she asked Úna, "On what planet did you grow up? You are not a normal human."

Úna got out of bed and walked slowly towards Wendy. She replied, "I was born here in the Beyond, on a quiet Earth-like world called Mount Pleasant."

"Would you like to return to your home?"

Úna shook her head. "Impossible." She put her arms around Wendy and delicately kissed her pointy little nose. "My childhood home was destroyed by space pirates. No, Smade's Planet is now my home. I like it here, particularly when interesting guests show up."

Úna and Wendy shared one more long wet kiss then Wendy gently pushed Úna away."Later."

Wendy opened the door and slipped into the hallway. She went to Smade's workshop and retrieved her monitor. Wendy returned upstairs to her room and waited for the night to end. Soon after sunrise, Wendy returned to the main floor and ate a solitary breakfast, served by Araminta. A few hours later, a spaceship landed near the tavern, its engines screaming loudly in the misty morning air. A few minutes later, a tall dark man entered the Tavern and took a room. Wendy knew that this new guest was an alien Star King, but he could pass as a human upon casual inspection.

The routine life of the Tavern unfolded around Wendy. Sitting at a little table by a window, she watched the morning fog bank slowly dissipate and pull back towards the ocean. Wendy opened up her discree and tried to create a digital illustration of the scene: Smade's Tavern beside the ocean, half lost in mist. Araminta Smade brought Wendy another cup of tea and commented, "You are an artist. I also like to draw... little sketches to illustrate my stories."

Wendy tried to feel for a telepathic connection into Araminta's mind, but she had the strange feeling that maybe Araminta could block her out and completely prevent Wendy from establishing a telepathic connection. Very odd. Wendy said, "I'd love to see some of your drawings."

"I have to work until noon. I'm a bit nervous about showing you my art. Most visitors to the Tavern are rather dangerous men who have no interest in civilized things like literature." Araminta returned to the kitchen.

After lunch, Araminta Smade was persuaded to read one of her stories to Wendy. They sat on a loveseat in the central lounge while Araminta read. Occasionally Wendy asked a question about one of the characters in the story, but mostly she sat and listened as Araminta's story unfolded.

Úna prepares to leave the Tavern and place
the cloaking device next to Teehalt's spaceship.
Halfway through the story, Úna arrived in the lounge area, lugging a heavy monitor and carrying a pair of boots. She sat down in a chair near Wendy and the girl, letting the monitor rest on the carpet. Her long pink toes curled in the thick pile of the rug. After a few minutes, Úna asked Wendy, "Don't you have chores to do?"

Not bothering to look up from her notebook, Araminta replied, "Not right now, mother." She continued reading.

Úna pulled on her knee-high black boots and then after another minute, she interrupted again and told Araminta, "The Star King never came down for lunch. Please go to his room and ask him if he needs anything."

Araminta complained, "Mother, you know that Star Kings hate our food. Remember the one who was here two years ago..." Araminta whispered to Wendy, "He ate some human food, got sick and vomited right on the bar."

Úna said, "Yes, dear, I know. I remember. It was I who cleaned up the mess. Still, I want you to go and do as I told you."

Araminta said, "But Wendy asked me to read her this story."

Úna stood up, walked over to her daughter and held out a hand. Araminta closed her notebook and handed it to her mother. Úna said, "You can finish reading the story to Wendy later this evening. Right now, I need to talk to Wendy. Please go do your chores."

Araminta reluctantly got up. She told Wendy, "I'll come to your room after dinner." She went up the stairs to the second floor and checked on the Star King's needs.

Úna sat next to Wendy and took hold of her hand. "I've deployed a proximity detector network around the Tavern... not long ago, it detected another spaceship that landed up the coast a few miles from here." Úna tried to clamp down on Wendy's hand with a firm grip. "How did you know that Teehalt was going to arrive today?"

Wendy squeezed Úna's hand, increasing the pressure until she heard bones grinding together inside Úna's hand. She replied, "Please don't interrogate me. Like you, I have my sources of information. Remember, we need to work together and help Teehalt." She eased her grip on Úna's hand, lifted the hand to her lips and gently kissed it.

Úna asked, "Were you sent here by the IPX central command?"

"No. Please, Úna, don't worry about me. I'm only here to observe." She reached down and touched one of Úna's boots. "How are you going to help Teehalt?"

"I'm going to his ship right now. I'll hide his spaceship with an experimental IPX cloaking device that will hopefully shield it from the standard scanners being used by the Star King and his men." Úna got to her feet and then picked up the heavy cloaking device that had been disguised to look like a ship's monitor.

Rising to her feet, Wendy said, "Let me help. I'll go with you and I can carry the..." She took the cloaking device from Úna. "Lead the way."

Úna led Wendy out of the Tavern and along the coast, grateful for her assistance. Úna used a hand-held device to check signals from the array of motion detectors that ringed the Tavern, extending out a hundred miles in every direction. On the nearby hills were three automated defensive batteries that could launch high-mass projectiles at any pirate or slaver ships that might dare try to raid the Tavern. When they could see Teehalt's small spaceship in the distance, Úna said, "As far as I can tell, Teehalt has not left his ship. He's probably waiting until dark before approaching the Tavern."

Wendy and Úna climbed to the top of a hill from which they could watch Teehalt's ship. Strangely, when Wendy looked off into the distance, there were fuzzy places in the simulation: she could tell that she was inside a simulator and not enough data was available to create a detailed representation of the entire planet. There, in the cool afternoon sun of Smade's Planet Úna and Wendy once again began playing with each others bodies. Laying on the green heath, after experiencing a pleasing orgasm, Úna asked Wendy, "Can you explain the telepathic link that we share?"

Wendy let her fingers stroke Úna's silky soft skin. "I could, but you might not be pleased by the truth."

"Tell me anyhow."

"I'm from the real world."

Úna giggled. "What does that mean?"

Wendy gestured with her other hand towards the sea. "This is only a simulation. Oh, it is a great simulation, but not real. Have you ever suspected that the world is not quite right? Look out to sea, off in the distance. Don't you see the blurs and smudges?"

Úna rose to her knees and looked carefully out to sea. "It does look strange. A bank of sea fog?"

Wendy shook her head. "I won't try to convince you that you are living a simulated life, but you asked and I told you."

Úna pulled her clothing back on. "I'm sure you are joking. But why would you tell me such a thing? And the scientists all say that strong telepathic communication is not possible between humans."

"Don't worry about that, Úna, but there is an explanation. First of all, I'm not human."

"You are an alien?" Úna pulled away from Wendy in horror. "Another Star King?"

"No, I'm no Star King. I'm a sophisticated artificial life form. But don't let that disturb you or distract you. You've shown me what I was sent here to see."

Slowly the sun set. Úna peppered Wendy with questions about her life in the 'real world' beyond the simulation of Smade's Planet.

Wendy explained, "This is a simulation of the whole galaxy. I'm here on a mission for a- "Wendy almost referred to Grean as an alien, but she decided not to further alarm Úna. "my boss is an historian who studies this Reality."

Slowly, Úna seemed to begin to understand where Wendy was from, but she still could not believe that her own life was a fake construct, a kind of simulation.

Another small spaceship fell from the sky and landed near the Tavern. Finally, after darkness fell, Teehalt came out of his ship and walked to the Tavern. When Teehalt moved out of sight, Úna quickly placed the cloaking device behind Teehalt's ship and activated it, then she and Wendy returned to the Tavern. Úna was hungry at went to the kitchen to eat.

When Wendy returned inside, she went upstairs, returning to her room. At the top of the stairs, she looked down the hallway and saw Araminta Smade. Araminta was looking for Wendy. She said, "There you are."

Wendy suggested, "Let's go to your mother's room; you can finish reading your story."

Araminta and Wendy went to the basement and down the hallway towards Úna's suite of rooms. Araminta opened the door on the opposite side of the hallway. "This is my room. Come in... I want to show you the drawings that I made to illustrate my story."

Wendy followed Araminta into her room. It was a small bedroom with a rather large writing desk in one corner. The back wall was all bookshelves full of hundreds of printed books. The room was decorated like a little girl's room and there was a collection of stuffed animals on the bed.

After Ariminta showed off her artwork, she said to Wendy, "Now, let's go back to Mom's room."

She opened the door and they went into the hallway. Úna was just coming down the stairway, carrying tray with cookies and ice cream. Wendy and Araminta followed Úna into her comfortable suite of rooms. They sat at a table and shared dessert. Araminta asked her mother, "Where were you this afternoon?"

Úna replied, "Wendy and I went for a walk."

Araminta shook her head, "The motion detectors were silent."

Úna explained, "I turned off the warning system. Sometimes I need some privacy."

Araminta looked back and forth between Úna and Wendy. An idea formed in her mind. "You two are lovers?"

Úna went and flopped across her bed. "That's none of your business, Araminta. Now, read the rest of your story to Wendy."
In Úna's room, Wendy and Araminta discuss the astonishing deeds of Mr. Sparkhammer
as told in Arminta's story: "Philadelphia Peccadillo".

Araminta, Wendy and Úna spent the rest of the evening together in Araminta's suite. Araminta was able to finish reading her story. All during the evening, Wendy could sense that Úna had previously read Araminta's story. Úna was content to lay on her bed and watch Wendy.

For a time, Araminta and Wendy argued about a tricky detail in the story's plot and how best to deal with it. Wendy complained that Araminta had not fairly presented a small mystery to the reader and readers and at the end of the story, readers would be unhappy about that and feel they had been tricked. Araminta argued her position; that readers would be clever enough to get the idea without it having to be explicitly spelled out. Finally, after the argument ended, Wendy said, "I suspect this story about about the exploits of Mr. Sparkhammer is based on a past guest here at the Tavern."

Úna nodded and explained, "The last time Sparkhammer was here, Araminta was only two years old. But I've told her about Sparkhammer audacious criminal behavior, which never fails to astound the IPCC. She invented this story about Sparkhammer's visit to Earth." Úna rolled off the bed and hugged her daughter and told her, "It is late. Go get some sleep."

Araminta returned to her room and Wendy stepped into the hallway. Passing through the doorway into her room, Araminta looked over her shoulder at Wendy and said, "Goodnight. Thank you for your advice on how to improve my story." She turned and closed her bedroom door.

Úna invited Wendy to stay, and grabbed her hand and pulled Wendy back into her bedroom. Down in the basement of the Tavern, Wendy could not hear the night's thunderstorm. She was still wondering why she had not been pulled out of the AR Simulator and returned to Grean's workshop. She began to wonder if it might be possible to get trapped inside this simulated Reality. The only thing that kept her from slipping into her pre-programmed sleep routine was Úna's lustful restlessness.

In the early morning, Wendy quietly slipped out of Úna's room and went upstairs. She was appalled to learn that Teehalt had been murdered by the Star King. One of Smade's children told her, "Teehalt's blood was washed away by the rain, but one of the security cameras recorded the murder."

Wendy wondered why Grean had not ended the simulation. Was it necessary that she experience the full horror of Teehalt's death? Wendy sat at her favorite little table and watched the early morning light begin to illuminate the mists that surrounded the Tavern.

That morning, Wendy introduced herself to Kirth Gersen, a spaceman who had arrived at the Tavern the previous afternoon. They ate breakfast together and not believing that Gersen had arrived at the Tavern on the day of Teehalt's death by coincidence, she asked him, "You are Teehalt's friend?"

Gersen seemed reluctant to speak. Wendy could sense a weak telepathic connection to Gersen and wondered if he also felt that link. After sipping his tea, he replied, "I met Lugo last night... for the first and last time."

Wendy asked, "Why was he killed?"

Gersen seemed to have good appetite even with news of the killing. "Don't ask me to explain events of the Beyond." He slowly ate his meal. Wendy sipped her tea. Finally, Gersen pushed away his empty plate. "The usual explanation of such seemingly pointless deaths is that Teehalt probably knew too much."  He added, "Now I'm in a pickle. The criminals stole my spaceship last night."

Wendy sadly shook her head, "I'd expect an experienced spaceman in the Beyond to keep his ship locked."

Gersen grinned, "Well, my ship is a standard old model 9b... not much of a loss. The lock code is not hard to crack, particularly for trained criminals. He asked Wendy, "Where were you last night during all of the excitement?"

Wendy shrugged, "If you must know, one of Smade's children was reading me a story that she wrote."

Gersen asked, "Where is your spaceship? Now there are none out on the landing field."

"I'd rather not say. Since you need a spaceship now, you might steal mine."

Gersen chuckled, "No, I won't take your ship. Chivalry is not dead." He gaze long at Wendy, assessing her plain gray clothing and her pretty face, which was anything but plain. "I don't expect to meet a woman like you on Smade's Planet."

Wendy smiled, "What kind of woman do you think I am?"

"Civilized. I can't imagine what brought you to this place, although, now that I think about it, I only came here on a sudden whim." He seemed lost in his inner thoughts for a minute then he narrowed his eyes on Wendy. He asked, "How did you reach Smade's Planet?"

Wendy replied, "Look Kirth, there are some details of my life you are better not knowing. I'll be gone soon enough and you can remember me as a mystery woman."

Kirth laughed and said, "I'd rather remember you as a girl who told me her life's secrets. I think I'd be happy spending enough time with you to hear all the details of your life."

Wendy said, "Golly, that's quite a fantasy. Are you a slaver? Do you plan to keep me in chains until I tell you all my secrets?"

"I'm no criminal. You are simply an intriguing young woman and I'm curious about your background."

Wendy sighed and looked out through the window at the rolling mist. "I'm just out from Earth. This is my first visit Beyond and I'm nervous about pirates. I hid my ship. It seemed a sensible precaution. You might try it sometime."

Gersen reached out and took hold of Wendy's hand. He asked, "Are you a member of the institute? There are rumors that the Institute has secret technologies, such as cloaking devices."

Wendy said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Gersen. I'm not sure I can trust you. I suspect you are part of the Star King's organization. How else did you arrive just in time for Teehalt's murder."

Gersen laughed quietly. "I want to tell you that my arrival here -so soon before Teehalt's murder- was a coincidence, but I feel that is not correct. I almost can believe that I was lured here." Gersen rubbed his forehead with his fingers. "Even now I feel... strangely attracted to you. It is almost as if we share some kind of telepathic link. Very strange."

"Yes, this is a strange world." Wendy decided not to tell Gersen about her origins and her arrival from outside the simulation. She asked herself: Why disrupt his view of Reality?

Gersen got to his feet. "A pleasure meeting you, Wendy." He went to pay his bill, now in a hurry to depart.

Wendy went upstairs to her room, still wondering why Grean had not ended this simulation. There, beside her bed, Wendy saw a floating image of Grean, back in her workshop. Wendy stepped forward and passed through a portal and exited from the AR Simulation.

Now back in Grean's Workshop, Wendy said, "I was starting to wonder if you were going to leave me in that simulation forever."

Grean gestured towards her Omniviewer where an image of Kirth Gersen was displayed. "No, I only wanted to give you a chance to meet Gersen... and I thought you might enjoy spending some extra time with Úna. She's quite a woman, isn't she? I underestimated the power of my little simulated telepathy trick. Úna seemed totally infatuated with you."

Wendy asked, "How did you arrange for me to have access to Úna's mind? And I also felt a weaker connection to Gersen."

Grean explained, "I've spent many years learning how to make use of these Reality Simulations. They were left behind by the positronic robots of Earth when they abandoned this facility. For those robots, the whole point of the Asimov Reality was to develop human telepathy. That was eventually accomplished, but not until thousands of years after Úna and Gersen lived. However, Mount Pleasant was one of the first places where humans had all of the genes needed for telepathy. After that, it was mostly a matter of adjusting the interface between their brain cells and their nanite endosymbionts.  Gersen had some natural telepathic ability, but Úna had even more. I was able to hack the systems and use the Simulator's human telepathy program from the far future to endow you with the ability to influence Úna's emotions and her decision making. I think you could have made her do anything, had you tried."

Wendy reflected on her experience at Smade's Tavern and mused, "Úna was strange case, sent to Smade's Planet as an agent of the IPX. Somehow she used her wiles and her natural telepathic ability to seduce Smade and become his third wife. Then, as soon as Smade realized that Úna was an IPX agent, he relegated her to the cellar of the Tavern. Smade remained uncertain why the IPX was so interested in his little planet. Having lost his trust, poor Úna could not compete with Smade's other two wives for his affection, but, ultimately, Smade was glad to have Úna there, helping defend the Tavern against pirates and slavers."

Grean shifted the Viewer and displayed an image of Úna. "I still do not understand how Úna knew to expect the arrival of Teehalt or how it came about that she had a cloaking device ready and on-hand. The IPX must have been receiving Interventionist assistance."

Wendy said, "Well, going into your simulation of Smade's Planet provided a nice little vacation for me. However, I still don't understand why you care about Teehalt and his tragic end."

Grean shrugged. "I don't expect you to understand. Call it a matter of artistic creation. What you learned during your visit to Smade's Tavern will now be passed on to Jack Vance. Since I will send your report on Teehalt back in time, your observations of Úna and her daughter Araminta have already reached Vance. You influenced the writing of Vance's book, Star King, and the entire Demon Princes series."

Wendy asked, "Do you mean that because of me, Úna became a character in Vance's Star King novel?"
Úna Nybröm; exiled to
the cellar at Smade's Tavern.

Grean sadly shook her head. "No... Vance only used a small part of what you learned while on Smade's Planet. He wrote about Smade's Tavern, but he only briefly mentioned Araminta and he said nothing at all about her mother. Actually, Smade is only a minor character in Vance's Demon Princes saga, but that was enough. The way that Vance wrote about Smade will make a large impact on the Editor."

Wendy sighed. "Oh, the mysterious 'Editor' that you keep mentioning."

"Yes. Someone from your future, so I can't tell you too much about him." Grean switched the Onmiviewer to a generic view of Earth from orbit.

Wendy shrugged. "Fine. I've had my little vacation." She asked Grean, "Now, what is my next mission on Earth?"

Related Reading: another Wendy adventure
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Aug 11, 2019


Here in August, I'm celebrating the fiction of Jack Vance. Recently I mentioned fictional places invented by Vance that I would like to visit. One such destination is the remote Smade's Planet. The only attraction on Smade's Planet is Smade's Tavern, a place where Mr. Smade welcomes visitors from both the civilized worlds of the Oikumene and the frontier worlds of the Beyond. However, due to its location and lack of other nearby attractions, sometimes weeks go by without any guests being in residence at Smade's Tavern.

Don't worry about Smade becoming lonely during those times. He lives with three wives and eleven children who constitute the working staff of the Tavern. Smade's daughter, Araminta, grew up to be a prolific author, so we know many details about her life while growing up on Smade's Planet.
Welcome to Smade's Tavern!  Mr. Smade with one of his wives and one of their children, ready with a cold brew for
a new guest. Also available from the bar: Fraze and Hannah's Mascarene Rum from Copus.

Death on Smade's Planet
In the Asimov Reality.
original cover art by John Styga
and Edmund Emshwiller
With no formal landing procedures, guests arriving at Smade's Tavern simply landed their space ships on the heath behind the tavern and then walked within the confines of the white-washed stone fence that surrounded the grounds. Before arranging for use of a room on the second floor, the tired and thirsty guest might first down a cold glass of Smade's Own Ale.

Araminta's mother, Úna Nybröm, was an agent for the secretive IPX. When Lugo Tehalt was murdered at Smade's Tavern, Úna was at work, trying to make sure that Kirth Gersen would come into possession of Tehalt's space craft. She had deployed a special IPCC cloaking shield over Tehalt's ship, preventing Malagate the Woe from finding it and thus depriving the Demon Prince of the data encoded upon its Flight Course Monitor.

cover art by Alex Schomburg
Those data were valuable: providing the location of a pristine new world, just the kind of planet that Malagate wanted for his personal domain.

Vance introduced readers to Smade on the first page of his Demon Princes saga. Smade is a minor character in Star King. By my count, he speaks a total of 69 words (not counting the interview transcript that was published in Cosmopolis magazine, part of which Vance transcribes for readers and includes at the start of Chapter 1).

Even before Smade's interview, Vance provides readers with some quoted text that is attributed to His Majesty, Balder Bashin. Through the entire Demon Princes saga, Vance sprinkles in little historical nuggets illustrating the twisting course of religion through his imagined future society. Balder Bashin's words were lifted from the pages of an Ecclesiarchic Numciamento.

"Balderdash" is exactly the type of word that readers should expect to grace the pages of stories written by Jack Vance. I believe it is a typical Vance joke for him to name a religious leader "Balder Bashin".

Vance used "balderdash" in his first published novel, Vandals of the Void (1953, download here). According to this page, Vance's novel was one of 37 novels that were published in the Winston Science Fiction series from 1952 to 1961. Writing in the Forward to Vandals of the Void, Vance predicted that humans would travel to the surface of the Moon by 1965, only overly optimistic by a few years. He also predicted that there would be permanently manned bases on Mars and Venus by 1980, which from the perspective of 2019 might be labeled as "balderdash".

The Languages of Pao
Rated PG
Since Vandals of the Void was written for a young audience, there is no sex, but a smattering of death and violence. Everyone knows that the protagonist will win. Vandals of the Void is a story about how the young (15 years old) Dick Murdock goes on summer vacation and ends up helping the Space Navy capture an evil space pirate. Dick is then invited to attend the Las Vegas Space-Training Academy in preparation for a career in the Space Navy.

The last scene in Vandals of the Void is very similar to what happens to the young Jantiff Ravenstroke (Wyst: Alastor 1716) when he is invited by the Connatic to join his staff. In Vandals of the Void, Dick is assured of a position on Commodore Hallmeier's staff when Dick graduates from the Academy.

Apparently, Vance chafed at the restrictions imposed on those who wrote science fiction stories for television or for children in the early 1950s. In 1957 Vance published another novel in which his 15-year-old protagonist, Beran Panasper, got to live with his girl friend, Gitan Netsko.

Asimov on Venus
In the early 1950s, Vance got a high-paying job writing scripts for the Captain Video television show. I like to imagine that in the Ekcolir Reality, Isaac Asimov became famous for his Lucky Starr television program.

I've previously lamented the fact that the writing of stories about human colonists on Venus persisted for so long in the science fiction genre. During the 20th century, astronomical observations and robotic probes revealed that the surfaces of both Mars and Venus are inhospitable. Kids of the Vance and Asimov generation grew up reading stories about life on Venus (example) and, unfortunately, they had to write their own stories in the Planetary Adventure genre (See Asimov's Oceans of Venus). Vandals of the Void begins on Venus, at a settlement called Miracle Valley, the birth place and home of Dick Murdock.

Welcome to the Future
James Webb space telescope
Lucky for us, atomic engines are ready to lift us off of Venus and get our adventure underway. Traveling millions of miles through space takes time (going faster would use up too much expensive plutonium), but the lucky space ship passengers have access to a microfilm library! The word "computer" does not appear in this story.

in the Ekcolir Reality
Dick is off to the Moon where his father runs an observatory that is equipped with a telescope that has a 36-foot metallic lens. The precision of their stellar observations is limited by the quality of their photographic plates. There is mention of a smaller space telescope: the Harvard Camera, but the telescope on the Moon is more powerful... and they have room for accumulating a library containing hundreds of thousands of photographic plates... not to mention a single printed copy of the star catalog that has been painstakingly assembled by the local Librarian.

Pirates Vandals
The Vandals of the Void are space pirates. Dick can't have a nice peaceful vacation on the Moon because pirates have been attacking the space ships that travel between Earth, Mars and Venus much like ocean liners going from New York to London. "Dick had a sudden vivid picture in his mind: roaring bestial men in the calm streets of Miracle Valley, burning, destroying, carrying off women." This is exactly the scenario later used by Vance as the backstory for his Demon Princes saga, but in that case it was Kirth Gersen from a settlement called Mount Pleasant that was destroyed by space pirates.

In Vandals of the Void, the pirates are defeated and the United Nations Space Navy stands prepared to usher Humanity into the age of interstellar space travel. Ta-da! Through most of the story, nobody can figure out where the pirates come from, much like the silly "plot" in You Only Live Twice.

The Palace of Love
If you want to read Vandals of the Void, stop reading this blog post now...

The only thing that has the potential to rescue Vandals of the Void from collapsing into a black hole of its own Hardy-Boys implausibility is a quirky resident on the Moon known as Crazy Sam who tells wild stories about meeting native residents of the Moon, aliens who he says live in deep caves. Sadly, poor Sam is murdered and Dick must solve the mystery of the space pirates on his own. In later novels such as The Palace of Love, Vance would luxuriate in his quirky characters such as the mad poet Navarth.

original cover art
by Henry Van Dongen
More Spoilers
Although Vance mentions abandoned alien cities on Mars and inside deep lunar caverns, we meet no space aliens in Vandals of the Void. The evil pirate leader can magically both be 1) a working scientist and second in command at the Lunar Observatory and 2) the head pirate leading a large force of: "Hard, mean, shifty-eyed ruffians; bloated and arrogant bullies; sly-eyed men... scarred, pulp-nosed, weasel-faced—the stench of evil..." Sadly, Vance would later give his readers a similarly unconvincing multiple-identities wielding character in The Killing Machine: Kokor Hekkus, a hormagaunt. In Vandals of the Void, the pirate leader goes by the name "the Basilisk" and he wears a disguise (with large yellow eyes), trying to make his minions believe that he is an alien creature with telepathic powers.

Next: origins project, Star King

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