Jun 18, 2011

Old Earth

I previously mentioned the Jack Vance novel Araminta Station, the first of a trilogy. The second novel is called Ecce and Old Earth.

Ecce is one of the continents of the planet Cadwal, the distant world where Glawen Clattuc is born. In his effort to save Cadwal, Glawen eventually travels to Earth and finds the missing Charter, the founding document that established Cadwal as a Naturalist preserve. Glawen is preceded to Earth by Wayness Tamm, another resident of Cadwal who discovered that the Charter had been stolen from the vault of the Naturalist Society. Here are Glawen's thoughts about Wayness:

"If through some extraordinary circumstance he became endowed with divine powers and assigned the pleasurable task of designing a new Wayness, he might well diminish the proportion of sheer single-minded obstinacy and intractable, volatile self-willed independence by a soupçon or two: not enough to disturb the flavor of the mix, but to make her just a bit more...manageable? predictable? subservient? Certainly none of these. It might well be that no improvement was possible."

Poor Glawen is tortured by the fact that Wayness goes off to Earth, alone, to take on the dangerous task of searching for the valuable Charter. Most of Ecce and Old Earth is an account of Wayness as she travels around Earth on her search. With Wayness off on her adventure, Glawen suffers acutely, in part because early in Araminta Station his first love, Sessily Veder, is murdered. Glawen can all too well imagine also losing Wayness.

By the end of Ecce and Old Earth the Charter has been found and replaced, thus removing the fate of Cadwal from the hands of the nearly extinct Naturalist Society. By this point in the trilogy some of the forces that are arrayed in opposition to Glawen have been revealed and there is no obvious way that Cadwal can be saved from the fate of being over-run by greedy people who reject the idea that the planet should remain a nature preserve. Glawen needs a new and powerful friend from beyond Cadwel.

If this were one of Vance's Alastor Cluster novels then we might expect a visit from the Connatic, arriving just in time to set things right. In this case, Vance has already introduced us to Cadwal's future benefactor, ironically identified as a visiting guest of one of the Cadwal natives who is working to open the planet to wider human occupancy and exploitation. Upon re-reading the book it is fun to watch the lurking savior of Cadwal quietly passing among Glawen and his adversaries.

In Apollo 23, I'm trying to be quite open about showing the reader how Sakir is manipulated by aliens, but I also need to keep open a path by which poor Sakir can play a trick or two on her puppet master.

Vance always seems to meander back and forth between the protagonist being saved by luck or by competency and skill. At one point in Ecce and Old Earth, Wayness believes she has found the location of the Charter and she triumphantly calls her uncle to share the news. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Wayness, an enemy is within ear shot. It all works out fine because she soon learns that she was wrong and the enemy is sent off on a wild goose chase.

When Sakir first meets Jack Swigert, he has already been subjected to years of "debriefing" by a robot pretending to be Jill Lyons. Sakir is a clone of Jill and she is 20 years younger than than the "Jill" that Jack has known. When interacting with Jack, Sakir pretends to be Jill's daughter and manages to learn an important fact from Jack that escapes the attention of Jill's puppet masters. After she is sent to Earth, that hidden fact will allow Jill to double cross her alien handlers.

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