Jan 29, 2012

The Asutra

I previously mentioned (see this blog post) the fact that I've thought about a fan fiction sequel to Jack Vance's novel The Book of Dreams. Today I saw a blog post by Patrick Hudson about Vance's novel The Asutra in the Durdane series.

Patrick wrote about Vance novels ending on a "down beat note" or "a sour note". Which do you prefer? That a character you have followed through a trilogy reaches a happy ending, you close the book and never give a thought to what might happen finish the trilogy and you can't stop imagining what the protagonist will do for the rest of his/her life?

Patrick wrote, "Etzwane longs to travel the universe, see Earth, but Ifness dismisses him as he might dismiss a bumpkin.....Etzwane even refuses to join his old musical band."

Etzwane has struggled mightily against the horrors inflicted upon the people of his world, Durdane. The Durdane trilogy progressively shows us the expansion of Etzwane's understanding of the causes of these horrors. At first, it seems that his woes are due to a freakish religious cult that controls the small community where he grows up. When he runs away from home, he learns about the bizarre political system of his nation, a "system" by which the ruler, The Anome, can instantly kill any of his subjects. Then things get bad. Durdane is attacked by space aliens. Finally, even after the alien attack is beaten off, Etzwane is left with the knowledge that people from the distant planet Earth watch Durdane and those observers (such as Ifness) from Earth do nothing to prevent the horrible cultural degeneracies of Durdane such as the the religious nightmare that set Etzwane on his path in life.

I love the fact that Vance ends his story in such a way that we are left wondering what Etzwane will do. In a similar situation, in his novel The Killing Machine, the people of a lost world that is similar to Durdane -cut off from Earth and technologically degenerated- decide that they must rejoin the community of human worlds that have space travel technology. At the end of the trilogy we are left wondering: can Etzwane bring Durdane back into the community of space-faring worlds? It would be against his nature to just rejoin the band and forget about Earth.

There are other memorable endings to many Vance novels. In Trullion: Alastor 2262, Glinnes and Duissane, after much adversity and conflict, find themselves with vast wealth at the end of the story. We wonder what their future will be like as they walk off together down the beach. In Marune: Alastor 933, Efraim and Maerio survive their challenges and become the rulers of a "mountain realm". However, they are not comfortable with the restrictions of the culture they grew up in and at the end of the novel we are left wondering about their future life together and what changes they will bring to their world.

Efraim: What shall we do?
Maerio: I don't know.
Efraim: I don't know either.

I particularly enjoy the Durdane trilogy because Vance manages to position Human Observers from Earth in the role that I usually assign to aliens in my "Exodemic" stories.

Images. Top: cover art by Peter Dama scanned from my copy (1978) of The Asutra. The "flying boat" is the property of Ifness; it allows him to move around Durdane and pretend that his flying machine (he does not let the natives see it fly) is no more sophisticated than the primitive technology of Durdane (sailing ships). Lower: Cover of Marune: Alastor 933.

I was looking for the cover image that is on my 1975 Ballantine Books copy of Marune: Alastor 933 (see above) and came across a bunch of other cover art for other editions of the novel.

The image to the right seems to be an artist's conception of Sthelany, who played with a toy puzzle while waiting for her brother to kill Efraim. However, in the story, she never saw Efraim looking in through a crack in the window that had been shuttered during Mirk.

The image to the left is apparently an image corresponding to the book cover for a foreign language version of Marune: Alastor 933. I can't imagine what the image has to do with the story unless the young lady is just supposed to be one of the display pieces in the Marune chamber of the Ring of Worlds.

I suppose that science fiction publishers have an equation that predicts how many thousands of book sales you can expect for each breast on the book cover.

Related eye candy: map of Durdane.

Below, a map of Shant
(full size)


  1. The Durdane trilogoy is one of my favorites in that it does not end with an up-beat theme. Some of Jack's stuff does - or comes close. And I like that also. Consider the final scene of "Trullion: Alastor 2262"...."Glinnes moved after her and in the hazy twilight of middle afternoon they walked together down the beach." What next for the two? Always leave them wanting more an old professor told me once. Jack does.

  2. In both Vance's Demon Princes series and in The Cadwal Chronicles we have a chance to visit Earth of the future. On the planet Wyst, Jantiff imagines someday being able to afford a trip to Earth. How far in the future did Vance imagine human exploration of Alastor Clustor? Given the grand scale of the Connatic's Palace on Numenes, I wonder how Vance imagined the contemporaneous "fabulous cities" of Earth.