May 30, 2013

Jack Vance

The Moon Moth
In 1977 I read The Moon Moth and I have not stopped reading Vance's fiction since. At that time, The Moon Moth was an effective gateway drug since it was in story collections that could be slipped into a university curriculum without a "pulpish" cover to get in the way.

Star King
I'm not a big fan of short fiction, so after reading The Moon Moth I was pleased to come across several of Vance's science fiction novels including Trullion, Emphyrio and Star King.

Alastor Cluster
Of course, Trullion and Star King were gateways to the hardcore Vance....they were just the first novels in the Alastor Cluster and Demon Princes series. With time the Cadwal Chronicles also came along. Those three series of novels are my favorite Vance works. Today I found out that Jack Vance died this week at the age of 96. I was thinking he might last an entire century here on this world, 😢

click map to enlarge (source)
I have a love of maps and I was thrilled to open up my copy of Trullion and find a map of the Fens. It is always a pleasure to think of the parade of Vance's characters traversing the waterways of the Fens:
"Squire" Glinnes Hulden of Rabendary island, the golden Karpoun sheirl Farero... marooned on an island off shore from Welgen with Glinnes, pirates like Sagmondo Bandolio, Lempel and Alonzo "Ice Devil" Dirrig....the later pretending to be Lord Ambal, freakish Fanschers like Junius Farfan, gypsy-like Trevanyi such as Duissane Drosset, the Connatic -ruler of Alastor Cluster- in the guise of journalist Ryl Shermatz, Janno Akadie the mentor at his fine five-towered manse on Rorquin's Tooth, Chief Constable Filidice compliantly doing dirty work for the scheming lord "Tammi" Gensifer and young girls like wrong step away from being dragged under water by the merlings.

When Glinnes reaches the frustrating and futile end of his struggles he is assisted by the mysteriously appearing and reappearing Shermatz. Sitting across the central square in Welgen from the executioner's prutanshyr, Glinnes complains to Ryl, "Akadie may well be inserted into the cogs of yonder mincing machine."

Shermatz, puzzled by the lack of evidence against Akadie suggests, "A few words with Chief Constable Filidice might be worthwhile."

"Return to your seat," said Glinnes. "He won't see us." Glinnes has already been thwarted by Filidice who is corruptly wielding the force of Trill law and bureaucratic obstruction in support of lord Gensifer.

Finally Shermatz reveals his secret..."I think he will. I am something more than a roving journalist, as I hold the commission of Over-Inspector in the Whelm." After long fruitless effort, suddenly all of the many problems facing Glinnes are resolved and he walks off into the a bright new future with Duissane. Or does he?


In Marune: Alastor 933, Efraim, the young Kang of the House of Benbuphar in the Rhune Realms, is drugged senseless and sent off across space. To recover his memories and learn his own identity he visits the Connatic's Hospital on the planet Numenes. Efraim also visits the Connatic's "palace" -a soaring tower built upon foundations set within five islands- where upon seeing the display chamber for the planet Marune he begins to recall some of his past on his own home world.

Most of the story takes place in the Rhune Realms of Marune where almost always at least one of the suns is in the sky. About once a month darkness falls. During the dark of Mirk strange events often occur. Efraim survives a murder attempt, but his friend from Port Mar, Lorcas, dies at the hands of the vicious Destian and Agnois, First Chamberlain.

Efraim, still struggling to recover his damaged memories, renews his acquaintance with his childhood friend Maerio -daughter of the scheming Kaiark Rianlle- and falls in love again. With the help of the mysterious native Fwai-chi, Efraim regains his memories and control of his kingdom. But have his off-planet experiences destroyed is ability to fit in with Rhune society?

The third Alastor Cluster novel begins and ends on Zeck, the home planet of Jantiff Ravensroke, but most of the story unfolds on the planet Wyst where Jantiff befriends a Wierdlands Witch who he calls Glisten. He saves her from the witch-hunting Booch and his dogs, but then she is lost in the forest along the shore of the Moaning Ocean.

Ryl Shermatz, again appearing in the role of "the Connatic's agent", ultimately finds the lost waif Glisten and reunites her with Jantiff on Zeck.

The bulk of the story concerns the odd culture of the vast cities of Wyst and how Jantiff's presence stimulates a vile plot by the devious Esteban aimed at taking control of the planet. Ultimately Jantiff helps Shermatz diffuse the plot and he save's Ryl's life, earning an offer of a position in the Connatic's service.

In all three Alastor novels the protagonist gets the girl and survives great travails, but we are left wondering what happens next in their lives.

The Demon Princes
In a recent blog post I reflected on some of the people and places in The Star King and other novels in the Demon Princes series. Last year I counted up the number of evil-doers that Kirth Gersen must kill and the number of damsels in distress that he rescues.

Gersen faces the rather grim work of murdering the five Demon Princes who had killed and enslave his family. The bloodshed is off-set by the many ingenious tricks that Gersen employs to thwart the plans of his adversaries. 

The Palace of Love
In the pages of book three in the series, Vance paraded the clones of Jheral Tinzy before our "eyes". These clones were created and manipulated by the nasty Vogel Filschner in attempt to produce a copy of the adorable Jherel who would return Vogel's love. To hunt down and approach Vogel, Gersen buys the magazine Cosmopolis and plays the role of a journalist.

Of course, Vogel's great plan never works out. The mad poet Navarth's ward "Zan Zu" instinctively dislikes Vogel even when he is disguised as Henry Tanzel of London. Clone Drusilla IV was kept in isolation until rescued by Gersen. Gersen is the first man she has ever seen and she calls him "wonderful". She later sees Vogel and comments on his foolish wicked face. Drusilla III was trained to worship a statue of Vogel, but she did not like the face and chipped it away.

The Killing Machine
In The Killing Machine, Gersen and Kokor Hekkus trade sly tricks. Hekkus imprisons Gersen at Interchange, but then Gersen escapes with 10,000,000,000 SVU of Hekkus' money and leaves Hekkus holding counterfeit cash that is worthless.

Hekkus has long been tricking the entire population of the planet Thamber, using that world as his fantasy playground. When Gersen arrives on that hidden planet it takes him a while to penetrate Hekkus' disguises, but Gersen ultimately tricks Hekkus into exposing his true identity as a hormagaunt. Hekkus is destroyed and Gersen rides off into the sunset with Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay.

The Face
In The Face, the Darsh rachepol Husse Bugold plays a devious trick on Gersen. Before blowing up a spaceship, Bugold takes out insurance from a company that Gersen owns.

While in pursuit of Bugold, Gersen falls in love with the endearing Jerdian Chanseth. However, Jerdian's father Adario is a wet blanket on the flames of their ardor. Jerdian realizes that as a Methlen, there can be no future for her with Gersen. However, in the end, after long struggles to get his hands on Bugold, Gersen gets the last laugh.

At the climax, after telling Bugold that he takes pleasure in preventing his greatest trick from being realized, and after Bugold dies a horrible death, Gersen realizes that he shares the same motivations to implement Bugold's fantastic trick. Gersen triggers the explosives that Bugold has planted inside the moon Shanitra, transforming it into a great copy of Bugold's face, a face that will now shine down over planet Methel and, particularly, over the garden wall of Adario Chanseth.

The Book of Dreams
In The Book of Dreams, the last book in the series, Gersen has achieved mastery of his trickish ways. He devises an Extant magazine contest that draws Howard Hardoah into the open. Gersen sneaks into the high school reunion of Howard and, disguised as a musician, he manages to shoot Howard, unfortunately the injury is not serious.

After obtaining Howard's beloved Book of Dreams, Gersen uses it to lure Howard to his doom. Along the way to Howard's demise, Gersen falls in love with Alice Wroke. In Alice, Gersen has finally found a woman who shares his motivations for destroying evil men. Alice, Gersen and the Cleadhoes, two more of Howard's victims, trap Howard on the wild planet Bethune Preserve for a final showdown. In the end, his own "inner demons" finish off Howard.

Doug Beekman cover art
The Alastor Cluster and Demon Princes series came to rather unsatisfactory conclusions...I want to know what happens next to Jantiff, Glisten, Efraim, Maerio, Gersen and Alice. The Cadwal Chronicles seemed more complete. I can imagine Glawen and Wayness living out their days in relative calm after their travails as young adults during the epic struggle to preserve the Cadwal Conservancy. It might be fun to know what trouble Chilke and Flitz get into while roving around the galaxy.

Before Glawen Clattuc ever meets Wayness Tamm, his young heart has been entangled with the charming Sessily Veder. That Glawen and Sessily are under a lucky star is revealed when they go into the wilderness of Cadwal to collect butterfly wings for her Parilia costume. Sessily is to play the role of a butterfly and she wants to decorate her costume with real butterfly wings.

While out collecting the insect wings they are nearly killed by a Muldoon tangle-top. Their terrifying escape leads to discovery of a plot against Araminta Station, timed to occur during the Parilia celebration. General tragedy is averted, but Glawan is devastated by the mysterious murder of Sessily minutes after her on-stage performance. Sadly for Sessily, the lucky star was only actively shielding Glawan.

Only years later does Glawen learn the identity of Sessily's murderer: Kirdy Wook, who played Glawen false, leading to his imprisonment by the perverse Zadine Babbs at the Monomantic seminary on the planet Tassadero. When Gersen escapes and returns to Araminta Station, he is attacked by the murderous Kirdy, but Kirdy drowns in the ocean during the attack.

After their dangerous search across space for the lost Cadwal Charter, Glawen and Wayness can finally turn their attention to the satisfying task of constructing their new home on a plot of land granted to them under the new Charter. Who knows what tales of adventure they will hear from Chilke and Flitz when they gather for the opening of Lewyn Barduys' new Bainsey Castle Lodge on the planet Rosalia.

John Holbrook Vance

John Holbrook Vance, who often publishing his writings and science fiction as Jack Vance, was born in 1916. He became a published author after World War II, his work ranging from mystery to horror to fantasy and science fiction. Assisted by his wife Norma Ingold Vance, his output of stories was prolific and much appreciated by his many fans. We can still wonder what other worlds he might have shared with us had we a better way of supporting our artists and promptly and efficiently treating, or better yet, preventing conditions like glaucoma.
His blinded eyes registered a watery gray blur...Shermatz spoke to Jantiff: "I have specified a treatment to restore a certain fraction of your vision."

Jantiff felt a cool sensation across the front of his eyes...the blur before his vision began to dissipate as if a wind blew through the optic fog. Jantiff once more could see, with almost the old clarity. Jantif thought: In later years, when I look across my life, I will mark well this moment in the Old Groar Tavern at Balad on the planet Wyst...
More commentary on the science fiction of Jack Vance.....

The death of Jack Vance: One Year Later, Two Years Later, Four Years Later
The origins of Jack Vance
Vale of Xian
Jean Parlier

Cadwal Saga
     Araminta Station
     Ecce and Old Earth
The Demon Princes
    Smade's Planet (Star King), Llalarkno and Brinktown
    The Face
   The Book of Dreams
   Evil Henchmen and Damsels in Distress
   Kirth Gersen: the 6th Demon?
  The Palace of Love
  The Killing Machine

Fleharish Broad
Alastor Cluster
     Trullion (see also) (and)
The Languages of Pao
The Durdane Trilogy
Related Reading: re-reading the novels of Jack Vance 
A tribute to Vance by Fernando Salazar
New to Vance? Start here.

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