May 9, 2013

Smade's Planet

Road trip.
Back when I was in my own personal golden age of science fiction (12 years old) there was a  summer when, while traveling by car across the country, every turn and rise brought the discovery of some golden new place. On the radio late that August was the Elliot Lurie song, Brandy, evoking thoughts of distant ocean ports.

I've never done much traveling by sea, but the fiction of Jack Vance seems to explicitly elaborate on an analogy between travel from port to port by sea and space travel between planets. In Vance's Demon Princes novels the setting is a future when travel between the stars has become as convenient as a sea voyage between London and New York. Vance novels in the Demon Princes and Alastor Cluster series are spiced with "starmenters", the futuristic equivalent of pirates.

A port on a western bay.
In his novel Trullion, here is how Vance described the thoughts of Glinnes when he left his home world and joined the Whelm, the equivalent of the navy in Alastor Cluster: "He had envisioned a life more romantically adventurous; he had seen himself prowling the cluster in a patrol boat, searching out starmenter nests, then putting into remote and picturesque settlements for a few days shore-leave."

The Whelm is the key military force of the Connatic, who is absolute ruler of Alastor Cluster. As humans spread through the galaxy there is always an expanding central domain of civilized worlds (the Oikumene) surrounded by a frontier of more newly settled worlds: the Beyond. Inhabitants of the worlds of the Beyond constantly face danger from criminals and enslavement by starmenters. Sapient alien species are rare in the galaxy near Earth, but they include the so called "Star Kings".

Vance novels that include the Oikumene often depict space cruisers that carry passengers between the stars like ocean liners crossing the oceans of Earth. The rich and powerful have their own magnificent space yachts. Here is how the Connatic describes star voyaging on his flag ship to Jantiff: "The appointments are perhaps a trifle grand, but, adaptable as you are, you will quickly find them comfortable. The view, especially when the Ziaspraide coasts quietly among the stars, is superb."
Mother ship

locket that bears the name of the man that Brandy loves

In The Star King, Kirth Gersen tracks his adversary, Demon Prince Attel Malagate, to the planet Alphanor where it quickly becomes apparent to the reader that Gersen has been spending too much time alone among the scattered stars Beyond. After landing at Avante spaceport he has breakfast in the terminal where he quickly becomes distracted: "In a booth nearby sat a pair of pretty girls ... frivolity ... the two girls evidently had very little else on their minds. Gersen drew a deep breath. Undoubtedly he had lived a grim, cheerless existence." For 20 years Gersen has been in training for one dire purpose: to avenge the Demon Princes who murdered and enslaved his family during the "Mount Pleasant Massacre". He is devoted to hunting down and killing the five Demon Princes, but at the same time he longs to eventually have normal life once his murderous mission is accomplished. Sometimes Gersen is amused when his romantic yearnings threaten to derail his life's work.

Dinner at the Nautilus.
In each of the five Demon Princes novels Gersen becomes romantically involved with a damsel in distress. In The Star King, Gersen must save Pallis Atwrode, an office worker at the Department of Galactic Morphology, Sea Province University, in Remo, just down the coast from Avante. Gersen takes Pallis out to dinner at a swanky underwater restaurant and discovers that she is, "a warm-hearted creature without a trace of malice or acerbity." She makes Gersen tell her about Smade's Tavern and the Beyond because she likes a good shudder.

Unfortunately, the attention that Gersen pays to Pallis leads to her being kidnapped by the evil henchman "Beauty" Dasce who brags that his bizarrely mutilated face can paralyze dogs. Gersen must hunt Dasce across half the galaxy in order to free Pallis from captivity and Dasce's malignant attentions.

Model 9B spaceship.
At this early point in his career of killing Demon Princes, Gersen flies a simple model 9B spaceship. The model 9B is the standard spaceship used by planetary locators, IPCC weasels and other spacemen who can't afford anything better.

The Star King begins with Gersen stopping at  Smade's Planet. Gersen has just learned the names of the five Demon Princes, information that was hard-won by torturing an underling who once worked for one of them. After that sickening task, Gersen feels the need to collect his wits, so he visits Smade's Tavern, the only human dwelling on the planet.

Smade's tavern is known across human space as a rest stop for criminals and travelers to far worlds, poised conveniently near the border between civilization and the lawless Beyond.

Vance described the origin of Smade's Tavern: "The site was a narrow shelf of heath between the Smade Mountains and the Smade Ocean. He built to a plan as old as construction itself, using stone for the walls , timber beams and plates of schist for the roof." Smade lived there with his three wives and eleven children, sometimes going days or even weeks with no guests at all.

When Gersen arrives there is one other guest at the Tavern who Smade identifies as a Star King, an alien being from a distant planet where the native sapient lifeform long ago adopted human form. Gersen takes a room, planning to spend a few restful days on Smade's Planet. Upon coming down from his room for dinner, Gersen discovers a new guest, Lugo Teehalt, a locator of new habitable worlds who habitually "drinks rashly and talks wildly".

Teehalt tells Gersen a wild tale about a newly discovered planet, more Earth-like than Earth itself, but populated by plant-like semi-intelligent bipeds that Teehalt calls Dryads.

It is Gersen's chance encounter with Teehalt at Smade's Tavern that leads him to first contact with one of the Demon Princes: Malagate the Woe.

I'm currently writing Chapter Three of Exode, in which Parthney has left his home planet and arrives at Lendhalen for training in preparation for a planned journey to Earth. Vance has long been a master of sketching out intriguing details of strange new worlds like Smade's Planet and ports of call like Avante on Alphanor. Unfortunately, the true location of Lendhalen is kept secret from Parthney during the three years that he lives there. He has been tricked into believing that he is "under Oib", living in an underground city below the surface of Oib, an inhospitable planet that is only beginning to be terraformed with the goal of providing it with a breathable atmosphere. Actually, Lendhalen is located on an entirely different planet of the Koly star system which is also not hospitable for human life...for other reasons.

The Palace of Love
Rather than describe the planet where Lendhalen was carefully hidden, all I can do is describe the underground city itself. In Vance's stories, when the hero arrives on distant worlds he is usually at the controls of his spaceship. In contrast, Parthney is teleported to Lendhalen while he is unconscious, and he has few clues about his true location.

In The Palace of Love, the Demon Prince Viole Falushe invites Gersen and the mad poet Navarth to visit the Palace of Love, hidden on a secret planet in Sirneste Cluster. In an effort to keep hidden the world where the Palace is located, the spaceship that carries Gersen and Navarth through Sirneste Cluster does not provide them with an outside view. Still, Gersen is not fooled and he is able to deduce the true location of The Palace of Love.

a killing machine
While at Lendhalen, Parthney spends much time with Robin, an artificial lifeform that knows the true location of Lendhalen on the planet Clu'ten'iun. Robin has no good reason to inform Parthney of the real location of the secret Interventionist training base on Lendhalen. In fact, his usefulness as an Interventionist agent on Earth might be compromised were Parthney to learn how little he is trusted by his fellow Interventionists at Lendhalen. Robin decides not to reveal distracting facts to Parthney, so when he later returns to the Koly star system after serving on Earth he receives some surprises and finally realizes the extent to which he had been kept in the dark and manipulated during his years of training at Lendhalen.

I have mixed feelings about how Vance made use of Smade's Planet as the world where, some 20 years after the "Mount Pleasant Massacre" Gersen was finally able to lay eyes on the first of his adversaries, Demon Prince Attel Malagate. I've never understood why Teehalt traveled to Smade's Planet. Further, I've never understood why Malagate tells Smade that he is an alien Star King. The whole idea of Malagate flying off with Gersen's spaceship by mistake and then Gersen taking Teehalt's ship seems odd...doesn't anyone use door locks in the future?

Through the Demon Princes novels Gersen seems to have good luck or a "sixth sense" that serves him well. In The Killing Machine, Gersen just happens to sit down on a bench next to a man who mentions having seen a criminal on the street. That clue leads Gersen to Demon Prince Kokor Hekkus. Later, while being held for ransom at Interchange, Gersen happens to look in a magazine and obtain the final clue that allows him to start printing his own money, buy his way out of Interchange and then pay the 10,000,000,000 SVU ransom fee of the mysterious Alusz Iphigenia. In The Book of Dreams, Gersen just happens to look into a trash bin on the day when it holds the only existing photograph of Demon Prince Howard Treesong...neatly labeled "Treesong is here".

Calypso and Odysseus
In Exode, both Parthney and Kach are guided through life by "a higher power", but I don't want the story to be punctuated by coincidences that seem so odd to the reader that they become a distraction. When I was in my "golden age" of discovering science fiction I was also exposed to the Odyssey and the idea of gods who might torment mortals, but who ultimately will allow a persistent and heroic protagonist to achieve victories over less heroic foes. When thinking about luck, fate and godly interventions it is easy to imagine parallels between Gersen and Alice Wroke in The Book of Dreams, Odysseus and Penelope, Parthney and Kach in Exode.

I like to think that Gersen's soul mate (Alice) had to be forged by the same kind of adversity that crafted Gersen's "dark side". All of Gersen's other romances collapse, dissipate and evaporate...clearly they are not meant to work out. For example, Pallis Atwrode is probably too kindhearted to be a match for Gersen. When abducted by Dasce, she turns inward and sinks into a deep depression that she can only slowly climb out of after being rescued by Gersen. She'll return to normalcy, happy to have Malagate's wealth as compensation for her suffering, but she'll also be essentially unchanged, a typical woman of the civilized worlds, unable to understand Gersen's troubled origin in the Beyond and the evil event that shaped his soul.

Early in The Palace of Love Gersen and Alusz (the 10,000,000,000 SVU girl) split up: "Never again, he told himself, never would he involve a woman with the dark necessities of his life: especially one so honorable and generous and kind..." Of course, he can't keep that promise to himself. By the end of The Palace of Love he can't resist "disturbing" the "immensely appealing" young woman who he thinks of as "Drusilla I", one of the clones of Jheral Tinzy, the girl who drove Viole Falushe to his life of crime. Vance never tells us what happens between "Drusilla I" and Gersen, but next, in The Face, Gersen romances Jerdian Chanseth. The love affair between Jerdian and Gersen goes down in flames, along with Gersen's fantasies about living a gay and carefree life with her as rich residents of Llalarkno in the fine house, Moss Alrune.


In The Star King, Vance introduces readers to more than three dozen planets starting with Smade's Planet and several other planets of the Beyond including the world where Brinktown is located and Gersen's home planet as well as Pharode and Blue Planet...two worlds where Gersen has worked as an IPCC weasel. Malagate, a Star King, is from the planet Ghnarumen, which I imagine is in the Beyond. "Tehalt's planet", the world of the Dryads, is far from Earth and newly discovered. The distant "planet" where "Beauty" Dasce holds Pallis captive is actually an ancient dead star that has "swept up" a surface layer of ordinary matter and achieved a surface gravity that makes it habitable.

Other planets included in The Star King are within the civilized boundary of the Oikumene. One of Malagate's henchmen, Suthiro is from Sarkovy, a planet known for its poisons, a world where Gersen has learned the art of poisoning and which he visits briefly in The Palace of Love. Tristano, another of Malagate's henchmen is from Earth, where the young Gersen lived for a time with his grandfather and where Gersen visits the mad poet Navarth on his house boat in The Palace of Love. Euville, Valhalla, Vega's Alphanor, Boniface and Cuthbert and the 26 worlds of the Rigel Concourse (particularly Pilgham and Olliphane) are all mentioned in The Star King. Was there some ancient alien civilization that moved so many Earth-like worlds into orbit around bright stars so near to Earth? Were the the human-like Star Kings and humans themselves brought into existence by the meddling intervention of some ancient alien spacefaring lifeform?

In Exode, I imagine that the settled planets of the galaxy have a very different distribution than the worlds of Vance's imaginary Oikumene. Only at the end of Exode do we Earthlings begin to seriously contemplate our prospects for travel to another planet (Mars). However, for millions of years the alien Huaoshy have been carting lifeforms away from Earth and taking them to distant worlds where they can be cultured. Exode starts at the Planet Hemmal, a world towards the center of the Galaxy where humans have lived for thousands of years. There are hundreds of populated worlds towards the Galactic Core where the Huaoshy have systematically designed and evolved humans as well as other sapient beings such as the Fru'wu.

The Huaoshy don't think that we primitive humans are ready to be cruising around the galaxy. However, they have been forced to provide interstellar spaceships to the Buld Clan. At the end of Exode the first Buld spaceship finally reaches Earth after a 15,000 year long voyage from the galactic core. When Parthney travels from the Koly star system to Earth he does not have to bother with space flight: he uses teleportation technology.

Exode has both short space flights and long. In Chapter Two, Parthney makes the short trip from Hemmal to Oib. Later, Parthney and Kach travel to the Andromeda galaxy, using a Nereid spaceship. Kach wants to visit the home world of the alien Nereids. Hana and Boswei (the son of Kach and Parthney) quickly become tired of Kach's quest to meet the Creators and they settle on a quiet world in the Andromeda galaxy. What right do we humans have to settle and use other worlds as our own?

Vance considered the topic of human despoilment of planets. Smade's Planet only had primitive native lifeforms and Smade's "invasion" of the world, building the Tavern and keeping a heard of goats, had no significant impact on the planet's ecosystem. In contrast, Tehalt's planet and the life cycle of the Dryads seemed too fragile to withstand human occupation: Tehalt refused to fulfill his locator's contract and hand over the world to Malagate. After visiting Teehalt's planet, Gersen and two administrators from Sea Province University agreed that the world of the Dryads should remain hidden and not subjected to human settlement. In his Cadwal Series, Vance later expanded on the idea of a planet that was too rich in native life to be settled by humans.

The Huaoshy believe that humans should not be allowed to zip around the galaxy making a mess of Earth-like worlds. First of all, they are offended by the mess that we humans have made of Earth's environment. The Huaoshy selected planets of the galactic core as breeding stations for we humans because those worlds have frequently been blasted by gamma rays and lacked complex native lifeforms. I never understood the lack of female Cyclops in Greek mythology, but the Huaoshy often engineer mono-sexual lifeforms as part of their efforts to limit the population and spread of primitive creatures through space. Ultimately, the Huaoshy want to convert sexually reproducing creatures like we Earthlings into "domesticated" artificial life forms composed of sedronic matter. The Huaoshy and many other species that originated as biological organisms have abandoned the universe of conventional matter and they view worlds like Earth as biological gardens that should not be destroyed by bumbling species like we humans.

Demons and Damsels
Related reading
A Star King by Ivory Fersoni

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