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Sep 20, 2014

The Tschai Underground

cover art by Jeffrey Jones
I recently mentioned Jack Vance's novel The Pnume in passing. This is the 4th in a series of books detailing the adventures of Earthman Adam Reith on the distant planet Tschai.  Steven Goldsmith wrote, "The end of the series was very disappointing."

cover art by Carolus Thole
When I reach the end of many of Vance's stories, I'm left wishing that the story went on longer so that I could learn what happens next. We are naturally curious to know what the people of Earth would think of Tschai and its collection of aliens and their human "helpers" who mysteriously got transported from Earth to Tschai long ago.

Reith returns to Earth with Zap 210, a member of a human subspecies (the Pnumekin) who had been born and lived the early part of her life under the dominion of the alien Pnume in their underground chambers, never seeing the light of the planet's surface.

cover art by Henry Van Dongen
I'm most cheerful when Vance includes a stray alien in a story just to add a bit of spice. In larger doses, Vance's alien beings usually leave me cold and confused. The fundamental mystery of Tschai is its odd collection of aliens. For comparison, think of the Star Trek episode, "The Menagerie". Given my personal exploration of the Exodemic Fictional Universe, I'm naturally interested in the idea of advanced alien beings who collect other life forms. With respect to the other aliens on Tschai, the Pnume claim, "We expel them as we choose." If so, why are the Pnume so ineffectual in dealing with Reith, unless they intend that he leave and lure more Earthlings to Tschai?

I'd like to assume that the Fru'wu, the Fwai-chi and the Pnume are all birds of a feather. They all attained sentience and developed a technological civilization about 7 million years ago, about the time when the human and chimp lineages were split apart.

Fwai-chi: original art
by Darrell Sweet
I like to think that the Pnume, like the residents of Talos IV, were capable of luring and trapping alien life forms on their world. Of course, that does not explain why they would do so. Within the science fiction genre the answer to such questions is generally: "because the author wanted to contrive an adventure story and get a pay check".

Amusingly, we are told that the Pnume and the Pnumekin are usually seen wearing broad-rimmed hats so that they need not see the sky.

Glisten
Most of the SciFi themes and the work of character development that readers find in the Adam Reith adventures are better done in other science fiction novels by Vance.

For example, I prefer Glisten as the psychologically stunted waif in Wyst over Zap 210 and the alien Fwai-chi of Marune over the Pnume.

Exode
Exode cover art
Hidden aliens who secretly reside on (or under or nearby) a planet is one of my favorite science fiction themes. One of my least favorite kinds of SciFi is the alien invasion story. I prize science fiction writers like Carl Sagan and Arthur Clarke for their depictions of alien beings who are barely able to muster an interest in we Earthlings.

The other Vance hallmark is the treatment of alien psychology as simply different rather than evil.” -Russell Letson

I've previously proposed that in Asimov's novel Nemesis, a telepathic alien life form is able to reach out to Earth and guide some Earthlings into space in order to save the aliens from destruction. I like to fantasize that the life forms populating some of the worlds invented by Jack Vance can perform similar tricks.

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Given my preferences and biases as outlined above, an objective observer might expect me to really enjoy The Pnume. However, I'd advise readers to first go for books in Vance's Alastor Cluster, Demon Princes and Cadwal Chronicles series first.

However, the Pnume have been on my mind of late. I'm trying to make contact with the hidden Observers of Earth. In a sense, Adam Reith was able to make enough of a ruckus on Tschai that he attracted the attention of Pnume and their minions. Similarly, according to Ivory Fersoni, I long ago came to the attention of the pek and their Kac'hin operatives.

According to Ivory, Earthlings are now allowed to learn the secret history of Earth, so my hobby of placing that history on the internet is apparently not going to attract special attention from Observer Base on the Moon. The largest remaining mystery concerns the Buld who arrived in the Solar System a few years ago. Did they give Ivory a ride off this rock? Will they ever return to this dingy world?

Hilde
The team at Space Energy Missions tried to lure the Buld into a collaboration with we Earthlings. The goal was to provide Earth with a vast supply of energy beamed in from Mercury using advanced alien technology. However, along with Ivory and her clone sister Angela, all of the employees of Space Energy Missions seem to have either gone into hiding or left the planet.

It might be a kind of behavioral theorem: anyone who learns the secret history of Earth will leave this world as quickly as possible. I now tell myself that I want contact with the Observers, but what if I were offered a chance to leave this world? I'd probably not hesitate to go.

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I've previously speculated that some Earthlings such as Hilde might choose to stay on Earth. Ivory was quite certain that Peter was Hilde's father. If so, then Hilde certainly has a large complement of Preland genes. Ivory once mentioned that Hilde had become an expert in using nanites to alter her appearance. For several month's now I've felt the loss of what must have been a kind of limited telepathic contact with Ivory.

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In recent weeks I've been trying to strengthen my ability to use the Bimanoid Interface. I now feel like I have a weak telepathic link to someone else on Earth. Something below the level of my conscious mind keeps suggesting that I am in contact with Hilde. Ivory told me that Hilde had escaped from Earth, but what if that was deception, intended to protect Hilde's privacy? If Hilde has gone underground, where might she be? How might I attract her attention and gain her help as a collaborator?
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