|the Demon Princes novels|
"books pick us, rather than the other way around" -Stephen Marche
Marche uses the term "centireading" to refer to having read a book more than 100 times (in another Reality it could be hectareading).
Marche notes: "There is a definite affinity between centireading and madness".
|Alastor Cluster series|
In addition to the Alastor Cluster series, I've also often re-read the books in Vance's Demon Princes series and the Cadwal Chronicles series.
Apparently P. G. Wodehouse was one of Vance's favorite authors. Stephen march describes The Inimitable Jeeves as one of the two books that he has read 100 times.
What kinds of books might provoke someone to read them 100 times? Books that are playful and full of humor probably stand a much better chance of lasting through 100 readings than grim books that take themselves too seriously.
Vance's books are full of jokes, pranks and amusing prose even when the protagonists are struggling through difficult times.
|the Cadwal Chronicles|
Books That Grab You
I'm intrigued by the idea that a book could literally select its reader. Stephen Marche described books that one reads 100 times as being like family. Here are four examples of times when I can easily imagine that a book selected me.....
The Gods Themselves
Perhaps the first science fiction book that I ever read was The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov. I was in grade school when I discovered this book on the shelf at my local library. As a child of the television era, I don't think it had ever really occurred to me that such a thing as a hard-bound science fiction novel might exist and be available in libraries. Somehow, I was called to the small shelf where the selection of Sci Fi books waited.
|cover art by Jasper Schreurs|
When I was in graduate school I was looking through the Sci Fi section of a book store. I was familiar with the Alastor Cluster series, but unaware of the existence of the Demon Princes series. This was about the time when the last novel in the series was published. I was lucky enough to be able to read the early books in the series without having to wait long for the last one.
|art by Rudolf Eizenhöfer|
For completeness, I need to mention one more book that I endlessly re-read: Assignment Nor'Dyren. This is a novel that along with Solaris really brought home for me the idea of a planet as a living being.
Vance seemed to enjoy crafting delicious moments of "tragic drama" in which an unsuspecting character is about to have their entire world come crashing down around him.
In Trullion, Vance introduces the mysterious Ryl Shermatz, who describes himself as a wandering journalist. In fact, Shermatz is the absolute ruler of Alastor Cluster (the Connatic), a man who enjoys secretly moving among his subjects without being recognized. In the scene where Shermatz is first introduced to Vance's readers, he is sharing a quiet evening of conversation with Akadie the mentor. Akadie is in an exulted mood, glad that he is now free of the $30,000,000 ransom money that he was assigned to collect, having just handed it off to the blackmailer's messenger that afternoon.
|other cover art|
Near the start of the Alastor Cluster series, readers are told that, "When in doubt, do nothing" is one of the Connatic's favorite sayings. Shermatz lets Akadie sit in jail until Glinnes tips his hand (he has found the $30,000,000 that Akadie is accused of stealing; in locker #42 at the local spaceport) and shares with Shermatz evidence of Akadie's innocence. At that point, Shermatz assumes another of his cover identities: Over-Inspector in the Whelm, the Connatic's military service. In the role of Over-Inspector, Shermatz can quickly arrange for Akadie's release from jail. It is only in the last book in the series (Wyst: Alastor 1716) that Vance gives readers enough clues to convince us that Shermatz is actually the Connatic. Upon re-reading Trullion we can fully enjoy Vance's literary construct and understand fine points such as why Shermatz allows Glinnes to keep the $30,000,000 in ransom money.
Glawen comes of age. Glawen Clattuc's relatives are shown anxiously waiting to observe his reaction when his Status Index (SI) is announced by House Master Fratano at dinner on Glawen's 16th birthday. A rumor has spread suggesting that Glawen's SI will be so bad that he will have no chance of winning one of the numerically-limited positions for adult family members within Clattuc House. "All now awaited the moment when Fratano's announcement would blast Glawen's life..." However, as the protagonist, and with the help of several turns of good luck, Glawen ultimately survives this "scare" and another dastardly attempt to "roll him out of the House"; eventually he joins the ranks of Clattuc House with full Agency Status.
pure and unabashed guilt".
|After their romp among the Chailles|
Jerdian takes a call from Gersen
|Gersen battles Bel Ruk (source)|
|Jerdian on the planet Dar Sai, as|
first seen by Gersen in Serjeuz:
"Delightful and superb,"
thought Gersen. (source)
Vance crafted scenes such as the one described above (with Gersen watching for Jerdian's reaction when she sees him on the robles) knowing full well that readers would not really be wondering if Gersen might be killed. Of course Gersen must survive and go on to vanquish demon prince #5 in the next book of the series. So there is nothing lost by re-readers of The Face who already know the outcomes of Gersen's battles. Knowing the outcomes allows the "centireader" to pay attention to the tricks and pranks of the roblers without being distracted by the life-and-death struggle. The only robler who seems not to be having a good time is the overly-serious Bel Ruk: "but it is not expected that he should".
By re-reading Vance's novels, we can fully appreciate the scenes where Vance has arranged for a character to be waiting patiently, enjoying the relentless unfolding of the inevitable. Only the well-informed reader, such as the "centireader", can fully appreciate how Vance crafted these scenes.
The Exode Trilogy
I recently blogged about the value of viewing the planet Earth as a sentient creature. Long ago, a nanorobotic life form took up residence inside our planet, a form of life that is only marginally interested in primitive creatures like we humans.
Writing about his favorite books, Stephen Marche commented, "I need them close to me".
|Contact by Carl Sagan|
What better way might there be to keep guiding me towards the path I must take then to keep me surrounded by certain books, particularly if those book had the power to make me read them 100 times? Carl Sagan wrote about having the sensation of hearing his parent's voices after they had died. The human brain is designed to adopt what Dennett called the intentional stance, and we apply it even towards inanimate objects. But what if a book were given a slight boost, a nanorobotic endosymbiont that that could literally communicate directly with your brain?
Next: Memories from the future....can a religion based on science fiction save humanity and allow us to have a future among the stars?
|An alternate Alastor Cluster|