Jul 15, 2012

Beings Who Disguise Themselves as Humans

Howard Alan Treesong
I have great fun cruising the internet in search of reactions from readers to my favorite SciFi stories. Often the thoughts of another fan stimulate me to look at a familiar story in an exciting new way. Sometimes what I find on the internet makes me wonder if there is an alternate universe where my favorite stories turn out completely different. Example:

"The Demon Princes are a race of beings who disguise themselves as humans and delight in power and destruction."

The five Demon Princes from the pen of Jack Vance are Attal Malagate, Kokkor Hekkus, Viole Falushe, Lens Larque, Howard Alan Treesong. Do these five men "disguise themselves as humans"?

Viole Falushe
The concept that these five criminals are not human beings no doubt comes from the first novel in the series, Star King

Here is part of the blurb from the back of my 1978 DAW No. 305 copy of the novel: "Star Kings were a race of aliens who disguised themselves as human. They sought only power..."

The Star Kings are from planet Lambda Grus III and are so similar to humans that it can be hard to distinguish them from humans. Attal Malagate is a Star King, but something of an outcast from his own people.

As described in The Killing Machine, Kokkor Hekkus is a hormagaunt. A hormagaunt undergoes special life-extension treatments; Kokkor Hekkus is about 300 years old. He wears prosthetic face masks to disguise himself, his facial skin having thinned to a transparent sheet above his muscles.

In The Palace of Love, Viole Falushe is described as having grown up on Earth as Vogel Filschner. We are told that his mother went into hiding after Vogel began his criminal career by kidnapping a group of young girls.

Lens Larque is from the world Dar Sai, where the human settlers, selected over the course of hundreds of years for survival in the harsh desert climate, have become the "Darsh". While living on the nearby planet Methel, Larque wears a wig and passes himself off as a normal human.

Home Farm, Gladbetook
Howard Alan Treesong was born Howard Hardoah, a farm boy on the planet Moudervelt. From a young age Howard seems to be possessed by a group of invading consciousnesses: Immir, Jeha Rais, Loris Hohenger, Mewness, Spangleway, Rhune Fadder, Eia Panice. Does Howard suffer from a split personality, or is there something else at work?

As described by Vance, what the five Demon Princes have in common is that they were all outcasts and they all became "successful" and famous criminals. What if they really were all members of a "race of beings" disguised as humans? I've previously proposed a fanfiction sequel to The Book of Dreams in which we learn that Treesong was a host for nanites, submicroscopic nanobots employed by Overseers. In the Exodemic Fictional Universe I often imagine that there are forms of mind control mediated by nanites that take up residence in human brains. What if the ruling council members of the Institute and the Demon Princes were all carriers of Overseer nanites and, when needed, those nanites could turn their hosts into "puppets" of the Overseers?

Treesong might be a special case: a nanite host for whom there are problems establishing a normal interaction between his brain cells and the invading nanites.

Delight in power and destruction. Certainly the Demon Princes have gotten some bad press.  In his book The Demon Princes, Caril Carphene wrote that Malagate kidnapped the mayor of Desde on the planet Caro. Mayor Paragiglia had attempted to withold protection payments from Malagate. As a service to the Oikumene, Malagate telecast Paragiglia staring in a a 39-day-long torture session.

Carphene writes, "Viole Falushe can be characterized as arachnid vindictiveness, infantile sensitivity, monstrous self-indulgence."

The back cover of my copy of The Killing Machine says that Hekkus is, "...the most dreadful criminal in the universe, wanted and feared by every law agency existing..." As an example, in the course of the novel, we are told that Hekkus murdered an IPCC agent.
illustration by David Russell

Fear of Lens Larque and his whip, Panak, has been know to reduce grown men to a state of quivering fright. Carphene writes, "...he is expert in use of the whip and takes pleasure in so punishing his enemies." 

Larque's business manager, Ottile Panshaw, tells Gersen, "...your acts will cost you will be carried away to a secret place. There you will slowly and carefully be flayed."

But we are also told, "...these men are constructive geniuses, motivated not by malice, perversity, greed or misanthropy..."

Malagate's plantation on Grabhorne
In words and deeds. What are the self-proclaimed goals of the Demon Princes? 

Facing death, Treesong says, "I intended to rule the human universe. I would have been the first Emperor of the Gaean Worlds."

Why does Malagate want to own a secret planet? " father a world and a people superior to both men and the people of Ghnarumen."

By the time of his death, Viole Falushe has long maintained his Palace of Love at a secret location on the distant world of Sogdian. Falushe proclaims, "My great pleasure is creation..." He tells Gersen, "I have an elaborate program of research underway," and we learn that he has cloned Jheral Tinzy.

Hekkus, rather than exchange banter with Gersen, rushes into the maw of Gersen's blaster, but what is his life's work? He plays out his fantasies on the secret world Thamber. Gersen sums up, "A single life was insufficient for him; he must drink at every spring, know every experience, live to all extremes. On Thamber he found a world to his temperament."

If the Demon Princes are "constructive geniuses" then what are they and the Institute constructing?

Asimov's Galactic Empire vs Vance's Gaean Reach. Asimov wrote many stories set in a fictional universe where humans colonized the galaxy under the benign guidance of the robot Daneel. Daneel planned for the consolidation of 25 million planets under the group mind of Galaxia.

In contrast, Vance's stories are often set on planets that are part of a more chaotic human diaspora. Rather than taming millions of worlds to suit a homogeneous humanity, Vance often depicted the human inhabitants of distant planets being cut off from Earth and evolving in new directions to fit the local environmental conditions.....sometimes even falling under alien influence.

Vance was comfortable including alien species in our galaxy, but Asimov wrote about an "human only galaxy". For the galaxy as depicted by Vance, it is not hard to imagine an alien influence guiding the course of human cultural development, acting through the Institute and others such as the Demon Princes. If that alien influence took the form of Overseers, they might be less benign than I usually paint them within the Exodemic Fictional Universe. Maybe willing and able to make use of the Demon Princes to advance their agenda.

"Is it conceivable that the Institute wields more control over the human psyche than we suspect?" - Jan Holberk Vaenz LXII

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