May 25, 2014

Fun with Vance

Aunt Mayness Diotyma Beiser (source)
A few weeks ago I started thinking about a tribute blog post to honor Jack Vance. My first impulse was to force myself to do something I don't enjoy: decide which of Vance's science fiction novels is my favorite and then write a book review. This is a task similar to trying to decide which of your children is your favorite. Vance's novels are full of all sorts of fun, tricks and are some of my favorites...

When I was trying to think of a name for a character in Exode who would be the aunt of my best friend, I immediately knew that I had to call her Mayness, in honor of Jerdian Chanseth's aunt in Jack Vance's novel The Face.

the magical moon Mirassou
In The Face, Jerdian and her party of haughty Methlen go out for a ride among the Chailles, near Dinklestown on the world Dar Sai, under the full phase of the magical moon Mirassou. Their native Darsh guide is the notorious trickster named Nobius.

Nobious shrewdly uses the Methlen as tokens in a trade that wins him a chance to copulate with the tender kitchet Farrero. For her part of this bargain, Aunt Mayness has a "beastly experience" after she is abandoned on the desert floor by Nobious. Mayness is "entertained" for the evening by a Darsh who she later describes as, "a gross beast smelling of beer". Kirth Gersen dispassionately observes that the Darsh naturally assume that anyone out on the desert at night is is there to participate in a romantic adventure, Darsh style, but he is able to spare Jerdian from a similar fate and so begins their romance.

by David Russell
At the start of The Palace of Love, Gersen is still living with Alusz Iphigenia, a true princess from the planet Thamber. In search of clues to the identity of Demon Prince Viole Falushe, Gersen takes Alusz to the planet Sarkovy, a world renowned for the skill of its people in devising and using poisons. Poor Alusz does not have a good time and her feelings for the Sarkoy and their culture becomes quite evident during a banquet.

Of course, the banquet is part of the ceremonial poisoning of a group of condemned prisoners. Not only is Alusz invited to dine while the poisonings take place, but the food consists of local delicacies such as large centipedes, blue vegetables and a side dish of an acrid black paste. When Alusz departs the table early, their local host, Edelrod, pauses in his vorascious consumption of the meal and asks innocently, "She is not well?"
Gersen replies, "I fear not."
Soon after that, Gersen and Alusz go their separate ways. Gersen realizes that a woman like Alusz, "so honorable, generous and kind" is not well suited to the life he must lead.

by Eugene Damblans
Later in The Palace of Love, Vance included a group of Druids among the guests at Viole Falushe's Palace. Vance's Druids find a nice tree, dig a hole under its roots and proceed to entomb two children under the tree.

However, Vance allows one of the guests to play a trick on the Druids. He arranges for an escape tunnel to be dug, so the sacrificial children are saved. The next day, Pruitt, one of the guests, freaks out when he sees the children, still alive: believing they had been sacrificed the day before, he runs off in fright and is never seen again.

A Nobel Schoolboy
Two thirds of the way through The Book of Dreams, Vance allowed Demon Prince Howard Treesong to indulged in a neatly crafted Daydream of Justice in which, after 25 years, he exacts revenge against his old school mates. Not even the band director Professor Kutte, escapes Treesong's retribution. Treesong forces him to drink and play "drunken squirrel" style, as Kutte once long before had accused the young Tressong of playing.

During the program of entertainment for a class reunion, many "ingenious frivolities" are carried out at Treesong's command including: for having once ordered Treesong to sit quietly, Maddo Stubbins is made to sit on a block of ice. Bloy Sadalfloury was tattooed with Fs for having given Treesong the odious nickname Fimfle. Because Leopold Friss had once told Treesong, "Kiss my ass," he is made to appropriately kiss six pigs. This scene is lovingly played out by Vance over ten full pages and we readers are later treated to a humorously penned printed summary of the high points in Cosmopolis magazine.

After arriving on the planet Wyst (Alastor 1716), the young and naive Jantiff Ravensroke is often taken advantage of. Jantiff is invited to go on a "forage" outside the city of Uncible in search for bonter, that is, natural food. Unlike the irresponsible Arrabins, Jantiff tries to come prepared for the trek in the country side, loading a pack with spare clothing,  some food and even some toilet paper.

Out in the wilds, the foragers look for nut trees and wild plums. One of the group soils his clothing and asks Jantiff for his spare outfit. When hunger pangs strike to group, they devour Jantiff's meager supply of food. Luckily that leaves Jantiff with plenty of room in his pack to carry the dirty clothing of his comrade. The fate and usage of Jantiff's toilet paper is not revealed, but when the forages get back in Uncible Jantiff is annoyed and sulky.

Kirdy Wook
In Araminta Station, Glawen Clattuc and Kirdy Wook go off on a police investigation that takes them to the planets Natrice, Soum and Tasadero. At Soumjiana, Kirdy wants to partake in a side-mission: sampling the grilled sausages offered by the dozens of vendors around the Octacle. Glawen can't take Kirdy seriously and keeps efficiently carrying out their police investigation.

On Tasadero their investigation leads to Lutwiler Country, the land of the Zubenites. Fearing trouble from the Zubenites who are regarded as religious fanatics, Glawen goes into Lutwiler Country alone after instructing Kirdy to call out the local police as backup if he is not heard from soon. Kirdy plays Glawen false, leading to his imprisonment at Pogan's Point in the Monomantic Seminary of the Ordene Zaa. Only after months of captivity in Zab Zonk's tomb, at the heart of the Point, does Glawen manage to escape. In the end, after years of "dealing" with Kirdy, Glawen gets the last laugh.

I guess when you write for one penny a word and your goal is to write a million words each year then you better know how to have fun with each and every story. Thanks a million, Jack.

John Holbrook "Jack" Vance
August 28, 1916 – May 26, 2013

 Related Reading: May 2015 tribute: the places of Jack Vance's imagination.
May 2016 Vance tribute post
May 2017 Vance tribute post 
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