Wednesday, August 14, 2013
20. Star King by Jack Vance
Well it turns out they were right! There is still something distancing to me about Vance's approach and prose, but Star King was super cool and super engrossing. I think it helped that it was the first of his books that has a very straightforward plot, so that while it meanders, especially at the beginning, and while there are all kinds of asides that are not relevant to the story (though do build a rich sense of the universe), the book always presses forward and you want to find out what happens. It also has a strong moral core, which is something I've found lacking in his other books. It's not that I need a moral core in a piece of fiction, but in Vance's case, it helps to bridge somewhat the distancing effect of his prose style. Finally, there are some really good and detailed fight scenes, which I always appreciate. These were so detailed and well mapped-out that they could have been choreographed for a movie.
The story here is about Kirth Gersen who finds himself on a remote tavern far out in the Beyond, the part of the universe that is not governed by law. He meets a "locater" who has discovered a paradisiacal garden planet, but who has discovered that his employer is Malagate the Woe, an infamous intergalactic slaver. The locater does not want to reveal the location of his discovery because he has been enchanted by its innocent beauty and doesn't want to see it destroyed. Well this poor dude, quickly gets killed by three very nasty characters (and a rich, flamboyant group of badguys they are indeed) who show up at the bar, including Malagate himself, though he is not actually seen. When they leave, they accidently take Kirth's ship instead of the murdered locator's, which allows Kirth to mess with them. Well, it turns out that Kirth has specifically been on the hunt for Malagate, that he has actually been trained his entire life to hunt down and kill the Demon Princes (of which Malagate is one) who destroyed his village when he was just a child.
So that is really my kind of plot. As I said, it does meander and at times gets a bit bogged down, particularly in a long section of logic/deduction in trying to figure out which of three characters back in the civilized part of the universe is actually Malagate. But there is enough coolness along the way, in the story moving forward; the rich and wacky locations and characters and finally in Gersen himself, who is a real badass. I also like that Vance is really not a nerd. He doesn't waste time fretting over whether or not you can fly through space in a timely manner. He just goes to where the coolness needs to go and yet does it in such a way that it feels more or less realistic within the logic of the setting. I also enjoyed the way he portrays the style of this universe, as people can modify their bodies to any degree and change their skin colour, so that every character has a different palate going on. I will definitely be hunting down the rest of this series.