Wednesday, August 14, 2013

20. Star King by Jack Vance

I have read a few other Jack Vance novels and enjoyed them but they never grabbed me the way they have some others.  I respect his massive contribution to the world (both in fictional writing and in the tabletop roleplaying game hobby as his ideas about magic were fundamental to the way it was designed in Dungeons & Dragons).  Many people have said that I should check out the Demon Prince series and so I could not resist picking up this paperback (which is also a beautiful Daw paperback and was in such good condition, appearing almost unread, that I was loathe to even open it).

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.


Kelly Robinson said...

Nice to hear that the action scenes are well planned. I find I lose track of what's happening in fight scenes quite often, and then after re-reading, I don't think it's always my fault. I feel like the author sometimes hasn't visualized it well enough to articulate it understandably, or in other cases, sees it so well that he or she doesn't realize that the reader can't just automatically see it too.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Yes, me too. I think it's partly my fault, because I tend to read quickly and not deeply. However, I can still sense when a fight scene isn't well constructed and it can put a dent in one's willing suspension of disbelief.