Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jack Vance's Cadwal Chronicles

     It took me roughly two weeks to read the 1,245 pages that comprise the 3 volumes. This trilogy is about an Earth-like planet named Cadwal that has three continents: Ecce, Deucas, and Throy. The original explorers decided to leave the planet as untouched as possible, so they made a small settlement on one of the continents and drew up a Charter with strict rules designed to keep the population in check and to thwart mass colonization. Araminta Station is the name of the human settlement and also the name of the first book.

Araminta Station (1988)

 Ecce and Old Earth (1991)

Throy (1992)

     Jack Vance does not write hard science fiction, so the science is kept at a minimum. In fact, this could've taken place on Earth. The only thing that makes it science fiction is that the events take place on other planets and on the Earth of the future. Vance mainly writes sociological and psychological science fiction, in which the focus is on the behavior of humans. There are aliens, but they are similar to humans in appearance and - no surprise: sociologically and psychologically very different. Alien fauna is also introduced and I was reminded of Michael Coney's fiction, because of the amorphs (shape-shifting biological organisms). I suppose that octopi are the closest we have to amorphs here on Earth. 
     Summarily, this trilogy is one fascinating detective novel, with some serious revenge. If you're out for justice that involves blood, you will find it here. 
     Jack Vance has quite the vocabulary. Here are some of the words I had to look up, either because I had never seen them, or because I wasn't sure of the meaning. 

avarice - similar in meaning to "cupidity", a word I am familiar with
bellwether - one that serves as an indicator of future trends
calumny - similar in meaning to "slander"
catarrh - inflammation of mucous membranes
dishabille - the state of being casually dressed; careless
eclat - great brilliance, as of performance or achievement
epicure - a person with refined taste in food and wine
gauche - lacking social polish; tactless
halcyon - This is an interesting word. I had known it was a type of bird, but as an adjective, it means calm and peaceful; tranquil
hauteur - haughtiness in bearing and attitude; arrogance
indite - to write; to put in writing
laconic - use of few words; terse
lucubration - laborious study or meditation
marmoreal - resembling marble
maudlin - tearfully sentimental
pantology - This word is not listed in my 1992 American Heritage Dictionary, although I did correctly guess the definition. The root "pan-" gives it away.
peccancies - From the word "peccant" meaning sinful or guilty; violating an accepted practice
peculation - to embezzle or engage in embezzlement
plash - As a noun, it means a light splashing noise. As a verb it means to spatter liquid about.
pulchritude - great physical beauty and appeal
sang-froid - coolness and composure, especially in trying circumstances
solecism - an impropriety, a mistake, especially in grammar or etiquette
staid - Sober, serious, fixed, permanent
stolid - having or revealing little emotion
sylvan - relating to or characteristic of the woods or forested regions
termagant - a quarrelsome, scolding woman
venality - susceptibility to bribery or corruption

Some funny dialogue from Araminta Station:

"Under this law the killing of the night-whisks became a crime punishable by death, and the poaching stopped at once."
"Death?" cried Julian in consternation. "For hunting a bird? Isn't that extreme?"
"It doesn't seem so to me," said Glawen. "No one stands in the slightest danger unless he breaks the law. It is transparently simple."
"I understand!" said Milo. "I will explain to Julian. If I jump off a cliff, I will die. If I kill a night-whisk, I will die. Both acts are discretionary, both are suicide, and a person makes his own choice."

The aliens that resemble humans, the Yips, had some pretty amusing dialogue. As an example:

During the interrogation of Selious, when Bodwyn Wook accuses him of withholding facts, to which Selious replies:

"I will cite these facts if you tell me what they are."

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