Day: September 25, 2020
Hurry Up and Wait Readlist
– Night of Masks, Andre Norton.
This is a very simple story, despite its genre-blending: it’s a survival story set on an alien planet. Of the events that send our two young heroes there, little is fully explained. Even the narrative touches which elevate this above standard Hatchet-type pulps are just that, touches.
That said, it’s one of the most vividly-written Dangerous Alien Planets I’ve personally encountered, a particularly good trick given that the planet is pitch-black to human eyes and must be seen through infra-red goggles. And yet the persistent atmosphere of heat and oppression, dread and anxiety, fear of the dark and loathing of the unknown is communicated quite well, thank you.
Rated: Don’t read this at night.
– Magicians of the Gods, Graham Hancock.
The guy has a couple of very clear points to make: modern science is tribal, clique-ridden and consensus-based. Anyone who goes outside the consensus risks being viciously ostracized. It also is highly politically correct inasmuch as it doesn’t particularly welcome theories that might go against the party lines (Clovis-first, for instance). That’s all totally true.
He also has some interesting theories: that human civilization is older than believed, that climate events such as the Younger Dryas held great influence over humankind/civilization; that dispersal patterns from/throughout Old World are different than the standard model. The overall theory is: that there was a pre-pre-prehistoric, very advanced culture from which all the really ancient civilizations (Egypt, Sumer, Akkad) were descended, but of which only the most tantalizing of circumstantial evidence remains.
Problem is….his arguments tend to a) be way far out, b) undercut his own theory. When the strongest evidence you do have is: “there is an interesting line-up between Plato, the dates for the legend of Atlantis, and the Younger Dryas,” “Gobekli Tepe exists,” and, “That’s a really, really, big stone,” it might be time to accept that your theory has insufficient supporting evidence and go back to your wall with all the bits of paper with strings connecting them.
– The Dirdir, and The Pnume, Jack Vance.
These are the third and fourth volumes, respectively, of Vances’ Planet of Adventure cycle. Naturally, I first got hold of them in backwards order and didn’t read the first or second until I got the anthology bundle. Same thing happened with the Demon Princes, for me, with the same result: the last book is my favorite for sentimental reasons, but I think the next-to-last is technically superior.
So, the Planet of Adventure kicks off with space scout Adam Reith shot down and stranded on the alien world Tschai. He is desperate to return to Earth, both because while Tschai is a world of magnificence, grandeur, and adventure, it is also a world of barbaric horrors, and to bring word back of the threat posed by the alien races who dwell there and have already once raided Earth (hence, the Earth-type humans who also live there.)
Books 1 and 2 cover Reith’s attempts to find his own ship (it’s been wrecked and gutted), or steal a working ship. Both fail, so The Dirdir picks up where Servants of the Wankh left off. The next option is to buy a ship…if one has the sequins for it. Sequins, the currency of Tschai, happen to be naturally-occuring products which can be mined only in one region: the Carabas. Which happen to be the Dirdir hunting preserve. There is something like a seventy-five percent death rate for miners, not to mention that most profit margins are very slim. Reith, nevertheless, comes up with a novel plan that results in massive profit, and also the Dirdir howling for his hide.
The only thing I can really say about this book is that it does everything right. Everything in it is done perfectly, from the setting to the prose to the characters, to the dialogue, to the action, the climactic battle, and the confronting-the-villain with delicious irony at the denoument.
The Pnume takes a slightly different turn, with Reith being separated from his usual companions and plunged into a novel setting: the underground haunts of the Pnume–the only race indigenous to Tschai, who observe the actions of others upon their world as though watching a play. The Pnume have decided that Adam Reith, man of Earth, is a curiousity worth collecting and placing in their museum, Foreverness.
Adam Reith, who has almost gotten his starship ready to fly, has entirely different opinions. Together with his new sidekick, a pnumekin (human servant of the pnume) girl Zap 210, they must journey beneath the surface and across it to return to the Sivishe Spaceports. Hilarity ensues.
What I like about this one? Well, although it has a little less action than the previous book, for some reason, I really like the image of the Pnume–the Silent Critics, the zuzhma kastchai, ancient and all-knowing motherfolk from the dark stuff of Tschai,–walking silently in the dusty darkness.
That said, the book does suffer from only having two characters–Reith and the mousy Zap 210–for most of it’s length; it becomes noticeably better once they emerge into the surface of Tschai and begin to interact with some of Vance’s finest trustworthily philosophical rogues. (Rigging the eel-races is one of my favorite gambling scenes in all fiction.) My other problem is that the eventual Zap 210/Adam Reith romance just doesn’t seem necessary. But, ah well, such is life in pulp scifi.
Rated: Onmale decreed life for Adam Reith.
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