QuikReview – The Book of Dreams – Jack Vance

603afd41507e4107706a9906840cce59The Book of Dreams is the fifth and last in Vance’s magnum opus, the Demon Princes cycle. Naturally enough, it’s the first one I read, when The Father of Skaith snatched it up at a library sale years ago. For me, the Big Three of science fiction are Roger Zelazny, Gordon Dickson, and Vance. Each of them embodies something different about good scifi: Zelazny a conscious, irreverent sense of wonder; Dickson, the coolly tempered love and respect for humanity as only felt by one who is part of, but also apart from, the thing itself; and the many worlds of Vance, in their colors, scents, shapes, placid beauties and hard-edged underbellies.

Vance is principally praised for his peerless prose, distinctively detailed yet fascinatingly flourishing. He balances the golden-age scifi sense of wonder with a grounded sense of callous verisimilitude–but strikes a fine line while doing so–rarely falling off to either the grim, or the fanciful sides. Needless to say, The Demon Princes saga is not a work in which he steps awry. His worlds are fleshed out–by a side description of the vegetation, by the peppery smell of alien vegetation and the two-toned light of other stars–and then made real as he shows the attending, distasteful side: the grime and casual horror. So a chance paragraph informs us that on a certain world, native tribesmen labor for years to intricately inscribe slabs of precious wood and ceremonially set them afloat in the sacred ocean; over the horizon, trading ships wait to collect these slabs and sell them for curios.

Vance’s heroes tend to the distinctly SFfian mode: superbly competent, innovative and clever, cool under pressure, and emotionally inept. Guys, he’s a classic-era scifi writer. What else do you expect? Anyhow, we all know that it’s the first of these things that are the interesting ones as we watch his heroes, enmeshed in conflict, calculate, strategize, or just plain smash their way back out again. They’re active, not reactive; they’re strong (and sometimes headstrong); steely, and rarely out of their depth except when the love interests are involved.

So, The Book of Dreams is the fifth and last book in the Demon Princes saga. What does that mean? Nearly thirty years before, five master criminals united to destroy and enslave an entire human settlement/planet, the Mount Pleasant Raid. There were only two survivors: nine-year-old Kirth Gersen, and his grandfather–a gentleman with an unknown but somewhat recognizable background. Kirth was raised and educated as a weapon with a single purpose: to destroy evil men, beginning with the five who orchestrated the destruction of an entire world. Through the proceeding years and four other volumes, Kirth Gersen has managed to locate Attel Malagate, The Star King; Viole Falushe in The Palace of Love; Kokur Hekkus of The Killing Machine; and has found (and put a projac beam through) Lens Larque’s monstrous Face.

One more remains: Howard Alan Treesong.

In the manner of the most successful and righteous avengers, Gersen has also become enormously rich and controls the popular and widespread magazine, Cosmopolis.–which becomes enormously useful when, in the wastebasket of the Cosmopolis archives, he finds a photograph of ten men and women at a banquet. Scrawled in a corner of the page, a now-dead woman has written Howard Alan Treesong’s name.

And honestly, the back cover blurb summarizes the plot and characters better than I can, so:

WIN_20230508_11_36_35_Pro - Copy

[Photo courtesy of my mother’s kitchen table.]

Anyhow. ‘s a good book.

Rated: H. A. Treesong is here…

Readlist Rundown: old friends

(In between The Shadow pulps, naturally. I’m at #189 and counting.)

– The Book of Dreams – Jack Vance. This may have been my very first Vance novel, and as such it’s a great introduction; it’s one of his very most Vancian. That being said, it’s not the very best Demon Princes novel, and as the capstone to the pentalogy, it rather pales in comparison with its predecessor, The Face.

– The Old Gods Waken – Manly Wade Wellman. Dude, you spent an entire book building up to the climactic confrontation and fight, and then solved it by accident in a single paragraphWhat the hell?

– Warriors of Blood and Dream – various, edited by Roger Zelazny. This is an anthology of martial arts stories, of various genres and styles, and also of quality. Some of them are actually quite good–the Monkey King’s grandson accidentally ussuring Communism into China, for one; and the final story, wherein a dead and dreaming monster from the city of the Anasazi, the ancient enemy ones, awakens in the present day. (That one ran over its allotted length and you can kind of see exactly when the author checked his pages, winced, and started typing faster. Still quite good.)

– The Prince Commands – Andre Norton. I love this book. It’s a perfect little example of its kind, and if I knew any kids that would read it, I’d buy extra copies for them. (None of the brats I know would read it or even be allowed to, so….)

– Sleepwalker’s World – Gordon R. Dickson. This one starts off very strongly indeed, but Dickson decided to swing away from hard-edged scifi of the sort that did his protagonists well in Wolfling and On Messenger Mountain, in favor of a more psychedelic style….and, unfortunately, stays there. Which is a pity, because he had a really great setup and, frankly, the talking telepathic timber wolf was awesome.

Readlist – The Durdane Duology and more

– The Durdane Trilogy (The Faceless Man, The Brave Free Men, The Asutra) – Jack Vance. This is a trilogy that really, really should have ended with the second book. Or at least, had a hard-handed editor crack down on Vance, who allowed his cynicism and (apparent) dislike of the main character invalidate that hero’s entire arc, work, and struggles.

Books 1 and 2 set up a subtle parallel between the main hero, Gastel Etzwane, and the two most prominent supporting leads: the mysterious and neutral Ifness, and the fraught Jerd Finnerack. When Etzwane is a young boy, fleeing from mortal danger, he encounters Ifness–who (bound by a strict policy of neutrality!) refuses to help. Later, when Etzwane encounters Ifness again as an adult, Ifness–ostensibly for reasons of sheer pragmatism but, potentially, also as a subconscious or semi-conscious atonement–makes Etzwane his accomplice and sets the reins of power in his hands, before exiting stage left in the fashion of mysterious mentors.

Meanwhile, when Etzwane was also a boy, he did a great harm to Jerd Finnerack, who was attempting to help him; and when he is able to, recruits Finnerack as his assistant…and sets the reins of power in his hands.

Etzwane is not particularly bitter against the man who harmed him, or at least can control the desire to act on his dislike; Finnerack is, and might–or might not. The conflict between the two grows throughout book 2 as they both increase their abilities–Finnerack more so than Etzwane, and Finnerack with decreasing stability. It is one of the driving sources of tension in Book 2, as our heroes  clash even while they are attempting to unify the planet and destroy the barbarian hordes of invaders. –with heroic, protagonistic success, but not without incident–

And then, Ifness comes back and takes over (the neutrality policy has changed! Now his actions are, it is revealed, motivated by a desire to embarass and displace his superiors), and Gastel Etzwane’s time, efforts, sacrifice, struggles, worries, plans, and battles are completely forgotten or negated; Jerd Finnerack is destroyed as a character with an almost cruel abruptness. Several fairly important plot threads are completely abandoned in order to make this work. Worse still, this is all done together with a bait-and-switch moment that was aggravating just on the surface of it.

Still, Book 2 provides an overall satisfactory conclusion to the problems of the world Durdane and its leadership, and the journey of the boy Mur, aka Gastel Etzwane, the musician who became its leader.

The way Book 3 ends makes me assume Vance was forced to write another chapter just for the sake of it, disliked the obligation, and decided to deliberately make the readers suffer. Here’s how: he takes a bunch of standard SF tropes and our hero…and then (with malicious intent!) applies “Except Now Reality Happens” to what should be very simple tropes. Planetary barbarians capture spaceship to rescue their womenfolk!….ship is recaptured after a brief siege because the barbarians can’t make it go anywhere, up down or around, and all survivors (did we mention they started killing each other after a week or so, including the named characters that were specifically pointed out as knowing the odds and the risks of a rescue mission and went for it anyway because they loved their daughters) are enslaved along with the girls. Again, it’s not in the content–it’s in the execution; and it’s in the denouement, which is infuriating all on its own without adding the additional insult that it does have.

Will you look at that, turns out I did have something to say about this book. I think it sucked.

As far as the good stuff goes: Books 1 and 2 for the most part are standard and I did like them: they have characters, character arcs, development, motives, and a plot that allows the characters to be proactive and effective. Book 1 Etzwane is largely motivated by trying to redeem his mother’s slave-indenture, making his mother one of the more prominent female characters in the pulp scifi galaxy. And she’s a rather good character as well. Might have to make a “mothers in SF” post one of these days. And I will say that that’s an OK cover to book 3. If only it had a good book to cover. Damnit.

– The Blue World – Jack Vance – See, Vance did know how to write pulp-action scifi. He just had to layer it in elaborate worldbuilding and add sly layers of humorous backstory. I read this one as a palate cleanser. (Literally: I stayed awake another two hours to read it, just to get The Asutra out of my head.)

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik – This one has definitely entered the rotation as one of my go-to relax reads, and I’m glad to say it’s held up on each repeat.

– The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett – “Vimes in Uberwald will be more amusing than an amorous armadillo in a bowling alley.”

Can I play? Shipping Tags

So, Bookstooge gave up on this one, but I’m bored have time to kill procrastinating dedicated to providing quality content on my blog for my wonderful readers (stop laughing), and figured I’d give it a try.


  1. Answer the eleven questions provided by the blogger who tagged you
    • Does it still count if I just spontaneously decide to answer questions because I have no other ideas for fresh content?
  2. Come up with eleven new questions of your own!
    • Oh….I actually kind of can do this. Stay tuned.
  3. Tag 5 new bloggers!
    • Do I even know five bloggers?
    • Who are dumb enough to do something like this?
  4. Mention the blogger who tagged you and have fun!!
    • Hey, Bookstooge!


  • Who was your first book crush?
    • Sheeesh, I have no clue. I used to really be fond of Lord Rawnblade Widestripe, Protector of the Shores, but mostly that was because I was eight and the thought of going berserk on my cousins was very appealing after they made fun of my Breyer horse collection. Well, actually, speaking of books I read when I was eight, maybe John Clayton, Lord Greystoke.
    • Or some of the dog-loving heroes in Jim Kjelgaard’s books. I read a lot of those when I was just getting into reading “actual books,” but the “boys survival adventures with dogs” genre doesn’t tend to have a lot of ship potential.
  • Who was your most recent book crush?
    • ….I honestly dunno.
  • What popular ship do you sink?
    • The last time I paid close attention to shipping fandoms was back in the heyday of Bleach. The only fandom I’m really involved with these days is The Dresden Files. So:
      • Ichigo/Rukia (I dislike Rukia because she has an abrasive personality that doesn’t appeal to me in a main character. As a side character, she’s fine, but as a lead or love interest? No.)
      • Harry/Molly, Harry/Mab, Harry/Marcone
      • Come to think of it, Harry/Lara, because Lara is a scary, inhuman monster who is going to try her damndest to push Harry’s already-dangerous mental state all the way over from “dark hero teetering on the edge” to “monster.”
  • Which unpopular ship do you actually love?
  • Do you have a favorite friends to lovers ship?
    • Harry/Murphy.
    • (sobs)
    • I guess Renji/Rukia would count. Does childhood-friends-to-lovers count? This one I actually like because when you have two abrasive, loud-mouthed jerks they play off each other a lot better in the background.
  • What ship reminds you of your relationship? Or the relationship you would like to have?
    • Oh, you know I didn’t even notice this question the first time skimming through the list. Lol.
  • What ship was just unnecessary?
    • Every YA love triangle ever.
    • OO OO OOH I ACTUALLY HAVE AN ANSWER HERE, hah! I found the Adam Reith/Zap 210 romance in Jack Vance’s The Pnume to be rather perfunctory and unnecessary given their dynamic throughout the novel as a whole.
  • Imagine your favorite ship 10 years in the future (from when their book ends)… where are they now?
    • (uncontrollable sobbing)
  • Which book do you want to see adapted to TV/Movie? Who would you cast to bring your ship to life?
    • I have had thoughts about this before.
    • Red Rising would also make a pretty kickass show/movie. I dunno who to cast, though, honestly. But I have a feeling that the guy who played Lucius Malfoy would make a good Augustus au Nero…
    • Oh, actually come to think of it: the works of Genevieve Cogman (that aren’t Bleach fanfic.) Solid, charismatic actors can overcome a multitude of faults in sub-par writing (albeit not all), and then can introduce or imply personality when there really isn’t any.
      • Kai can be played by Lee Min Ho, because Lee Min Ho is an enormously talented actor and if there’s anything that could induce me to at least check out a sub-par show, it’d be him.
      • Irene can be played by Emma Watson, because she’s the only actress of that age range I can name off the top of my head.
  • What is a relationship that you wish happened?
    • ….Honestly, I really can’t name a whole lot. I tend to favor canon ships to begin with.
  • 9780689715624_p0_v1_s1200x630What character(s) have broken your heart?
    • Well, the last time I cried over a book, it was Black Gold by Marguerite Henry, when in his paddock with an injured leg and he thinks the crowd in the distance is cheering for him but his trainer is actually coming to put him down…never have I or will I ever read another sad horse book after that, again.
    • That includes sad dog books and movies, too.

Hurry Up and Wait Readlist

5e197d9c67a719559307a2f5341444341587343Night 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.

634471– 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 rightEverything 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.