The 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:
[Photo courtesy of my mother’s kitchen table.]
Anyhow. ‘s a good book.
Rated: H. A. Treesong is here…
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