Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book Review: 'The Blue World' by Jack Vance

5/5 Stars

‘The Blue World’ was originally published in 1966; this Ballantine Del Rey paperback edition (190 pp.) was published in 1977, with a cover illustration by Vincent DiFate.

On an unnamed planet where the surface is entirely covered by a shallow sea, the descendants of a crashed earth spaceship have set up a civilization centered on living atop ‘floats’, enormous lily pads hundreds of yards in circumference. Food is garnered from the rich marine ecosystem; the weather is balmy; and life much like that imagined to take place on a tropical paradise.

The flies in this potentially idyllic setting are the ‘kragen’, squid-like creatures that regularly encroach on the sponge farms that constitute a major food source for the humans. In an effort to deter the pilfering of the lesser kragen, the humans have entered into an uneasy alliance with the biggest kragen of all: ‘King Kragen’ is several hundred feet long, and armed with sharp mandibles and formidable tentacles. The price for having King Kragen defend their sponge pens from interlopers is steep, as a significant portion of the crop is allocated to meet his ever-increasing appetite.

Sklar Hast, a brawny but thoughtful young man, brings conflict to Tranque float, where he lives as a member of a signaler caste, by questioning the need to cater to King Kragen. His attitudes spark resentment from the priestly caste of Intercessors, who bear the responsibility of summoning King Kragen to eliminate the lesser kragen when the latter are discovered plundering the sponge pens.

Before long, Sklar Hast’s rebelliousness leads to a violent confrontation, and his exile from the float community. But Hast is undeterred; he seeks to not only establish a new colony, but one devoted to the destruction of King Kragen. Can he and his band of followers devise a method to kill a monster squid when human technology is limited to what substances can be derived from aquatic plants and animals ? Can he deter the resentful Intercessors long enough to give his new colony a chance at survival ? Or will Sklar Hast and his revolutionary movement fall before the wrath of King Kragen ?

The Blue World’ is a fast-moving and well-written SF adventure. As is usual with Vance, the narrative is mainly a platform upon which he can indulge in his goal of crafting ornate passages of dialogue, and adjective-rich descriptions of life within a unique marine environment.

But he takes care to see that the plot holds the reader’s interest, using memorable adversaries, typified by the arrogant Intercesor Barquan Blasdel, as capable foils to Sklar Hast and his band of renegades. The strategies whereby Hast and his followers contrive to deal with the kragens, and later King Kragen himself, have a genuine scientific background and impart mounting suspense to the novel’s last 50 pages. Readers interested in a well-told story that avoids the more indolent pacing of Vance’s other SF novels will find ‘The Blue World’ to be a pleasing read.

1 comment:

Brian said...

I love Vance, and among all Vance, this one is somewhere at the top.