14 January 2005

From The Star King

The following is a brief excerpt, in the form of one of the picturesque pseudo-quotational chapter headings, from The Star King (1963), by Jack Vance, the first of the "Gaean Reach" novels. (The Gaean Reach in the Fifteenth/Sixteenth Century of Space, i.e. A.D. ~3400-3500, is called the Oikumene). This particular passage serves to set the scene for a chapter telling the early life of Kirth Gersen, the protagonist, and how he came to be conducting his deadly serious enterprise in Brinktown.

From "The Wages of Sin," by Stridenko: article in Cosmopolis, May, 1404:

Brinktown: what a city! Once the jumping-off place, the last outpost, the portal into infinity – now just another settlement of the North East Middle Beyond. But "just another"? Is this a fair description? Decidedly not. Brinktown must be seen to be believed, and even then the hard of belief depart incredulous. The houses are set far apart along shaded avenues; still they rise like watchtowers, thrusting up into and through the palms, virebols, scalmettos, and it is a mean house which does not soar above the treetops. The ground level is no more than an entry, a raised pavilion where the clothes must be changed, for local habit ordains the use of paper house capes and paper slippers. Then above: what an explosion of architectural conceits, what turrets and spires, belfries and cupolas! What elaborate magnificence, what inspired scrimshaw, what intricate, inventive, farcical, wonderful applications and misapplications of likely and unlikely materials! Where else can one find balustrades of tortoiseshell studded with gold-plated fish heads? Where else to ivory nymphs hang suspended by their hair from the roof gutters, their faces expressing only bland benediction? Where else can a man’s success be gauged by the sumptuousness of the tombstone he designs for himself and erects in his front yard, complete with panegyrical epitaph? And in fact where but in Brinktown is success such an ambiguous recommendation? Few indeed of the inhabitants dare show themselves within the Oikumene. The magistrates are assassins; the civil guards arsonists, extortioners and rapists; the elders of the council, bordello owners. But civic affairs proceed with a punctilio and gravity worthy of the Grand Sessions at Borugstone, or a coronation at the Tower of London. The Brinktown jail is one of the most ingenious ever propounded by the civic authorities. It must be remembered that Brinktown occupies the surface of a volcanic butte, overlooking a trackless jungle of quagmire, thorn, and eel-vine skiver tussock. A single road leads down to the jungle; the prisoner is merely locked out of the city. Escape is at his option; he may flee as far through the jungle as he sees fit: the entire continent is at his disposal. But no prisoner ever ventures far from the gate; and when his presence is required, it is only necessary to unlock the gate and call his name.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Gyromantic Informicon. Comments are not moderated. If you encounter a problem, please go to home page and follow directions to send me an e-mail.