29 March 2015

The Age of Space and lack of interest in Technological Grand Ideas in Jack Vance

My favorite spec fic author (who was a stylist, with no real interest in grand ideas), the late Jack Vance, had his future descendants of our civilization rather prosaically designate 2000 as the end of the prior era, and 2001 was redesignated as the Year One of the Age of Space. His Demon Princes series (five books, three written in the 60s, 2 in the mid-70s) takes place around 1500, when inhabited space is divided into the Oikumene, where there is a sort of rule of law; and the Beyond, where there isn't. The by turns poignant and nostalgic interstellar epic, The Cadwal Chronicles (Araminta Station, Ecce and Old Earth, and Throy) (~1988-90) takes place around 8000 (A.S.). By then the Oikumene has become the Gaean Reach, and since it's become clear that only some semi-intelligent autochthones here and there inhabit the Galaxy along with Man, there isn't too much concern about what lies beyond. A few of his other books (young adult Planet of Adventure series and the Durdane series) take place in a slightly modified alternate universe, where there are a few hostile aliens. Vance, who was 97 when he died, really was a bit of a human chauvinist, but what the hell. 

As examples of Vance's lack of concern for technological speculation: he briefly expounds in The Star King (1962-63) on the "intersplit," which makes faster than light travel possible, without really venturing to explain it. Then he scarcely ever mentions it again. You just get in spaceships that are essentially yachts, and go; you get there lickety-split, no turgid exposition required. The other is that when our hero, Glawen Clattuc, in Araminta Station, is walking along the seaside and needs urgently to contact the authorities, he seeks out a pay phone. This is in something like 10,000 A.D. But, it matters not at all; they are delightful stories, even if there is some truth in the frequent criticism that Vance sometimes seems to lose interest and rush the endings a bit.

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.