Book Review – The Asutra by Jack Vance
Gatzel Etzwane again provides the single point of view. He would like to return to his relatively free and simple life as a musician, but his country and his planet need him, or so he believes.
He hears rumors of aliens and spaceships battling in a distant land, and he goes to investigate. Ifness, the man from Earth he met in the previous books, assists his journey by providing a flying boat. Etzwane discovers much but not quite the way he planned to.
I don’t want to give away much more of the plot, but I will point out that the book concludes with a unique and interesting twist, which almost makes the protagonist’s entire adventure beside the point. All the things Etzwane has done, while important in his mind, become minor, almost inconsequential footnotes in the implied story behind the story being told.
Etzwane glimpses the larger story, one that involves Earth and other human settled planets and alien species, the fate of mankind and its place in the universe. By asking Ifness if he can accompany him when he leaves Durdane, his is asking him to make him part of this larger story. But he cannot be. That story isn’t his. This twist is what, in my mind, makes the conclusion of this trilogy stand out.
This is a short book, 204 pages in hardcover. It is no longer in print. The limited edition hardcover copy I read came from my local library. It is available for Kindle, though.
The prose is sparse, stiff, formal, almost Edwardian sounding. Vance seldom uses a short, common word when a longer, more obscure one is available, and I’m fairly certain he made up a few of these. To be honest, I rather liked it because it was so different from the prose style of most books I read.
I recommend this trilogy because the setting and plot are original and interesting. The style may take some getting used to, but this is another good reason for reading it. It’s not your typical, modern science fiction action adventure. It’s different.