Monday, February 21, 2011

Review of "The Blue World" by Jack Vance

In early December I was going a bit crazy. I was writing and doing chores like a maniac. When I sat down to play video games, I wasn't enjoying it. Actually, nothing seemed to be enjoyable. My unborn baby had reached full-term and it was all I could think about. I voiced these concerns to my wife and she diagnosed the problem as stress. She insisted that I take some time off. After getting over the shock of this suggestion I said to her, "I would really like to read some science fiction from the 70s. That is exactly what will make me feel better."

She appeared moments later with "The Blue World" by Jack Vance. It was exactly what I was looking for. Sure, it was first published in 1966, but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that there was a guy with big 70's fantasy muscles on the cover that would make Boris Vallejo proud. I was equally happy when I discovered that the material inside was of good quality. It is a short novel, perfect for reading over the course of a weekend off.

The story takes place on an ocean world. The humans of Blue World live with minimal technology on what are essentially giant lily pads. Food is abundant and the people have few cares. The only nuisance is that a giant, armoured, aquatic, semi-intelligent squid-ant thingy (a Kragen) is extorting them. Sure, he keeps their colony safe from other Kragen, but he also takes increasing amounts of their food to support his growing size. King Kragen is also worshipped as a god by many followers, particularly the men who can apparently communicate with it.

The hero, Sklar Hast, a communications tower operator, has a rotten day at work and returns to his lagoon to see a small Kragen snacking from the community food supply. His "god" is nowhere to be seen and Sklar decides to break the commandment that only King Kragen may harm another Kragen. This brings him into conflict with King Kragen itself. His decision sparks fear, persecution, societal schism and eventially war.

I'm not sure if the book could be considered to be allegorical, but the overarching theme seems to be that religious conservatism will always ignorantly attack novelty and free thought. Which team wins? You'll have to read the book to find out. All I'll say is that it isn't much of a fight. The team that wins steamrolls the other in every engagement. That's a bit of a problem with the narrative, actually. One team always seems to be really tough but is inevitably thrashed. It's a bit like an old Warner Brother's cartoon, really. Eventually you realize that Tweety Bird wins every time, despite Silvester's claws, wiles and plots, because Tweety has fate and absurd destiny on his side. Once you realize this, Tweety ceases to be an underdog and one starts to pity Silvester.

The book handles its exposition excellently. With a society so vastly different from our own, the tempation exists to front-end a novel with explanitory information. However, Vance manages to distribute only as much information as is necessary to understand the plot at each moment in the story. At no point was I confused about what was happening, nor was I bored with too much information. Huzzah! Pay attention, Terry Pratchett.

The book was everything I hoped it would be. My weekend was saved, I stopped worrying so much about being a dad, I drank some booze and life was good.
4 dopey priests out of 5