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The Alastor omnibus by Jack Vance

Review by Mike 2004-04-17

The Alastor novels are set in a far future when scientific progress has come to a halt, and societies have become rather introvert. Alastor is a star cluster in the backwaters of the galaxy. It contains some three thousand inhabited planets, all of them pretty much going their own way, but the ultimate ruler, the Connatic, is carefully monitoring them from his palace on the planet Numenes and making sure that some measure of order is respected everywhere. Often he leaves Numenes to travel around the Alastor cluster in disguise, especially when there is trouble afoot.

Vance’s characters are often of questionable moral standing, but with verbal skills that make the dialogue highly entertaining. The stories are always refreshingly imaginative, occasionally to such an extent that you have to look hard for a plot among the heavy disposition. You don't have to be a hardcore science fiction fan to read them - in fact the ratio between science and fiction is about 1:10.

The first book in this omnibus, Trullion: Alastor 2262, is centered around Glinnes Hulden, who upon the return to his home planet after ten years in the service of the Connatic finds one of his brothers mysteriously disappeared, and half of the family land sold off under questionable circumstances by the other brother. Finding out what's going on and raising the money to buy back the land turns out to be a task on the scale of Sisyphus pushing the stone up the hill. Unfortunately the story lacks focus, and from time to time it gets bogged down by detailed descriptions of hussade games (the favorite sport on the Alastor planets). However, halfway into the book things start to come together and in the end I found it an enjoyable, but not amazing read.

In Marune: Alastor 933 a man shows up at a spaceport without any memory of who he is or how he ended up there. Where does he come from? What caused his amnesia? Who removed all traces of his identity and put him on a spaceship? This story is much more balanced than Trullion - plot driven, with a well developed society, and excellent characterization. It’s without question my favorite book so far this year.

Wyst: Alastor 1716 is the story about a young man, Jantiff Ravensroke, who leaves his home world to explore the great social experiment known as “egalism” on the planet Wyst. People there only work 13 hours a week, are provided with food (of questionable quality) and shelter for free, and spend their significant spare time drinking “swill” (moonshine) and hunting for “bonter” (decent food). But changes are on the way as the centenary celebration of the Egalistic Manifold draws near, and before long Jantiff finds himself in the middle of a political plot that threatens the Connatic himself. This is another excellent story, imaginative and full of absurdities that made me shake my head and laugh at the same time.

Trullion: Alastor 2262 - 4 amulets
Marune: Alastor 933 - 5 amulets
Wyst: Alastor 1716 - 5 amulets


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