- Sep 23, 2017
- Reaction score
That's a good point. It was actually a reused cover from the Orbit collection of best SF of the year for 1987:That 1989 cover clearly takes some inspiration from the shape of Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi.
My first Vance was The Dragon Masters, which still remains one of my favourites by him. The chilly, amoral tone in his sf (as opposed to the generally greater humour in his fantasy) is almost unique among the pulp generation, it reminds me more of Ballard than anything else.
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Toward the end of a stormy summer afternoon, with the sun finally breaking out under ragged black rain clouds, Castle Janeil was overwhelmed and its population destroyed. Until almost the last moment the factions among the castle clans were squabbling as to how Destiny properly should be met. The gentlemen of most prestige and account elected to ignore the entire undignified circumstance and went about their normal pursuits, with neither more nor less punctilio than usual. A few cadets, desperate to the point of hysteria, took up weapons and prepared to resist the final assault. Others still, perhaps a quarter of the total population, waited passively, ready—almost happy—to expiate the sins of the human race. In the end death came uniformly to all; and all extracted as much satisfaction in their dying as this essentially graceless process could afford. The proud sat turning the pages of their beautiful books, or discussing the qualities of a century-old essence, or fondling a favorite Phane. They died without deigning to heed the fact. The hot-heads raced up the muddy slope which, outraging all normal rationality, loomed above the parapets of Janeil. Most were buried under sliding rubble, but a few gained the ridge to gun, hack, stab, until they themselves were shot, crushed by the half-alive power-wagons, hacked or stabbed. The contrite waited in the classic posture of expiation, on their knees, heads bowed, and perished, so they believed, by a process in which the Meks were symbols and human sin the reality. In the end all were dead: gentlemen, ladies, Phanes in the pavilions; Peasants in the stables. Of all those who had inhabited Janeil, only the Birds survived, creatures awkward, gauche and raucous, oblivious to pride and faith, more concerned with the wholeness of their hides than the dignity of their castle. As the Meks swarmed over the parapets, the Birds departed their cotes. They screamed strident insults as they flapped east toward Hagedorn, now the last castle of Earth.
That's a good point. It was actually a reused cover from the Orbit collection of best SF of the year for 1987:
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I encountered both stories at the same time, I think, since "The Dragon Masters" (in the cover above) was the flipside of Ace Double from 1973 that featured "The Last Castle" as well. The amorality you mention seems to have been with Vance from the beginning or his writing, or nearly--it was marked in a short story "Temple of Han" I just read from Planet Stories in 1951, though Vance's stylistic trademarks had not yet developed in it.
I can't stop myself from quoting the opening of "The Last Castle" since it such a perfect example of mature Vance:
Vance at one point wrote that the root idea for the society of the Earth castles came from some reading he did about premodern Japan. It seems to me that it is just one example of a pattern he returns to again and again in his fiction: the baroque aristocratic society, with its elaborate codes of behavior and courtesy, its highly developed aesthetics, and its distance from reality. It's about as far from the can-do pragmatic outlook common in some American SF at the time, or the 'noble savage' ideas of Howard and some fantasy. Actually, "The Last Castle," takes more of a stance against such an aristocratic culture than Vance sometimes does; I've wondered if that, along with the quality of the prose, is one reason it was so successful.
Also, I ended up grabbing James Blish's "Black Easter" because of this thread and, man, did I love it.