May 15, 2011

Jack Vance - Cadwal Chronicles

The Cadwal Chronicles are a trilogy of science fiction novels by Jack Vance set in his Gaean Reach fictional universe. The three novels are called

Araminta Station, 

Ecce and Old Earth 

and Throy.


Cadwal is a planet of extraordinary beauty. To protect it, the "Naturalist Society" has set up a Charter which allows only limited settlement on the planet in order to enforce the laws of the Conservancy. These laws forbid extensive human habitations, mining and other exploitation activities. Only six "Agents" and their staff are allowed to reside permanently on the planet: their main function is to prevent other humans from establishing residence. From the earliest days, the Agents recruited members of their own families to help them; but only 20 such family members were allowed, to a total planetary population of 120 (although numbers are swelled by additional non-resident personnel, known as "collaterals"). At his 21st birthday, each resident on Cadwal discovers his Agency status which hinges on an "index number" indicating his genealogical rank. A person whose index number is greater than 20 must leave Cadwal to seek his fortune elsewhere in the Gaean Reach. Thus, the society of Cadwal is a highly stratified aristocracy, where success depends on birth as much as aptitude. The system is designed to minimise the number of residents on the planet but is highly inflexible.

Despite these restrictions an additional groups of persons reside on the planet: the "Yips", who are described as "descendants of runaway servants". Forbidden access to the hospitable continent of Deucas, the Yips are confined to the tiny Lutwen Islands; their extremely crowded settlement is informally known as Yipton.

Much of the story concerns the tensions between the Yips, who would like to colonise the continent of Deucas and have no concern for ecology, and the members of the Cadwal Conservancy who wish to uphold the Charter and keep Cadwal as a nature reserve.

Perhaps, what I find most striking of this series are the dialogues, so formal and polite as to verge on the absurd. Wicked villains that, in their hatred, speak with poisonous contempt to patient and imperturbable heroes who answer these verbal aggressions with enviable tranquility and commendable courtesy. Invariably polite and serious, without ever responding to provocations nor being drawn into futile discussions, Glawen Clattuc, an intelligent, capable young man and a member of the Conservancy at Araminta Station, joins Bureau B, the department responsible for enforcing the laws of the Charter, and quickly becomes embroiled in a plot to allow the Yips to take over Deucas. Glawen makes a somewhat discreet hero, without fuss or display, but he's resourceful and endowed with tenacity and tireless devotion to duty.

Funny, detailed and agile story, great plot, credible characters. Perhaps the somewhat convoluted and contrived dialogues may tire a bit at first, but I enjoyed them a lot because of the subtle sense of humour woven into them, specially once I realized that the style was necessary for a proper description of the characters and their idiosyncrasies.

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