Saturday, October 11, 2014

Jack Vance - The Blue World

Jack Vance's 1966 classic The Blue World seems to be mostly remembered for its portrayal of a human society on a rather unique planet. The titular planet is home to the descendants of a spaceship that crashed 12 generations before the story begins. On the Blue world there is no land, only water. The population lives on floats, which seem akin to giant lily pads anchored to some distant ground, and surrounded by an enormous ocean full of dangerous creatures.

But society isn't precarious. The seas and the floats provide materials for food and manufacturing. Society itself has lost some of the stratification it had before the crash landing. Though different social castes still have very specific roles - fishing, building, communication - but retain their pre-crash names, advertisers, hooligans and bezzlers. We learn though, that the "Anarchists and Procurers" have long since disappeared since the crash.

But while many remember the book for its unique and cleverly painted alien society, what the reader should also spot is the subtle and clever tale of revolution. The priests of The Blue World have created a religion around a giant, violent sea animal that lives in the nearby ocean. These squid like kragen's live on food that grows on the floats, but can easily kill humans and wreck destruction. The priests have encouraged one of these kragen, the largest and meanest to protect them, while providing it with easy food. In doing so, they have created the reason for their own existence. Without the priests, the giant kragen would destroy the human settlement. But without its protection, the humans would be at risk from the more numerous, but lesser animals.

As a result society has stagnated. No change takes place. The priests block intellectual curiosity and prevent study of the texts that survive from the crash that marooned their ancestors. They also violently silence those who question their rule. Eventually though, a section of the population begin to think about what life might be like if they were to destroy the kragen and study some of the books properly.

Vance's novel is an adventure story, and good eventually triumphs. Or at least the new order defeats the old. The star of the book is the planet itself, though the tale is an old one.

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