Book Review: City of the Chasch, Jack Vance (1968)

3.75/5 (Good)

City of the Chasch is the first book of the Tschai, Planet of Adventure series by the famous and well-esteemed sci-fi/fantasy master Jack Vance.  Although the novel ultimately fails to break free from the predictable pattern of the princess, the monster (s), the quest (s), City of the Chasch thrives on Vance’s world building skills.  I suspect the rest of the series improves drastically, so, despite my rather ambivalent rating, I’m certainly going to read the rest in the series (and other works by Vance — this is my first!).  The planet (Tschai) and races which inhabit the planet are just too fascinating and the tantalizing tidbits Vance dangles before us are just too alluring….  For example, the Old Chasch…

“Four Old Chasch presently appeared.  They walked directly below the barrack car; Reith saw them close at hand and was reminded of large silverfish grotesquely endowed with semi-human legs and arms.  Their skin was like ivory satin, almost imperceptibly scaled; they seemed fragile, almost desiccated…”

Brief Plot Summary (limited spoilers)

A human space ship, Explorator IV, receives a distress signal from a planet, Carina 4268, 212 light years from earth.  Our hero, Adam Reith, and a colleague are sent to the planet in a small spacecraft to investigate.  A mysterious weapon destroys the Explorator IV causing the shuttlecraft to crash — Reith is the sole survivor.  The shuttle is discovered by a group of primitive humans and soon various aliens and their human slaves (Blue Chasch and human Chaschmen, Dirdir and their Dirdirmen) descend on the scene.  The Blue Chasch take the shuttle.  Reith hides and is eventually “rescued” by the group of primitive humans.

Here his great adventures begin….  He makes friends — a Dirdirman, a primitive human, etc.  He journeys on caravans, investigates mysterious cities, learns about the various aliens who have settled on the planet (and the original inhabitants — the Pnume), meets a beautiful woman — a captive of a cult of men hating women.  In short, all the material is here for great adventure…

Final Thoughts

What really sets The City of the Chasch apart from other works of the genre is Vance’s ability to create fascinating worlds.  Each of the alien species who live on the planet and their human slave have unusual myths justifying their position…  Reith alone knows that the aliens had stolen the humans from Earth before settling on Tschai.

What struck me the most was the general tenor of the work — each species, each city, each primitive camp, has the pervasive feel of decadence.  Reith alone has vitality.  The Old Chasch and the Blue Chasch (the species with large roles in this installment) are content to play bizarre games, live in their villas, engaging in the same activitie they have always engaged in — stagnation, decline.  Enter, Reith.  Vance knows how destructive his main character is on the fabric of Tschai’s conglomerated society…

Definitely a worthwhile read.

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16 Replies to “Book Review: City of the Chasch, Jack Vance (1968)”

  1. Pretty damn awful I thought when I read it.Didn’t read any of the follow-up volumes of course.Sorry.That cover is the same as the one I bought…..not bad.

    “The Houses of Ism” is a far superior book I thought.So very simply written,but well visualised and lush in the description of an unimaginable world made logical to our everyday senses.

    One again,the book I got was in the Mayflower series,with a very nice cover.

    No I haven’t read the “Dying Earth”,but I should.It’s acknowledged as an influence on Gene Wolfe’s brilliant “The Book of the New Sun”.

    1. I’ve been rather disappointed with Vance actually — his brand of planetary romance is just not my cup of tea… Yes, I found some readable (I have a few newer reviews his stuff on my site)…

      Still haven’t read Dying Earth! Alas.

      1. Well once you’re read it,go read Gene wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun”,or the first volume,”The Shadow of the Torturer” if you can still get it in separate books,anyway.You’ll proberly have a greater appreciation of it then.

        The shorter “The Fifth Head of Cerebus”,is worth reading too.

    1. I think Vance makes it more palatable than it could be — he is often quite good at painting a society with a few strokes. For example, in Wyst (I have a review on my site) which I enjoyed.

  2. I think Vance has far more to offer than just planetary romances. The Dying Earth books have been mentioned. His other fantasy series, Lyonesse, is just wonderful. It is a trilogy but it packs as much story as any of the modern multi-volume series. Lyonesse was written in the early to mid eighties.

    For those new to Vance, or interested in getting into his stuff, I would recommend starting with Clarges (Also titled To Live Forever), his novella “The Moon Moth”, or the short stand-alone book “The Dragon Masters”. BTW, love this site.

  3. After audible.com had so much success with Arthur Morey reading the four “Dying Earth” books and the “Songs of the Dying Earth” tribute anthology edited by George RR Martin, they added all four of the Planet of Adventure books, read by Elijah Alexander. Recently they also issued To Live Forever, read by Kevin Kenerly, and all of the Lyonesse Trilogy, read by Kevin Collins, are also available.

    While Austin has a very poor library system, these audio books are available via the Overdrive lending application most libraries subscribe to, so you might ask and see if the Austin system makes them available.

    Thank you for your reviews – I enjoy comparing my own impressions with someone else who has read the books you feature.

    1. Thanks Ryan, this is NOT one of Vance’s best… and, It’s ridiculous, but, I haven’t gotten around to even procuring a copy of Dying Earth. Not in a Vance mood at this moment… but, Christopher Priest! Doris Lessing! Obsessing over them at the moment.

  4. I think CHASCH is the weakest of the series, but fear not! In the next books Reith picks up allies with their own back stories, and it is his sheer determination over the long haul that is epic. As also seen in the revenge-driven DEMON PRINCES series.

    Perhaps readers familiar with the whole run of Vance’s work might agree with me when I say that reading Vance is good preparation for traveling abroad.

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