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…
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.