Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: Big Planet

Book Review: 'Big Planet' by Jack Vance

4 / 5 Stars

This paperback edition of ‘Big Planet’ (217 pp) was published by Ace Books in May 1978; the cover art is by Vincent Di Fate.

The premise is simple: a team of Federation diplomats and human rights observers are en route to Big Planet, an earth-like world settled centuries earlier. The ruler of Big Planet, a sadistic tyrant known as the Bajarnum, would prefer that the team never arrives at their destination, and  in due course, the spaceship carrying the team crash-lands in a remote province of Big Planet.

The crash survivors are led by Claude Glystra, the leader of the diplomatic team; Glystra is a resourceful man, deliberate and thoughtful in his actions. But his decision to travel 40,000 miles across the planet in order to take shelter at the Terran Enclave strikes his fellow survivors as fraught with risk. However, knowledge that the Bajarnum will seek to investigate the crash site, and imprison any survivors, moves the diplomats to ally with Glystra and undertake the journey.

Because Big Planet is devoid of metal deposits, any travel must rely on low-tech wind- or water-power, making for a long and wearying journey. And although the survivors have modern blasters in their possession, the power packs for these weapons are running low, meaning that conflicts with the bandits and marauders infesting the route must be avoided.

But Glystra has other problems that he must confront: one of the party is likely an agent for the Bajarnum…….but how will he identify the traitor….. ?

One thing’s for sure: as the team of survivors sets out on their transit of Big Planet, all manner of perils and adventures await…… 

‘Big’ was first published in ‘Startling Stories’ in 1952, and then as a hardback novel in 1957. Despite being 65 years old, it reads as a ‘modern’ novel, something that very few sf novels of the 50s can be said to do. In many ways I found Big Planet to be the forerunner of Majipoor, the super-size Earth-like world that Robert Silverberg first introduced in his novel Lord Valentine’s Castle (1980).

Perhaps because this was originally a digest novel, Vance’s prose style is less ornate and more economical, making ‘Big’ very readable. The plot moves at a quick clip, and there are some twists and turns that make for a satisfying denouement.

Whether you’re a Vance enthusiast or someone you just likes a good adventure tale, ‘Big Planet’ is well worth picking up.

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