In the Demon Princes series, Jack Vance combines one of the oldest Western literary plots, the search for revenge, with the science-fiction subgenre of the planetary romance. Its success in both aspects rests on the validity of the central character. During the first novels, Kirth Gersen is satisfying on both levels. His competence as the hero of a planetary romance and his single-mindedness of purpose are explained by the years he trained for his task. He continually rescues females from imminent sexual danger, as does any literary descendant of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter. Gersen’s depth of character as an avenger is filled in as well. It can be seen in his sense of loss at not being able to partake in the possibilities of life around him, particularly in romantic attachments, and in his musings about the form his life would take when his quest is over. None of this depth, however, is carried out consistently throughout the series. Gersen’s life before the raid, for example, is never alluded to, and after Treesong’s death, Gersen bleakly comments, “I am done.” Gersen exists only as an instrument, and when his function is over, the story is over.
Such perfunctory endings have led to the charge that Vance loses interest in his series after the first few novels. Some indications of this occur in the Demon Princes series. For example, in The Face, the novel in which Vance returned to the series after a hiatus, Gersen mentions that it was an uncle who escaped with him, when the other four novels consistently say it was his grandfather. Because of Vance’s use of the mystery plot and the consequent delay in unmasking the villains, almost all of them (with the...
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