Durdane Essay - Critical Essays

Jack Vance


The Durdane trilogy began to be published shortly after Jack Vance had completed the Planet of Adventure (1968-1970) series and while the Demon Princes series (1964-1981) was on hiatus. A comparison of these series shows that in Durdane, Vance blends the planetary romance subgenre with another of his characteristic modes, the science-fiction Bildungsroman. Gastel Etzwane is a young boy when he is first introduced, and the novels of the series trace his progressive growth as leader and hero, whereas Adam Reith and Kirth Gersen from the other series are fully fledged, extremely capable protagonists from the beginning. Etzwane never becomes as physically skilled as Reith and Gersen; when he becomes involved in a crisis, he must think or lead his way out rather than fight. In some respects, however, they are all similar. Reith and Gersen lead liberation movements in societies they encounter, but they never stay and follow their programs all the way through. Etz-wane leads the most comprehensive societal revolutions of all, but he too would rather continue adventuring than become enmeshed in the mundane tasks of governing.

At the end of the series, when Ifness refuses to take on Etzwane as his assistant, Etzwane’s adventuring comes to an inconclusive closure. All the Durdane novels end inconclusively, unlike those of the other series, which are each fairly self-contained. This inconclusiveness of structure is deeply connected with the underlying ironies of the series. Many critics have noted that Vance’s sense of humor, perhaps the most finely honed in all of science fiction, is fundamentally ironic—after all, who else would write a novel titled Space Opera (1965) that was not about vast struggles across...

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