Big Planet/Showboat World Critical Essays

Jack Vance


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Big Planet is an ingenious invention that could be used in many books. It is twenty-five thousand miles in diameter, yielding a surface area almost ten times that of Earth, of which about half is land. This makes it possible for many different cultures to exist on the planet without intruding on one another, thus providing a vehicle for many different stories. Furthermore, the planet has a mean density of slightly less than two, because the core and surface are notably deficient in heavy elements. As a result, the surface gravity is only slightly higher than that of Earth, despite the planet’s size, and the climate is similar to Earth’s. The lack of iron and other such metals makes development of technology difficult and long-range communication almost impossible. This, in turn, increases the isolation of the various cultures and enhances the general antipathy among them. Any large amounts of metal must be imported, at tremendous cost. Iron, in fact, is the basic standard for exchange because of its utility and rarity on the planet.

Jack Vance’s contributions to science fiction are widely recognized. Several sources credit him with bringing sophistication to the interplanetary romance, which until then had largely consisted of weak plots constructed primarily to allow the hero to invent one new superscientific gadget after another, in order to resolve some new perilous situation. These two books are excellent illustrations of Vance’s sophisticated...

(The entire section is 521 words.)