Big Planet/Showboat World Analysis

Jack Vance

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Location is everything in these two novels. Big Planet is enormous, and all of Earth’s splinter cultures seem to have migrated there, each convinced that its way of life is the only true way. There is no central government. Murder, torture, and intolerance are rife, and Earth is unable to exercise any real control over the planet. The magazine story of Big Planet was cut drastically and edited egregiously in its first book publication, one of the few instances in which a book became shorter than the original magazine story. The full original text was not restored until 1978. Showboat World was conceived retroactively as a sequel.

In Big Planet, a new ruler—the Bajarnum of Beaujolais, otherwise known as Charley Lysidder—has begun expanding his empire through various nefarious means, including assassination, child slavery, and other atrocities. A commission has been sent from Earth to investigate and take action to put an end to the threat. The commission’s spaceship, sabotaged by Lysidder’s agent, crashes near the edge of Lysidder’s territory, killing all but the commission members and a very few others. When Claude Glystra, commission chairman, returns to consciousness a few days later, the radio operator, Abbigens, having proved to be Lysidder’s agent, has escaped. Glystra has been nursed since the crash by a local girl named Nancy.

Because Lysidder obviously will send troops to capture the commission, Glystra decides that their only hope is to avoid Lysidder entirely and get to Earth Enclave, forty thousand miles away. Nancy begs to join the trek, but Glystra refuses at first.

Shortly after the journey begins, Abbigens is discovered leading troops to capture the commission. In the ensuing melee, Abbigens is killed and Nancy assists in defeating the troops. The trek resumes, and as the group encounters one new culture after another, it begins to shrink as members are killed or, in one case, defect to the local culture. This is the most interesting portion of the book because the various cultures are both original and fascinating.

After traveling for some time on foot and via native beast, boat, and highline, the party is reduced to four: Glystra, Nancy, commission member...

(The entire section is 926 words.)