The Demon Princes series was the first long novel series that Jack Vance started, and it took the longest to complete. It takes place in Vance’s own imaginary galaxy of the future, the Gaean Reach. The civilized, law-abiding part of the galaxy is known as the Oikumene, and the uncivilized, lawless section, its frontier, is known as the Beyond. From this area come five space pirates, the Demon Princes, who have committed the massacre of Kirth Gersen’s family, a crime that Gersen pledges his life to avenge. Gersen and his grandfather, escaping this attack, journey to Old Earth, as Vance customarily calls it, where Gersen trains for more than twenty years to become the instrument of retribution for his family’s fate.
Vance’s Gaean Reach, like Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History and Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire, is curiously lacking in intelligent aliens, but the one race that exists closely resembles humans. They are the Star Kings, the race to which Attel Malagate, the first of the Demon Princes Gersen pursues, belongs. Gersen’s main task becomes identifying which one of three possible suspects is the Star King.
Vance, an Edgar-winning mystery author, deftly interweaves plot elements from the traditional mystery with aspects of the planetary romance. Gersen, for example, must rescue an innocent girl kidnapped by one of Malagate’s henchmen. The search for Malagate involves a simultaneous search for an undiscovered Earth-like planet. One of the clues that leads Gersen to identify Malagate is the alien’s lack of human reaction to this Edenic setting. Fittingly, it is the planet’s treelike inhabitants who kill Malagate, but when Gersen returns a year later, enough of Malagate is still left for Gersen to exact his own poetic justice.
The Killing Machine is both...
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