Planet of Adventure Critical Essays

Jack Vance


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Edgar Rice Burroughs invented the subgenre of the planetary romance in his Martian novels, but even at the time of their publication, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of science was forced to make a huge suspension of disbelief before reading them. In Planet of Adventure, Vance attempts to create a more plausible environment in which the situations typical of planetary romances could occur. Thus, although certain elements of the basic plot remain the same—the ultracompetent male hero who conquers enemies by courage and skill and rescues females from imminent sexual danger—the framework of the series and its rationale are made believable.

Unlike Burroughs’ intelligent aliens, Vance’s alien races are truly alien, and although the Chasch in their ferocity and power are reminiscent of Burroughs’ great apes from his Tarzan series, as are the Dirdir of the great cats of the jungle, the Wankhs and Pnume ultimately are unfathomable. Intraspecies mating between humans and aliens thus is impossible, but relations with the aliens’ human analogues are possible, as Reith’s affair with the Pnumekin girl, Zap 210, shows.

Certain implausibilities remain. No matter how many survival skills can be attributed to Reith’s job as a highly proficient interstellar scout, it is unlikely that being a master swordsman would be one of them. Other plot inconsistencies indicate that the series was not conceived all at once. For example, when Reith lands among Traz’s people, the Kruthe, Reith quickly assimilates their language, which Vance terms the “Kruthe language.” It soon becomes obvious to the reader, however, that everyone on Tschai speaks the same language, because Reith immediately understands their speech. Not until the next novel does anyone acknowledge this fact, and not...

(The entire section is 739 words.)