Throy by Jack Vance

Rating 4.0/10
How to scupper a series in Throy easy lessons

One of the nicest things when going into a concluding volume of a trilogy is not to know what to expect. Where the usual trilogy format (exemplified by Star Wars), is to end the second book on the darkest note and pull things together in the third, Ecce and Old Earth had ended with the charter in the hands of Glawen and Wayness, thus frustrating at a stroke the plans of both the two faced LPF Party, and the vengeful Semoneta Clattuc, both of whom wanted to destroy the conservancy for their own reasons. Given the book’s title I was expecting therefore political and martial machinations on Cadwal itself, centred on Cadwal’s third continent, particularly because (Unlike the wild Ecce), there actually was a human settlement on Throy and a place we hadn’t yet visited. As the book opens in Throy’s town of Stroma with the announcement of a new conservancy charter along with gnashing of teeth and scheming by the LPF Party this seemed to be where things were heading. However, scarcely an hour in and the action leaves Throy (indeed there is less of Throy in this volume than there was of Ecce in the previous one), and thus my disappointment began.

Far from giving us more time on Cadwal, much less exploring Wayness home of Stroma under the new political change, Glawen is almost immediately sent off Cadwal in search of Lewyn Barduys and his assistant Flitz, two characters whose presence had barely registered in Ecce and Old Earth. While the logic of finding the head of a transport company, given that both Semoneta and the LPF’s plans hinge upon transporting an army of Yips to invade Araminta Station is sound, at the same time if any characters were to return from the previous volume, these two would not be high on my list. Of course it is usual Vance practice by now never to waste a character so these two had to play a part in the story somewhere, though given how many old friends did not return I wonder if Vance was a little too accurate with Chekov’s gun here.

Also, since Wayness and Glawen are now engaged to be married, I would much rather see more of Wayness, and in fact her home and Cadwal in general than embark on another chase around alien planets. Though I have called Glawen something of a boring hero in the past, at least on this point he apparently agreed with me, since for the first time in the series he objected fairly strongly and had quite the confrontation with his boss, the stern Bodwin Wook on the subject.

Still I have commented before how Jack Vance’s sardonic humour, polite witticism and exceptional skill at alien environments could often keep my interest where other writers wouldn’t, and thus I hoped at least for some unique places to explore, particularly since Glawen did at least have his friend, the laconic and relaxed Eustice Chilke along this time.

Unfortunately, where in previous volumes Vance had given us time to appreciate the alien nature of different worlds, and even different bits of those worlds, the quick tour we had here felt more like a taste than an exploration, so most environments barely registered at all, I believe Glawen and Eustice only spend more than 3 hours on one world; the forest planet Rozalia.

Still it wouldn’t be true to say the book was lacking in humour or interest, I was particularly amused at Rozalia’s “oh my god” tree, and since Rozalia as a planet which features heavily in Chilke’s history it was nice to be able to explore it up close.

It also did not help that the plot for two thirds of the book felt both rushed, and too brief. This was because it basically involved Glawen and Chilke turning up somewhere and asking if Mr. Barduys was there, and when they find in the negative moving on to somewhere else, quite a contrast at the complex trail Wayness and Glawen had to follow in the previous book.

Speaking of Wayness, again possibly due to Vance’s rather dated gender assumptions I thought she lost out badly here. I greatly enjoyed a section in Stroma at the start, where Wayness shows Glawen her childhood house and feels out the political opinions of her friends. After this however she literally turns into a stay at home wife and doesn’t even register so much as a thought, indeed even Glawen’s farewell to Wayness before going planet hopping occurs in barely four words. I kept expecting the perspective to shift back to Wayness, or for Wayness to go out and see what Glawen was up to, but this never happened. For a character we probably spent more time with in the second book than Glawen this was extremely bad form, since in the brief moment we do see her Wayness is far more likable than she has been previously, and the story of Wayness coping with the changes on Cadwal would’ve been in many ways a far more significant and compelling one than Glawen’s tenuous journeying.

Two thirds through the book however things did start to pick up. Vance is not one to write uninteresting or bland characters, and even though Bardyus and Flitz had scarcely made an impression, when they actually entered the story (in quite an explosive fashion), they were as has become Vance’s trademark, colourful characters with extensive histories. In particular, the romance that develops between Chilke and Flitz is probably the best written relationship in the entire series, combining the best parts of old fashioned gallantry with a genuinely fascinating character study and actually a little sage advice too.

All of this would doubtless make for an average, though not astounding end to the series had it not been for the last third of the book and the way Vance actually decided to deal with the Yips.

In the previous volumes, the Yips had a wonderful alien quality. One could not think of them as exactly human, something emphasized by the fact that they’re apparently a human subspecies, indeed following Glawen’s conversation with a Yip girl in Araminta Station I wondered if they were entirely emotionless. The fact that most Yips we see are working for the downfall of Araminta Station and thus are usually up to no good didn’t make them easy to trust or sympathise with either, which makes Glawen’s investigation of perverted Yip exploitation in the first book so effective.

However, in Throy as we see Yips on other planets, the increasing habit of talking about Yips the way that past generations talked of native, and so called “lesser” races began to be more pronounced, especially as it’s revealed in the prologue that Yips alien differences and inability to reproduce with average humans is due to their diet and apart from that they’re as human as Joe Blogs.

Sequences in which Yip communities on other planets are shown to be universally squalid and full of indolent smacked as rather arrogant in the extreme, especially considering that such communities (unlike the barbaric Yipton back on Cadwal), were not run by the Yip’s psychotic ruler. Indeed I found it significant and a little worrying that the only Yip community shown to be vaguely socially mobile is one where the Yips intermarried with a planet’s local women.

This demonization or objectivity of the Yips in general came to a head during a sequence in which Bardyus bemoans the fact that Yip workers indentured to his off planet construction projects would not do any work towards working off their indentures. Given that the Yips probably didn’t have any choice about being indentured in the first place I honestly couldn’t blame them, especially since with the way that Bardyus starts using terms like “six hundred head” to describe the Yips numerically. Bardyus actually comes across far more as someone literally buying property than contracting workers who will be treated respectfully. This is particularly emphasized when another overseer starts attempting to force the Yips to work by instituting a monopolistic token system to give them even basic food and shelter, a system which the Yips do not take kindly to (and again I cannot blame them).

Of course it is possible that Vance is subscribing to that quaint old notion (popular among Fortune 500 companies), that spending your life working for the huge company is somehow good for you, irrespective of what you actually get out of it simply because you are! Working for said company, however needless to say this notion did not endear Bardyus to me as a character, neither, in the sense that Glawen and Chilke seemed to have absolutely no problem with this attitude, did it make me too fond of them.

The major reason for this extremely low rating though, and my huge overbearing sense of dissatisfaction with the book is how the Yip situation finally resolved.

It transpires that Bardyus has been asked to a meeting between the formidable Dame Clytie vergence of the LPF, and the hateful Semoneta Clatuc ruler of Yipton about who will receive his help transporting Yip armies and who will rule Cadwal after the invasion. Glawen and Chilke agree to attend in disguise.

The meeting is probably the high point of the book; a hilarious and quite justified farce, with the two large, ill tempered middle aged women engaging in in a full on gall spitting cat fight. Rather than ending with Glawen and Chilke taking both nasty pieces of work into custody however, the two heroes sit by and watch both women (both of whom wield huge amounts of political and military power, and both of whom have just agreed they want to take over Cadwal), turn around and walk away.

Needless to say when the personal cat fight is carried on with terrorist attacks and firebombing an entire settlement, slaughtering thousands of innocents (especially Yips), my ire was definitely roused.

It has been said that for evil to triumph good must stand still, and that is exactly what we see here. What is worse, is there is absolutely no reason given for not arresting both leaders at the time nor apparently any remorse felt by either Glawen, Chilke or Bardyus after the fact, indeed during the trial of at least some of the miscreants I was wondering why Glawen and co weren’t up on charges of criminal negligence at the very least.

Of course, atrocities are a part of life, and thus one or two in literature is expected. Also, evil does frequently consume itself, often taking innocents down with it.

However for the principal character of the series, plus his close friend, plus apparently the entire legal apparatus of Cadwal to be shown to be of literally no account at all, I was frankly wondering why the hell I’d even bothered to follow the story of this idiot, let alone this planet! Had Vance actually explained why Glawen and Chilke didn’t act, or had them made impotent to stop the atrocities I wouldn’t have minded, but to literally skip straight from the end of the almighty evil cat fight straight to the explosions made the characters, and indeed the author feel callous in the extreme!

If I were feeling cynical, I might even wonder if Vance basically was getting tired of Cadwal, and the Yips and the whole universe at this point so just blew it up in a fit of pique. If I were feeling even cynicler I might wonder whether having Cadwal’s population problem being reduced by a factor of eighty thousand or so wasn’t something which Glawen and the authorities weren’t too unhappy over, given that most of the casualties were after all only Yips.

Following that episode, solving the mystery of who killed Glawen’s mother and the final punishment of the guilty was just not something I could care about, (I kept wanting Glawen to be punished right along with them).

Rarely have I read a series that so completely and utterly lost it in the third volume, indeed I would recommend people give this one a miss entirely and just assume that acquiring the charter at the end of the second book let all Cadwal’s problems be solved, since even the sweet romance of Chilke and Flitz couldn’t save this one from quite literally going up in smoke.

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