Visions of Paradise

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Last Castle

In my opinion, this is one of the finest stories of any length ever published in the science fiction field. It is Vance’s most serious story, at least of those I have read, yet it still retains all the color of his adventures.

In the far-future, Earth is dominated by gentlemen who returned from space hundreds of years ago and established castles where they live in royal splendor. They have brought with them slaves from several races who have been genetically altered to serve the humans’ needs:

1. meks who are the equivalent of serfs doing all the manual labor which the gentlemen would not lower themselves to do

2. birds, who are semi-intelligent and used as transportation as well as messengers

3. phanes, who are ethereal beings bred only for their beauty

Earth also contains several groups of humans who have rejected the castle society:

4. nomads, who were the natives of Earth before the gentlemen returned from space

5. expiationists, who rejected the feudal society of the castles, especially its dependence on slave labor.

After centuries of peaceful coexistence, the meks abruptly desert their castles en masse and proceed to attack and destroy each castle and its inhabitants one-by-one. The lesser castles with the least formidable defenses fall first, until only two remain, the powerful and well-protected Janeil and Hagedorn.

The first line of the novella sets the tone for what follows:

Toward the end of a stormy summer afternoon, with the sun finally breaking out under ragged black rain clouds, Castle Janeil was overwhelmed and its population destroyed.

“The Last Castle” is thus Hagedorn, and this is the story of its inhabitants’ attempts to survive the Mek rebellion. It is a story similar in parts to the French Revolution, when the landed aristocracy had developed such a leisurely lifestyle during the preceding centuries they had absolutely no understanding of the common people and, in fact, centuries of their royal lifestyle had bred out of them the ability to cope with the growing revolution.

Thus it is in Castle Hagedorn. The main character Xanten tries to organize a resistence against the Mek, but on one hand he meets opposition from his fellow nobility who seem more prepared to die with dignity than actually do anything physical to protect themselves, and on the other hand his own narrowmindedness foils his ability to rouse support among the nomads and expiationists.

So we watch the rebellion grow as the Meks surround Castle Hagedorn and begin their assault on it, an assault which seems destined to succeed. “The Last Castle” is a story of the nobility trapped within their own royal cocoon, and the seemingly-futile attempts of a few of them to build a resistence. Two possible endings loom for this story, neither of which would be totally satisfying, and Vance manages to avoid being trapped by either one. If you have never read this story, I recommend it very highly. It succeeds in entertaining while also providing food for thought. Isn’t that what great science fiction is all about?


  • Good, even great, job on the Vance postings, considering the length. You didn't miss much.

    Thanks for the good work.

    You may be interested in my web pages on Vance, at

    By Blogger Martin LaBar, At 6:00 PM  

  • This is what I think: The last castle

    By Blogger Chus, At 4:41 AM  

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