Visions of Paradise

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Grey Prince

In my basement I keep three large boxes of old prozines which were given to me by a science teacher who was cleaning out his own basement and decided to get rid of his late father's prozines. I only kept the ones which looked particularly interesting, consisting mostly of Analogs from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, a few dozen Ted-White edited Amazing and Fantastic, and several dozen Ziff-Davis reprint zines.

Perhaps the highlight of that entire mini-collection was the August and October 1974 Amazing which contained a Jack Vance novel called The Domains of Koryphon, which in book form was retitled The Grey Prince.

The Grey Prince is not one of Vance’s better-known books, but it is highly-underrated, containing better plotting than most Vance novels, yet is still set on a wondrous world populated with multiple alien races and various human groups. They include:

> aliens known as erjin, who were the original inhabitants of Koryphon before humans came and forced a treaty on them by which they stole most of the erjin’s land away.

> land barons who rule large portions of Koryphon; the novel’s main characters are members of this group

> redemptionists, a group of activists fighting to regain the rights of the erjin

> the “grey prince,” a former ward of land barons who has become a radical leader fighting to overthrow them

The novel features several alternating viewpoint characters, including:

> Shaine, the daughter of a land baron who has spent the previous five years offworld, and whose views on the political situation of Koryphon have consequently become more liberal than that of most barons

> Kelse, Shaine’s brother, who during her absence has grown to reflect his father’s traditional views and attitude nearly totally

> Elvo, a supporter of the Redemptionists

When Shaine is returning home, her father is murdered mysteriously while traveling to meet her and Kelse. The rest of the novel is primarily a mystery as Kelse, Shaine, Elvo and another land baron Gerd seek his murderer.

Much of this novel reminded me of “The Last Castle” since we can obviously see rebellion fomenting on Koryphon as many of the alien races who had been under the thumb of the land barons for so many centuries are either asserting themselves or outright rebelling. Thus Shaine’s group are endangered during their hunt for her father’s murderers, barely escaping with their lives several times.

The novel’s strengths include the world of Koryphon, the alien races themselves, and the relationships between the various human groups and with the alien groups. The murder mystery is eventually solved, as are the agitators behind the rebellion. But Vance does not stop there, as the entire political situation on Koryphon reaches a climax of sorts.

If your attitudes are similar to my own, you will likely reach the end of the novel with pre-conceived ideas as to the justness of the relationship between the land barons and the aliens, which was similar to how Europeans forced unfair treaties on the Chinese during the 18th and 19th centuries for their own advantage. But Vance surprises the reader at the end, raising issues that often go unconsidered by those with political agendas, and perhaps in some circumstances should be.

When I finished reading this serial, I did not return the two issues of Amazing to the basement, but put them on the shelf in my bedroom with all the other important magazines.