Visions of Paradise

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Pnume

The Pnume is the fourth and last of Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure series of novels (the others being City of the Chasch, The Dirdir and Servants of the Wankh). While the first three novels in the series were mid-level Vance not on the level of either his Alastor or Demon Princes series, the last novel is not only the best of the series, but top-notch Vance fiction.

It begins with Reith, the Earthman stranded on Tschai, kidnapped by the Pnume and taken to their underground city. He manages to escape, and observes Pnume citizens who exhibit strange behavior in which they avoid looking directly at each other, submerging all personal desires for their roles as part of the group. Reith captures a young woman and forces her to help him flee. The very act of her reading a map stolen by Reith traumatizes her since she is convinced she will now be punished as a blasphemer.

Reith manages to reach the surface with the girl, but she has never seen anything other than the underground. Once he is free, the girl expects Reith to abandon her to die, but he feels obligated to protect the girl since he tore her away from the only life she knew and felt secure in. The Pnume is about their changing relationship as they flee Pnume agents, and Vance succeeds in showing its development much better than I actually expected. Along with all the color of Tschai and its exotic inhabitants, The Pnume was a fine conclusion to the Planet of Adventure series.