Jack Vance’s Trilogy

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I don’t know if Jack Vance intended his trilogy, Araminta Station, Ecce and Old Earth and Throy as a political analogy, but it’s interesting to read them that way.

The story is set in the far future in which a whole world has been set aside as a conservancy to protect the ecology from human exploitation. There are only a few places in the world where people are allowed to live, and they’re governed by a document put together by the scientific society which had the planet declared off-limits. Araminta Station is the administrative center, and descendents of the original settlers live there, on the mainland.

On an island live the Yips, originally brought to the planet as laborers, until it was found that they were extremely lazy. They were then left mostly to themselves. They may have been lazy, but they were fecund, and greatly outnumber descendents of the original settlers. A so-called progressive party wants to resettle the Yips on the mainland and then proclaim a “democracy”, which would amount to a transfer of power.

This is very similar to at least one conservative narrative about illegal immigrants. But there are some differences with contemporary reality. Those who claim to speak for conservatives now have little interest in protecting nature in the form of air, earth, water, animal and vegetable species, which seems surprising to me, as I would think this would one of the finer possible forms of conservatism. This concern is secondary for the establishment of Araminta Station as well, but it IS part of their concern.

The so-called progressives want what they call “democracy”, but this would include large estates for themselves, as well as opening the planet for settlement and exploitation of natural resources. They don’t really care about the Yips (reflecting the current narrative of conservatives about liberals and minorities).

A lot of the problems are begun by two sisters resentful at having been ejected by society for lack of achievement. It later appears that when properly motivated they’re very capable of achievement, although of an illegal sort. They enjoy achievement through theft, fraud and murder. The hero’s mother has been murdered at the instigation of an associate of theirs because both had wanted to marry him and he had rejected both. Their grudge against society is similar and is pursued by similar means.

This resentment seems very similar to that expressed by a lot of conservative commentators (at least to me), that they aren’t being recognized for their superior talents and morality, which strikes me as projection, since they’re often unwilling to admit the talents of minorities. A lot of the people you hear this from have achieved positions in which they’re paid well and can be vocal about their beliefs (and often paid for it). One hears somewhat less, depending on where listening, from those prevented from obtaining good education and jobs.

At the end of the trilogy Good fairly predictably triumphs over Evil, but the whole thing kind of reminds me of Colin Wilson’s comment (I don’t remember where) about the classical music and/or art of the first half of the 20th century. As I remember it, he said that Western music and/or art had become pessimistic, while Soviet Russia music was often powerful and optimistic, as if all the labels had come off and been stuck on backwards.

No doubt there were some very subjective views somewhere in that phenomenon: if not about music/art, then about the politics. I’m also reminded of Ayn Rand’s comment about a picture supposedly taken in the Soviet Union. It couldn’t be authentic, she said, because no one would smile there.

At this point, my only response could be, “What, never?” Maybe I’m mistaken, but I thik even unhappy people smile at least occasionally. Granted, a lot of Russians at that time had little to smile about, but consider American stereotypes about blacks during that period. They were ALWAYS smiling, presumably because they were too dumb to know they were being mistreated.

Of course that stereotype was no more true than Rand’s: blacks knew perfectly well they were being mistreated and that they’d be treated worse if they brought it to white attention. People the Communist Party didn’t like developed a similar attitude, and lied to Western reporters when asked about the subject, having a foolish interest in self-preservation.

Some people like to provoke that kind of behavior, and later are astonished that anyone should object. And that’s where the resentment apparently begins.

People have certain narratives they like, and resent alternative views. Particularly people with power. The narrative in the South in particular during the first half of the 20th century (the first half of the 19th too) was that blacks were happey, that whites treated them paternally, which may not have been entirely false, but was certainly incomplete.

Balance that, though with Malcolm X’s statement that he learned about racism in the North, since he never lived in the South. The Civil War was supposedly founght because of the slaves, but they probably came out of it worse than anybody, not least because Northerners didn’t like them much better than Southerners did. So when conservatives accuse liberals of hypocrisy about race, they may not be entirely wrong. Not that they don’t have their own hypocrisies.

Certainly Vance’s trilogy isn’t all about politics. That’s part of it, but I don’t know that he intended the politics in the story to refer to contemporary politics. Maybe that was somewhat inescapable. There’s a good deal more to the books than that, though. Vance is excellent at describing odd peoples and societies, as well as unusual landscapes, and the action in the story ranges fairly widely.

He’s also quite good at plotting a story, and delineating individuals, and does so in these books as well as ever. His writing is often satiric and ironic, so I wouldn’t entirely discount the idea that he intended the story as a subtle commentary on politics, power, and those who seek power.

 

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