Hard Vance: Dust of Far Suns

At our last (and first!) Bushi meetup, Gitabushi gifted me a number of old books, including a couple Vances. I also gifted him an old Vance book, but the trade was far from reciprocal, for JV is one of my favorites and Gita isn’t so impressed. C’est la vie.

Dust of Far Suns turned out to be another solid collection. Although one of the Demon Prince stories kind of dragged for me, I have yet to read a Vance story I didn’t appreciate as a work of superior quality. Dust is a pleasantly small little number with four quick and meaty short stories, unrelated so far as I could tell aside from all being set in the future.

Another notable fact is that they all seemed “hard” scifi to me. That is, Vance was never one to shy away from blending a little magic into his scientifiction if it suited a given story. These ones, though, all come across as scientifically plausible (to a layman like me, at any rate). There are parts, especially in the first and third stories, which go into some detail about futuristic technologies such as solar sails and image projection. Most of this was probably made-up science, but not being a scientist, I couldn’t tell.

The titular opening story is a cool little number about an old, hardened grump named Henry Belt, who is responsible for training space cadets. He’s bristly, he’s said to drink heavily, and everyone hates him, but he’s also responsible for turning out the best spacemen Earth has got. But he’s been informed by a prognosticator that he’s destined to die in space, and he’s getting on in years…so he tells his latest class that he doesn’t care much whether he makes it back this time. What will happen?

“Dodkin’s Job” tells the story of a Nonconformist living on a world run by the Organization, a global government run on red tape. Our hero is a man of no small intellect and ability, if he does say so himself, but he just can’t abide stupid, pointless rules and routines. But as a result, he’s been declassified (demoted in social rank and employment assignment) so many times that he’s only one strike away from becoming a “junior executive,” the lowest class comprised of the dregs of society. Still, his latest job is a drag and a new order has just come down that will cost him 3 hours of his personal time every day, just because some bureaucrat felt like flexing a little muscle. This will not stand!

“Ullward’s Retreat” is about a future in which space and privacy are at a premium. There are just so many people that a typical family lives in a domicile the size of a large closet. But not Ullward! This guy’s amassed nearly 3/4 of an acre – a veritable paradise, and he’s very fond of showing it off. But he’s about to set his eyes on something much larger…

“The Gift of Gab” was probably my favorite of this collection, and it reminded me in parts of The Gray Prince. The story starts off with the disappearance of a crewman from the raft upon which most of the tale is set. But where could he have gone?

Vance’s experience as a seaman really shows here as he describes parts of the raft and its operation, as its crewmen carry out their job of mining the sea for metals to be sent back to Earth (I presume?).

I’ve said before that I really enjoy the imaginative depiction of alien beings and environments in my scifi, and “The Gift of Gab” really delivers with its mysterious sea world the the strange life found thereon.

Overall I’d give this book a 4.5/5. Really enjoyed it!

-Bushi

bushi

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6 thoughts on “Hard Vance: Dust of Far Suns

  1. Yeah, those actually sound pretty good.

    The solar sails and stuff sound like Hard SF to me. Which underscores that Hard/Soft SF should be a description limited to the *story*, not the author, because the author can use whatever mode suits his story.

    But the raft story? That’s a good argument for Hard SF, no? You could tell he was using his experience as a seaman to describe the vessel and its operation, and the fact that he had practical knowledge helped make the story more enjoyable. It doesn’t mean stories without such details are less enjoyable (I know, I know: *Fewer), but it just makes it that much easier to suspend your disbelief when the author clearly demonstrates he knows what he’s talking about.

    Again, most stories should *not* be Hard SF stories, because most stories don’t require that level of verisimilitude to help you suspend disbelief.

    Also, Hard SF stories are most often Hard SF because the problem and resolution are based on (or integrally related to) real-world science/physics. If your problem and resolution aren’t based on those equations, then you don’t need Hard SF elements…and why risk boring your audience trying to show off how much you know?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I think you should have bought Gita a guitar or something. He’d probably appreciate that more. And since you don’t seem to post too many music posts, I bet you have scads of the things just hanging around the house not getting used.

    And just in case, a double cheeseburger is ALWAYS appreciated by me…

    Liked by 1 person

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