_The Chasch_ (originally published as _City of the Chasch_) is sort of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars as envisioned by Jack Vance. It is an_The Chasch_ (originally published as _City of the Chasch_) is sort of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars as envisioned by Jack Vance. It is an entertaining Planetary Romance tale (or Sword & Planet if you prefer that designation) that describes the adventures of Adam Reith, Earthman and sole survivor of the Explorator IV a starship that is destroyed by unknown forces while in orbit above the planet Tschai. Reith is a Scout, meaning that he is a Jack-of-all-Trades uniquely equipped for survival in a hostile and alien environment. Good thing too, since Tschai is a world in turmoil that will throw everything it has at Reith.
Once the basics of mere survival are attained Reith begins to explore this strange new world and finds a menagerie of aliens and apparent humanity locked in endless and fruitless struggle. Vance displays his typically deft hand with the painting of bizarre cultures that spell out the various ways in which human (and alien) nature can be twisted by convention and assumptions into nearly unrecognizable forms. The planet seems to have once belonged to the mysterious Pnume and their insane kin the Phung in ages past. Now these creatures are rarely seen and only then as shadowy figures in the distance watching the current denizens of the world from their underground tunnels. The Chasch, who apparently ‘conquered’ the Pnume, are lizard men of three varieties: Old, Blue and Green, who war amongst themselves as much as with everyone else. The final waves of conquest were led by the Dirdir, a race of warlike, though apparently highly cultured aliens, and the Wannek (in the original publication the unfortunately named Wankh) an as yet unseen group of aliens. Each of these alien races displays varying degrees of high technology (they are apparently still space-faring) mixed with elements of antiquated, even barbarian culture (swords, armour, monarchical governments, etc.) Mixed in with these alien races is an innumerable array of human offshoots: some are client races to the existing aliens, thus the Chaschmen, Dirdirmen, Pnumekin and Wannekmen who seemed to have been genetically and cosmetically modified to display some of the physical characteristics of their masters and who each think that they are the ‘true’ human race derived in some way from their ‘parent’ alien race. In addition to these client human races are the various ‘barbarians’ who give fealty to no aliens, but tend to live in very degraded circumstances. All of these races on Tschai are seemingly intent upon killing each other, though none of them wish to upset the current balance of power and thus restrict themselves to small battles and bandit raids…none of the races is quite powerful enough to completely overpower the others and each of the aliens is capable of dealing a death blow to the planet should anyone attempt to overrun them.
Reith is the wild card thrust into this scenario. A typically competent and dry-witted Vance hero, he is both perplexed and aghast at the existence of so degraded an example of humanity on this planet and while he initially intends only to find his stolen space boat and return to earth he soon becomes embroiled in the local conflicts and decides that he must help his estranged and enslaved kinsmen. Along the way he will of course fall in with some allies who are impressed by his competence, technological know-how and ability to lead and meets the requisite alien princess in need of his assistance. I especially enjoyed Vance’s various cultures (esp. the fascinating Emblem Men whose culture is determined by the totemic signets they wear and which give the men a unique identity and motivation, the reality of these emblems is left somewhat mysterious…is it real or only a figment in the minds of the people enslaved by this ideology?) Vance’s signature ornate language was on somewhat less display than I had expected, and had hoped for, though certain characters did exhibit it. All in all this was an enjoyable adventure story with a little bit extra, but I wasn’t left gasping for more at the end. I will likely eventually continue the “Planet of Adventure” series, of which this is the first book, but I still think that Vance’s “Lyonesse” trilogy is his best work....more
_Hull Zero Three_ is a pretty solid 3-star sci-fi story. It’s my first read of anything by Greg Bear, and while I wasn’t exactly blown away I’ll keep_Hull Zero Three_ is a pretty solid 3-star sci-fi story. It’s my first read of anything by Greg Bear, and while I wasn’t exactly blown away I’ll keep my eye out for other stuff by him in the future. The novel follows the first person account of a newly awakened passenger on a seedship headed towards a destination as yet unknown. The sequence that opens the novel followed by the disorienting waking of the passenger is well done and immediately immerses the reader into the dangerous world of Ship.
The majority of the novel plays out as a kind of scientific mystery tinged with horror as the newly awakened crewman, soon dubbed “Teacher” by his saviour, is immediately thrust into a race to find out not only the purpose of the huge ship he has found himself aboard, but the reason for why everything seems to have gone so horribly wrong. As Teacher and his growing group of companions race across the giant hull in an attempt to “follow heat” and live with a constant spin up and spin down of gravity to which they must become accustomed, they also have to avoid the Factors, giant creatures created by Ship to keep things in order…unfortunately that apparently also means terminating any human strays they find in the myriad passageways and compartments that make up the vast environment.
I personally thought that Bear let the survival elements of the story play out a bit too long. The final mystery as to what happened to Ship to place it in its current predicament was interesting and had a lot of potential...unfortunately the conclusion reached by Teacher as to the agency behind Ship’s difficulties, though very intriguing, seemed to come out of nowhere given the relatively sparse build-up given to the clues that led to his intuitive leap. I thought more fleshing out of that aspect of the story and a little less emphasis on the survival part would have been an advantage. Overall a fun read, though not earth-shattering by any means. ...more
This is probably the most gossipy 'academic' book I have ever read. Cantor takes as his purpose the outlining of the birth and growth of medieval studThis is probably the most gossipy 'academic' book I have ever read. Cantor takes as his purpose the outlining of the birth and growth of medieval studies as an academic field and discussing how the main players in each of the phases of its development that he has identified shaped our perception of the middle ages by incorporating their own generational, societal, and personal concerns into what was ostensibly an impartial research of the facts. Thus we have the specific interests and preconceptions of each succeeding generation of scholars subtly (or not so subtly) changing the face of our understanding of the medieval period...sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
Cantor does not stint in his discussion of each of these major players from divulging facts (and I imagine hearsay) tied to each of them and painting each of them with a rather broad brush so that they can be more easily classified. We can even see this in the chapter headings Cantor utilizes where certain scholars are either "the Nazi twins", "the French Jews", "the Oxford fantasists" or "the Once & Future King". I gather that Cantor himself was something of a controversial figure in the field and I am sure this book did not make him any more loved by his enemies. I am not sure how high I would rate this book as a real scholarly introduction to the study of the Middle Ages (not very highly I imagine), but I did find it useful as a source for what scholars and works I ought to look into to get a foundational grasp of the development of medieval studies...and it was certainly an entertaining read....more