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436 pages, Mass Market Paperback
First published February 1, 1991
The two set off at a diagonal across the Square, toward the hills of the old town. As they walked, Lefaun pointed out items of interest.
"These granite flags were quarried in the Pontus and brought here by barge. It is said that each flag represents four dead men." He glanced sideways with eyebrows raised. "Why are you hopping and jumping like that?"
"I don't quite know where to put my feet."
Levaun made an extravagant gesture. "Ignore all sentiment; walk where you will. They were low-class men, in any event. Do you think of dead cows when you eat meat?"
"I try not to do so."
It's decently entertaining, and yet I find myself disappointed. Araminta Station was a very uneven book, but in it, Vance had set up a compelling central conflict between two political factions within a society charged with maintaining an entire planet as a nature conservancy, one dedicated to upholding the charter they'd inherited, and the other arguing that doing so is immoral and it's time for change. Despite focusing on the conservationists as protagonists, Vance appeared to take the anti-conservationist view seriously, describing a world red in tooth and claw, whose human(oid) inhabitants also suffer somewhat under the consequences of centuries-old legal documents, and including a scene in which a character proposes a major project aimed at intervening in nature to reduce suffering. Naturally, I expected the criticism of conservationism to continue.
Alas, Vance chose to do nothing of the sort. In this sequel, it's sadly taken for granted that the conservationists are right. Suddenly, the whole anti-conservationist party is corrupt and reduced to playing the part of cloak-and-dagger villains in the plot, which is mostly a picaresque with sleuthing, driven by a winner-take-all race between the two factions to find some missing documents.