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The Blue World by Jack Vance (Gollancz Collector’s Edition)

01/09/2003. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

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Gollancz. 190 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK), $14.95 (US), $21.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-575-07348-9.

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SF Survival of people marooned on a sea world and resisting the native population.

An old master re-issued, this is one of Jack Vance's best works and it deserves the accolade of 'they don't write them like this anymore.' A very true statement considering some of the rubbish that is published today under the name of Science Fiction! Maybe the prime reason why publishers go for old fiction is that it is a damn sight better than what's on offer today. In giving the people what they want, it's necessary to go back in time to the Golden Age. Anyway, that's what some people think.

The Blue World by Jack Vance

Of course, authors could write such stuff today only they don't. Why not? Because it's been written before and only something very special will be able to rise above the sea of mediocrity which now exists. Would it be wrong to say that Science Fiction as a genre is time bound in nature, probably between the 30s and late 60s, and anything else is probably something else but in a different genre?

A sea of mediocrity the 'Blue World' certainly isn't. First appearing in the July 1964 edition of 'Fantastic' under the title 'The Kragen', it's the story of man's battle against a sea monster. The sea is quite large - in fact, it covers the entire planet and the only place to be if you're not a fish is on an island of floating vegetation.

Twelve generations before, humans crash landed on the planet to commence a precarious existence which had not only the elements to contend with but also large sea creatures' intent on making their lives a misery. A sacrificial demanding Kragen lords it over them and so they survive, albeit with ignominious consequences, for years and years until...

...Until someone says, 'Stuff this for a carry on!' They don't have effective weapons and any resistance will have serious repercussions, maybe involving the termination of them all. Even though life may be miserable, it's still life and not surprisingly there is opposition to the revolutionary aspirations of the upstart, a Che Guevara figure, who wishes to kill the monster.

Is this book an analogy for the plight of people under the type of autocratic and authoritarian government so common when Vance was a young man? People didn't count - they made sacrifices to the monster that ruled them. Surprisingly, many loved their monster leader, as with Stalin, while others were far too scared to step out of line, humbly getting on with life when allowed to do so. Against such monsters, people are helpless and they have no weapons.

In being re-issued today, we have a situation with some similarities. Though many on both sides of the Atlantic didn't wish to go to war, we found ourselves involved in a conflict which may have no end in sight. People are defenceless against such a government - they have no weapons. Does this tell us why others, downtrodden and oppressed with no real way to fight back, resort to making bombs out of themselves?

To finish, I was in a trendy eating/drinking place in Edinburgh during the Festival recently. Dining in the din of popular music, I noticed a black and white picture on the back of a menu several tables away. A man's face with a clenched fist? A revolutionary statement, albeit trendy? Che Guevara? No, on closer inspection it was some greedy bastard holding a fork up to his face.

Whether or not you ever agreed with Che Guevara, at least people from these days had fire in their souls. They fought and argued for things they believed in! In these spin days, the mundane and the mediocre have taken over. Maybe there's no fire in Science Fiction either?

Rod MacDonald

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