Jack Vance – Araminta Station

I have fond memories of Araminta Station (1987) by Jack Vance, the first novel of The Cadwal Chronicles. I have read this science fiction novel several times already although it has been some years since the last time. It is the longest book by Jack Vance; my edition is almost 700 pages; and written in the period which I consider his finest, when he expanded the scope and complexity of his novels, which before rarely reached 300 pages and often were closer to half of that. I have to admit that I am a major Jack Vance fan and I consider this particular novel to be one of his best. And after this reread that opinion has not changed.

I do not want to indulge in what makes Jack Vance’s writing so great and unique. He has been awarded many awards and status, by fans and colleagues alike. Strangely enough he seems to be rather unknown by the mainstream audience. Lets just say he is one for the connoisseurs. So in this review I prefer to focus on what makes this particular novel different and better compared to his other works.

The first thing that makes this novel unique is the setting. The world of Cadwal is a nature reserve and its small population is dedicated to maintaining that status. Essentially this makes the actual setting not much different from a small town. Most people know each other from birth and they are always close together. Any event involves them all. This results in a stationary cast of characters which continually encounter each other throughout the novel and everybody deals with the situations in a mundane fashion.

A consequence of the settings it the second element what makes this novel so much more. With the stationary cast and continuous encounters Vance really goes in deep. He has all the time to spend with his characters and develop them during a long course of events. The reader gets immersed into this small world that is very unique and has a great diversity. Except for his typical main protagonist the large cast of side characters have far more depth and versatility. One could say that is rather unusual.

The plot itself is actually a long string of smaller and larger events. It is much more low level than his usual fare and there is not a moment where it might seem dull. There is a greater story that gradually unfolds. It is not a flawless plot although the weaknesses are minor. Only an attentive reader like myself will probably notice them. For an author who is used to much shorter stories creating such a wonderful tapestry is already marvellous.

The loves of creating strange creatures and landscapes gets plenty of attention. With the world as a nature reserve Vance adds in plenty of outings where he can indulge himself. His genius in making odd and peculiar cultures and societies is not absent either. Vance makes sure his plot allows for some brief visits to other worlds where he sets some stunning developments.

This is an almost perfect novel as one can get from the likes of Jack Vance with far more depth and better characterization than he has ever done. It is almost a sad thing when the story ends, although I know a sequel will follow. Nevertheless I have to admit that the novel may not be to everyone’s taste. One has to like Vance, obviously, and this won’t be easy on those who don’t know his work that well because on the outside it may seem like a not particularly grand story like may SF novels tend to do. It is however the craft of being able to tell a story that is nowhere groundbreaking that immerses the reader and gives joy to those who recognize the beauty that makes it stand out from the usual science fiction novels.

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