Jack Vance – Ecce And Old Earth

After a very focused setting in the first book of The Cadwal Chronicles, a science fiction trilogy by Jack Vance, he takes off to new locations in Ecce And Old Earth (1990). The setting of the first novel, Station Araminta, had really grown on me, with its large cast of characters and the smalltown atmosphere that felt familiar and unique at the same time.

The novel ended with two major issues left in the open and this second book follows these stories. Vance does so in an orderly fashion by continuing the story immediately after the conclusion of Station Araminta. One thus can return from the start of where we left off.

The first story is fairly straightforward and it lacks some degree of excitement. It is the setting and the creatures inhabiting it which steal the stage and this is obvious as Vance clearly must have enjoyed creating it and making the reader go through the experience.

The core of the novel is formed by the second storyline. Somewhat unique about this storyline is that it has a change of main protagonist and for as far as I know this is the first in which there is a sole female lead. In his Lyonesse novels Vance already told parts of the story from female perspectives but this was mixed with male ones and combined with the fantastical setting he didn’t go very deep. Vance shows that he doesn’t have a problem with a female lead. He doesn’t make her into a copy of his usual type of protagonist but keeps her genuinely feminine. As a woman she has weaknesses and advantages and Vance makes her increadibly real. My guess is that Vance as a writer likes to pleasure himself by using a limited set of male protagonists as that is how he likes them to be and that it is not his goal to use greater variations. He uses his side characters for that.

The setting of this second storyline takes the reader for the first time to Earth. That is, within the particular universe in which many of his science fiction novels are set. Usually he only went to strange and far away worlds, only hinting that Earth was still there. It thus remained one of the great mysteries. I can only recall one of the Devil Princes novels, The Palace Of Love I think it was, where there was a short visit.

This visit to Old Earth is baffling. Vance’s universe takes place in the distant future, many undisclosed thousands of years away. Of course things change but this Old Earth is very different. There are places that are familiar and others which are new, their actual location unknown as the references do not always seem to fit. My imagination was wildly triggered. Vance gives no explanation or background. We only see and learn from the places the main protagonist visits.

Every location that the main protagonist visits forms a miniature story as each is so very different from the others and the sequence of events follows their own course, with its own set of characters and themes.

The two stories of the novel are in fact quests and with quests it is always the journey that the characters go through that form the heart of the story. This is also the case here. It is exciting and all the miniature stories make you want to keep on going, so that it doesn’t really end. Which was a similar but very different quality of the first novel. Vance does it again. It is, in my opinion, overall not as great as the first novel was, as the reader has to say goodbye to the characters of the miniature story each time that it ends. The reading experience is thus less warmer and as the main arc is a quest there is ultimately less variation in the development. However, this is still one of his great novels.

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