Big Planet Paperback – Jun 1989
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From Publishers Weekly
"To land anywhere on Big Planet except Earth Enclave meant tragedy, debacle, cataclysm": it doesn't look good for Claude Glystra's interstellar mission when his sabotaged ship crashes deep in the heart of enemy territory. At least one of the traitors is on the loose, and the forces of the despotic Bajarnum of Beaujolais are out to destroy Claude, his fellow Earthmen and a lovely young native they christen Nancy, as the group embarks upon a deadly 40,000-mile journey to refuge in Jack Vance's weird and highly imaginative Big Planet.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Jack Vance was born in 1916 and educated at the University of California in mining engineering, physics and journalism. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Navy and was torpedoed twice. He started contributing stories to the pulp magazines in the late 1940s and published his first book, The Dying Earth, in 1950. Among his many books are To Live Forever, The DragonMasters, for which he won his first Hugo, The Blue World, Emphyrio, The Anome and the Lyonesse sequence. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Earth authorities, concerned about the activities of a local warlord/slaver, send a team to investigate/intervene. However, their ship is sabotaged and crashlands on Big Planet. The survivors, led by Claude Glystra, set out on an impossibly ambitious trek to reach Earth Enclave, located on the other side of the planet, 40,000 miles away. Meanwhile, they continue to worry about the possibility of an enemy agent in their midst.
Although I like the idea of "Big Planet", I don't think Vance puts that idea to its best use here. The overarching warlord/sabotage plot tended to distract from the challenge of the planet itself, and tended to have the effect of making a big planet seem small again. Part of the problem, perhaps, is that Vance's original 1948 manuscript (now lost) was almost twice as long, but edited down after he was told it would not sell. But, for whatever reason, we are left with a rushed adventure story that could just as easily taken place on a small planet.
Vance's inventiveness is on display, but he has done better elsewhere. In particular, he has done better with his vastly superior 1975 novel SHOWBOAT WORLD (a/k/a THE MAGIFICENT SHOWBOATS OF THE LOWER VISSEL RIVER, LUNE XIII SOUTH, BIG PLANET), written 23 years later, which is also set on Big Planet. Read that one first - it stands on its own. Read this later, and only if determined to read all things Vance.
If you do seek out BIG PLANET, make sure you find an edition that reverts to the 1952 text that appeared in Startling Stories. The 1957 Ace edition, and later editions based on it (such as the 1977 coronet edition), massacred the 1952 text. The 2012 Kindle edition from Spatterlight Press, the Gollancz Kindle edition, 1978 Miller-Underwood edition (but not, as Wikipedia wrongly says, the 1978 Ace edition) and the unobtainable Vance Integral Edition revert to the 1952 text. I'm not sure about the Gollancz paperbacks. One test is whether the opening paragraph refers to Hidders' mixed-race origens and ends with a reference to "many brains". If so, then read on. If not, and if the second page refers to a "Sister of Succor" rather than a "nun", then hold off and wait for a better copy.
Big Planet was settled by hordes of restless people looking for someplace other than the highly regulated home planet. Over four hundred years, millions of people migrate to Big Planet and find a home. The planet is now filled with thousands of small societies, who perpetuate every crime outlawed on Earth.
In this novel, Claude Glystra is the Executive Chairman of a commission sent to the Big Planet to investigate the Bajarnum of Beaujolais .
Pianza is a well-meaning, but dense old man. He is the team organizer and administrator.
Bishop is the team data specialist. He has memorized many records on the planet cultures and terrain.
Cloyville is the team mineralogist
Ketch runs the team video and sound equipment.
Darrot is the team ecologist.
Corbus is the Chief Engineer of the ship.
Vallusser is the Second Engineer of the ship.
Abbigens is the ship radio operator and purser.
Arthur Hidders says he is a trader in furs.
Charley Lysidder is the Bajarnum of Beaujolais. He has been taking over nearby territories.
In this story, Pianza and Hidders are discussing the planet they are approaching. Hidders seems interested in the latest team sent to Big Planet. He wonders what they can do that previous teams could not.
Claude comes to the observation lounge just in time for the dinner chime to ring. As they leave the lounge, the ship appears to sway. Claude asks Abbigens if anything is wrong.
Then the alarms sound. Clause learns that the lifeboats have been ejected without them. The Captain and First Mate are dead and the ship is out of control.
When Claude returns to consciousness, he learns that the ship crashed. Abbigens and Hidders are missing and Corbus and Vallusser are the only surviving crew. A nun passenger is presumed dead since her cabin is at the bottom of the ship.
All of his team have survived. Claude orders them to pack anything useful for a hike and tells them to get ready to leave. If Abbigens or Hidders survived, they are probably off to fetch soldiers to capture them.
His nurse Nancy wants to go with them. Claude refuses, but says she can go with them as far as the woods. As they leave the village, the residents are dancing around them.
In the woods, Clause leaves his team and Nancy to reconnoiter. He finds Beaujolais soldiers settling in for the night. One sets up a blaster and goes back for something.
Clause settles behind the blaster and tells the soldiers to freeze. The gunner rushes him and six soldiers die. Claude calls his team and has them set guards on the soldiers.
Clause pretends to sleep, but keeps an eye on the blaster. The far guards go into the woods one at a time to relief themselves. Vallusser sneaks around and attacks the two men on the blaster. Claude shoots him with his ion shine.
Vallusser and Darrot are dead. Corbus is wounded in the neck. During the excitement, three soldiers escape from the camp. Ketch uses the first aid kit to tend to Corbus.
The next day, the dead are buried. Nancy is sent back. The soldiers are tied together with ankle ropes and marched out of the camp.
This tale takes Claude and his group toward the Earth Enclave. They have forty thousand miles to travel to get there. Along the way, the people of the planet will try to kill them for their wealth and as food.
Claude is determined to let nothing stop him. This story is also available in the Jack Vance SF Gateway Omnibus.
Highly recommended for Vance fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of human settled, but anarchical planets with many cultures. Read and enjoy!
-Arthur W. Jordin