Friday, August 09, 2013

Forgotten Books: Vandals of the Void - Jack Vance

When I was a kid I loved the science fiction novels published by the John C. Winston Company, many of which were available on the bookmobile that came out to my little hometown every Saturday from the public library in the county seat. How could I not love them? I mean, look at that classic endpaper painting by Alex Schomburg! I read all of them I could get my hands on, beginning with, as I recall, THE YEAR THE STARDUST FELL by Raymond F. Jones. Although my first one could have been the iconic DANGER: DINOSAURS! by Richard Marsten, who was Evan Hunter, of course. I can't remember for sure.

But one I'm certain I never read was VANDALS OF THE VOID by Jack Vance, and since this is Jack Vance Week on Forgotten Books, why not? Well, for one thing, copies of the original edition can be found easily on-line, but they ain't cheap. As in a couple of hundred bucks not cheap. Luckily, there's a Kindle edition which is very inexpensive considering the alternative. It doesn't have those great endpapers, of course, but I was able to read the book itself.

The protagonist of VANDALS OF THE VOID is Dick Murdock, the teenage son of an astronomer. Despite being of Terran heritage, Dick was born and raised on Venus. He gets to leave the planet for the first time when he goes to visit his father at an observatory on Earth's Moon. On the way he sees a disabled spaceship with everyone on board dead and hears about a dreaded space pirate known as the Basilisk who is thought to be to blame for the atrocity. Once he gets to the Moon he meets an old prospector who claims that the remnants of a race of lunar natives still live in caves deep under the surface. That's more than enough to draw me in, but there are more plot twists still to come, as a murder takes place and Dick is forced to turn detective to expose the killer and save his own life.

There's almost a frontier feel to this novel, since space travel has progressed only as far as Terran colonies on Mars and Venus and is actually fairly primitive. I don't mind a big sprawling galactic empire space opera once in a while, but I really like this sort of smaller scale story, too.

I would have absolutely loved this book when I was twelve years old. Heck, I enjoyed it a lot now, and I'm considerably older than twelve. Unlike many of you, I haven't read a great deal of Jack Vance's work. I've enjoyed what I've read, he's just one of those authors I've never sampled extensively. In the reviews of this one I've read by Vance fans, there are a lot of comments about how it's one of his early novels and his later books are much better written, but I've got to say, I think VANDALS OF THE VOID is very well written, with a smart plot, a refreshingly realistic and likable protagonist, and plenty of excitement. I had a great time reading it.

I may have to see if any of those other Winston SF novels are available as e-books.


Anonymous said...

Off topic a bit, forgive me.

Danger: Dinosaurs!
Wow. I loved that one so much that I ritualistically checked it out of the local library every summer vacation for most of middle school.
I still recall the plunging, wide-eyed sense of wonder I felt at first being exposed to scientifically described time travel, time paradox, and dangerous dinosaurs. Hell, the slimy villain gets eaten by an Allosaurus! That book might have been written to order for my nine year old mind.

John Hocking

James Reasoner said...

I reacted the exact same way to DANGER: DINOSAURS!, John. It's one of the really influential books of my childhood.

Charles Gramlich said...

I did read this one when I was twelve or so and loved it. This was back when I really liked Vance's work. Later he got a little too 'artsy' or something for my tastes but this one was a lot of fun.

George said...

Like you, I read those WINSTON SF novels and loved them. I even own a dozen of them, including VANDALS OF THE VOID. I need to go back and reread DANGER: DINOSAURS!

Kelly Robinson said...

I want to know more about the bookmobile! (I really do.) Nice writeup. I've run into books before that I wish my younger self had known about. I can still enjoy them, but I know that they would have meant far more to my other self.

James Reasoner said...

I've mentioned the bookmobile in many posts, but here's a picture of one (not the one from my hometown) and some reminiscing about them by me and some other readers:

Beb said...

I found Vandals of the Void upstairs in the "adult" library, in a bookcase of YA stories. Oddly but Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein's juveniles were downstairs in the children's library. I alway loved Vance and loved that book as well. I was astonished by the price of old Winston juveniles. As far as I know there has never been a concerted effort to reprint the Winston line in TPB with original covers and endpapers. Pity.

Another kids book that's too costly to collect is the Mushroom Planet stories. The first and second volumes were reprinted in TPB and are relatively available but the other volumes exist only in their original library edition and run $100 or up each. Another series that seems rip for reprinting.

Richard R. said...

In about 1988 I saw an ad in a catalog of used / hard to find books for a COMPLETE SET of used Winston SF books. Some were ex-library copies, some in great condition some not, but the whole set. I don't recall the price, but I was a couple of months from moving into a new home and didn't have a cent to spare. Oh how I wish I bought them now.

I also sure wish someone would reprint them all in TP.