Monday, October 10, 2011
City of the Chasch tells the tale of two scouts sent from Earth to investigate a mysterious signal sent from a world some 200 light years away. When the scouts arrive at their destination, their spacecraft is attacked by a torpedo from the planet's surface. The scouts, named Adam Reith and Paul Waunder, escape the destruction of their craft in a smaller vessel, which is itself damaged in the attack. Nevertheless, they manage to eject from the smaller vessel and land in a forest on the world below.
To their surprise, Reith and Waunder discover that the planet is inhabited by humans of a primitive sort, some of whom are attracted to the crash site. While stuck in a tree and unable to get down, Reith watches these humans arrive and kill Waunder, as well as the arrival of not one but two other groups of human, both of which seem to be slaves of different alien races, the blue-skinned Chasch and the tall, thin Dirdir. The wreckage of his ship hauled away by the Chasch and their "Chaschmen" slaves, Reith is eventually "rescued" by Onmale Traz, whose own tribe of humans makes him a slave.
While among this tribe, Reith learns a little more about this strange planet, which is called Tschai. Tschai is home to several alien species, each of which uses humans as slaves in their seemingly-eternal war against one another for dominance. Reith becomes convinced that these humans had been kidnapped from Earth some time in the distant past and, therefore, the aliens pose a threat to his home. Fortunately for him, Traz comes to like and trust him and aids him in escaping the tribe before its magician-leaders castrate him as punishment for his lack of docility.
Once free, Reith and Traz join a caravan that is traveling across Tschai, going from city to city. This enables the pair to visit many strange locales and meet many people, thereby pushing the story forward, as Reith attempts to find his stolen ship, repair it, and escape from Tschai. Of course, things are not quite so simple, as Reith soon learns, and it will in fact take several more books his adventures are resolved. Of course, like most Jack Vance stories, City of the Chasch is a picaresque; the journey is more important than the destination. And also like most Jack Vance stories, the tale is told engagingly, filled with exotic vista, bizarre situations, and fascinatingly quirky characters. It's a very fun read that reminiscent of many earlier sword-and-planet stories and yet still possessed of its own unique flavor. I heartily recommend it and its sequels if you've never had the chance to read them.