When he was a child, Kirth Gersen’s village was raided and massacred by the five Demon Princes. He and his grandfather escaped and, at his grandfather’s encouragement, Kirth has spent his life training and preparing for revenge. Now it’s time…
Jack Vance‘s DEMON PRINCES saga consists of five short science fiction novels which each tell the tale of how Kirth Gersen tracks down and deals with one of the evil men who killed his family. In the first installment, The Star King, Kirth is looking for Attel Malagate, aka Malagate the Woe, who may be masquerading as a university academic. Along the way, Kirth must get past Malagate’s henchmen, including the memorable Hildemar Dasce, also known as Beauty Dasce or Fancy Dasce:
Into the hall stepped the strangest human being of Gersen’s experience.
“And there,” said Teehalt with a sick titter, “you see Beauty Dasce.”
Dasce was about six feet tall. His torso was a tube, the same gauge from knee to shoulder. His arms were thin and long, terminating in great bony wrists, enormous hands. His head was also tall and round, with a ruff of red hair, and a chin seeming almost to rest on the clavicle. Dasce had stained his neck and face bright red, excepting only his cheeks, which were balls of bright chalk-blue, like a pair of mildewed oranges. At some stage of his career his nose had been cleft into a pair of cartilaginous prongs, and his eyelids had been cut away; to moisten his corneas he wore two nozzles connected to a tank of fluid which every few seconds discharged a film of mist into his eyes. There was also a pair of shutters, now raised, which could be lowered to cover his eyes from the light, and which were painted to represent staring white and blue eyes similar to Dasce’s own.
Kirth Gersen is the type of hero who was popular back in the 1960s when this series was written: a single unattached worldly man who’s clever and brave, but only slightly more clever and brave than his enemies — a James-Bond-type hero. His enemies are James-Bondish, too (Beauty Dasce reminds me of Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). In fact, these are the kind of books that would make great movies because they’re short, the plot is tight, fast, and action-packed and there’s plenty of violence, but it’s not gory. There’s even a bit of romance and mystery.
But what sets these stories above most novels and movies of this type is Jack Vance’s succinct, perfect prose and the scope of his active imagination. In his science fiction novels, he’s got an entire fictional universe to work with and he makes the most of it, offering us fascinating and ever-changing vistas, races, and cultures.