After a couple of disappointing SFF pickups (which I may talk about at a later time), I recently started grazing on another Jack Vance book. It’s been a great little diversion while I pop back and forth between the endless toil of life and a couple non-fiction reads.
The Anome is the first entry in Jack Vance’s Durdane series. Once again, he creates a wondrous, bizarre world that really eclipses its characters.
The land of Shant, on the world of Durdane, is divided into separate lands; I guess you might call them states, but this doesn’t seem to really capture the relationship between them as far as I can tell thus far. Each land has its own values, customs, and laws. The protagonist hails from a place where women are considered to be dirty and tainted. The men of this state are celibate and “enlightened,” centering their lives on meditation and drug-addled prayer. Children here are born of the union between women and traveling foreigners.
Unsatisfied with his fate to become a “Pure Boy” and then an initiated member of his cleric-like people, our protagonist escapes and becomes a musician, the only real caste with the freedom to wander as they will. Ah yes, I use the word “caste,” but that is also probably not the right word here, either. Adults in the land of Shant are fitted with special collars called torcs, colored according to their profession. Anyone who breaks the law or attempts to remove his torc is punished by the ruler of Shane, the Faceless Man, also called the Anome.
There is only one punishment for breaking the law or trying to remove your torc – you lose your head. Now where else have we seen that?
Our hero decides to petition the Faceless Man for his mother’s freedom. But of course petitioning the Faceless Man is perilous.
So far it’s typical Vance – interesting world, captivating story, and of course feels really weird and difficult to actually describe. But what would you expect when you’re trying to relay the imaginings of a guy who peppers his stories with footnotes detailing all manner of words, customs, foods, and other flavorings from his worlds?