The Dirdir by Jack Vance
Poor Adam Reith. He’s still stranded on the planet Tchai where he is the only Earthman on a world where nobody believes in Earth and everyone thinks he’s crazy. All of Adam’s efforts to leave have, so far, only resulted in him becoming a wanted criminal. After escaping from the Chasch in the first book (City of the Chasch) and from the Wankh in the previous book (Servants of the Wankh), Adam wants to travel to the domain of the technologically-advanced Dirdir. They have a spaceyard in the city of Sivishe where he should be able to find the specialized supplies and labor he needs to build a spaceship capable of taking him home.
Since book one, Adam has been traveling with two very different companions, Traz and Anancho:
They ate in silence; disparate beings, each found the other incomprehensible. Anacho, tall, thin and pallid like all Dirdirmen, was completely hairless, a quality he now tended to minimize under a soft tasseled cap after the style of the Yao. His personality was unpredictable; he inclined toward garrulity, freakish jokes, sudden petulances. Traz, square, somber and sturdy, was in most respects Anacho’s obverse. Traz considered Anacho vain, over-subtle, over-civilized; Anacho thought Traz tactless, severe and over-literal. How the two managed to travel in comparative amity was a mystery to Reith.
Adam describes his plans and says that first he needs funds. Traz and Anancho explain that the only source of wealth on Tchai is the nodes of sequins that are mined from the vast desert region called Carabas. Anyone is welcome to try their luck in Carabas, but they’ll be hunted by the dangerous Dirdir. Most adventurers, if they return at all, don’t find it worth the risk. But Adam Reith is, of course, a Vancean hero which, as any fan knows, means that he will be able to use his wits to outsmart any opponent… eventually, at least. And so, Adam and his friends set out to beat the odds by acquiring enough sequins to travel to Sivishe and build a ship. But there are those on Tchai who are determined to stop them, so Adam has to ally himself with criminals in order to get the job done. That’s always risky.
The Dirdir is another fun PLANET OF ADVENTURE story and, I think, better than the previous books. The episode in Carabas was truly exciting and it’s always amusing to watch one of Vance’s human heroes outsmart his opponents. He’s able to do this not only because he’s smart, ambitious and logical, but also because he’s not bound by the sometimes silly strictures imposed on his opponents by their particular cultures.
Here we see Adam Reith getting control of his situation and nearly accomplishing his goal. But, of course, just as things are looking up, there’s always a betrayal or two, several unexpected plot twists, and a few near-death experiences. In the end, Adam is still stuck on Tchai (which we already knew because there’s one more book in the series). I have to admit that as much as I’m rooting for Adam to get back to Earth, at the same time I wish this series would go on longer because it’s so much fun. (And, incidentally, Adam also wonders if he’ll be bored when he gets back to Earth.)
If a reader had any complaint about PLANET OF ADVENTURE, or Jack Vance’s stories in general, I suppose it would be that Vance’s stories are immediately recognizable. Vance’s heroes and villains tend to become familiar, as does his sparse writing style, dry wit, elevated vocabulary, and even his naming conventions. The themes and social commentary are also similar. However, despite this, each plot is unique and unpredictable, and though the social commentary usually tends toward ridiculing human behavior, it’s always a different behavior. For me, Vance hits all the right buttons nearly every time. I am exactly the right audience. The only thing I’d change, I suppose, is that I’d prefer more strong female characters. They occasionally show up in Vance’s work and, in general, it’s not as sexist as the work of some of Vance’s contemporaries, but it’s still recognizably a product of the era in which it was written (the 1960s).
I’m so thankful to Blackstone Audio and Skyboat Media for finally getting PLANET OF ADVENTURE released in audio format. The Dirdir is 5.5 hours long. The narration by Elijah Alexander is wonderful and gets better with each book. I highly recommend the audio versions of PLANET OF ADVENTURE.
Tschai: Planet of Adventure — (1968-1970) The Chasch was originally published as City of The Chasch and The Wannek was originally Servants of the Wankh. Publisher: The starship Explorator IV is destroyed after entering orbit around the planet Tschai. Adam Reith’s scout ship is en route to the surface when the attack occurs, and is damaged in the explosion; Reith crash-lands and is separated from his ship. He finds a world full of violence, where four non-human races rule: the Chasch, the Dirdir, the Wannek, and the Pnume. Humans are present, but dominated by the other races. In this volume Reith sets out to regain his scout ship, and makes his way to Dadiche, ruled by the Blue Chasch and their human servants. Along the way he finds loyal friends, and challenges social inequities with the same aplomb that he rescues fair maidens — like the lovely Ylin Ylan, Flower of Cath.
Original novels: Omnibus: