After successfully dispatching the first of his lifelong enemies in the previous novel, The Star King, Kirth Gersen now takes on the second of the five demon princes, Kokor Hekkus, aka “The Killing Machine.” The Killing Machine is even more fun than The Star King. It’s full of diverse characters, exotic venues, hilarious fashions, weird food, awesome architecture, and bizarre machinery. Nobody outdoes Jack Vance for sheer inventiveness. The plot moves rapidly and contains plenty of action and suspense.
As with many of his novels, at the beginning of each chapter Vance imparts small amounts of background information in the form of excerpts from government documents, textbooks, popular sayings, magazine articles, planetary travel guides, etc. This is a clever way to give us knowledge without relying on the much maligned “info-dump” that’s often endured in speculative fiction. Sometimes these excerpts are just a fun way to let us know about some interesting aspect of a planet’s environment, history or culture; sometimes they’re just an excuse for Jack Vance to say something smart or witty about politics, economics, biology, astronomy, or psychology; sometimes they give him a chance to give a nod or a jab to one of his SF friends (“Frerb Hankbert” was quoted in The Star King and “the dean of modern cosmologists, A.N. der Poulson” was mentioned in The Killing Machine). But occasionally, though they may seem irrelevant at first, they give us clues for solving a part of the plot’s mystery.
In The Killing Machine we get to know Kirth Gersen a little better. We already knew he was clever, driven, and almost ruthless. Now we start to see a bit of remorse and melancholy as he muses about what his life would be like without this goal to take revenge on the five demon princes. And, more importantly, he begins to wonder: after he’s finished, who will he have become?
The Demon Princes — (1964-1981) Publisher: Kirth Gersen carries in his pocket a slip of paper with a list of five names written on it. Theses are the names of the five Demon Princes who led the historic Mount Pleasant Massacre, which destroyed not only Kirth’s family but his entire world as well. He roams the universe, searching the endless galaxies of space, hunting down the Demon Princes and exacting his revenge.