The Pnume by Jack Vance
The Pnume is the final book in Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE quartet. These four short novels, which were published between 1968 and 1970, combine to tell the story of Adam Reith’s adventures on the planet Tschai after his spaceship crash-landed there. Adam has been trying to gather resources so that he can build a new spaceship and leave Tschai. Besides just wanting to return home, he also wants to warn Earth that there are other sentient creatures out there who may threaten Earth.
There are four main races of inhabitants on Tschai, each with their own customs and quirks. In each of the four PLANET OF ADVENTURE books — City of the Chasch, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, and The Pnume — Adam must interact with the race mentioned in the book’s title. This time, obviously, it’s the Pnume. They are a strange species who live in tunnels underground. Just as Adam’s spaceship is about to be ready to take him off the planet, he is betrayed by an enemy, captured, and taken below ground where the Pnume live. He must escape their tunnels if he hopes to get back to the ship and leave Tschai.
Unfortunately, when the Pnume capture Adam, they don’t take his friends Anancho and Traz, so these two companions, who provided a lot of the humor in the previous books, are nearly absent from the story. For most of the first third of the novel, Adam is by himself which, frankly, isn’t very entertaining. When he finally kidnaps a girl who will help him reach the surface, she turns out to be dull and devoid of personality. That’s not very entertaining, either.
There are few “Vancean” elements to the plot. There is one scene in which Adam has to outwit a charlatan in order to get the money he needs. I had a good Vancean chuckle when a man representing a tribe of pacifists explained how they deal with the enemies and killer birds that attack them. Then he takes Adam to a town where the residents nickel-and-dime all the travelers in amusing ways. These episodes were funny, but most of the rest of the plot involves Adam’s relationship with the girl he kidnaps. In order not to spoil things, I won’t tell you how it goes, but basically this naïve girl is suddenly budding into her sexual maturity and the relationship feels like male fantasy wish fulfillment in which an older experienced man gets to teach and protect the innocent ingénue. I thought it was icky (and boring), but not unexpected for a male writer in the late 1960s.
Vance is one of my favorite authors, so I hate to have to say that The Pnume, which is the weakest book in the PLANET OF ADVENTURE quartet, is just not that interesting except that most readers will want to know whether Adam Reith gets to go home to Earth. This is very quickly dealt with at the very end of the book.
I’d like to, again, thank Blackstone Audio for producing PLANET OF ADVENTURE in audio format. Elijah Alexander did an excellent job with the narration. The Pnume is 5.5 hours long in audio format.
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: