Blue World has a basic but intriguing theme: a planet populated by the survivors of a space shipwreck, which have to fight for survival, cut off from civilization, and forced to regress to the level of pure survival.
Of course, the novel by Jack Vance is not original, countless are the worlds that have had this fate: the forgotten planet of Murray Leinster, Darkover by Marion Zimmer Bradley and last colonies of Raymond Chandler are just a few of these.
But Vance has complicated the lives of his shipwrecked criminals fleeing from their world of origin, making them fall on a planet entirely covered by water, where only the presence of huge floating vegetable (or maybe it’s just a colossal body) allows survival.
The plants have their trunks submerged in water, but huge leaves float like water lilies, hosting different forms of life and providing shelter and resources to the humans; the only dangers come from large crustaceans called Kragen, marine predators at the top of the food chain.
After several generations, the archipelago where the survivors found shelter is now home to about fifty thousand people, the islands bustle, society is divided into castes that reflect the crimes of the original settlers: embezzlers, arsonists, forgers, thieves, and other categories gave rise to a peaceful society, almost a water Eden.
Like any self-respecting Eden, even this one has its Snake, a huge Kragen, twenty meters long, claims to be nourished by the population of the islands in exchange for the protection provided against smaller specimens.
Of course, someone found a way to take advantage of the situation, the Intercessors: well situated in the social fabric and live in luxury, whose sole task is to talk to King Kragen and invoke his benevolence, nothing strange that it is in their interest to maintain the status quo.
Skalr Hast, a young forger, officer is the communication towers that allow the exchange of messages between the islands, makes the first act of rebellion: he kills a small Kragen who was robbing his cultivation of sponges.
This gesture sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of the inhabitants of the islands, divided between obedience to the old master and the desire for freedom.
The Blue World is one of the few novels from Vance that is not part of a series. It is a fairly conventional history, whose greatest value lies in the description of the strange society that thrives because of what offers the ocean.
The theme of the exploitation of man by an alien race, that Vance uses quite frequently (sometimes reversing the situation), and the action scenes are in the background, prominent is the description of a group of humans who have completely wrong ideas about their ancestors. Fascinating is the way in which the author describes a non-violent society, whose only contact with their origins are books that are difficult to interpret, and yet find the strength to rediscover the pride of being free.
We are not bored with endless descriptions of customs and bizarre and unusual social dynamics, or philosophical disputes, Vance does not get lost in too many descriptions, but sweep the portrait of this world with a few clever touches, while the story moves forward with a good pace.
We are not, however, in front of one of the masterpieces of the Californian writer, the novel is far too linear and well away from the complexity shown in his other creations.
Having said that, Blue World remains a story that is more than enjoyable, that can be read in a couple of sessions, and with pleasure. For fans of Vance a chance not to be missed to read a novel that doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.
Massimo Marino is a scientist envisioning science fiction. He spent years at CERN and The Lawrence Berkeley Lab followed by lead positions with Apple, Inc. and the World Economic Forum. He is also co-founder of “Squares on Blue”, a Big Data Analytics service company.
Massimo currently lives in France and crosses the border with Switzerland multiple times daily, although he is no smuggler.
As a scientist writing science fiction, he went from smashing particles at accelerators at SLAC and CERN to smashing words on a computer screen.
He’s the author of multi-awarded Daimones Trilogy.
His novels have received the Seal of Excellency from both AwesomeIndies.net and IndiePENdents.org
• 2013 Hall of Fame – Best in Science Fiction, Quality Reads UK Book Club