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Araminta Station: classic Vance at his elegant best
on September 18, 2012
Araminta Station is the first book in one of Vance's most charming series, the Cadwal Chronicles, and is followed by Ecce and Old Earth, with the trilogy completed in Throy. The story is set in Vance's Gaean Reach and centres on the struggle over control of and title to the world Cadwal. Cadwal is a wildlife preserve with strict limitations on the number and activities of the human inhabitants regulated by the Naturalist Society Charter, in order to mitigate nuisance to the native creatures and safeguard the planet's natural beauty. However, the charter has been in force for so long that many of Cadwal's inhabitants consider it more of a philosophical quirk than a governing law. The hero, Glawen, becomes embroiled in a complex and interlocked series of crimes and schemes by groups who would rest control of the Cadwal from the Conservancy, and remake it to suit their own agendas.
The books abound with all the things that give Vance's work their timeless and much loved charm; elegant writing style, evocative yet economical description, quirky characters, charming footnotes and asides, insight into human nature and a story driven by characters rather than science fiction or fantasy spectacle. Araminta Station and its sequels are probably second only to the Lyonesse series in complexity of storyline, characterisation and beautifully absorbing realisation. Though less influential than the earlier Dying Earth stories, the Cadwal Chronicles and the Lyonesse sequence are Vance at the pinnacle of his abilities and writing career.
Araminta Station is a thoroughly enjoyable and completely engaging read, and is one of the classic science fiction works by one of the greatest writers of our time, and I commend it to you without reservation. If you've never read Vance and lean towards SF rather than fantasy, then this is the place to meet the master. If you lean more towards fantasy than SF, then consider starting with Suldrun's Garden. The chances are good that you'll end up reading and enjoying them all.