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The Rapparee Paperback – 28 Jul 2017
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The plot, although simple is quite an enjoyable one, and is backed up well by an interesting back story. A scientist from Earth called Langtry invented the "space drive" which enabled man to colonise the galaxy. His five sons, known as the Sons of Langtry, each colonised a different planet where they became the evolutionary starting point of five new mutant human races.
These five new races have now become dominant over Earth, and they control space drive technology, thus monopolising trade and progress throughout the galaxy. People from Earth are derogatorily known as "Earthers" and have became a second-class species, effectively an evolutionary dead-end, who are no longer privy to the secrets of space drive technology and have no say in how the technology is shared amongst the races and planets.
After outwitting the five Sons of Langtry and capturing their gold bands, Paddy Blackthorn goes on a quest to collect the five pieces of information that collectively reveal the secret of space drive technology to restore Earth's position in the galaxy.
The two main characters in The Rapparee are Paddy and Fay. Paddy Blackthorn, an Irishman, is a typical Vance character, brash and confidant. Whereas Fay Bursill provides the romantic hook to the story, an Earther agent who is determined to help Paddy for the good of her home planet.
The prose throughout The Rapparee is, by Vance's high standards, quite plain and ordinary for the most part. Similarly, the dialogue between characters, barring a few exceptions, is not quite playful or delightfully obscene like his other works. This is strange considering that this story was first published in the same year as The Dying Earth. The following quote is one of these exceptions, and has Vance describing Paddy's affections towards Fay in only the way he can:
Paddy waited like a spent swimmer. Zhri Khainga watched him carefully for a moment, then said, "You have a projective identification with this woman?"
Paddy blinked. "Eh, now? What are you saying?"
"You 'love' this woman?"
One of Jack Vance's finest skills is his ability to paint exotic worlds and alien cultures and, unlike other aspects of his writing in The Rapparee, this is something that it very much present in full force here. A personal favourite was the idea of the Thieves Cluster, an area of space where authorities are too scared to venture, an area which is the only safe haven in the galaxy for criminals. Besides this, each of the Langtry planets was interesting and varied enough to hold the readers attention but perhaps lacked the depth of background information that we are spoilt with in The Demon Princes books.
Overall, The Rapparee is a short and enjoyable story which on one hand showed glimpses of Jack Vance's unique style that he was to go on and develop, whilst at the same time also struggled to break away and find its own voice from other 1950's SF literature of the time. This is not a book for readers new to Jack Vance, but it is certainly an enjoyable read to those already well acquainted with his works.
However, I cannot help but give this novella four stars as it was so much fun to read and so full of invention. While it may pale in comparison to vintage Vance it is still a book that I would recommend for light entertainment value.