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Literature / Planet of Adventure

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Planet of Adventure is a Science Fiction quartet by Jack Vance, featuring the adventures of Adam Reith, a spacer from Earth, who crash-lands on the newly discovered planet Tschai. Tschai is inhabited by four alien species, the Chasch, the Wankh, the Dirdir, and the native Pnume. In addition, surprisingly enough, there is a thriving population of humans, who appear to have been captured and brought to the planet ages ago. Many of the humans work as servants or slaves to the other species, though there are also various independent tribes. The other four species living on Tschai have an uneasy peace between them. Reith must navigate the dangers of the planet and the complex variety of cultures, and he ends up dealing with each species in turn as he tries to find a way to return home.

The four volumes of the series are:

  • The City of the Chasch
  • Servants of the Wankh
  • The Dirdir
  • The Pnume

Tropes in this series:

  • Becoming the Mask: Traz leads a tribe with this as their 'hat'. Each person wears an emblem and is required to take on the personality associated with it, even down to hereditary enemies.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The Dirdir have a complex sexuality. A male will be born with one of twelve different sex organs, females one of fourteen. Each type matches one or more of the others. Mating is complicated by the great secrecy surrounding sex: no-one wants to be "outed" as a particular sex since there are a host of restrictive sexual stereotypes waiting to be applied.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Traz. The nomad tribes' nominal leaders are generally teens or pre-teens (probably so the priests, who are the actual leaders, can have an easier time).
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Zap 210 starts discovering certain feelings once her diet no longer contains hormone suppressants.
  • Desert Punk: The first two books, definitely.
  • Did Not Do the Bloody Research: Vance innocently named an alien race the Wankh; the resulting second volume Servants of the Wankh sold quite well in a niche market. For a later republication, he consented to rename them Wannek, irritating at least a few fans because a race that can express a sentence in the overtones of a single chime ought to be monosyllabic.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Anacho calls out Reith on this in the first novel, pointing out that he's oblivious to all the other suffering that's going on in the world, yet he's risking all to save a single pretty girl, who is just one prisoner in a caravan of slaves. Reith can only give a shamefaced grin and say that one man can't do everything, so he may as well start with the Damsel in Distress.
  • Emotionless Girl: Zap 210, heroine of The Pnume due to hormone suppressants.
  • Forgets to Eat: Adam Reith at one point realizes that the reason everybody else is so cranky and tired is that they haven't eaten in two days, and by extension, neither has he.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Ylin-Ylan is one of the Yao, a people with an extraordinarily strict code of pride and etiquette — imagine the most exacting dictates of Victorian England melded with the complexities of court life in Ancient Japan. When Ylin-Ylan finally loses it over being slighted in love, she turns up at dinner completely naked, holding a gun and a knife: when she gives up on restraint, she goes all the way.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Like many Vance heroes, Adam Reith is a skilled hand-to-hand fighter. Though several of his opponents end up on the wrong side of a Neck Snap.
  • Horse of a Different Color: The "leap-horses" are the native substitute quadruped. They have heads resembling a horned tapir and exaggeratedly long necks as shown here. As their name implies their motion is more of a bounding motion that a horse-like gait. All in all riding one sounds like a fast-track to lower back problems.
  • Humanity on Trial: Of a sort. Ends with a very angry Reith repeatedly smashing the alien's head against a sidewalk.
  • Humanity Is Superior: Inverted as humans are a Servant Race of the immigrant alien species on the planet. Reith however tries his best to demonstrate the truth of this trope.
  • Human Subspecies: The planet Tschai, besides being home to five alien species the immigrant Chasch, Wankh and Dirdir and the native Pnume and Phung also hosts several populations of Transplanted Humans. While several tribes and nations are still effectively Earth-normal, the aliens keep human client races, the Chaschmen, Wankhmen, Dirdirmen and Pnumekin, who have come to physically resemble their respective rulers through combinations of selective breeding and surgery in a desire to emulate their masters.
  • Hypno Fool: In Servants of the Wankh, Helsse gets hypnotised to find out what happened to him after he was abducted. Later the protagonists are captured by the Wankh, and Helsse is translating their replies but changing the answers to present them in the worst possible light so they will be executed. So they activate his conditioning again and order him to translate accurately.
  • I Have Many Names: Ylin-Ylan, including a secret name she only gives to her lover.
  • Jack of All Trades: Justified; Adam Reith has been especially selected and trained as a Scout, whose job is to land on a First Contact world and survive there. As there's no way of knowing what he might encounter, he has to have potentially useful skills ranging from hand-to-hand combat to mechanical engineering.
  • No Periods, Period: The Pnumekin (human servants of the Pnume) are given drugs to suppress menstruation and physical development. Zap 210 is cut off from her supply when she falls in with Reith, and the inevitable happens just in time to make an Attempted Rape that much more traumatic.
  • Now What?:
    • A couple of the novels end with the protagonists discussing this trope and admitting they've no idea what to do next.
    • The series ends with Adam and his companions leaving for Earth, but several times he's reflected on how Earth will always seem boring from now on.
  • People Zoo: The Pnume regard everyone and everything dwelling on the surface as an elaborate pageantry for their entertainment. The final novel involves Reith being abducted for their Museum of Foreverness.
  • Planetary Romance: The books are technically this - a bit darker than the usual examples. The alien technology is more realistic, but the humans don't care much.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The hero is once approached by a well-dressed man who introduces himself, informs him that the Assassin's Guild has taken out a contract on him, and asks him to roll up his sleeve. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Reith (a stranded scout-explorer from Earth), Traz (the child chief of a barbarian tribe) and Anacho (an outlaw Dirdirman), plus whatever other people they pick up in the course of an adventure.
  • Recursive Precursors: The humans of Tschai are broken down into groups based on which alien species they are associated with. Each group regards their masters as the "real" precursors.
  • Rescue Romance: Played straight in the first novel, then subverted in the second. Adam Reith rescues Ylin-Ylan from being dragged off by various villains, and she takes him as her lover. In the second novel they're returning Ylin-Ylan to her people the Yao, who have an extraordinarily strict code of pride and etiquette. Reith however does not fit into this society as a suitable rescuer (he's from another planet, so has no defined role). She tries to arrange for Upper-Class Twit Dordolio to kill Reith in a duel so she can present him as her saviour, but when Reith wins the duel and humiliates Dordolio in the process, she snaps and tries to kill everyone in a Murder-Suicide.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: When Reith accuses the Wankhmen of manipulating the Wankh, the former draw weapons and try to kill all the Wankh in the room, confirming the accusation is true. Reith and his companions wrest their weapons off them, whereupon the Wankhmen are summarily executed by their masters instead.
  • Straw Feminist: The priestesses of the Female Mystery, and how!
  • Translation with an Agenda: The Wankhmen have been doing this for centuries to maintain their privileged position. The Wankh have little interest in local affairs as they're just on the planet to keep an eye on their enemies the Dirdir, and the Wankhmen make sure that no-one else has a chance to learn the complex musical language of their masters. Being the sole conduit for information, they're able to play up the threat from the Dirdir as being much worse than it is, so the Wankh will maintain their military bases on the planet.
  • Transplanted Aliens: Only the Pnume are native to the planet. The others had invaded or been brought as slaves at different times in the planet's history.
  • Transplanted Humans: Living side-by-side with (and frequently dominated by) several species of sapient bona fide aliens.
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs: There are six-legged beasts of burden.
  • You Didn't Ask: Anacho has spent the first two books assuming that Adam Reith is crazy because he claims to have come from some other planet called "Earth". Until Traz mentions that he saw Reith's space boat.