Jack Vance, “The Book of Dreams” (1981) – Jack Vance’s Demon Princes saga ends with the taking down of the last and probably most interesting of the five space pirates who destroyed Kirth Gessen’s home village way back when. Howard Alan Treesong, like Viole Falushe, one of the previous baddies, just can’t get over high school. Born on a planetary backwater that sounds a lot like the upper Midwest or some descriptions I’ve heard of rural New Zealand, an imaginative and willful boy, he gets the works from the locals and dedicates his life to revenge. He gets far enough to become a sort of “Mr. Big” of galactic crime and nearly becomes something like space-Jesuit-General. But of course, he’s no match for Kirth Gessen’s focus and grit (and unlimited money he secured whilst taking out a previous Demon Prince).
Hero and villain both live for revenge. Kirth lives to avenge his family and home; Treesong lives to get his vengeance on his high school class and to make the universe as much like his adolescent fantasies (in the titular book, which Kirth eventually finds and uses as bait). The latter option seems to lead to a somewhat more colorful, if nefarious, existence for Treesong (and his fellow space pirates), but the latter provides the drive necessary to go through all the hoops to eliminate the former. In this installment, they range from a fake magazine contest to identify the one known picture of Treesong to the shenanigans with the lost diary to Kirth having to pretend to be a flautist to infiltrate the band at the high school reunion Treesong interrupts with dire theatrical revenge. Sometimes, the difference between hero and villain is how they go through the rigamarole.
The Demon Princes books are pretty cool. Vance clearly made more world than he could really fit in to these fairly conventional detective stories, as evidenced by the long epigraphs to his chapters full of lore from his universe. You mostly get the worlds through the odd planets Kirth visits, which showcase Vance’s fascination with the plasticity of people and societies, where oddballs in backwaters keep getting odder due to their cultural — and their planet’s ecological — logic. I ultimately prefer the Cugel and Anome books, but these are also cool. ****’