Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1964)

Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1964 - Berkley Medallion Books) cover by Richard Powers.
Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1964 – Berkley Medallion Books) cover by Richard Powers.

Time for The Killing Machine, number two in Jack Vance’s Demon Princes series. The gallant hero in this space-fantasy saga is Kirth Gersen, a man whose life is devoted to track down and kill the five Demon Princes responsible for the annihilation of his home planet.

In the previous book, Gersen successfully found and killed Malagate the Woe, but is now without any leads to the whereabouts of the other four alien, but humanoid Demon Princes. To have something to do other than loitering around in space harbors, Gersen accepts an offer to serve as weasel in the Beyond and track down a traitor of the Oikumene. This mission by coincidence leads him to a trail of Kokor Hekkus, the notoriously cruel Demon Prince known for his extravagant pleasures in combining machines in the torturing and killing of people.

But Kokor Hekkus is not an easy man to find, as there is no information about either his looks or his home. Gersen gets a little bit closer by investigating the kidnappings of a large range of wealthy citizens. By following the money, he finds clues about Kokor’s home planet – Thamber. However, Thamber is a lost planet, known only in childhood stories and poems.

Set a course from the old Dog Star

A point to the north of Achernar;

Sleight your ship to the verge extreme

And dead ahead shines Thamber’s gleam.

Gersen’s ticket to Thamber involves the construction of a giant killing machine in the form of centipede – commissioned by Kokor Hekkus – and the help of Alusz Iphigenia, an original inhabitant of Thamber that Gersen releases from the debtors of Interchange. Once on Thamber, it remains to Gersen to find and kill Kokor – in a forgotten world full of beasts and angry people.

Jack Vance likes his heroes and provide them with both mental and physical skills, including surprisingly good proves of martial arts. Kirth Gersen is no objection to this pattern, but in this second book we get to experience some levels of doubts in the main character, which I find refreshing. Otherwise, Vance writes a fantastic flowing prose, with colorful and imaginative worlds and creatures. I am saving the last three books on the shelf until the autumn, so that I have something to look forward to. Kind of when you put a good vintage wine in the cellar for a special occasion.

On a final note: for once I seem to have procured a first edition – and with a cover of Richard Powers. I am pleased.

Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1967) cover by Richard Weaver | credit ISFDB.
Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1967) cover by Richard Weaver | credit ISFDB. Killer centipede with LP eyes – something to haunt you in your dreams.

Jack Vance, La machine à tuer [The Killing Machine] (1969) cover by Ed Emshwiller | credit ISFDB.
Jack Vance, La machine à tuer [The Killing Machine] (1969) cover by Ed Emshwiller | credit ISFDB.
Jack Vance, De Moordmachine [The Killing Machine] (1970) cover by Robert Ebell and Ruurd Groot | credit ISFDB.
Jack Vance, De Moordmachine [The Killing Machine] (1970) cover by Robert Ebell and Ruurd Groot | credit ISFDB. Killer centipede – or, no, is must be a killer centiarma! Or perhaps Hallicugenia?

Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1978) cover by Gino D'Achille | credit ISFDB.
Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1978) cover by Gino D’Achille | credit ISFDB. Good dog, sit.
Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1980) | credit ISFDB.
Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1980) | credit ISFDB. Cool alien! Gecko hands, ridged back, lots of horns and a giant Chinese dragon eye – all the things you want your alien to posses.
Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1988) cover by Chris Foss | credit ISFDB.
Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1988) cover by Chris Foss | credit ISFDB. A rather typical 1980s cover based on the colours and the big machines – but I like.
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2 thoughts on “Jack Vance, The Killing Machine (1964)”

  1. Those old book covers are amazing. The ‘LP eyes’ on the Richard Weaver cover look familiar.

    The Killing Machine has some of Vance’s best dialogue. This particular exchange is one of my all-time favorite passages in all of literature:

    Incidentally, to keep you from going stale-” he opened a drawer “-the deweaselers tripped up a man on Palo, and turned him over to Kokor Hekkus. He was returned to us in a condition I won’t describe. Kokor Hekkus also sent a message.” Zaum read from a slip of paper. “‘A weasel performed an unpardonable act at Skouse. The creature you have herewith is fortunate in comparison with the weasel of Skouse. If he is a brooding man, let him come Beyond and announce himself. I swear that the next twenty weasels captured will thereupon go free.'”
    Gerson gave a sickly grin. “He is angry.”
    “Extremely angry, extremely vindictive.” Zaum hesitated a moment. “I wonder – well, if he would keep his promise?”
    Gersen raised his eyebrows. “You suggest that I turn myself over to Kokor Hekkus?”
    “Not precisely, not exactly – well, think of it like this: it would be one man’s life for twenty, and weasels are hard to come by ”
    “Only the inept are deweaseled,” said Gersen. “Your organization is the sounder for their loss.” He reflected a moment. “But your suggestion has a certain merit. Why not identify yourself as the man who planned the operation, and ask if he will spare fifty men for the two of us?”
    Zaum winced. “You can’t be serious. …”

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  2. That’s a great passage! When reading Vance, it often strikes me that he must have had so much fun writing these books – the language is rich and lush, and sometimes over the tops.

    I recently bought a set of 13 Jack Vance books at eBay, so there will be more Vance on this blog soon. Thanks for commenting!

    Like

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