Showboat world
(Jack Vance, 1975)

This short novel has a relatively uncomplicated plot but revels in description, dialogue, and quiet humour. It's a more stylish piece than the average work of sf, and it's worth reading more slowly than usual to take in all the details.

The setting is Big Planet, a large planet poor in metals, inhabited by a lot of small and eccentric communities that live at a roughly medieval level of technology with no overall government and only local attempts at law enforcement. Up and down the Vissel River and its tributaries ply the showboats, providing entertainment in various forms to the towns and villages they encounter, while striving not to offend against the local laws, customs, and prejudices that vary in bizarre ways from one small place to another.

Far up the Vissel River, beyond the normal wandering of any of these boats, a king offers a competition with a rich prize, and Apollon Zamp, master of the showboat Miraldra's Enchantment, gains an invitation to compete. A mysterious and beautiful woman accompanies him on a secret mission of her own, but rejects his advances. What destiny awaits them in far Mornune, at the end of the Bottomless Lake? Will they even survive the perilous journey?

Written in September 2007