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Jack Vance, Trullion: Alastor 2262 (1973)

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There are many reasons to love Jack Vance. Leaving aside, for now, his abilities as a prose stylist and storyteller, one of the reasons I like him, being a bit of a sucker for all sorts of apparatus and framing devices, is his brilliant use of footnotes.   (Dave Langford’s entry on him in the Clute/Grant Encyclopedia of Fantasy, mentions many other reasons to like him, and in particular says this: “His gift for appropriate character and place-names is remarkable.”)

And not just character and place names. Apart from the military wing of the galactic cluster’s ruler (or ‘Connatic’) being called ‘The Whelm’, and star-drives being called ‘whisks’, the book currently under advisement contains an example which combines both word-coining and footnotes:

‘Tomorrow we go our way,’ said Vang Drosset in a plangent, fateful voice. ‘Forlostwenna is on us, in any event; we are ready for departure.’ [48]

“Forlostwenna” is glossed in a footnote as follows:

*Forlostwenna: a word from the Trevanji jargon – an urgent mood compelling departure; more immediate than the general ‘wanderlust. [footnote to p48]

This, I think, is just wonderful: the threefold combination in the word of the elegaic forloneness of leaving home, the fear that such a departure might result in becoming lost, and the “wenn”-ness of whether you might return…Lovely.

Having said all that, the reason I love this book is, at least partly because I’m also a sport’s geek, and the plot of Trullion: Alastor 2262 involves Hussade, the most gloriously implausible, splendidly utterly barking (in a good way) future sport in the whole of sf (maybe). Typically, Vance hints at how his sport works in a footnote:

The hussade field is a gridiron of ‘runs’, (also called ‘ways’) and ‘laterals’ above a tank of water four feet deep. The runs are nine feet apart, the laterals twelve feet. Trapezes permit the players to swing sideways from run to run, but not from lateral to lateral. The central moat is eight feet wide and can be passed at either end, at the center, or jumped if the player is sufficiently agile. The ‘home’ tanks at either end of the field flank the platform on which stands the sheirl.

Players buff or body-block opposing players into the tanks, but may not use their hands to push, pull, hold, or tackle.

The captain of each team carries the ‘hange’ – a bulb on a three-foot pedestal. When the light glows the captain may not be attacked, nor may he attack. When he moves six feet from the hange, or when he lifts the hange to shift his position, the light goes dead; he may then attack or be attacked. An extremely strong captain may almost ignore his hange; a captain less able stations himself on a key junction, which he is then able to protect by virute of his impregnability within the area of the live hange.

The sheirl stands on the platform at the end of the field betweent he home tanks. She wears a white gown with a gold ring at the front. The enemy players seek to lay hold of this gold ring; a single pull denudes the sheirl. The dignity of the sheirl may be ransomed by her captain for five hundred ozols, a thousand, two thousand, or higher, in accordance with a prearranged schedule. [footnote to pp64-65]

“Sheirl” by the way, is explained in another footnote:

Sheirl: an untransatable term from the special vocabulary of hussade – a glorious nymph, radiant with ecstatic vitality, who impels the players of her team to impossible feats of strength and agility…[footnote to pp 15-16]

Nicely, various of the hussade teams are mentioned:

…the Welgen Storm-devils, the Invincibles of the Altramar Hussade Club, the Voulash Gialospans of Great Vole Island, the Gaspar Magnetics, the Saurkash Serpents… [58]

Voulash Gialospans! As we’d expect, their nickname is also glossed in a footnote:

*gialospans: literally, girl-denuders, in reference to the anticipated plight of the enemy sheirl. [footnote to p58]

Anyhoo. Another of the joys of this particular edition of Trullion is the back cover, which, one notices, after getting over the shock that, as recently as 1979, a new UK paperback cost 85p, is the absurdly over-the-top way the blurb writer tries to market this rather gentle and charming tale. DEATH WAITS IN PARADISE screams the blurb, before mentioning the “ferocious passion for gambling” that drives folk to “risk all – even life itself – on the hazardous water-chessboard gaming fields.”

Eh? Calm down…

The cover above, by Peter Goodfellow from the ’79 Mayflower edition I purchased in Exeter’s much missed Read ‘n’ Return bookshop, is splendid and appropriate, but other covers of this book have been, well, less so. For example, this one, which, apart from anything else, seems to be alarming pre-cognitive of a Lady Gaga concert…



Have updated this and re-posted from an ancient blog of mine following a conversation about sports on twitter.  The comments there reminded me that there’s a another Alastor cover [Wyst this time (though that’s a card game, not a sport though, isn’t it?] cover which worth mentioning:


The bloke with the 70s haircut and silly shorts seems to be reaching towards the breasts of the woman in the bikini walking past him, while she seems determined to make every possible effort (and quite rightly so, he’s clearly a drunken menace) to avoid even looking at him…