Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“Seven Exits from Bozc” and “The Potters of Firsk” by Jack Vance

I read these brief tales in the collection Wild Thyme, Green Magic.

“Seven Exits from Bozc,” it appears, was first published in a fanzine, The Rhodomagnetic Digest, in 1952.  The editor of the fanzine, Don Fabun, suggests that Vance had trouble selling the story because it “transgresses one or two taboos.”  

“Seven Exits from Bozc” is one of Vance’s vengeance for unspeakable crimes stories.  In a country reminiscent of Nazi Germany, a mad scientist uses the collective telepathic power of thousands of slaves to open portals to seven dimensions in which the laws of physics differ from our own.  When the totalitarian state begins losing a war it started with its neighbors and the victorious armies are closing in, the scientist forces the thousands of slaves into the portals, to eliminate the witnesses to his atrocities and to observe in what interesting ways the different physical laws of those universes kill them.  However, two of the scientist’s victims survive, and when the war is over they track the scientist down and exact revenge.

An entertaining story with horror/weird elements.

“The Potters of Firsk” first appeared in Astounding in 1950, and that year was adapted into a radio play which is available online at The Internet Archive. 
“The Potters of Firsk” reminds me of those Maugham stories in which the two white men in the jungle each have different theories on how to deal with the natives.  This story also has a frame: it starts out on Earth, when a young employee inquires about a beautiful bowl on his superior’s desk.  The man behind the desk, Thomm, then tells the story of how he acquired the bowl.

One of Thomm’s early assignments with the Bureau was on Firsk.  He was one of only two Earthmen on Firsk, there to help the relatively primitive natives integrate into modern interstellar culture, and to maintain order.  Thomm discovers some beautiful pots for sale, and learns that a tribe of potters makes them, using lime from people’s bones.  Usually the bones of people who die of natural causes are used, but if no such bones are available, the potters resort to murder.
Thomm and his temperamental superior warn the potters to never again commit murder to make their pots, but before long they learn that the potters have seized four innocent people, including a pretty girl Thomm has a crush on.  Thomm’s enraged boss wants to drop a bomb on the potter’s sacred volcano to teach them a lesson, while Thomm wants to try something more ingenious and diplomatic.  

This is an entertaining tale, with a nice macabre touch.  As soon as the reader learns that bones go into the manufacture of the pots he wonders whose bones contributed to Thomm’s bowl, providing suspense.  Vance, himself a potter, transmits through the story his own love of pottery and glazes, adding an additional layer to the story.

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