Wyst: Alastor 1716

by Jack Vance
Series: Alastor 3
Reviewed date: 2007 Mar 27
Rating: 4
259 pages
cover art
cover art

The three thousand bucolic worlds of the Alastor Cluster are ruled by the Connatic, who gives each world a free hand in runnings its own affairs. The various worlds are generally introspective, each having developed its own rich culture, and caring little for events abroad.

The Arrabins of Wyst (Alastor 1716) have developed a system called egalism. The government provides all the necessities of life, and in exchange the people work only thirteen hours each week. (All other work is performed by machines or by outside contractors--at great price.) The remainder of their time is spent in the leisurely pursuit of pleasure: games, sport, sex. On the centennial anniversary of the establishment of egalism, the system seems stronger than ever, and the people hope to reduce their weekly drudge even further.

Egalism requires sacrifices, though. The people are crowded onto one small island called Arrabus; the vast continents of Wyst are sparsely populated wilderness. The government provides all food, but the only choices available are three bland concoctions: gruff, deedle, and wobbly. Arrabins go to great lengths to get taste of real food, which they call bonter. People live in colossal featureless apartment blocks, in tiny rooms with randomly assigned roommates. Personal possessions are scarce, and frequently stolen (or snerged as the Arrabins say.) The egal ideal is absolute equality between persons, so individualism is stifled. Even the differences between sexes are suppressed as much as possible. Making oneself too appealing to the opposite sex is sexivation, and is socially discouraged.

On the eve of the Centenary Festival celebrating one hundred years of Arrabin egalism, a young artist named Jantiff Ravensroke from Zeck (Alastor 503) travels to Wyst to find inspiration. Jantiff samples all that egalism has to offer. He finds his inspiration, but stumbles across something else too. When he recovers his camera (which was snerged from his room) he realizes that its matrix holds evidence of a plot against the Connatic. Jantiff tries to warn the Connatic, but is forced to flee for his life before he can send word. He leaves Arrabus and strikes out into the Weirdlands of the southern continent.

Meanwhile, the Connatic takes an interest in Wyst because it is clear that egalism is a failed experiment. The machines that keep Arrabus running are breaking down. The Arrabins, working only thirteen hours a day at menial jobs, are not able to effect repairs, and Arrabin exports can no longer cover the cost of hiring outside contractors. A delegation of Arrabin leaders arrives at the Connatic's court on Numenes to ask for financial assistance to keep their society afloat.

Jack Vance wrote three Alastor books, of which Wyst is the best. The other two suffer from plot defects: Trullion meanders aimlessly and ends without complete resolution; Marune is tight and focused, but Vance pulls out a deus ex machina to end it prematurely. Wyst is less focused than Marune but never meanders like Trullion; there is no trick ending--Vance wraps up the plot satisfactorily. The only fault is that Vance resorts twice to having Jantiff accidentally overhear his enemies' conversations; it stretches the limits of belief.

Wyst rates a high four.

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