Ace Double Reviews, 6: Son of the Tree, by Jack Vance/The Houses of Iszm, by Jack Vance (#F-265, 1964, $0.40, reprinted in 1971 as Ace Double #77525, $0.95)
by Rich Horton
Another Vance back-to-back thing -- as I mentioned in another review, 6 of the 7 Ace Doubles with Vance stories had his stuff on both sides. Vance used Ace Doubles to put a number of his early pulp short novels into book form. For example, "Planet of the Damned" (Space Stories, December 1952) became Slaves of the Klau (1958, backed with Big Planet), and the pair of novelettes "Abercrombie Station" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, February 1952) and "Cholwell's Chickens" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1952) became Monsters in Orbit (1965, backed with The World Between and Other Stories). Two other short pulp novels didn't ever become books of their own, even Ace Double halves. "New Bodies For Old" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1950) was not republished until the 1980 collection The Narrow Land, under the much better title "Chateau D'If"; and as far as I know "Overlords of Maxos" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, February 1951) has never been republished. (It is scheduled for the Vance Integral Edition as "Maxos".) (In my opinion, "Chateau D'If" is pretty good of its type, while "Maxos" is fairly weak.) The later, non-pulp, stories "The Dragon Masters" and "The Last Castle" also became Ace Double halves as well.
"Son of the Tree" was first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories for June of 1951. (The astute reader will have noted that Vance was a regular in Thrilling Wonder.) "The Houses of Iszm" was first published in Startling Stories for Spring 1954. (Startling Stories, and also Space Stories, were sister publications to Thrilling Wonder.) The two short novels are almost exactly the same length, about 35,000 words. Besides their two appearances together as Ace Doubles, they were later published along with another short novel, Nopalgarth, in 1980 as a DAW book called Nopalgarth. (The short novel Nopalgarth itself was originally an Ace Double, under the name The Brains of Earth, published in 1966 backed with The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph.)
So, these are very early Vance. In some ways though they are quite Vancean, with stratified societies; beautiful high born women who ignore the heroes because of their lower state; and somewhat improbable plots. Definitely not the best Vance, but readable.
Son of the Tree reminded me of an E. C. Tubb Dumarest novel: the hero is from Earth, regarded as mythical by most people, he comes to the world of the action in suspended animation because he is so poor (just like Dumarest travelling "low"); he has to find local work to buy his passage to the next world of his quest; he is framed by the locals in a plot he knows nothing about involving their own interests. Otherwise it's quite different (certainly style-wise), but the similarities struck me. The hero was named Joe Smith, quite odd for a Vance hero. The basic plot involves Smith coming to the planet Kyril, where the people worship (and live in) a huge tree. There is some hugger-mugger involving rival planets, and plots to destroy the tree, and Smith's desire for revenge against the man who stole his girl. The end is a bit twisty, and fairly satisfactory.
I didn't like The Houses of Iszm quite as much, though by and large it's fairly comparable in quality. It even shares a trope -- trees big enough to live in. The planet Iszm controls the supply of these trees by strictly preventing the export of female trees. Ailie Farr is a botanist who comes to Iszm and eventually gets involved in a scheme to steal a female tree, with surprising results. Things work out somewhat surprisingly. Again, a nice story for early Vance, not a classic.