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The Killing Machine by Jack Vance
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The Killing Machine (1964)

by Jack Vance

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Duivelsprinsen (2), Demon Princes (2)

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English (8)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (10)
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Nog minder dan deel 1. zou ik het gokken met deel 3? ( )
  EdwinKort | Jul 4, 2018 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

After successfully dispatching the first of his lifelong enemies in the previous novel, The Star King, Kirth Gersen now takes on the second of the five demon princes, Kokor Hekkus, aka "The Killing Machine." The Killing Machine is even more fun than The Star King. It's full of diverse characters, exotic venues, hilarious fashions, weird food, awesome architecture, and bizarre machinery. Nobody outdoes Jack Vance for sheer inventiveness. The plot moves rapidly and contains plenty of action and suspense.

As with many of his novels, at the beginning of each chapter Vance imparts small amounts of background information in the form of excerpts from government documents, textbooks, popular sayings, magazine articles, planetary travel guides, etc. This is a clever way to give us knowledge without relying on the much maligned "info-dump" that's often endured in speculative fiction. Sometimes these excerpts are just a fun way to let us know about some interesting aspect of a planet's environment, history or culture; sometimes they're just an excuse for Jack Vance to say something smart or witty about politics, economics, biology, astronomy, or psychology; sometimes they give him a chance to give a nod or a jab to one of his SF friends ("Frerb Hankbert" was quoted in The Star King and "the dean of modern cosmologists, A.N. der Poulson" was mentioned in The Killing Machine). But occasionally, though they may seem irrelevant at first, they give us clues for solving a part of the plot's mystery.

In The Killing Machine we get to know Kirth Gersen a little better. We already knew he was clever, driven, and almost ruthless. Now we start to see a bit of remorse and melancholy as he muses about what his life would be like without this goal to take revenge on the five demon princes. And, more importantly, he begins to wonder: after he's finished, who will he have become?

www.fantasyliterature.com ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
More than anything, its Vance's writing that keeps me captivated. The soft flowing nature of his prose takes the reader into a fantasy SF world, rich with charm and adventurous plots. There are few writers like Vance. However, I suppose he's not for everyone. If your looking for Hard SF, I don't think you'll be satisfied. Still, Vance is classic SF. A good read for anyone who loves the classics. ( )
  sgarnell | Jul 10, 2012 |
This is the second of Vance's five Demon Princes novels. It was first published by Berkley Books in 1964, the same year Berkley published the first in the series, The Star King.

Please note that spoilers for the book’s plot follow.

Kirth Gersen, having previously destroyed one of the five greatest criminals in the Oikumene (the “Demon Princes”), finds himself tracking down a second of the fiends. This time around he stalks Kokor Hekkus, who has changed his M.O. a bit and has embarked on a campaign of audacious kidnappings. The victims are all deposited at Interchange, a kind of interplanetary escrow service where kidnap victims are held for ransom safely and securely and where they may be ransomed without dealing directly with the kidnappers. It’s an ingenious concept, though I’m not sure I want to live in a place where kidnappings are so ubiquitous that such a service is both necessary and, clearly, highly profitable.

Gersen discovers that a young woman, Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay, is the object of Kokor Hekkus’ desires. She has sent herself to Interchange and has set the ransom at 10 billon SVU (the Oikumene’s unit of currency). This is why Hekkus is kidnapping so many people of late — he needs the money to ransom her. Gersen ends up at Interchange himself as a prisoner, but cleverly manages to defraud Interchange with counterfeit currency and so buys his way out, along with Alusz. This annoys Hekkus to annoy end, we may be sure. Gersen also assists an engineer who has been hired to construct a giant centipede-like vehicle (the titular killing machine? or is that Hekkus? or Gersen himself?) for Hekkus, who wants to use it to trounce some native warriors who have been annoying him of late. Gersen and his current love interest end up back on Thamber, a fabled planet where the human inhabitants have lost contact with the rest of human civilization. This also happens to be where Alusz is from, and the location of Hekkus’ secret fortress. Rest assured that Kirth Gersen eventually manages to locate — keep in mind, he doesn’t actually now what the ever-disguised Hekkus looks like — and kill Kokor Hekkus, the second of the Demon Princes. Gersen ends up fabulously wealthy, having gotten the girl and destroying a second of his enemies.

So how does this one compare with the first of the series? Generally, it stacks up well, though I liked it slightly less than The Star King. My criticisms are few and did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the novel. The Killing Machine, like all the Demon Princes novels, is somewhat formulaic (in that they all share the same basic plot structure), and we probably see a trifle less characterization of Gersen here than in the first. I also found the romantic interest, Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay, less enjoyable a character than Pallis Atwrode from The Star King. Pallis was a delight; Alusz is a cipher. There is clearly something about her that made both Kokor Hekkus and Kirth Gersen fall head over heels for her, but I’ll be darned if I can see what that might be. Interchange as a concept and a locale within the story is highly entertaining, and I did find it more interesting and fully realized than any of the settings in The Star King, so that makes up for some of these negative aspects.

If you enjoyed the first of the Demon Princes novels, The Star King, I suggest you give this one a try, as it’s more of the same.

Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers ( )
  bibliorex | Jul 21, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack Vanceprimary authorall editionscalculated
D'Achille, GinoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ebell, RobertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Groot, RuurdCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
James, TerryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, RichardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Russell, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Gersen first encountered Kokor Hekkus at the age of nine.
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