1966 science fiction novel by Jack Vance. * * * 1/2 (explanation)
ISBN 0-585-07348-9, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 2003.
Hundreds of years ago, a spaceship crashed into the sea of The Blue World. It had to: there was nothing but sea. Making their way from the sinking ship, the surivors came to live on the floating mats of vegetation. Life was precarious at first: Metal was almost non-existent, and the survivors had to learn to live off the floating vegetation. Not only that, many were lost to the hungry kragens who patrolled the seas. Nevertheless, fish and edible sponges were plentiful, and the survivors adapted to their environment. Society formed into a caste system, based upon trade: Swindlers who swindle fish from the sea, Malpractors who handle medical procedures, Blackguards who tend the sponges, Advertisermen who dive beneath the waves to anchor buildings to giant plant stems, and Hoodwinkers who flash their patterns of signal-lamps to send messages between Floats.
The settlers have made a special accomodation with one particular kragen, which they call "King Kragen". It patrols the waters around the Floats, keeping lesser kragen away, but also growing immense off the settlers' sponges. It appears to be a reasonable tradeoff, and the caste of Intercessors has arisen to communicate with King Kragen, notifying him of any interlopers.
Sklar Hast is the young First Assistant Hoodwink of Tranque Float. Although he already has a fairly prestigious position, he is ambitious aspiring to succeed to Zander Rohan's post of Master Hoodwink when the old man retires.
But Sklar Hast has two thorns in his side. The first is the fact that Zander Rohan's daughter Meril does not seem to return his affection. In fact, it appears she will wed the officious Intercessor of Tranque Float, Samm Voiderveg.
The other is King Kragen who has just eaten most of Sklar Hast's sponges. Because of this, and Vioderveg's association with the kragens, Sklar Hast has developed an especial dislike for kragen, something the Intercessors would denounce as heretical.
One day, a rogue kragen wanders into Tranque Lagoon and begins devouring the few sponges left. Sklar Hast decides to kill it. This is anathema to Semm Voiderveg, as well as many of the hidebound old fogies who run things around Tranque Float. But Sklar Hast is unrepentant, and there are many who agree with him.
If you want to find out what happens next, read the book.
You might be thinking "Oh, another Waterworld novel." But it's the first Waterworld novel! The Blue World had its genesis in the short story "The Kragen", which appeared in Fantastic Magazine in July, 1964. Many consider "The Kragen" one of the all-time classic SF stories. We wouldn't have The Integral Trees without it.
This is definitely a Jack Vance work (although it's is the only one I've read with long technical digressions). Its strengths are Vance's strengths: Lyrical descriptions, a compelling, original setting, an immense vocabulary, an unearthly power to let the story unfold.
Its weaknesses are also Vance's weaknesses: a plot which, although interesting, flies straight as an arrow from initial conflict to its final conclusion. Characters who are for the most part, one-dimensional, except for the protagonist. The sole female character plays a part in the story, but is mostly a love interest. The values of rugged individualism and disdain for those who set themselves up as religious authority are spread liberally throughout the book.
In other words, It reads like a pulp magazine story. It's definitely the sort of stuff that appealed to teenage male SF readers of the 1940s and 1950s, but perhaps that isn't completely bad. I can't give a low rating to a 190 page novel I read in one sitting.