The Gray Prince the novel is reserved, dry, sly, a streamlined adventure, a mystery box full of more mystery boxes, a meditation on manifest destiny, a critical contemplation on colonialism that left me a little disturbed. I dont know why the book is titled The Gray Prince. Shes the child of a maverick ranching family one of many such families on the planet whose ancestors seized their land on the continent Uaia from the nomadic human-offshoots who once held it. Erris Sammatzen is a decent man and gentle progressive from the cosmopolitan continent of Szintarre, which also functions as the de facto capital of Koryphon. He is an activist for the independence of the colonized natives; despite this, he is falling in love with the land-owner Schaine. Gerd is a smart and sardonic land owner, a quietly humane man of few words who doesnt think much on ideological matters and who is excellent under pressure and in a fight. Surprisingly, he is not the protagonist of this novel. This one was a bit more deflating than usual.
First of all Vance provides a prologue that explains the Gaean Reach storyline and how the events described in the novel fit into that extended world creation. Heinlein and Poul Andersons future history timelines, there is a continuity of shared world building in Vances Gaean Reach novels, of which The Gray Prince is one. Trade routes thread space like capillaries in living tissue; thousands of worlds have been colonized, each different from every other, each working its specific change upon men who live there. This is also very much like the writing of Robert Silverberg (and not because it contains pages of vividly described alien orgies), especially his 1971 novel A Time of Changes.
It portrays a colonial race of aliens who displace an indigenous group of aliens in a manner which reminds most reviewers of European/American Indian clashes but reminds me more of South African history. This book has been accused of pro-colonialism, and one reviewer notoriously went so far as to call it "racist filth." That's going overboard, but it would be fair to say that Vance addresses a sensitive situation with little regard for the conventions of political correctness. These trends may help explain the skeptical manner in which the cultures of this novel are addressed.
I could have rated it 3 stars if i didnt expect more from him such as better prose,more intellegent and emotional deeper story.
I pressed on, and discovered that there seem to be four or five protagonists, with whom Vance plays Musical Viewpoints at random and without warning and none of them is The Grey Prince, who turns out to be a very minor character and a humbug in the bargain. That bit about "moral questions" seems like Spider being nice, because as I read the book it was in large part Enid Blyton in the Wild West of Rhodesia. The Grey Prince is not just "a very minor character" - he also comes from the planet's subjugated native culture, while the white protagonists are privileged rich kids living on enormous family ranches on occupied tribal land.
Out-world settlers have pushed out indigenous tribes. Meanwhile, the indigenous aliens may not be all they seem!
Here's the first chance for Vance to play with American history and he just throws it away - the new owners are really nice, no-one goes into slavery, it's actually better for the natives etc.
During the book, some one tells about how gross is that Uldra males fell in love with human females. Females of the ruling class are -were?- usually used to determine beauty standards, and men -and women- from the oppressed side, disrespect them selves because they dont look as the others.
Vance cheats a bit in this case, leading us towards a crucial mystery, which is then presented in a strangely understated way. At the same time, the environment, while not developed to the level of some Vance books, is intriguing and fun to explore.
He won both of science fiction's most coveted trophies, the Hugo and Nebula awards.