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Demon Princes (1964–1981) by Jack Vance is a series of five science fiction novels, linked by a revenge plot. Most chapters are headed by fictional quotations, in the manner of Asimov’s Foundation series and similar works. The relevance of these quotations to the novels is usually straightforward, for example some contain background material from fictional reference works like “Handbook to the Planets”, and others represent news and current affairs related to the plot. However, each of the five novels in the series has one chapter headed by a quotation from the fictional story ‘The Avatar’s Apprentice’, for example:

From The Avatar’s Apprentice, in Scroll from the Ninth Dimension:

Intelligence? asked Marmaduke at one of the permitted intervals, as he attended the EMINENCE upon the Parapet. What is intelligence?

Why, responded the EMINENCE, it is no more than a human occupation; an activity which men put their brains to, as a frog kicks his legs to swim; it is a standard which men in their egotism use to measure other and perhaps nobler races, who are thereby dumbfounded.

Jack Vance (1964). The Star King, chapter 11. In Galaxy (February 1964), p. 179.

The five extracts we get over the course of the series suggest that ‘The Avatar’s Apprentice’ resembles a story from Vance’s The Dying Earth (1950), but with the stylistic grotesquerie turned up to eleven. The quotations grow to considerable length: the one at the head of chapter 15 of The Book of Dreams (1981) is four pages long.

What is the function of the quotations from ‘The Avatar’s Apprentice’ in the Demon Princes series? Do they reflect or comment on the themes and plots of the novels? If so, how?

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  • I think this is a great question, and I wish I had an answer. I haven't read the books in more than a decade, but I hope to return to them soon and share my thoughts on this. Aug 3 at 2:18

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