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Araminta Station is a science fiction novel by Jack Vance. The story is set on the planet Cadwal which has been identified as a planet of extraordinary beauty which must be protected forever from human exploitation. The novel is the first part of a trilogy, the Cadwal Chronicles, set in the Gaean Reach.
To preserve Cadwal from exploitation, the "Naturalist Society" has set up a Charter which forbids human exploitation and allows only limited settlement on the planet in order to enforce the laws of the Conservancy. These laws forbid extensive human habitations, mining and other exploitation activities. Only a very limited staff of 12 people, known as "Agents", are allowed on the planet: their main function is to prevent other humans establishing residence, although tourists are allowed in specially designed lodges, overlooking sites of natural beauty and interest.
There are three major continents on Cadwal: Ecce, Deucas and Throy. "Araminta Station" itself is located on Deucas, the continent which is most easily inhabited by humans: most of the novel is set at the Station. There is an additional settlement at Stroma on Throy, where political leaders reside. The last two novels in the series are called Ecce and Old Earth and Throy.
From the earliest days, the agents recruited members of their own families to help them but only 20 such family members were allowed, to a total planetary population of 240 (although numbers are swelled by additional, non resident personnel, known as "colaterals"). At his 21st birthday, each resident on Cadwal discovers his agency status which hinges on an "index number" indicating his genealogical rank. Persons most closely related to the original settlers have the lowest index number. If a person's index number is greater than 20 on his 21st birthday, he must leave Cadwal to seek his fortune elsewhere in the Gaean Reach. Thus, the society of Cadwal is a highly stratified aristocracy, where one's success depends on birth as much as aptitude. The system is designed to minimise the number of residents on the planet but is highly inflexible.
Despite these restrictions an additional group of persons reside on the planet: the "Yips", who are described as "descendents of runaway servants". Forbidden access to the hospitable continent of Deucas, the Yips must live in the town of Yipton, located on a tiny Lutwen Islands offshore, with dangerous levels of overcrowding.
Most of "Araminta Station" concerns the tensions between the Yips, who would like to colonise the continent of Deucas and have no concern for ecology, and the members of the Cadwal Conservency who wish to uphold the original provisions of the Charter and keep Cadwal as a nature reserve.
The novel centres on Glawen Clattuc, an intelligent, capable young man and a member of the Conservancy at Araminta Station. Although his status index number is rather high, Glawen hopes for Agency status. Glawen joins Bureau B, the department responsible for enforcing the laws of the Charter and quickly becomes embroiled in a plot to allow the Yips to take over Deucas (to the benefit—it is suspected—of several traitors at Araminta Station). The novel also describes Glawen's romance with the beautiful Sessily Veder and later with Wayness Tamm, daughter of the Conservator (that is, the leader of the Conservancy). Unfortunately, Sessily is kidnapped and brutally murdered and Glawen attempts to bring her murderers to justice. Her abduction may be linked to the above-mentioned plot. Meanwhile, Wayness has discovered a terrible secret which may destroy the Conservancy. She decides to return alone to Earth, where the original Charter is located, to see if her suspicions are justified.
As part of his Bureau B activities, Glawen is ordered by Brodwyn Wook to join the Bold Lions (a boisterous drinking club for devil-may-care youths) and travel to Yipton with them on an annual jaunt. Glawen is to use the Bold Lions as cover to spy on the Yips and he is accompanied in this task by Kirdy Wook. Glawen and Kirdy discover that the Yips are secretly preparing flyers (flying vehicles) to further their plans to infiltrate Deucas. However, Kirdy is caught, held prisoner and tortured by the Yips. Only the greatest threats from Brodwyn Wook secure Kirdy's release and recovers in hospital. Although Kirdy recovers physically, his mind is severely affected and he nurtures a hatred for Glawen.
Disconsolately, Glawen travels to a small island for a holiday. To his horror, he discovers that "parties" are being held on this island in which rich off-worlders are allowed to have sex with underage Yip girls who are then killed (profits of course going to Titus Pompo). Glawen reports back to Bureau B and an outraged Bodwyn Wook orders the arrest and severe punishment of all concerned. However, Bodwyn is not satisfied and feels that the organisers of these "parties" should be punished also. He sends Glawen on an off-world mission to discover the identity of the organisers and, to Glawen's horror, orders that Kirdy must accompany him. The deranged Kirdy quickly betrays Glawen who is imprisoned by a group of female religious fanatics who attempt to use him as a sex slave. It turns out these "nuns" were clients of the organising group and paid for the "parties" as part of their macabre religious ceremony/reproduction strategy. With the aid of the IPCC Glawen is finally able to escape and returns to Cadwal where he is confronted by Kirdy, who is finally identified as the murderer of Sessily Veder. Kirdy attempts to kill Glawen on a beach but loses the fight and drowns. Returning home, Glawen discovers that his father, Scharde, has been kidnapped.