Planet of Adventure

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Not to be confused with Planets of Adventure, a 1949 collection of science fiction short stories by Basil Wells.

Planet of Adventure is a series of four science fiction novels by Jack Vance, which relate the adventures of Adam Reith, the sole survivor of an Earth ship investigating a signal from the distant planet Tschai.


UK Grafton cover

In the novels, Tschai is a planet orbiting the star Carina 4269, 212 light-years from Earth. It is populated by three alien, mutually hostile species; the displaced, native Pnume; and various human races, some of whom live as slaves or clients of the aliens. Each of the four novels relates Reith's adventures with one of the species, and is named after that species. In order, the books are:

Tschai inhabitants (alien and human)[edit]


The somewhat reptilian Chasch arrived a hundred thousand years prior to the tale's start, and are divided into three warring factions, the decadent Old Chasch, the Blue Chasch, and the barbarian Green Chasch.


The birdlike, or feline, predatory Dirdir have warred with the Chasch and the Wankh in the past, but on Tschai maintain an uneasy peace due to their relative military parity. In the first book they are described as "sheep-like", but Vance appears to have changed their characterization by the third, in which they are compared to leopards.


Adam Reith, a baseline human and the sole survivor of an Earth ship investigating a signal from the distant planet Tschai.

Human descendants[edit]

The human client races, the Pnumekin, Chaschmen, Dirdirmen and Wankhmen resemble their alien patrons to some degree, due to selective breeding, surgery and the desire of the humans to emulate their respective masters. The Pnumekin are kept docile by drugs; the Gzhindra are ostracised and exiled Pnumekin who act as agents for the Pnume. The religious fiction that their dead are reborn as Chasch keeps the Chaschmen obedient. The Dirdirmen view themselves as degenerate Dirdir and strive to minimize their differences. The Wankhmen, on the other hand, act as the sole interpreters of the Wankh and as a result, are able to manipulate the alien race to their own advantage. Vance's depiction of the human race after tens of thousands of years on Tschai aims to show how foreign humanity can become in alien surroundings.


The insect-like Pnume are the original inhabitants of Tschai. Their history goes back ten million years and they view the invaders as welcome additions to the pageantry on their world stage. They were forced underground by the coming of the more powerful species. However at the end of the fourth volume it is strongly hinted that the feared nocturnal pack hunting "night-hounds", which feature in earlier books, are actually groups of Pnume. In the second book they are shown as adept swimmers, but in the fourth Reith escapes capture only because his Pnume pursuer has too heavy a body to swim.


Related to the Pnume are the Phung, solitary sentient predators with bizarre habits. The antics of a Phung feature early on in each of the first three books.

Wankh (or Wannek)[edit]

The amphibious Wankh (or Wannek) are comparatively recent arrivals and had warred with the Dirdir in the past, but subsided into an uneasy peace due to their relative military parity.


Adam Reith is sent with a fellow scout in a small ship to investigate a distress signal sent centuries before from the previously unknown planet. The mother ship is destroyed and the rest of the crew killed in a surprise missile attack (in some editions the mother-ship and its crew do not appear). The two scouts crash-land on Tschai and after his companion is killed by nomads in the first few pages, Reith is alone. The four books describe the attempts of a man of singularly strong will and resource to return to Earth: in the first book to recover his damaged spacecraft, in the second to steal one, in the third to build one, and in the fourth to escape the Pnume, by whom he is kidnapped before he can depart Tschai. In this process he overcomes the obstacles of dealing with four different alien races and various human groups, often profoundly disrupting the societies, human and alien, with which he is forced to deal.

Reith acquires two faithful human companions in the course of his travels: Traz Onmale, the dour, proud boy-chieftain of a nomad race obsessed with emblems, and the renegade Dirdirman, Ankhe at Afram Anacho, loquacious, fastidious and flamboyant. (Vance has said that the novels were commissioned as a juvenile series, which was why he included Traz; but the action is no less ‘adult’ than in his other works.) Anacho and Traz play lesser roles in the fourth book, which chronicles Reith's adventures in the underground world of the Pnume, and subsequently on the surface with the rescued Pnumekin girl Zap 210. Romantic interest is provided both by Zap 210 and by the aristocratic Flower of Cath who features in the first two novels. The third novel also introduces the series' best-characterized villain in the fat, petulant, pedophilic and avaricious contractor Aila Woudiver.

Tschai, like Earth, is a world of several discrete continents. The action covers most of the planet, and the second and fourth books describe lengthy sea voyages taken by Reith and his companions. Vance described blue-water sailing as one of his favourite recreations.

The vast teeming planet with its clashing civilizations and multifarious cultures affects Reith to the point that he realizes that if he succeeds in returning to Earth, his life will seem dull and colourless in comparison.

Title changes[edit]

The editors of the Vance Integral Edition restored the author's preferred title for the first book: The Chasch. They also altered the second to The Wannek and replaced 'Wankh' with 'Wannek' throughout the text. Vance was convinced to change the name after learning of the meaning of the word 'wank' in British and Commonwealth slang.

Roleplaying game[edit]

The Planet of Adventure setting and characters have also been translated into the form of a paper-and-pencil Roleplaying Game in the GURPS system. GURPS: Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure was first published in September, 2003, and was written by James L. Cambias. [1]

Comics adaptation[edit]

There is a French comic adaptation in eight volumes of the books by Li-An (drawings) and Jean-David Morvan (story), published by Delcourt from 1998 to 2008.[2]