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The Last Castle, by Jack Vance

Second paragraph of third chapter: Second paragraph of third chapter:
A hundred such cases were known, and while the hardheaded scoffed, none needlessly traveled the countryside by night. Indeed, if ghosts truly haunt the scenes of tragedy and heartbreak, then the landscape of Old Earth must be home to ghosts and specters beyond all numbering - especially that region across which Xanten rolled in the power-wagon, where every rock, every meadow, every vale and swale was crusted thick with human experience.

The Last Castle won the Nebula for Best Novella and the Hugo for Best Novelette. For the Nebula, it beat Avram Davidson's Clash of Star-Kings and Charles L. Harness' "The Alchemist"; for the Hugo, it beat Gordon R. Dickson's "Call Him Lord"; Robert M., Green, Jr.'s "Apology to Inky"; Charles L. Harness's "The Alchemist" (again); Charles L. Harness's "An Ornament to His Profession"; Hayden Howard's "The Eskimo Invasion"; Thomas Burnett Swann's "The Manor of Roses"; Roger Zelazny's "For a Breath I Tarry"; and Roger Zelazny's "This Moment of the Storm". I think I've read the Dickson; I know I've read and love both the Zelazny stories, which I think have stood the test of time a bit better.

The Hugo for Best Novel went to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, which however lost out to both Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany for the Nebula. The Hugo for Best Short Story went to “Neutron Star” by Larry Niven; the Nebula for Best Novelette went to “Call Him Lord” by Gordon R. Dickson, and the Nebula for Best Short Story went to “The Secret Place” by Richard McKenna. I must say this was a tremendous year. Bob Shaw's heartbreaking “Light of Other Days” was a finalist for both Best Short Story categories.

I don't think The Last Castle has aged particularly well. The sstory is about a decadent aristocratic race of humans at the end of time, whose oppressed non-human slaves have risen and destroyed all but one of the humans' castles. Our hero (there are no notable female characters) makes an alliance with the barbarian humans outside the castle gates, crushes the slave revolt and sends them back where they came from. The racial undertones are rather difficult to ignore.

On the other hand, it's a triumph of world-building, even if the world is an unequal and racist one. The social order of the aristocrats is mapped out in loving detail, perhaps far too much of it, and the descriptions of the different environments of the far-future earth are vivid and distinct.

However, it's not really Vance at his best; apart from anything else, it isn't very funny.

The next in my chronological run of joint winners is "Gonna Roll the Bones", by Fritz Leiber.

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