“The Men Return” by Jack Vance – Classics of Science Fiction


Group Read 72: The Best Science Fiction Stories of 1957

“The Men Return” by Jack Vance #12 of 20 (ReadListen)

My initial reaction to “The Men Return” was “WTF! Far Out!” It’s not a great SF story, but Vance does produce a different idea.

I’ve often wondered why SF/F writers don’t imagine more far out possibilities when writing fantasy and science fiction because those genres allow for imagining anything. Well, Jack Vance does just that in “The Men Return.” We are told early in the story:

This reminds me of Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave, where our solar system moves into an area of the galaxy with different energy fields and all animal life on Earth becomes five times smarter. It also triggered the memory of Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep and its sequels that features the idea of Zones of Thought, where there are four different regions in the Milky way, each with a different kind of physics. Finally, “The Men Return” made me remember Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss, and its far future beings.

And until just before the end of “The Men Return,” I thought the story could have been another of Vance’s Dying Earth tales, one closer to the end of humans. It also fits into the Dying Earth theme. Amazon is selling the Kindle edition of The Jack Vance Treasury for $4.99. It collects “The Men Return” and many classic Vance stories, including “Liane the Wayfarer” a classic story from The Dying Earth.

I read “The Men Return” today, and then listened to it, and I’m still not sure what’s happening. There are two groups of beings that talk, but each considers the other group a source of food. The Organisms are named Alpha and Beta. While the Relicts are Finn, our main point-of-view character, two females, Gisa and Reak, and two ancient males, Boad and Tagart. Both groups constantly search for food in a surreal landscape where physics and gravity don’t seem to be working. I might need to read this story several times before I get what Jack Vance was painting in this picture.

From the story I can’t tell if the two groups are simply different tribes of humans, or if in the far future, humans have evolved into two separate species, or if one of the groups is aliens. The artwork suggests one group is different looking than the other group. I assume the Organisms are either aliens or mutants.

Larry T. Shaw, the editor of Infinity Science Fiction presents “The Men Return” with a new designation, the Infinity + symbol.

Infinity Science Fiction was published from November 1955 through November 1958, and even though it was a second-string SF magazine, it published quite a lot of good science fiction from major names in the genre. The classic SF story, “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke was published in its first issue.

Shaw’s Infinite + designation reminds me of F. Orlin Tremaine, Astounding Science Fiction second editor, Thought Variant designation for special stories. Asimov wrote “Nightfall” as an imagined Thought Variant story. John W. Campbell later tried to do the same thing with his NOVA designated stories.

Here are the comments Shaw received on “The Men Return” from the October issue.

Finally, here’s the cover from the July 1957 issue of Infinity Science Fiction where “The Men Return” appears.

James W. Harris 4/6/24

Leave a Comment