In the previous three novels in Jack Vance's science fiction series, castaway Adam Reith has had dealings with three of the four sentient alien species that inhabit the planet Tschai in his attempts to return to Earth. In The Pnume, he faces the fourth.
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Reith is building a starship with the forced cooperation of his prisoner, the treacherous Aila Woudiver. Somehow, however, Woudiver has him kidnapped and sold to the Pnume, the secretive native race of Tschai. Though he manages to free himself before the Pnume take delivery (for their Museum of Foreverness), Reith finds himself trapped in the worldwide Pnume underground complex.
He manages to steal a copy of the Master Charts, which show every tunnel, chamber, exit, etc. He kidnaps a Pnumekin (human slave of the Pnume) woman named Zap 210 to interpret the charts for him. They embark on a long, dangerous journey to an exit back to the surface. On their trek back to the spaceship, they become lovers. When Zap 210 is captured by the Pnume, Reith secures her release and freedom for all the Pnumekin in exchange for his assurance that the Master Charts will not be given to their enemies. Then he and his companions set out for Earth.
Best part of story, including ending:
Once again, Vance invents a realistic alien race. Far from hating the three invading species, the Pnume welcome them, enjoying the spectacle unfolding on their planetary stage.
Best scene in story:
Reith has to explain to Zap 210 the changes her body is undergoing because she is no longer ingesting "diko", a drug that suppresses Pnumekin sexual development.
Opinion about the main character:
Reith's dogged, indomitable persistence finally pays off.