The Book of Dreams (Jack Vance novel)

The Book of Dreams is a science fiction book by American author Jack Vance, the fifth and last novel (1981) in the "Demon Princes" series.

The Book of Dreams
First edition
AuthorJack Vance
Cover artistKen W. Kelly
CountryUnited States
SeriesDemon Princes
GenreScience fiction
PublisherDAW Books
Publication date
Media typePrint (Paperback)
LC ClassCPB Box no. 2504 vol. 17
Preceded byThe Face 


Treesong's likeness

Gersen's pursuit of Treesong begins after a conversation with an Interworld Police Coordinating Commission (IPCC) contact, who remarks that the arch criminal has been quiet as of late. Some years earlier, he made himself "Lord of the Overmen" and as recently as three years ago, he almost engineered his appointment as head of the IPCC itself. Gersen concludes that Treesong must be due for another grand gesture any time soon.

His extensive business empire, managed by Jehan Addels, includes Cosmopolis magazine, for which he often masquerades as the journalist "Henry Lucas". Gersen spends some time examining the Cosmopolis files for any material relating to Treesong. He is on the point of giving up when he discovers a photograph, apparently of a formal dinner, bearing the words "H A Treesong is here". There is no way to tell which of the people in the picture is Treesong, so Gersen devises a plan to unmask him. He launches Extant, a livelier sister magazine to Cosmopolis. He then publishes the picture in the free inaugural issue as part of a contest, offering large cash prizes to anyone who can first identify any or all of the ten people in the photograph.

An attractive red-haired young woman, Alice Wroke, seeks temporary employment processing the contest entries. Gersen, expecting an attempt at infiltration by Treesong, covertly uses a lie detector on her and confirms his suspicions. Eventually, each of the subjects is identified, except for one man who seems to have a variety of identities. When a contestant submits the correct identification for all ten, Gersen confronts Alice and places most of his cards on the table: that the photograph was intended to identify Treesong, and that the magazine would be interested in interviewing him. However, he conceals his personal interest.

Information from the contest leads Gersen to suspect the photograph is of the highest-ranking Fellows of the powerful Institute. It includes seven members of the "Dexad" (the Fellows of ranks 101 to 109 and 111), and the three Fellows of rank 99 (ranks 100 and 110 are always vacant). All save one died at the banquet, poisoned by charnay (see below). The survivor is the man of many names - Treesong himself, clearly the murderer of the others. Having fraudulently acquired the rank of 99, he plans to become the Institute's leader, the Triune (rank 111, hence the name), by default. Three members of the Dexad were not present. One had died recently: the banquet was for choosing his successor from the 99s. Another had broken with the Institute and become a hermit. The last was Alice Wroke's father; Treesong, under a false name, blackmailed Alice into spying on the contest by threats to her father, whom he had in fact already murdered.

Gersen locates the last surviving member of the Dexad just ahead of Treesong, and saves him, in the process shooting Treesong in the leg. The new Triune immediately cancels Treesong's spurious rank and brings to an end another plan that would have put the Demon Prince in a position of immense power.

Treesong's book

Extant receives a late entry to the contest, from someone who identifies Treesong as "Howard Hardoah" from Maunish on the planet Mouderveldt and claims to be his father. The letter also mentions a school reunion, to which Howard has been invited. Treesong himself calls the Extant offices, and identifies the people in the photograph, only to be told that all have been named already, and that he is too late to claim a prize. "Henry Lucas" offers to publish Treesong's memoirs, but Treesong says he has somewhere to go immediately. Gersen suspects that Treesong plans to attend the school reunion.

Gersen travels to Maunish. He interviews the elder Hardoah, with the pretext of delivering a prize check, and learns about Treesong's boyhood. He also meets Howard's older brother Ledesmus, who hid Howard's prized "Book of Dreams," an exercise book in which he wrote his childhood fantasies, and tells of Howard's near-murder of his childhood friend Nymphotis Cleadhoe, when he thought Nymphotis had taken it. Ledesmus recovers the book and sells it to Gersen.

Gersen contacts Treesong's one-time music teacher, and pays for his orchestra's appearance at the reunion – with Gersen as a member, though an afternoon's lesson leaves him a thoroughly inept musician. His guess is correct. Treesong arrives, accompanied by a band of menacing underlings, and perpetrates imaginative (though non-lethal) humiliations on those who had tormented him. Treesong's admittedly good musical ear is offended by Gersen's poor playing, so he has him thrown out. Out of sight, Gersen dispatches the men assigned to take him away and uses their weapons. This is enough to disrupt Treesong's revenge, but Gersen can do no more than inflict another wound before he has to flee. In a second interview with the Hardoahs he learns that the Cleadhoes moved off-planet, and their destination. Otho Cleadhoe was township marmelizer – who transformed the flesh of corpses into a stony substance, after which the resulting "marmel" (statue) was placed in the cemetery.

He still has the Book, and finds there a description of Treesong's "Seven Paladins". On broaching the subject with Alice, who is now his confederate, he learns that Treesong considers the Seven to be the embodiments of various aspects of his own personality, with "Immir" representing normal self. Gersen concludes that the Book would probably lure Treesong out of hiding. He finds willing, but difficult, allies in Nymphotis Cleadhoe's parents, Otho and Tuty – whose only child is dead, and they have no doubt that Howard killed him. Gersen has Cosmopolis publish a sensationalized report of Treesong's exploits at the reunion, and a letter purportedly from Tuty, in which she talks fondly of Howard as their son's friend, and casually mentions an exercise book she still has in her possession. As hoped, this draws Treesong's attention.

The Cleadhoes now live on the jungle planet of Bethune Preserve. Treesong comes in search of his precious book. Tuty and Otho lure Treesong to their remote outpost, but double-cross Gersen, leaving him (and Alice) behind. Gersen and Alice manage to borrow a vehicle to follow in, but arrive late.

They are shown into Otho's laboratory and museum. Otho has marmelized Treesong's legs, and left him seated in an indoor garden facing the marmel of Nymphotis. Gersen reveals his motivation for seeking the last Demon Prince's downfall. The arch-villain wearily acknowledges himself to have been neatly trapped, mourns the narrow failure of his attempt to make himself the first Emperor of the Gaean Worlds, and asks to be left alone. Gersen declines to take any further revenge on him and leaves with Alice and the Cleadhoes.

Treesong's fall

From behind the door, Gersen overhears a conversation, as between Immir/Treesong and his paladins, in which the lesser paladins bid farewell to their leader and gradually convince him that the situation is truly hopeless. Before they "depart", the paladins perform one last service for Immir. A crash and a splash are heard; Gersen hurries back inside, to find Treesong face down and drowned in a pond, before the overturned chair, though he should have been unable to rise from it and it had been solidly secured.

Gersen, his revenge complete, finds himself at a loss. He confesses to Alice that he does not know what he will do now that he has been deserted by his enemies.


Charnay is a fruit that is delectable to eat, but deadly if incorrectly prepared (a parallel to fugu) and that is accordingly expensively exclusive. The photograph bearing Treesong's likeness depicted a charnay banquet held to celebrate the elevation of a new fellow to the Dexad; all the diners save Treesong died shortly afterwards, indicating that either Treesong suborned all of the chefs who prepared the banquet or else managed to poison the diners independently, hoping that the charnay would be blamed. (Three members of the Dexad were not present; one was already dead, Treesong murdered another separately, but was barely thwarted in his attempt on the last.)


  • Jaffery, Sheldon (1987). Future and Fantastic Worlds: A Bibliographic Retrospective of DAW Books (1972-1987). Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, Inc. p. 144. ISBN 1-55742-002-5.
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