Jack Vance wrote The Face, the fourth novel in the Demon Princes series after his friend Frank Herbert wrote Dune.
The Face has Jack Vance’s own take on the desert people who adapt to the environment, but Vance’s Darsh with their female mustaches, aggressive manners, overt thievery, inedible food and horrifying mating customs are so much more colorful and real than the Fremen.
Dune’s Fremen are there to be noble warriors. The desert has boiled them down into survival mechanisms with a hidden cause. The Demon Princes’ Darsh were made aggressive and obnoxious by the desert. They are intolerant of authority and can’t work together. Their macho attitude expresses itself as Plomash, they duel and conspire against each other, their marriages are based on mutual hatred and they dwell under giant metal umbrellas that rain water that make their homesteads more memorable than those of the Fremen.
Like the Fremen, the Darsh have something valuable that everyone wants and it’s tempting to see the Darsh as a more realistic take by Vance on his friend’s most famous creation.
When Vance wrote The Face in 1979, Herbert had turned Dune into a huge franchise. Children of Dune had become the first Science Fiction bestseller 1976 and its sequel was eagerly awaited. Dune had transcended its original characters and become a story of the environment. And The Face is also about the environment, but the environment doesn’t make its men and women noble, but ignoble.
The Darsh, a wacky mixture of Gypsies, Arabs, Eastern and Southern Europeans, feel much more real than the Fremen because of their glaring flaws and their zest for life. They may be horrible people, but like so many of Vance’s fictional characters and cultures, their horrible enthusiasms make them come alive.
Vance’s description of Darsh gastronomy alone brings more life to a culture than all of Dune does for the Fremen.
Their food is seasoned with vile condiments, so that they may better savor cool pure water; they drink offensive teas and beers if only to exemplify this typical perversity, which they value for its own sake.
The traveler must adjust himself to a Darsh meal as he might a natural catastrophe. It avails nothing to pretend relish; the Darsh themselves know that their food is repulsive, and apparently derive a perverse pride in their ability to consume it regularly.