It hit me late last night – I’d posted up a love letter to Jack Vance and not once did I mention my absolute favourite short story of his! So here is a separate post to remedy that.
As the title suggests, the story is Chateau d’If. It starts with five friends who are having a drink at a terrace, as they often do, and get talking about a mysterious new advert that has started to appear around town. It advertises the Chateau d’If, and promises adventure beyond anything you’ve ever experienced. The Chateau has them intrigued, and after some enquiries they discover that there are two programs it offers up for purchase: one costing ten thousand and one costing ten million (the currency is never mentioned). The friends agree that one of them will try it, funded by the other four, and roll dice for who gets to go.
The chosen person goes for his appointment, then fails to show up for the agreed rendez-vous to report on what it was like.
I’ll refrain from saying anything else and giving away spoilers, but I adored this story when I first read it as a teenager, and still do whenever I read it. It originally attracted my attention by its title, because anyone who has ever read The Count of Monte Cristo will recognise the Chateau d’If as the rocky island prison where Edmond Dantes spends nearly twenty years of his life. It has absolutely nothing to do with any of that, but that simple coincidence led me to one of my all-time favourite stories.
The sad thing is that it is fiendishly difficult to get hold of, like most of Vance’s more obscure work, and I had to pay about £40 a few years back to buy a second-hand copy of a book with Chateau d’If in it, which was comparatively cheap. If you see this story for sale somewhere and it is a bargain, grab it. It’s awesome.