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The Moon Moth by Jack Vance

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“The Moon Moth” is a 1961 science fiction short story by Jack Vance. It is about an unconfident, rookie diplomat on a planet where everyone wears masks and communicates using hard-to-understand social customs.

More Than One Benefit of Anthropology!
In case you didn’t know, I am currently pursuing a Masters degree in cultural anthropology. I’m nearly finished, but during my first year seminar class we were required to read and discuss this fantastic short story! Imagine my surprise when I figured out that a science fiction short story was in the curriculum! I loved this piece, and figured it would be good to share it with those of you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading it. See, contrary to what my family members think, a degree in anthropology is good for something! 😉

Non-Spoiler Summary

Mask by will in nashville, CC 2.0 License

Ser Edwer Thissell is the brand new consul on the strange world of Sirene. He has only been there for 3 months, but has hardly interacted with any of the natives because he is still trying to learn their complicated social customs. Not only are masks worn by everyone at all times, but they also use a variety of small, difficult-to-learn musical instruments to convey how they are feeling. But his secluded study of local customs comes to an abrupt end when he receives an urgent message indicating that he should apprehend a violent criminal en route to the planet. There is a small problem, though – he got the message too late, and now he must look for the criminal amidst the masked public. But an even bigger problem looms when, in his haste to perform his duty, he makes several huge social faux pas and thus incurs the wrath of the natives!

My Two Cents

  • Story: 5 stars – A truly unique story that also provides a fascinating insight into social customs and taboos.
  • Writing: 5 stars – A good story told well! I loved the narrative, tone and pacing of this story.
  • Fun Factor: 5 stars – With the fascinating descriptions of an alien society as well as the intrigue of how Ser Thissell schemes to catch the criminal, this one was a page turner!

Where To Find The Moon Moth

Craving More SF Stories Like This One?

If you liked “The Moon Moth” then you might also enjoy “The Streets of Ashkelon” by Harry Harrison. It is about the small aliens on a newfound planet, and the trader and missionary who try to convince them of opposing ideas.