Adam Reith is a scout aboard the Explorator IV, a research and scouting vessel of a future Earth that is expanding into the stars.¹ A scout, to quote Chief Officer Deale, is “half acrobat, half mad scientist, half cat burglar” and more: “A man who likes change.” Reith gets his fill of that last, as his ship investigates a planet around the star Carina 4269, 212 light years from Earth. A faint radio signal has reached the vicinity of Earth from the planet, a signal that ended abruptly. So, someone sent a signal 200 years ago, but who? And why did the signal end?
The Explorator IV is destroyed by a surprise attack of space torpedoes from the planet. The only survivors turn out to be Reith and his fellow scout Paul Waunder, who were sent in a separate vessel to get closer to the planet. One crash landing later, Adam Reith is stranded on the torpedo-firing alien planet. An alien planet that has not only aliens on it, but, unexpectedly and shockingly, humans, as well—humans that were brought there long ago, in human prehistory. Therefore the aliens on the planet know about Earth, and are a threat to humanity. Adam Reith’s mission is to find a way off of this strange world, find a means to get back home, and warn Earth of the alien threat.
The four novels of Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure Tetralogy, tell the story of Reith’s crash landing on Tschai, the eponymous Planet of Adventure, and his unceasing, relentless efforts to find a way to escape it and return home. His fellow scout Paul Waunder is quickly killed, leaving him as the sole Earthman on the planet.