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Ports of Call
Jack Vance
Tor Books, 300 pages

Ports of Call
Jack Vance
John Holbrook Vance was born in 1916. Over a career spanning many decades, he has garnered many honours. They include the Edgar Award in 1960, the Hugo Award in 1963 and 1967, the Nebula Award in 1966, the Jupiter Award in 1975, the Achievement Award in 1984, the GilgamXs Award in 1988, the World Fantasy Award in 1990, and the Grand Master Award in 1997. He has used many pseudonyms including Alan Wade, Peter Held, John Holbrook and John van See. Jack Vance's original manuscripts for several of his books are kept at Boston University's main library in the manuscripts department.

ISFDB Bibliography
Jack Vance Tribute Site
Jack Vance Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Jack Vance, the latest Grand Master of Science Fiction, and his most recent novel, Ports of Call, would undoubtedly present a quandary for the literary purist. At first glance, the prose is a bit stilted. (And gosh! There are lots of exclamation points!) The characterizations are thin, and the view of technology is rather quaint. Ports of Call has no plot, and no real ending.

What it does have are the two qualities that Vance excels at; story-telling and a grand sense of style. Ports of Call tells the story of Myron Taney, a young man who feels trapped by the future his family has laid out for him. Through a bit of conniving, he sets out with his aunt to tour the interesting planets of the Gaen Reach. Soon after departure, Dame Hester throws Myron off her ship, forcing him to find a new way to travel, which he does by hiring on the Glicca, a merchant vessel also touring the Gaen Reach. The adventures of the crew and passengers of the Glicca are the concern of Ports of Call.

Readers of Jack Vance will recognize the Gaen Reach as the setting for several earlier novels, including Maske: Thaery, and Ecce and Old EarthPorts of Call differs from some of Vance's earlier work in that Myron is a fairly happy-go-lucky guy, especially when compared to obsessed characters like Beran Panasper of The Languages of Pao, or Kerth Gersen of the Demon Prince stories. What it shares with his other books is a vision of the universe as a collection of planets occupied by strangely neurotic and always amusing societies.

As the Glicca travels from planet to planet, the crew, also neurotic and amusing, embark to meet the local inhabitants, always odd, sometimes dangerous, all certain that their way of life is the best conceivable. Much attention is paid to cuisine; few SF novels devote so much time to the description of food. The effect is similar to that of joining a tour group of affable oddballs. This is not high-action adventure or drama. It's more of a low-key entertainment, the right kind of book for a lazy Summer afternoon. It is only near the end that we learn enough of all the characters to suspect they may be up to more than a casual voyage.

There is a kind of story that has been told throughout human history. In it, the hero or heroine voyages to far-away lands full of wonders, and peopled only by the story-teller's imagination. Jack Vance is a master of this kind of story-telling, and the pleasure of Ports of Call is how effortlessly he invents one exotic society after another.

Ports of Call will not be remembered as Jack Vance's greatest novel. But it has enough of the qualities that make him a Grand Master to make it worth reading, and will have fans looking forward to the continuing story of Myron Taney and his journey on the Glicca.

Copyright © 1998 by Greg L. Johnson

Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis, whose inhabitants are much too normal to be part of the Gaen Reach.


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