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Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance Volume Two
Jack Vance, edited by Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan
Subterranean Press, 365 pages

Dangerous Ways
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
SF Site Review: Dangerous Ways
SF Site Review: Hard-Luck Diggings: The Early Jack Vance
SF Site Review: This is Me, Jack Vance!
SF Site Review: The Jack Vance Reader
SF Site Review: The Jack Vance Treasury
SF Site Review: Lurulu
SF Site Review: The Dragon Masters
SF Site Review: Lyonesse II: The Green Pearl and Madouc
SF Site Review: Lyonesse: Suldrun's Garden
SF Site Review: Night Lamp
SF Site Review: Tales of the Dying Earth
SF Site Review: Big Planet
SF Site Review: Emphyrio
SF Site Review: Ports of Call

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Richard A. Lupoff

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Subtitled "The Early Jack Vance Volume Two," this major collection raises the question, "What do you mean, early?" Jack Vance has had one of the longest careers in the history of science fiction. According to the authoritative Contento-Miller Index of Science Fiction Magazines, Vance made his debut in the summer, 1945 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Over a span of some sixty-five years, well into the Twenty-first Century, Vance, now ninety-five years of age, produced an astonishing stream of short stories, novelettes, novels, and occasional works of nonfiction. While most of his production has been labeled science fiction, he often tested the bounds of that classification, moving toward the realm of pure fantasy on the one hand, often mixing elements of the detective story into his works on the other. He also produced a respectable body of non-fantastic mystery and adventure fiction.

The ten stories in the present volume were originally published between 1947 -- that's certainly "early" -- and 1977. Hmm. Thirty years into one's career is "early"? -- I think not, but I don't want to quibble as the tales in this book range upward in quality from solid, craftsman-like story-telling to sheer brilliance. And the best stories in the book, "The Dogtown Tourist Agency," and its sequel, "Freitzke's Turn," are the most recent. The former is virtually a novel in length and density; the latter is a long novelette.

Set in a future era in which interstellar travel is common and human civilization has spread to many planets, "The Dogtown Tourist Agency" centers on Miro Hetzel, an interplanetary "effectuator," a sort of private eye crossed with an industrial espionage agent. As Terry Dowling and Jonathan Strahan point out in their introduction to the collection, Hetzel is one of a series of effectuators introduced by Vance and featured in a variety of adventures.

The basic premise of the story is fairly straightforward. A manufacturer of somewhat mysterious background has entered into competition with more established high-tech firms. The new competitor's products are comparable to those of the established companies but it is snaring market share by underselling the others. Who is behind this company and how is it possible for the company to build its products and sell them at such low prices?

Your job, Effectuator Hetzel -- well, you see where this is going, don't you?

The basic story line isn't really that important anyway, and frankly its convolutions and turns-upon-itself lost me fairly early in the process. What matters are the array of bizarre characters that Vance introduces, the incidents, fascinating locations and set-pieces that Vance creates, and above all the glorious, glittering, shimmering, astonishing language in which Vance tells his story.

Vance's language is courtly, almost archaic. His characters converse with wit and with almost Chinese indirection. I open the book at random and my eye is caught by this paragraph:

  Hetzel motioned to the couch. "Rest upon this piece of furniture. I have decided to offer you several gifts, to compensate for your inconvenience." He went to his luggage and brought forth a hand lamp and an assault knife with a proteum edge. Hetzel explained the operation of the lamp and gave a warning in regard to the knife. "Take great care! The edge is invisible; it will cut anything it touches. You can slice your iron sword as if it were a withe."  

Your high school English teacher would have looked at that paragraph and shaken her head sadly. " 'Rest upon this piece of furniture.' Terrible! All you need is, 'Sit here.' 'Brought forth a hand lamp.' Dreadful. Try, 'Removed.' 'Take great care!' No. Try, 'Be careful.' And what in the world is a withe? Isn't that Old English for a twig?"

In a trice the magnificent, formal prose is reduced to mush. Same information. No style.

There's another Miro Hetzel story in the book, as good as the first, and introducing the best and most horrifying villain I have encountered since Hannibal Lecter. I won't parade the eight remaining stories in this collection before you. As I mentioned above, the very least of them are perfectly readable works and the best of them are examples of truly superior craftsmanship.

All homage to Jack Vance. He is a true ornament to our profession and an enduring gift to his readers.

Copyright © 2012 Richard A. Lupoff

Richard A. Lupoff is a prolific and versatile author of fantasy, mystery, and science fiction. His recent books include a novel, The Emerald Cat Killer, a multi-genre collection of stories, Dreams, and the forthcoming novel Rookie Blues. His chief contribution to Lovecraftiana is Marblehead: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft, available at www.ramblehouse.com.


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