Jeroen wrote:Jack Vance. I think his books are... curious, to say the least. I count him among my favorite writers, but every time I read one of his books, it feels like he let me down. Perhaps I was looking for something that wasn't there. But. But, afterwards certain characters, certain situations jump into my mind and I am at pains to recollect who wrote about them and it always turns out to be Jack Vance.
[Note: I lost my first version of this reply by foolishly clicking somewhere without saving first. This is a reconstruction of that reply.]
Interesting! My experience with Vance has been exactly the opposite (inverse? converse?) of your own. I find that I enjoy Vance immensely while
I am reading it, but that the plot and characters and specific bits of description or dialogue that so entertained me all vanish into a vague mist of impressions within a few weeks. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- it means, for one, that I can re-read Vance more frequently than many authors.
There are some exceptions to that rule. Vance's pure genius for names has created some that stick with me always -- Glawen Clattuc, Skirlet Hutsenreiter, Faude Carfilhiot, etc.
And I certainly agree with you about the merits of Lyonesse
. I do not understand why that work is not more widely praised nor critically appreciated. It seems to me a towering triumph, Vance's magnum opus
in a career full of great accomplishments. I can still remember waiting with great impatience for the second and third volumes to be published, terrified (for Vance was quite old, even then) that they would never be finished.
Not that Lyonesse
is perfect. Its two greatest flaws (as I see them),are:.
- The pacing is terrible. The opening scenes, in which very little happens to further either plot or characterization, are half as long as the entire third book. I suspect that the relative leisure of the opening is akin to the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, in that the author wasn't sure where things were going or what the story arc would look like, and so strolled around a bit trying to find it.
- The ending is badly rushed (which is a typical Vance flaw, I fear). 27 loose ends are neatly tied up (or brutally truncated) in a few pages, leaving characters who had enormous amounts of spotlight time earlier in the book left out in the cold. Poor Glyneth spends the entire last book offstage, barefoot and pregnant and irrelevant. The plot against Dhrun, and the way it is foiled, seems both labored and abrupt.
In spite of those problems, the story as a whole is riveting, fascinating, moving, amusing, enchanting. Great feats of invention are introduced and thrown away in a single scene, as asides. Side-splitting hilarity tangoes with grim tragedy. Perhaps most notably, Aillas fails to fall into the usual Vance trap for heroes -- he is rational and stoic and obsessed, but manages to remain human and sympathetic in spite of it all, in a way that Kirth Gerson does not. The capture and eventual release of Tatzel is a remarkable bit of character-building.
As for other Vance works, my favorites are (in no particular order)
- "The Moon Moth"
- "Green Magic"
- The Demon Princes
- The three short Alastor novels, now available in an omnibus called Alastor
- Maske: Thaery
- The Cadwal Chronicles, especially the first two books
- Night Lamp
- "Liane the Wayfarer" (aka "The Loom of Darkness")
There aren't many Vance works that I don't care for, but there are some. The "Anome" novels were disappointing. I honestly dislike the Magnus Ridolph mystery pastiches. Ports of Call
begins reasonably well, but Lurulu
is a very weak attempt at finishing it, not that Vance doesn't have more than adequate excuse for that at this point. I haven't read The Grey Prince
, which many reviewers have called preachy and strident.
Most of the rest of Vance falls in that broad category of good entertainment -- The Languages of Pao
, Big Planet
, the Planet of Adventure novels, "The Potters of Firsk", etc. I hope someday to own a Vance Integral Edition, to enjoy by the fire with a vintage port or single malt in my pre-dotage.