Published by Subterranean Press
Jack Vance is a living legend in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, and quite possibly one of the most under-read and underrated. When the greats of the genre(s) are mentioned most people initially say Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and Tolkien but often Vance’s name is left off the list. Maybe because Vance defies strict genre definition, but whatever the reason his name needs to be there. Among others, his writing has influenced both one of the most popular genre writers today (George R. R. Martin) and one of the most critically lauded (Gene Wolfe).
So, a publisher like Subterranean Press should be commended for their efforts in presenting classy, beautiful editions of Vance’s work. In the past, they’ve published the Jonathan Strahan/Terry Dowling edited Jack Vance Reader and their forthcoming extra-special edition of the Vance tribute edition Songs of the Dying Earth. Bridging the thematic gap, I suppose, is The Jack Vance Reader. This is an omnibus edition containing three of Vance’s divergent novels: Emphyrio, The Domains of Koryphon, and The Languages of Pao.
Emphyrio is a story very much about story, myth, and legend. In far future, quite likely a few generations before his Dying Earth milieu, a young man Ghyl Tarvoke works with his father Amiante the woodcarver in a shop producing hand-made artifacts, since mass production of goods was banned when humanity arrived on the planet and rebuilt the world.. When his a young boy, Ghyl goes to a puppet show which is the tale of the legendary hero Emphyrio. Viewing this play changes Ghyl’s life forever, though its ultimate consequences percolate under Vance’s crafty pen.
Ghyl grows and has he does so, his disenchantment with the government grows as well. He also realizes his father, Amiante, is unpleased with the strict rules of the government. Amiante is going so far as to ‘mass produce’ copies of his woodworkings in order to make more money and get his work out into the public. Thankfully, Vance’s execution of this story is much more subtle than the description I provided. Though paced a bit slowly in spots, the true elements of the story – power of legend and secrets – worked superbly well and made for a subtle and appreciated reading experience. In this context, the tale can be considered meta-fictional in nature and is very successful.
Originally published as The Gray Prince, now under Vance’s intended title of The Domains of Koryphon is the second short novel in this ominbus. This tale posits a world of unending conflict with, much like Emphyrio, a nice little twist at the end. The final story, Languages of Pao, as the title implies, deals a great deal with language. Much like Orwell’s famous novel, the language here is created by those in power to control people.
The cover, by Tom Kidd, is quite evocative of the feel presented in Emphyrio – colorful, and a nice blend of vaguely familiar and alien. Each story in the volume contains introductions by authors, who in their own right, are legendary – Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Silverberg, and Mike Resnick. In addition, Jonathan Strahan and Terry Dowling, the editors of The Jack Vance Treasury, provide a preface for the whole volume. The Jack Vance Reader provides a snapshot of Vance’s mastery over language for those who may be most familiar with his writing through The Dying Earth saga. Furthermore, this volume will be a great companion piece to the other volumes Subterranean is publishing of and in homage to Vance’s work.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford