Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review of "Planet of Adventure" by Jack Vance

Of the people who pick up a book by Jack Vance, there are only two possible outcomes: those who melt over every word he writes with twinkles in their eyes, and those who bear furled brows for a time before giving up.  I don’t know what to say about the latter – different strokes for different folks – but for me, Vance is sci-fi sundae with chocolate swirls.  Pure genius.  The number of layers his stories operate on, from humor to social commentary, pure imagination to pure adventure, are enough to keep me coming back for more and more.  Planet of Adventure, or as Vance preferred the series be called The Tchai, is no exception.

The book, which is actually a compendium of four short novels, City of the Chasch, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, and The Pnume, has everything that makes a story Vancean, Vancean.   Where each novel ends makes no real difference as the overall story of the marooned spaceman Adam Reith and his plight to find transportation back to Earth reads smoothly from cover to cover.  (In other words, none of the four books stand alone.)  As the title indicates, the adventures Reaith has and colorful situations he finds himself in along the way are numerous.  Told as only Vance can, surprises lurk around every corner of the plot, colorful descriptions light up the settings, witty dialogue follows with the introduction of every new character, and always there is that archaic/satirical/erudite/how-else-do-you-want-to-call-it/wild and crazy sense of humor that can only be Jack Vance.  Not Shakespearean, he is nonetheless a master of the English language, and Planet of Adventure finds him in peak form.  Certainly some will disagree, but for me, this book is second only to the Tales of the Dying Earth compendium.    But when you’re comparing Bavarian Black Forest cake and apple pie with ice cream, everyone is a winner.

That being said, I know Vance does not write perfect literature.  But honestly, I have nothing negative to say about the book.  It is space adventure as it should be written, so know what you’re getting into.  If you’re a Vance fan but have not read this, what are you waiting for?!?!  If you’ve heard good things about Vance and you want to give him a try, there is no better place to start than this, though the Cadwal Chronicles, The Demon Princes, Alastor, Lyonesse trilogy, Tales of the Dying Earth, Big Planet, Emphyrio, so on and so on, are also good places.  If you tried to read Vance, but just didn’t get it, then you should probably give up on this before you even start because nothing could be more vintage Vance than Planet of Adventure.

9 comments:

  1. The usual wisdom is to deposit Tschai somewhere very near the bottom of the Vancian hoard. I'm glad to see someone else recognizes it as a hidden masterwork with a world fully as poignant and alien amber as Wolfe's Urth.

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    1. "Masterwork" may be a strong word :), but for sure this is among Vance's best books/series. I've read a few opinions that put it lower in esteem, but I've also read a few which really loved it, leaving me to believe there's mixed opinion amongst Vance readers.

      Have you read Blue World? I think that may be Vance's most underrated book...

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  2. Maske: Thaery is my favorite single book by Jack Vance, but this tetralogy is his best, IMO. How to read the beginning of "Dirdir" without falling in love with Vance's writing is, to me, unfathomable. I bought all his books from the VIE, and they are the cornerstone of my library because I love Vance so much.

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    1. If I had to choose a favorite, I would be stuck between the two Cugel novels and Araminta Station, and might even throw in "The Moon Moth"short story just to be cheeky. Maske: Thaery is good, but I think Blue World, Emphyrio, Night Lamp, the Lyonesse trilogy, the Ports of Call duology, and the four Tchai books are somewhere near on par... So many good books to pick from!! We are blessed.

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  3. I'm forced to disagree with your assessment. I liked other Vance very much, especially Dying Earth and Lyonesse, but I just couldn't complete Planet of Adventure -- the plot was too cliche, the characterization too generic, the protagonist too simplistically powerful.

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    1. And I am forced to ask :) Is it possible for Vance to be generic?!?!? :)

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  4. These books were published in the 60's. Some aspects are bound to be generic now. So what? It's a ripping yarn.

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  5. One test that Planet of Adventure passes with flying colours is the test of enjoyment after rereading. A brilliant example of sf at its best. And I, too, love The Blue World. It and Emphyrio are also up there high in my estimation. My favorite Vance, however, is the Lyonesse trilogy. Absolutely superb. Such a complex set of cultures, vivid characters, strong females, and sublime writing.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Rob. My favorite is Araminta Station and the two Cugel novels. There are extremely few books in the world that delight me as much.

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