Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review of "The Houses of Iszm" by Jack Vance

According to his autobiography This Is Me, Jack Vance!, the author constructed his own home.  The wood home is also an idea that plays out in much of Vance’s fiction, Son of the Tree, The Cadwal Chronicles, and “Dream Castle”, included.  It’s also the main behind the novella The Houses of Iszm, the subject of this review.

The Houses of Iszm is the story Farr Sainh, a botanist from the University of Los Angeles, who arrives at Iszm on a sabbatical intending to study the planet’s unique tree life in which its people make and sell homes.  Security on Iszm strict due to the value of the trees, Sainh undergoes a variety of procedures having his identity verified, and even after being allowed entrance, is monitored continuously by the paranoid Iszic.  Quickly becoming involved in another species attempts to steal some of the famous Iszic trees, Sainh’s adventures roll from there.

Largely a story centered on economy, commerce, and the value of a unique commodity, The Houses of Iszm becomes an interplanetary mystery and adventure when events shift back to Earth.  Notable in the story is the portrayal of American business interests as “out for profit or nothing”—certainly not a popular opinion in 1953 when the novella was written.  Aside from this, however, there is little else thematically to speak of.  Given the imaginative heights much of Vance’s later fiction achieves, it is a rather pedestrian story that deserves to be expanded in more detail and is therefore recommended only for those interested in light sci-fi adventure from the Golden Age.

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