Thursday, March 7, 2013

Review of "The Moon Moth and Other Stories" by Jack Vance

Neither prolific or close-mouthed, Jack Vance has written a few dozen short stories in his career.  And of these, “The Moon Moth” is the best.  Period.  Full stop.  End of story.  Thus, The Moon Moth & Other Stories is worth owning for the title story alone—or any other collection which contains it, for that matter.  But before I get ahead of myself, the following is a rough breakdown of the eleven stories in the VIE collection.

“The Kokod Warriors” – A funny caper involving mini-warriors on a touristy planet.  (George R.R. Martin may or may not have taken his inspiration for “Sandkings” from this.)  This story can likewise be found in a few other Vance collections.

“The New Prime” (aka “The Brain of the Galaxy”) - One man is thrown naked into a party; another suddenly faces a firefight with aliens; an artist must make impromptu mental creations; a relic hunter has his loyalty tested.  This is one of Vance’s better ideas given the insightful ending which draws these threads together.

“The Men Return” - A bizarre story with ‘80s computer animation imagery. Evolution has never been so surreal.

 “Ullward's Retreat” – Satire that uses futuristic humanity as a discussion point for overpopulation and the loss of privacy.  Or: the temporal mindset of the human animal.  Funny if it weren’t so profound.

“Coup de Grace” - The second Magnus Ridolph tale in the collection, “Coup de Grace” is a murder mystery titled in Arthur Conan Doyle His Last Bow fashion but solved Angela Langsbury style.  Average at best, despite the funny poke at religion.

“Dodkin's Job” - Though only lightly sketched, Vance easily creates his own Kafkian nightmare as only he can.  One of the better stories in the collection, it is what bureaucracy means to the little guy and the dangers of trusting the system. 
“The Moon Moth” - The rarest yet tiniest of gems, this story is the reason to buy the collection.  Impossible to explain without destroying everything, it must be experienced for itself.  This is a shot of triple-distilled Jack Vance. 
“Green Magic” – Told in Dying Earth style, Vance has a go at answering the question: is ignorance bliss, or knowledge a burden, a fine, mature, and understated story the result. 
 “Alfred's Ark” - A flood like Noah's is coming again—or so Alfred believes.  A short but sweet story indicating Vance has a firm grasp on human nature.

“Sulwen's Planet” - A group of scientists, including a highly disagreeable pair, are sent to survey destroyed space ships after a battle on the desolate, eponymous planet.  The conclusion weak, the story nevertheless remains indicative of humanity’s inner child—for better or worse. 
“Rumfuddle” – A novella, this is the story of Duray and his experience with the city gods.  The convoluted tale builds suspense admirably, but is full of plot holes.  Such are the perils of instantaneous space and time travel. 
In the end, the collection as a whole is better-than average to average Vance, “The Moon Moth” being the reason to invest.  The story striking such an exotic yet harmonious chord of imagination (pun intended for those who’ve read the story), it’s difficult not to walk away shaking your head with appreciation. Though The Moon Moth & Other Stories is unique for the selection of stories, none are previously unreleased; all can be found in older collections.  That being said, for those who enjoy Vance but have yet to explore his shorter work, this collection, along with The Dragon Masters..., The Potter of Firsk..., TheHouses of Iszm..., Golden Girl..., and The World-Thinker... (all followed by …and Other Stories) are invaluable. 

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