Monday, June 2, 2014

Review of The Houses of Iszm and Other Stories by Jack Vance

A writer of all lengths of fiction, Jack Vance’s career is an even balance of novels, short stories, novelettes, and novellas.  The Vance Integral Edition collecting them all, The Houses of Iszm and Other Stories brings together a handful of everything but a novel.  Covering nearly the entirety of Vance’s short fiction career time and size-wise, the four stories range from 1954 to 1967, and include two novellas, a novelette and a short story. 

The Houses of Iszm – Is the story of a man visiting the planet Iszm, home to a highly unique industry of live tree homes.  The technology under threat from an underground faction, the man gets caught up in the fight in ways he’d rather not.  Early Vance, and not his most nuanced.  (See here for a longer review of this novella.)

“The Narrow Land” is a strange tale of selective breeding amongst sentient lizard-like peoples.  Vance’s imagination on full display, this is one of the last short stories Vance would write, and feels like the beginning of something more.  To bad we never saw it, as what we
Nopalgarth (aka Brains of the Earth) – An ordinary scientist is one day plucked from everyday life and made aware of something fascinating and unbelievable to every Earthling.  The aliens who abduct him, in the most brutal of fashions, charge him with the extermination of this revelation, much to his chagrin.  The demon inside…. Ghostbusters before it was Ghostbusters, this novella examines an interesting idea, which, unfortunately does not live up to its potential.  Though well developed (unlike Telek), the story’s denouement never moves to the next level.… Unlike Telek, it is a well-developed idea…

“The Gift of Gab” – When a man goes mysteriously missing on a fishing barge, a fellow worker begins to investigate.  Noting the strange behavior of a alien species previously thought innocuous, the investigation quickly takes him beneath the seas.  The culprit, however, may have been under his nose the whole time.  An interestingly anthropological story—for Vance that is, the aliens this time around have more layers than just tentacled evil. 

In the end, The Houses of Iszm and Other Stories is fair Vance, but not his best.  “The Narrow Land” is a unique, solid beginning to a larger story, but unfortunately, Vance never had a chance to round it out.  Nopalgarth entertains well enough for the time it takes to read, while The Houses of Iszm and “Gift of Gab” are early, naïve Vance.  The collection essentially for Vance completists, if the reader has made it this far, they will essentially know what they are getting before they begin. In the context of the other collections part of the Vance Integral Edition, this one falls in the middle quality-wise.  The Moon Moth… and The Dragon Masters… are better.  It is on par with The World Thinker, but better than Son of the Tree… and Golden Girl…

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