Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review of "Son of the Tree" by Jack Vance

Son of the Tree is a novella from very early in Vance’s career.  Written in 1950, the story presents some of the basics of style that would later become Vance’s signature, but by in large is simplistic story-telling with few bright spots.  

Almost as if having a laugh at writing itself, the protagonist of Son of the Tree is Joe Smith.  Essentially a galactic vagrant, Smith finds himself on the planet Kyril searching for the man who stole his love.  Quickly getting caught up in events surrounding Kyril’s gigantic tree of life and the rival Druids and Mangs fighting for its control, Smith soon finds saving his own skin is of more importance than getting revenge.  

Son of the Tree’s pacing is brisk even for Vance.  Events continually on the move, readers barely have a chance to settle in one location before being whisked away to another.  It would have been nice, for example, to see the peoples of Kyril given a little more detail and color.  Like two other of Vance’s short works, Telek and “Chateau D’If”, Son of the Tree feels as though it would have been better expanded into a novel, interplanetary revenge and culture coups too much for only 100 pages.  

Son of the Tree is very early Vance, and it shows.  Style not what it would become in later books like The Tchai or Cugel’s Saga, only the rudiments of brusque dialogue and subtle world building exist.  However, everything that makes Vance an imaginative writer is as present as it ever is.  The Druids, the Tree, and the story’s climax are all typical Vance.

In the end, Son of the Tree is the lightest of space adventure from the earliest days of Vance’s career.  Action paced quickly, events pile atop one another in a blur of colors.  There are some hints of what Vance would become (“…he walked down the corridor looking neither to the right or to the left…”), but by in large the novella is a straightforward experience only the most diehard of Vance fans will love. 

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