Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review of The Potter of Firsk and Other Stories by Jack Vance

The Potter of Firsk and Other Stories is a collection of Jack Vance short stories and novellas, though at times it’s difficult to be sure.  Published in the early part of his career, many of the stories feature Vance finding form rather than flowing with it.  Plots are rather standard and only briefly hint—here and there—at the brilliance of later works.  Most simply do not exude the same colorful light.  Certainly a must for a completist and diehard fans, those unfamiliar with the writer and his style may want to look elsewhere for an introduction.  

One of the main problems with the collection is the inclusion of eight Magnus Ridolph stories.  Magnus an early attempt at a Sherlock Holmes in space, his stories are loosely sketched and lack the wit and subtlety that define the later Vance story.  Eight is too many.  Beyond Ridolph, stories like “The Enchanted Princess”, “Dover Spargill’s Ghastly Floater”, “The Visitors”, and “Parapsyche” likewise show a rather straight forward approach to writing that does Vance no favors.  “Dead Ahead”, “The Uninhibited Robot”, “Three Legged Joe” and “Four Hundred Blackbirds” are middle grade and neither hurt or help the collection.  

There are few not so blasé, however.  “Planet of the Dust”, “The Potter of Firsk”, “Sjambak”, and “Sail 25” exhibit some of the characteristics that make Vance a cult writer.  From the quirkiness and unpredictability of the action in the first, the unique appreciation for culture in the second, the understanding of humans as social animals in the third, to the morals of the fourth, each has a nice little touch to make it Vancean.

But in the end, The Potter of Firsk and Other Stories features some of Vance’s weaker short fiction.  There is a reason the stories mentioned above as lower grade appear in fewer collections, while the better can be found in more.  The Jack Vance Treasury is far and above the best Vance short story collection on the market, but it is expensive and can be difficult to find.  More accessible and affordable, The Moon Moth and Other Stories and The Dragon Masters and Other Stories are what to look for if quality short fiction by Vance is your aim.  The Potter of Firsk and Other Stories is for completists and diehards only.

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