Friday, October 26, 2018

Review of Ports of Call and Lurulu by Jack Vance

Anyone who has read the autobiography Hey, It’s Me, Jack Vance! is aware the gregarious author was an avid world traveler. Embarking on lengthy international trips with his family, he used the time as both relaxation and work, writing many of his novels in exotic locations. And the evidence is there if one looks just an inch below the surface of his work; almost all of Vance’s novels and stories feature cultures at once familiar yet bizarre from our own. But none of the novels may capture the traveler’s life like Vance’s final two—a duology, in fact—Ports of Call (1998) and Lurulu (2004), both of which take all of the man’s 80-something years of travel experiences and distill them into a galactic tour as only Vance can write.

Myron Tany is a young man on a planet far from the center of the galaxy. From a poor family, he dreams of seeing exotic places he knows he never will. But a university degree in galactic economics and a wealthy but eccentric aunt change things. Dame Lajoie taking an interest in Myron’s life, she involves him in her aristocratic and social enterprises, even including him on an interplanetary trip to find a supposed fountain of youth. Matters going awry en route, Myron finds himself alone on a planet with only a suitcase and a few sols in his pocket. What happens next is up to him.

As stated already, everyone who has read Vance knows he enjoys creating cultures that are a twist on our own—complete with ridiculous hats and comical musical ensembles. In Ports of Call/Lurulu he revels in it, but in a subtle way. The novels more a tour of Vance’s Gean Reach than tight adventure/drama, Myron’s travels are laid back, colorful, fun, and enjoyable, but not as dynamic as one might expect having read the Tschai, Durdane, or Cugel series. Like Vance’s own world travels, Myron’s adventures are more caught in the singularities of time and place than any planetary takeover plot or alien invasion.

To be clear, Ports of Call and Lurulu duology is not Vance’s swan song; it is the vintage of his oeuvre. Vance’s last published work, it’s as mature an offering as you could expect from the convivial author, and as such compares favorably to Night Lamp and Maske: Thaery. The duology bittersweet, Lurulu ends on a note that speaks Vance’s heart, and knowing it was written when he was in his 80s and 90s, makes for stirring sentiment. Having experienced much of the travel Vance did, I can only close my eyes in quiet accord, and tip my hat in gratitude and satisfaction at yet another unique Vance offering.

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