the science fiction
fantasy horror &
Tor hardcover $22.95
review by Patrick Hudson
This is the latest novel from Jack Vance, a writer who should need no introduction. He is one of the last surviving writers of the generation that grew up on the pulps, the author of dozens - hundreds, even - of SF, fantasy and mystery stories and perhaps the greatest living writer of fantastic fiction. His influence can be seen in the work of Gene Wolfe, Micheal Shea, Dan Simmons, Iain M. Banks and Alastair Reynolds, among many others working in both fantasy and science fiction.
Lurulu is a sequel to Ports Of Call, and continues the picaresque adventures of Myron Tany aboard the space freighter Glicca. The setting is the now familiar Gaean Reach, with the ever-watchful IPCC, the Hitchhiker's Guide-like 'Handbook of Planets', the philosophy of Baron Bodissey and a galaxy of worlds populated by diverse people with idiosyncratic cultures. The characterisation features numerous Vancian regulars. Myron Tany is a typical young hero like Glawen Clattuc or Jaro Fath in other recent Gaean Reach novels; Wingo and Schwatzendale are sybaritic rogues with a taste for liquor and adventure; Moncrief the Mouse-rider impresario is reminiscent of Navarth the Mad Poet; and Maloof the space freighter captain is cut from the same cloth as Kirth Gersen or Adam Reith, if a little less ruthless than either of those.
Vance fans have been waiting for this book for a while. Ports Of Call appeared in 1998, and many feared that Lurulu would never emerge, as Vance is very old, and now nearly blind. These impediments may have delayed production, but they have not impaired his abilities to conjure exotic locales and their eccentric inhabitants. The Glicca travels to a number of distinctive worlds where the crew has to deal with the peculiarities of local custom, usually in the shape of self-important minor functionaries of a vaguely obstructive demeanour. Their dialogue sparkles with Vance's characteristic Wodehousian wit and delicious circumlocutions rooted in their desire for ease, pleasure, riches or some combination of the three.
Although Lurulu resolves the plot threads left dangling at the end of the previous volume, the plotting is, in general, even more perfunctory than is usual, even in Vance's later work. This book concentrates on each of the crewmember's search for satisfaction and contentment, a feeling that they call 'lurulu', a word "drawn from the language of myth." While each seems to understand what it is they are seeking, it seems to be an elusive concept that none can easily summarise.
It is worth noting that 'Lurulu' is the name of the mischievous troll befriended by Prince Orion in The King Of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany, who was a popular fantasist around the time that Vance was a boy - The King Of Elfland's Daughter was first published in 1924. Much of Dunsany's book concerns Orion's search for the ineffable Elfland, which seems to taunt him with its closeness yet torment him with its remoteness. Similarly, Myron and friends find lurulu is both impossibly distant and paradoxically close at hand.
Knowing Vance's advanced years, and his difficulties in completing this, it is tempting to see Lurulu as a swan song. It is redolent with nostalgia and it's hard not see Vance's own early life in the merchant navy, and subsequent itinerant lifestyle, in the wanderings of the young Myron Tany, and ruminations on the nature of lurulu as a reflection of his own lifelong love of travel and adventure. This is no grand capstone to his illustrious career, however, but more a quiet contemplation of a life well spent.
It is a slim volume compared to Ports Of Call and his previous novel, Night Lamp, and will likely leave the casual reader dissatisfied. While Vance's prose has lost none of its vigour the story doesn't have the driving thriller pace of his earlier work, or even the convoluted machinations of the Cadwal Chronicles. For the connoisseur, however, this has the sweet taste of the wine made from late-picked grapes, a rarefied liquor to stimulate the palette at the end of a particularly fine meal.
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