Emphyrio by Jack Vance

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jackvancereader.jpgJack Vance's 1969 novel Emphyrio (recently reprinted in The Jack Vance Reader, available here) is a compelling work that creates a mildly dystopian fictional universe as it's backdrop.


The novel's first half focuses on young Ghyl Tarvoke's isolated childhood and his relationship with his father Amiante, a woodcraver, in the city Ambroy on the planet Halma.  Here, Vance creates for the reader a society where the citizens live in a welfare system (run by a government overseen by "Lords") that provides for their every need yet makes it impossible for them to earn a profit in their chosen fields. 

Ghyl dreams of someday escaping the represssive world and his imagination and resolve are further ignited by discovering the legend of Emphyrio, a hero from the past who rescued the human race from aliens in documents secretly hidden by Ghyl's father.  Gyhl's resolve is further strengthened after a personal tragedy, setting the stage for the slightly more exciting-paced second half of the novel, when Gyhl (now an adult) decides to actually become, in spirit, Emphyrio, and discovers the shocking secret behind the legend. 

Vance's depiction of how things are run in his fictional universe is imaginitive and original, with the social systems and "local color" of Ambroy and it's neighboring planets skillfully depicted by the author.  As noted by other critics and fans, Vance's elegant style of writing is rich and (as author Robert Silverberg writes in his introduction to the novel) "unhurried".  This isn't the usual example of the genre's (sometime) sloppy-written pulp fiction.  Vance takes his time in describing and developing his characters and their surroundings, setting up the events that ultimately pay off in the book's memorable (if slightly rushed) climax. 

And the climax does make the novel!  I can't say any more than that.  Emphyio is an opulantly written tale that will remain in the reader's memory long after finishing the book.

Related linkThe New York Times Magazine's recent article on Jack Vance can be read here

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This page contains a single entry by Ed published on August 20, 2009 12:17 PM.

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