Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Skald's Score

The local library branch had a major book sale last weekend, and paperbacks were priced at twenty-five cents apiece. There I was, cheerfully browsing, when my heart started to race, my hands started trembling in barely concealed excitement:

OMGOMGOMGOMG!! You will notice that Fantasms and Magics and Eight Fantasms and Magics appear to be different editions of the same book, and you'd be correct. If, however, you had read The Miracle Workers, you'd have bought both editions as well:

The war party from Faide Keep moved eastward across the downs: a column of a hundred armored knights, five hundred foot soldiers, a train of wagons. In the lead rode Lord Faide, a tall man in his early maturity, spare and catlike, with a sallow dyspeptic face. He sat in the ancestral car of the Faides, a boat-shaped vehicle floating two feet above the moss, and carried, in addition to his sword and dagger, his ancestral side weapons.

An hour before sunset, a pair of scouts came racing back to the column, their club-headed horses loping like dogs. Lord Faide braked the motion of his car. Behind him, the Faide kinsmen, the lesser knights, and the leather-capped foot soldiers halted; to the rear the baggage train and the high-wheeled wagons of the jinxmen creaked to a stop.

The Miracle Workers is first-order Jack Vance, it is certainly one of his most accessible works. Although I love Vance's characteristic purple prose, he maintains a more subdued tone in this novella, a more spare and catlike prose, so to speak. The protagonist is also one of Vance's most felicitous characters, rather than a handsome, hypercompetent superman, we are presented with a "thick-set youth with a round florid face, overhung with a rather untidy mass of straw-colored hair" who is characterized by another character as "innocent and a trifle addled". No Mary Sue here, but a comical, sympathetic lead. As in many of Vance's works, The Miracle Workers is set in a stagnant, overly-conservative society faced with the need to change dramatically or face collapse. It's a theme that Vance explores in many of his works, and Vance does so rather succinctly, and extremely engagingly in The Miracle Workers.

The story provides a good blueprint for a "magic & masers" type setting, but I would not characterize it as a "sword & planet" tale, because the characters are all either native-born humans (the autocthones are all anonymous), and there are no fair damsels to be rescued by a mighty-thewed hero.

The third book is a copy of Galactic Effectuator, which contains two stories about a space-faring private investigator. The first story concerns industrial espionage, the second (SPOILER ALERT) concerns, I kid not, a client whose testicles have been removed, and replaced with another set. While fun, the book is certainly not Vance at his best.

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