As a SFWA Grand Master, a living Hall of Famer, and
the holder of a World Fantasy Life Achievement Award, a lot
has been said about Jack Vance. And with a career spanning
over a half a century, I'm amazed he hasn't been bestowed with
more than 3 Nebula/Hugo awards, 2 of which were blessed upon
this novella. I'm not going to cover any new ground here because,
even though he writes in the niche of the genre I enjoy, I've
never warmed to his detached voice. As a craftsman, he has
a lot to teach, but as a excogitator, I seem to be not interested
in the same things.
Last Castle , for instance. The elegance yet brevity
of this world send shivers down my spines. I can close
my eyes and savor it for nothing else than what it
is. I don't really give a whit about any of the characters,
and I don't care if the Meks slaughter everyone or
not. But there is absolute joy and delight in just
being with the varied gentlemen and peasants, birds
and phanes of Castle Hagedorn.
Some critics laud Vance as a wordsmith, and I think
this leads to a deeper reason for his venerable worth: he
shows you how to build sandcastles without taking up the
whole beach. One of the reasons you cannot bond with the
upper crusters of The
Last Castle is because they are just outside most modern
sensibilities. There is a thread of the aristocratic and
detached English gentlemen as stereotyped from the 19th century's
Great Empire. The ingrained arrogance, pride, and ignorance
leads to a stultification that almost destroys their race.
Egotistic detachment in any self-styled ruling class is just
not looked upon that favorably in these days of multi-cultural
The Expiationist community is viewed more sympathetically, but, even though
they provide victory and closure, they are a glancing blow to the meat of the
Vance's genius is that he engages us without
a rebel Nomad or even an alien, lower-class Mek provocateur
|And, with the exception of the Clans of Hagedorn
chart, Vance doesn't explain this world, he shows it to you.
He even goes so far as to open his story with eight pages of
action he never returns to. The pieces of the jigsaw unfold through
travel and interaction with the characters, charting the equivalences
and dissimilarities of present-day Earth to this future one.
Zanteen, the protagonist, acts more as a guide than leader, and somehow feels
like a secondary actor upon a much larger stage.
Because of his reputation, I plan to read more Jack
Vance. Any student of literary construction would be wise
to follow suit.