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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.

Take The 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 democracy. 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 tale. Vance's genius is that he engages us without a rebel Nomad or even an alien, lower-class Mek provocateur as hero.

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.

 

 

inside artwork by Jack Gaughan

© review copyright 11/26/2006 by Larry Crawford

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