Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Birthday Review: The Narrow Land, by Jack Vance

The Narrow Land, by Jack Vance

a review by Rich Horton

(Cover by Wayne Barlowe)
The Narrow Land is an interesting collection by Jack Vance. It dates to about 1980, though first publication seems to be 1982 in a DAW edition. That is to say, it's copyright 1980, and the internal matter (with which Contento and the ISFDB agree) says that the first publication was in 1982 by DAW.  The edition I have is a 1984 Coronet (UK) paperback. The stories, however, date to much earlier: one from 1967, one from 1963, and the others to 1956 and earlier still. So it's a bit odd: almost a collection of odds and ends and leftovers, you would think. But actually it has some very good stuff, and some quite significant stuff.

Perhaps most interesting is Vance's very first published story, "The World-Thinker", from the Summer 1945 Thrilling Wonder Stories. This is a striking story, quite Vancean (much more so than lots of early Vance, such as the weaker Magnus Ridolph stories), certainly rather clumsy in some ways but still effective. More to the point, perhaps, it really shows certain of Vance's career long characteristics, particularly the odd (or perhaps not so odd) mix of hints of misogynism with the depiction of the major female character as strong and independent.

One of the '60s stories is the title piece, about the coming of age of an alien in a strange environment. (The environment, I believe, is intended to be the terminator of a tide-locked planet: hence "The Narrow Land", though that is never made explicit.) The alien, a creature called Ern, grows up among similar beings, who nonetheless are different from him -- eventually he learns the truth about his nature (which is tied up interestingly with the species' life cycle). The other later story is "Green Magic", in my opinion one of Vance's best short fantasies, about a man who after much effort learns the secret of entry to the "green" plane of magic.

(Cover by George Underwood)
The other stories include are "The Ten Books", "Chateau D'If", "Where Hesperus Falls", and "The Masquerade on Dicantropus". The latter two are very minor. "Chateau D'If" is a decent long novella, published under a different (and silly, as it is a spoiler, so I won't mention it) title in Thrilling Wonder in 1950. It's about five men who decide to answer an ad for the title business, which promises mysterious adventure -- but something more sinister is up. Not by any means great, but fun and scary. And "The Ten Books" (aka "Men of the Ten Books") is a rather Campbellian story (though it actually sold to Startling Stories) about the rediscovery of a lost Earth colony, which seems to be an Utopia, but the people of which revere the memory of Earth, and believe that Earth must be much superior to their society. (This story made one of the Bleiler/Dikty Year's Best volumes.) 

All in all, quite a good story collection, and I find it odd that stories as good (though not great) as these were uncollected by 1980.

1 comment:

  1. I've read this collection, but have no memory of it, other than the striking cover art. I should look to see if I still have a copy. DAW did well by Jack Vance.