Quick Review: Emphyrio by Jack Vance

While I was on my trip to Chicago, I managed to finish Emphyrio by Jack Vance, published in 1969. In enjoyed the book, but I always enjoy Jack Vance, so that might have had something to do with it. Like all of his works, it was full of lovely (or at least interesting) descriptions; full of wonder yet believable – the wondrous mundane, if you will.

The story concerns the life of one Ghyl Tarvoke, inhabitant of the planet Halma and member of a slightly repressive society. The story follows Ghyl’s life from boy to man, and is reminiscent of the journeys of Cugel (but with a more respectable protagonist). The story is science fiction, but really only in terms of the setting. Like all of Vance’s material, Emphyrio is about the characters and the interplay of the characters and the world they find themselves in. I was satisfied with the story’s conclusion, though the “twist” that leads to it was pretty obvious in retrospect, and I’m surprised I didn’t pick up on it until Ghyl did.

Vance is always a fun read for me. He does a good job of writing into his stories a pervasive danger derived from the way the stories within the story so rarely play out the way they “should”, and from Vance’s willingness to deny characters, important and unimportant, a pleasant ending.