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I haven't read a lot of Vance's work - just The Dying Earth and The Last Castle - but I've enjoyed what I've read, and considering the fascinating material that 90-year-old Frederik Pohl is putting on his blog these days, I was rather looking forward to reading this volume of reminiscences by Vance, who is a couple of years older.

Unfortunately it's just not a very interesting book. The best bit is the early material about growing up during the Depression (Vance was born in 1916), but apart from that it's a sequence of dinners, holidays, parties, jazz concerts, enumerated in detail without much reflection. To give one example, I have seen the story of the Jack Vance / Frank Herbert / Poul Anderson houseboat told in several other places, and told better. To give another, Vance has been blind for the last twenty years (including when writing all his later books starting with Lyonesse), and while I shall bear in mind his extensive listing of mystery genre wriiters whose whork he enjoys listening to on audio, it would have been interesting to read something more profound about the effect of the loss of one of the five senses on the writer. A line about the distinctive smell of Irish peat is used twice. We really don't learn much about Vance the man, and even less about Vance the writer; and those like me who really only know him through his writing won't feel any the wiser after reading this.

I usually like biography/autobiography as a genre, but between this and St Thérèse I have not been lucky this week!

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
gareth_rees
Jun. 7th, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
One of the things I have come to like about the Lyonesse series is the panoply of minor inconsistencies between the books (how fast does time pass in Thripsey Shee? how is the oubliette in the Peinhador constructed? what was the history of Trilda? did Melancthe breath the green fume? who was the wily merchant who spied for Casmir? what was the prophecy of Persilian?) and the way that some sections seem to be retellings of other sections (Suldrun and Madouc; Arbogast and Throop; Tamurello uses Melancthe to deceive Shimrod; Aillas's two occupations of South Ulfland; Sartzanek and Twitten, both compressed into iron posts). I imagine that Vance found it difficult to review what he had written, and relied on his memory. But the result is charming: it gives the series the air of a collection of folk tales, where oral retelling has resulted in duplications and variation.
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