Ports of Call by Jack Vance
(HarperCollins Voyager, £6.99, 300 pages, paperback; published 15 February 1999.)
I'll start by saying that I'm a fan of the work of Jack Vance. I've read most of his books and every one of them has provided me with hours of entertainment and enjoyment. Ports of Call is no exception - but I do have certain reservations.
The book is less a novel than a picaresque travelogue of the many and wondrous planets of the Gaean Reach, the setting of many of Vance's finest books.
We follow Myron Tany as he sets out from his homeplanet Vermazen with his rambunctious Aunt, Dame Hester Lajoie, aboard her spacecraft the Glodwyn as she searches for the Fountain of Youth. We are treated to all the usual Vancian trademarks: a host of bizarre, often ridiculous societies, eccentric characters, grotesque events and incidents, and much whimsical dialogue. Myron, after a disagreement with Dame Hester, is ejected from the Glodwyn and forced upon his own resources. He joins the merchant spaceship the Glicca as supercargo, and the tour of the Reach continues. There is no plot, and the story is slight: we look on as Myron and the crew of the Glicca encounter a series of strange and wonderful societies, escape being skinned alive, eat and drink of strange fare, wax philosophical about all manner of bizarre ideas, and sail off in into space towards the star Frametta. And there the novel ends.
Although there is no indication that this is the first book of a series, it certainly reads like one. A number of hooks - Dame Hester's search for the Fountain of Youth, Myron's early conflict with Marko Fassig, whether the religious pilgrim passengers aboard the Glicca reach their destination with their mysterious cargo - are dropped or left hanging. The novel cries out for a sequel.
The characterisation - never Vance's strong point - is a little odd. We never really get to know Myron as a personality (his treatment of Fassig paints him as fussy and small-minded, and militates against reader sympathy and identification.) Although Myron is the central character, we get to know and like the crew of the Glicca far better: especially Wingo and Schwatzendale, two well-drawn and sympathetic personalities.
Of course, if Vance sees fit to continue the story, all my reservations might be for nought: Myron might develop as a fully-rounded individual, the unanswered questions might be resolved. As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed being allowed a glimpse into Vance's singular vision of the future, and I hope to be aboard the Glicca if and when a sequel is forthcoming.
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© Eric Brown 3 April 1999