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REVIEW: Ports of Call by Jack Vance

REVIEW SUMMARY: A non-traditional book that was very fun to read.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Myron has been cast about on a sea of change. He floats from place to place encountering very different points of view and a story in every port.


PROS: Vance’s command of the language is subtle and fun. Non-traditional conventions, interesting characters, and good storytelling. Almost reads as a collection of short stories.

CONS: Neither a linear story nor a character study, this book may turn some readers off. Booksplit somewhat by accident (according to the author.) Light on sci-fi elements.

BOTTOM LINE: Fun set of stories that chronicle the travels of a young man adrift in the big universe.

Myron Taney is a bright young man who wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he grew up. He was prone to flights of fancy as a boy, and continues that into young adulthood. He didn’t study a traditional subject in college but had enough classes on space travel to end up in space. He travels from planet to planet as part of the crew of a small cargo ship and has interesting experiences along the way.

This book is part Canterbury Tales and part Gulliver’s Travels. Some have defined it as a space opera, but that’s patently unfair to the potential reader. This book has space in it, but no opera. Instead the book is almost like a collection of short stories or vignettes that follow Myron as he encounters the different cultures and different people that live in the vastness of Vance’s universe while also learning about the crew and passengers aboard his ship.

Vance isn’t a Grand Master for nothing. The man can write, and he defies convention in this book so many ways. The book has a very dialog heavy narrative, with colloquial speech patterns and a preponderance of exclamation points. He exposes the characters beliefs carefully through their action and words, and not through exposition paragraphs. And there is very little science in this book – they are on a spaceship traveling to different planets, but beyond that there is little else. But that’s OK because it’s hardly needed in this tale of ideas and adventures.

The book was split – not because it was too long but because Vance said he got to the end and realized it wasn’t done. I’m not sure how different that is, but he does a decent job wrapping it up and leading you towards the second book.

I found Ports of Call to be very enjoyable to read while sitting in my study bundled up agains the cold New England winter, but it would be equally enjoyable on a mild summer day at the lake. Like Myron’s life, the charm of this book is in the journey, not the destination.

8 Comments on REVIEW: Ports of Call by Jack Vance

  1. Fred Kiesche // April 11, 2007 at 10:18 am //

    Jack Vance rulz.


    Seriously, he is one of my favorite authors. Great stuff.

  2. Fred Kiesche // April 11, 2007 at 10:21 am //

    Lurulu (the second half) is also excellent. I’m going to have to do some re-reading! Another reading project!


  3. Although I felt that some of the episodes lacked punch, I greatly enjoyed this book (and its continuation; I read a volume that combined the two).

    Is the name “Lurulu” a homage to Dunsany?

  4. I think the most important takeaway here is that Scott has a study and he bundles up during the winter.


  5. As a fan of Vance, I loved Ports of Call. Sure, the plot is light, the book being a string of vignettes and set pieces, but each of those shows off Vance’s strengths and delights.

  6. Fred Kiesche // April 11, 2007 at 7:14 pm //

    And a lake as well! Hey, let’s all have a SF Signal party at Scott’s lake!


  7. If I thought for a moment that the SFSignal Party would draw more than me and my family I’d host it in a second. What a blast that would be to meet our friends from the blogosphere!

  8. Jack Vance is the only author I read as a child I can read with undiminished pleasure as an adult. You should review his “Planet of Adventure” series as well as his “Demon Princes” series.

    (Not that your readers need to hear your review of these books, merely so that you can read them!)

    The first one is Vance’s take on a Burroughsian ‘planetary romance’, and no one else has written in the subgenre since then–the second is Count of Montechristo in space.

    I also strongly reccommend EMPHYRIO.

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