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3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,317 ratings  ·  121 reviews
Halma, a world where humans were ruled by a race of effete and arrogant lords; where a neo-feudal system banned all work by machines; where a mock welfare state rewarded painful hand labor with a pitiful dole.Young Ghyl Tarvok was a rebel. In a pirated spaceship, he began his search through the civilizations of the galaxy, hunting the elusive key to the time-shrouded secre ...more
Mass Market Paperback, #2345, 222 pages
Published September 1970 by Dell (first published 1969)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  2,317 ratings  ·  121 reviews

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mark monday
Ghyl Tarvok is the son of a kindly but distracted woodworker on Halma - a planet that is ruled by an aristocracy, tightly managed by its public welfare department (which incorrectly calls its governmental system a "Welfare State"), and exhibits traits of a dogmatic but not entirely authoritarian theocracy as well. 'Emphyrio' is a legend out of time: a heroic young man who calmly challenged invaders and who ushered in a period of peace for his people. young Ghyl dreams of many things: owning a 's ...more
Another superb Jack Vance novel. I would argue that this is among his strongest "stand-alone" works.

The plot revolves around a young man, Ghyl Tarvoke, who hails from from the city of Ambroy located on the planet Halma. Halma's ruled by unseen, mysterious Lords who run the planet as a giant "welfare state". Workers are paid a stipend for their labor and all forms of mass production or duplication (including prinitng) are strictly, and I mean strictly, prohibited. Unhappy with the way things are
Apr 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi, grand-masters
Far in the future, young Ghyl rebels against the system that would have him carve wood his whole life, without hope of luxury or travel. He is raised by his thoughtful, brave, but slightly unworldly father. His father teaches him to read archaic script, including the ancient covenant of their world and the legend of Emphyrio. Inspired, Ghyl first tries to run for mayor, (view spoiler) ...more
Baal Of
Nov 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tea, grilled-eel
The situation had a queer ambivalence. Ghyl swung between nervous amusement for his own whimsies and a dreadful bleakness of spirit.

What better way to capture my own feelings about this book and Vance's writing than to quote the man himself. But that doesn't quite reflect how I enjoyed this book. Something about the way Vance writes, and presents his worlds, feels at once familiar and persistently but vaguely off. I think that peculiarity is what keeps drawing me back to his works. While thi
Feb 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, sf-masterworks
With a somewhat slow beginning, I gradually found myself more engaged with the story and immersed in the dystopian, theocratic vision Vance created here.

The intransigence of the bureaucratic regime, the resistance to change and the desperation with which people will cling to the status quo when they have even the smallest vestige of power is demonstrated wonderfully here. However unlike other writers in the dystopian vein, Vance seems unable to resist temptation and allow a hero to arise and all
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jack Vance is quickly becoming one of my most-favorite authors. His imagination astounds me, his witty irony makes me giggle, and his language is a joy to read. No one can create whole imaginary societies with such richness and ease, or write venomous insults in such a courtly manner. Very talented and very underappreciated writer. This book is not quite up there with the Dying Earth series, but still it's fun, quick, and enjoyable read. ...more
Andrew Hamblin
Jul 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Jack Vance's catalog is an embarrassment of riches and this standalone novel is no exception. Emphyrio is wonderful and charming and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise. ...more
Nov 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Emphyrio was first published in 1969 and is currently in print in a Spatterlight Press edition. My out of print copy has 201 pages of text, and this is my second reading of the novel in recent years. I rated it a 4 both times and liked it about the same each time that I read it. I highly recommend it to all Vance fans.

Emphyrio is a rather serious and bleak novel for Vance. It has excellent world building, a good plot and decent character development (mostly in the first half and focused on Ghyl
Aug 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: scifi
I've always loved Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, among the first works he published, but I am not that sure about the works that follow. Emphyrio has parts that are very good ... and parts that are not. For one thing, I found the ending to be anything but believable. If one tells the truth to villains, one does not expect them to just 'fess up and step aside and say "Aw, shucks!".

I liked the character of Ghyl Tarvoke and his father Amiante. I also liked the weird setup on the world on which h
Daniel Roy
The great Jack Vance is sometimes described as a "gardener of worlds", a description that encompasses much of the strength of Emphyrio. But unfortunately, for all the brilliant world-building, the novel lacks a certain dramatic tension, as well as a real appeal for the world it portrays.

The world of Emphyrio is interesting, but strangely placid. There are otherworldly lords and ladies, and puppet-makers who build puppets of the flesh. There are spaceships and a plethora of worlds. But most of th
Jack Vance's strongest single novel it is seen as and i can clearly see why. A great book and my first Vance it showed my way to him. ...more
David Hill
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An underrated book but perhaps Vance's best stand-alone work. ...more
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wood carvings, amber light and a quest for truth. Looking forward to reading more Jack Vance.
Emphyrio is well written, literary, with good character development, but it tended to plod. We get to know quite well the protagonist Ghyl and his motivations. (view spoiler) ...more
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read for the SF Masterworks Reading Challenge and the Science Fiction Masterworks Book Club.

I had a really hard time getting into this book. At first I was ready to dismiss this whole thing as a bunch of right wing propaganda claptrap. Ghyl, our protagonist, is an anti-hero (in the traditional sense of the word, which is to say an ordinary man fighting heroism every step of the way) who becomes a victim of circumstance. His father questions the system in which they are raised, which is a world k
Jul 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jack Vance was a master wordsmith, albeit a woefully neglected one. He knew how to turn a lovely phrase, sometimes with some wonderfully obscure language, and though his dialogue was quite unrealistic, it was always clever and usually pretty funny. All this is true in Emphyrio, and actually Vance tones down his prose somewhat to better suit the rather bleak and prosaic setting of Ambroy. His prose throughout the novel is lush without stepping over the line into what Eric Flint refers to as the S ...more
Ivan Stoner
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There's a strong argument that Emphyrio is the best of Vance's stand-alone novels. It is a near-perfect example of one of Vance's greatest strengths, and what he has somehow managed to do over and over again, often multiple times within single works. He creates a perfectly-tuned society that is totally familiar, and yet totally strange. Where we somehow recognize the institutions, the street names, the religious practices, the scholarship, the social mores, the childhood games, even though they ...more
Erik Bloom
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
From my review:

I found this novel by chance, as part of a collection of classic science fiction works. I knew Jack Vance from his Dying Earth novels (The Compleat Dying Earth) but this book is different. Although it takes in the future, with many futuristic bits of technology (such as interstellar starships), the science fiction background is not particularly important. It is really more a parable than anything else. A well written parable, with beautiful use of language and descripti
Dec 17, 2010 rated it liked it
A commercially unstable dystopia lasts a rather unlikely two millennia, guided by flighty and cold hearted descendants of Mr Punch. It succumbs to a languid threat to reveal the true state of affairs, an even less likely event, though followed by a proper riot and revolution.

As dystopia's go, this is a decidedly utopian one, static and unyielding, yet full of individual endeavour, glamorous maidens, enchanting pavilions filled with fine costumes, dancing and a certain pride in fine craftsmanship
Jon Norimann
Sep 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science_fiction
Emphyrio is a rather standard story about a human in the distant future on a distant colonized planet trying to improve his situation in life. It all also a search for truth, revenge etc. A bit like an SF version of The Count of Monte Cristo if you like. Although SF, there is little science involved. Still it all taking place on a colonized planet in the future qualifies it as SF and in addition there is some space travel done.

I am left with the feeling this is an expanded short story. The start
Aug 15, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Vance. His use of language is always interesting and enjoyable. He is sharp, witty and intelligent. He also has the ability to create fascinating worlds/societies and intriguing characters. Emphyrio is fantastic novel. It's rather short and quick to read, but Vance packs a lot in. He's very highly regarded when it comes to creating unique scenarios and landscapes, but this novel does more than that. It delves into themes such as self-responsibility and individualism. But mostly, like all ...more
Dec 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
4.5 stars, actually.

There's a certain soft touch to the way the book is written that I found appealing, even though I started to feel as though the plot was being neglected. At the end, I realised this was not the case at all, and Vance had pulled off a fairly neat trick, and managed to develop all the elements of the book (characters, plot, setting) in a perfectly synergistic way.

The key characters will stay with me for a long time, I feel - Ghyll is a more subtle, layered hero than those of
Jim Mcclanahan
Jun 27, 2012 rated it liked it
What starts out as a "coming of age" novel (I think we have more than enough of those out there right now) develops into a search for liberation from oppression. The mystery is in who the oppressors really are and by what mechanisms they maintain power. The journey toward that end is captivating. A little wrapped up in the 1960s as regards style, but beautifully written and intelligently presented. ...more
Panagiotis Siozos
Aug 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scifi
Eerily similar to the current situation in Greece. Unsuspecting peasants kept in conditions of eternal underpaid manual labour in a rustic environment that attracts tourists, overzealous tax collectors and "enforcers of regulations", an irrational religion with devout "jumping" clerics. All governed by an oblivious blood-sucking upper class which itself is controlled by some distant "troika". Only the names change... ...more
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jack Vance might be best ever Author.
His Tales of the dying earth inspired dungeons and dragons.
His gaiean reach was star trek like.
His magnus rindolf were aprt doctor who part sherlock holmes.
Only Robert E Howard, Michael Moorcock, and AE Van Vogt contend for worlds best Author ever.
Suppressed because he had tiny pro capitalism flavour.
A Giant given fewer than deserved awards by democrat laden scifi associations.
Nov 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I am always marveled by Vance's imaginative histories and capacities to create believable alien societies and put the human condition in some place further in time or in an ancient past. Emphyrio is a book that combines the science fiction story teller along with the mystery author which Vance was both along with some virulent criticism towards the exploitation of the human work. ...more
Nov 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the bleakest settings I have ever encountered.

Liberals have taken over an entire planet and transmogrified it into an oppressive welfare state.

A young freedom fighter adopts a name from antiquity, that of the legendary hero Emphyrio, and risks everything to set things right.
Nov 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dystopian, sci-fi
Took me a couple of chapters to get the hang of the world, but then I got sucked in. Really liked the book's main character, his dilemmas, his search for truth. Looking forward to checking out some more Vance books. ...more
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
‘Emphyrio’ is sombre work, by Jack Vance’s quirky and colourful standards - which is not to say that it isn't full of more quikiness and colour than most fantasists could dream of. Like ‘Suldrun’s Garden’, it is one of the few books where the author reins in his picaresque tendencies, and his sense of the outrageous, and concentrates on character development in a single location. The opening section is extremely powerful: its evocation of Ghyl Tarvoke's youth is intensely evocative and moving. I ...more
John Burns
Jun 17, 2015 rated it liked it
This one explores the more Kafkaesque theme of a heroic protagonist escaping from a suffocating life of ceaseless servitude. It's a recurring theme in Vance's work but it takes centre stage here.

It lacked the magic and the untethered quality his books sometimes have. The Dystopian setting is oppressive and so the whole novel doesn't breathe like his work usually does.

I also thought the weird dream-like idea didn't work when used as a premise behind a big serious story. Those oneiric setups of h
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Aka John Holbrook Vance, Peter Held, John Holbrook, Ellery Queen, John van See, Alan Wade.

The author was born in 1916 and educated at the University of California, first as a mining engineer, then majoring in physics and finally in journalism. During the 1940s and 1950s, he contributed widely to science fiction and fantasy magazines. His first novel, The Dying Earth , was published in 1950 to g

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